American in Spain

I asked my mother for fifty cents

January 4, 2012

I asked my mother for fifty cents (thumbnail)When my parents last visited, I got to hear my mother sing songs to my daughter that I haven't heard since I was a child and she was singing to me. One of them was this rhyme that Nora has come to call "July", since she loves to emphasize the ultimate word. It goes like this:

I asked my mother for fifty cents To see the elephant jump the fence. He jumped so high, He reached the sky, And didn't come down 'til the fourth of July

Searching for the origins of this rhyme has been quite interesting. It seems to primarily be a playground rhyme sung whilst jumping rope. There are some indications that the origin is from the African American traditions in the southern United States. For instance, it is included on the 1956 album Music from the South, Vol 5.

It later appeared as a verse in Rufus Thomas' 1965 classic, Walking the Dog, which was covered by Jackie Shane, The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Sonics, The Count Bishops, Stevie Ray Vaughan, The Grateful Dead and Aerosmith, among others. Quite a list, eh? Here's the original version, which I think might be the best of them all:

I suspect the version my daughter learned from her grandmother is much closer to the original playground chant. Without further ado, I present I Asked My Mother For Fifty Cents: