Did you realize how many songs and poems can be sung to the 'Gilligan's Island' theme song?
You'll never read Emily Dickinson the same way again.
Fair warning: You are about to have "The Ballad of Gilligan's Island" stuck in your head. For hours.
We should also give advance notice to any fans of Emily Dickinson. You will never read her poetry the same way again.
The theme song from Gilligan's Island remains one of the most well known TV tunes. Surprisingly, it was not attached to the show from the very beginning. The black & white pilot episode, which was notable for featuring "two secretaries" in place of Ginger and Mary Ann, kicked off with a hokey calypso number. Believe it or not, Star Wars maestro John Williams composed that faux tropical ditty. Series creator Sherwood Schwartz sang the lyrics himself.
There was one major incongruity. The show was filmed in Hawaii, while calypso music was born in the Caribbean.
Schwartz went back to the drawing board and teamed with musician George Wyle to pen something closer to a sea shanty. Thus, "The Ballad of Gilligan's Isle" was born.
"The lyrics had to conform with the sequential order of the main title, which introduced the characters and told the back story of the voyage," Schwartz recalled in the book Inside Gilligan's Island. "Fortunately I knew enough about music to adjust George's melody to fit the backstory."
To give the lyrics a jaunty feel, Schwartz relied on one of the most common poetic conventions — ballad metre. Without getting too technical, here's how ballad metre works. Each stanza of ballad metre has four iambic lines. Typically, only the second and fourth lines rhyme. Take a look at the first stanza of "The Ballad of Gilligan's Island."
Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale,
A tale of a fateful trip
That started from this tropic port
Aboard this tiny ship.
Now let's take a look at a stanza by Emily Dickinson, who wrote a good portion of her poetry in ballad metre. As you read it, sing it to the tune of "The Ballad of Gilligan's Island."
And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm
See? That could easily have been in the theme song. Ernest Thayer's classic piece of Americana "Casey at the Bat" also uses ballad metre.
The outlook wasn't brilliant for
The Mudville Nine that day;
The score stood four to two, with but
One inning more to play.
Now you'll never read those the same way again. Pop hits have used this convention, as well.
Here is the opening of the often covered rock song "The House of the Rising Sun."
There is a house in New Orleans,
They call the rising sun.
And it's been the ruin of many a poor girl,
And God, I know I'm one.
Or how about Madonna's "Material Girl"?
They can beg and they can plead
But they can't see the light
'Cause the boy with the cold hard cash
Is always Mister Right
This also works with "Amazing Grace," "God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman," "Auld Lang Syne" and so many other traditional songs. You can sing them all the tune of "The Ballad of Gilligan's Island."