Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Bang Bang Choo Choo Train rhyme & cheer (Early Sources & Influences)

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post provides information and my speculations about early sources for the "Bang Bang Choo Choo Train" rhyme/cheer.

The content of this post is presented for folkloric, historical, cultural, and recreational purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post and thanks to the composers of the records that are mentioned in this post. Also, thanks to all those who are entioned or featured in videos in this post and thanks to the publishers of the videos that are mentioned in this post or featured in this post.

"Bang Bang Choo Choo Train" is a widely known African American originated children's taunting rhyme and cheerleader cheer. This timeframe provides what I believe are early sources and influences for Bang Bang Choo Choo Train. The timeline begins in 1902 and goes up to 2003.

There are numerous versions of this rhyme/cheer. A standard foot stomping cheer version is:

Bang, Bang Choo Choo Train.
Watch [girl's name] do her thang.
[Girl] I can't.
Group: Why not?
[Girl] I can't.
Group: Why not?
[Girl] Because my back is achin.
{And} My bra's too tight.
My hips keep movin' from the left to the right
Group: Her back is achin.
Her bra's too tight.
Her hips keep movin from the left to the right."
[collected by Azizi Powell, Braddock, Pennsylvania, 1997]

Here's an example of a taunting handclap rhyme version of "Bang Bang Choo Choo Train":
"it's called A-B-C Hit It! {and/ or Brickwall Waterfall}. It goes:
A-B-C Hit It! That's the way Uh-Uhh I like it Uh-Uhh.
That's the way Uh-Uhh I like it Uh-Uhh. Brickwall Waterfall
Girl you think you know it all. You don't. I do. So Poof with the Attitude. Peace Punch Captain Crunch. I got something you can't touch.
Bang Bang Cho Cho Train. Wind me up I'll do my thing.
Yummy Yummy 7Up Mess with me I'll beat you up. Wait, Come back.
I think you need a Tic Tac. Not 1 Not 2 But the whole six-pack. I'm not trying to be mean but you need some Listerine. Not a sip not a swallow. But the whole dang bottle".

{PS. To the owner of this website usually the Brickwall rhymes are games you play with your hands. Thanks!!!}
-lauren; S.A T.X ro ; 5/7/2006; Cocojams taunting rhymes page
"Bang Bang Choo Choo Train" often found as part of the "Brickwall Waterfall" rhymes. It is also found in combination with other children's rhymes, with or without the "Brickwall Waterfall" basic verse.

Click for the related pancocojams post"Brickwall Waterfall" (Examples & Analysis)

These sources and timelines include some speculation on my part. Comments and corrections are welcome.

1902-1958: Documentation of the song "Bang Bang Lulu" - an early source of "Bang Bang Choo Choo Train"
Here's a brief excerpt about "Bang Bang Lulu" from
" "Bang Bang Lulu" is a traditional American song with many variations. It derives from older songs most commonly known as "Bang Bang Rosie" in Britain, "Bang Away Lulu" in Appalachia,[1] and "My Lula Gal" in the West.[2][7] The form "Bang Bang Lulu" became widespread in the United States from its use as a cadence during the World Wars.

All versions [of "Bang Bang Lulu"] concern a woman and her various lovers. The early forms were sometimes very directly crude, violent, or infanticidal. Published versions probably drastically understate the song's popularity, particularly since the first mentions allude to 78 or 900 additional verses unfit for printing...

Military cadences
Most military cadences suggested explicit rhymes but skipped back to the chorus rather than complete them."...
Note that the word "bang" in the song "Bang Bang Lulu" means "have sex with".

In the "Bang Bang Choo Train" rhyme/cheer, "bang bang" usually is thought to represent the sound of gun fire. However, my guess is that early on, "bang bang" represented the back and forth chugging motion of a steam engine train.

The train symbolism may have been chosen for that "Bang Bang Choo Choo Train" composition to represent strength, endurance, and determination to succeed despite any obstacles. The children's book "The Little Engine That Could" may have been a model for this symbolism. Cheerleader squads chanting "Bang Bang Choo Choo Train" and shaking their hips back and forth may have been mimicking the steam engine moving back and forth down the railroad tracks. And the little engine's determined chant "I think I can. I think I can" as it made it way over steep mountains, could represent the determination that cheerleader's athletic team might need to evoke to win over its competition.

1966 - record "Bang Bang" by Joe Cuba Sextet
""Bang Bang" wasn't the first Latin boogaloo song, but its success in 1966 all but officially inaugurated the boogaloo era -- first in New York, then across the greater Afro-Cuban music world. The words to "Bang Bang" are largely nonsensical, a mix of Nuyorican food items ("lechon! lechon!") and the shouts on the chorus ("beep beep! aaaaaah!"), but the whole package proved irresistible. Latin, black and white audiences across America bought more than a million copies of the single, and the song became a standard of sorts, not just among other Latin musicians, but also among American jazz artists such as Les McCann and David Sanborn."
This very popular Boogaloo song "Bang Bang" includes the refrain "Beep Beep ah Beep Beep ah/Bang Bang!"

It's likely that "beep beep" in that song represents the sound of car horns and "bang bang" represents the sound of gun fire.

1966-1967: text excerpt of a American military cadence that became core lines in the children's rhyme/cheer "Bang Bang Choo Choo Train"
From "Military Jodies?", EuGene
Date: 23 Jun 07 04:29 PM and 05:39 PM

"Your pants pulled up, your belt's pulled tight,
Your balls are swingin from left to right.

Them nuts ain't got a thing to do,
'Cause 4F Jody's took over for you."
[quoted for demographical information] ..."I was in the Army going through Basic and AIT in 1966 - 1967."...

late 1960s - early 1970s - "Ah Beep Beep" and "Ungawa" rhymes
"Ungawa" is a stand alone rhyme that may be included in "Bang Bang Choo Choo Train" rhymes and cheers. However, many "Bang Bang Choo Choo Train" rhymes/cheers don't include the "Ungawa" verse.

"Ah Beep Beep
Walkin down the street
Ungawa. Ungawa
That means Black power."...
"Umgawa" is a word that was coined in 1932 by Cyril Humes, a MGM screenwriter, for the Tarzan movies. In July 2004, Dr Techie, a commenter on
wrote "For his books [about the fictitious character Tarzan], (Edgar Rice) Burroughs, created a complete ape language. Hume, who adapted Tarzan, the Ape Man (1932) for the screen, reduced Tarzan's language abilities considerably by inventing the all-purpose command Ungawa, which could mean up, down, halt or go."
"Umgawa" was formed by changing one letter of the Kiswahili word "ungawa". The English translation of "ungawa" means "entangled". A similarly spelled word "ugawa" means "grouping". There is no word spelled "umgawa" in Swahili.
For the purposes of the Tarzan movies, the word "umgawa" could mean anything that the writers wanted it to mean. Although the original English spelling of the word in the Tarzan movies was "umgawa", "ungawa" is the spelling that has most often been used in the United States for this word.

In the late 1960s & early 1970s, afro-centric African Americans took hold of that word and included it in rhymes that both celebrated Black power and dared White people to challenge them for that pride. A common verse in those rhymes was "Ungawa!"/"Black power!" or "Ungawa/"We got the power" (with "power" in both examples pronounced like "pah-wah").

Read more abour the "Ah Beep Beep" chant below in the timeline entry for 1988.

late 1960s - early 1970s: anecdotal comments that recall chanting "Bang Bang Choo Choo Train cheer (with the line "my hips shaking" and not "my booty shaking") version:
"Were the parents of a 6-year-old cheerleader right to complain about a 'booty' cheer? Friday Sep 17, 2010
"Kennedy Tesch, 6, and her fellow child cheerleaders were asked to sing, "Our backs ache, our skirts are too tight, we shake our booties from left to right." When her parents Jennifer and Duane complained, their daughter was eventually tossed from the team. The team defended the chant, saying they've used it for years. Were the parents right to complain?"...
Parent2andLoveTheCheer, Sep 17, 2010
"This is stupid the cheer has been around since 1995 or longer. The cheer it self is called "Uh, Ungawaa!". That said the Ungawaa sound African but is really just jiberish and means nothing. It started from the old Tarzan movies....

Jean, Sep 17, 2010
"You got it right. The cheer was done with "Uh, Ungawaa" attitude too! BTW.....I did this cheer back in 1969. Small town. There was plenty of prejudice back then, and against girls too."...

pooh, Sep 19, 2010
"Who said that cheer has been that way for 20 years? Oh no, thats the way the cheer was taught. Because whoever taught it, learned it the wrong way. I cheered little league over 30 years ago (1972-79). Came back to the same league later in life & was Head Cheerleader coach. The correct saying is "MY BACK'S ACHING, MY BELT'S TOO TIGHT, MT HIPS' SHAKIN" FROM LEFT TO RIGHT!"..So somebody need to get it right. It can be changed.....TO A RIGHT & MORE SETTLED WAY!!!!....Ha Ha "BOOTY".....the nerve....for little kids!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

imrightnotyou, Sep 20, 2010
"pooh is right move your hips from left to right.

1976 - record "Shake Shake Shake Your Booty"
"(Shake, Shake, Shake) Shake Your Booty" is a song recorded and released in 1976 by KC and the Sunshine Band for the album Part 3. The song became their third number-one hit on the Billboard Hot 100, as well as their third number-one on the Hot Soul Singles chart.[2] The song was met with a degree of controversy, since the lyrics were interpreted or likely speculated by many as having sexual connotations. However according to KC it had a lot more meaning and depth"...
I believe that KC and the Sunshine Band's "Shake Shake Shake Your Booty" record resulted in the "Bang Bang Choo Choo Train" line "my hips shaking from the left to the right" changing to "my booty shaking from the left to the right".

late 1960s-1970s: Anecdotal memory of "Bang Bang Choo Choo Train"
From "Child Kicked Off Squad When Mother Protests Cheer"
By Nordette Adams on September 21, 2010
"I was born in 1960, am 50 years old, and was raised in the African-American community of New Orleans, La. When this story came to my attention in email, I responded that the infamous "booty cheer" is a marching chant or cadence, and I remember hearing variations of it as a child and teen. One of those is this one:
"To the right, to the left, to the right, left, right.
My back is aching,
My drawers too tight,
My booty's shaking from left to right.
To the left, to the right, to the left right left"
"drawers" mean "panties"/"underwear"
Notice that the last line is similar to the Duckworth Chant ("Your Left" military cheer).

1988 - movie Big
The 1988 American movie Big features the African American originated handclap rhyme "Shimmy Shimmy Co Co Pa". That rhyme includes the "Ah Beep Beep" rhyme and also includes the word "ungawa". Click for my transcription of a video about the origin and meaning of the word "ungawa" ("umgawa").
Added June 24, 2017
With regard to the line "Oh Shelly, walking down the street" in the rhyme that was featured in the 1988 movie Big, I still believe that the words "Oh Shelly" are a folk processed form of the words "I Be". ("I be walkin down the street" is the first line of certain children's rhymes). However, I now believe that the words "ah beep beep" came from the popularity of Donna Summer's song "Bad Girls". The words "Toot toot, hey, beep beep" and "beep beep uh-huh" are repeated in that hit record which also talked about girls "out on the street."

Girls hearing this song used the positive African American meaning of the word "bad" and ignored the part of those lyrics that said "talking ’bout the sad girls".

While it's probably that the 1968 Latin Boogaloo song "Bang Bang" contributed to the public's familiarity with the phrase "ah beep beep", that record wasn't the direct source for the "ah beep beep "phrase in children's rhymes. "Beep beep' is the sound of men honking their car horns at "bad girls" (i.e. prostitutes) who were "walking the streets", looking for customers. The horn honks were a sign that the men liked how the prostitutes were dressed and/or looked.

1997 - I collected a version of "Bang Bang Choo Choo Train" in Braddock, Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania from an after school children's group that I founded & named "Alafia Children's Ensemble". This portion of the group was mostly African American girls ages 7-12 years old.

That version was structured and performed as a foot stomping cheer-the group said the first "bang bang choo choo train" line and said a girl's name. That girl said the back is aching/bra's too tight/bootie [meaning her behind] shaking from the left to the right line. The cheer then started again with a new soloist who gave her name or nickname. That pattern continued until every girl in the group had one turn as the soloist. This was performed to a moderately tempo, percussive beat that alternated bass sounding foot stomps and [individual] handclaps.

The words to that cheer are given in the beginning of this post.

2000- Bring It On cheerleader movie
The predominately Black cheerleading squad "The Clovers" performed a cheer routine that briefly included the line "Bang Bang choo choo train/wind me up, I'll do my thang".
Click for a sound file of that recording.

2003 - The rhyme "Bang Bang Choo Choo Train" was part of the "Brickwall Waterfall" taunting rhyme in the 2003 movie Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star
Here's that movie excerpt:
'Sally Finney: "Brick wall, waterfall. Dickie thinks he got it all but he don't, and I do, so Boom with that attitude. Peace, punch Captain Crunch. I've got something you can't touch. Bang- Bang choo-choo train. Wind me up I do my thing. Reeses Pieces, 7-Up. You mess with me, I'll mess you up."
Source: "Memorable quotes for Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star (2003)"

Post 2000, the line "bras' too tight" is often changd to "skirt's too tight". I've also seen it given as "shoes' too tight". As noted, the line "hips are shaking from the left to the right" has been chanted as "booty's shaking from the left to the right" for decades.

The word "bang bang" is usually interpreted as referring to gun fire. When those words are spoken, chanters often pantomine shooting a gun by pointing their fingers.

A common cheerleader version of "Bang Bang Choo Choo Train" avoids the controversy surrounding the "skirt too tight/booty shaking" lines by removing those words and replacing them with lines that focus on other actions:

Here are two videos of examples of those versions:
Example #1: Bang Bang Choo Choo Train

wkumusicgirl Uploaded on Nov 6, 2007

My niece doing a cheer.
Here's my transcription of this example:
Bang Bang Choo Choo Train
Wind me up, and I'll do my thing.
Get it. Get it. Get it. Get it.
Go it. Got it. Got it. Got it.
And "Oomph! [clap] and let it roll.
Oomph! [clap] and let it roll."

Example #2: Bang bang choo choo train

BallisHeet, Published on Aug 10, 2012

Boynton Rage Cheerleading
Here's my transcription of this example:
"Bang Bang choo choo train
Come on [athletic team name], do your thing.
Get it. Get it. Get it. Get it.
Go it. Got it. Got it. Got it.
And "Oosh! and let it roll.
Oosh! and let it roll."

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