THE SCRATCHY NEEDLE 007: Best Campfire Songs

\ By Donna Lypchuk for \

It doesn’t matter if you are a guitar teacher with two students living in small town Ontario, a lead guitar player in a local bar band in a big city like Toronto or if you just won a Juno last week for playing forty years of Heavy Metal Rock —sooner or later, you are going to find yourself sitting around a campfire with some relatives.  And those relatives are going to have kids, and one of them is going to say, “Hey, don’t you play guitar?  Why don’t we have a little sing-a-long?”  And it doesn’t matter if you only write songs about hating your parents in front of aging body slamming Punk Rockers in a mosh pit or if your claim to your star on Canada’s Walk of Fame is creating avant-garde Jazz compositions for NFB animations in the 1950s.  It doesn’t even matter if you play badly or if your sister-in-law thinks you are a talented musician because she heard you howling an amazing anguished rendition of the Tea Party’s “Walking Wounded” in the shower.  Somebody somewhere beside you at some campfire is going to thrust a solid plywood acoustic guitar from Sears Canada into your hands ask you if you know how to play that old campfire favorite “On Top of Spaghetti.”

You remember how to play “On Top of Spaghetti”, don’t you?  No?  Do you know the tune, “On Top of Old Smokey?”  It’s EXACTLY the same tune, only with meatballs!  And it’s super-easy to play.  Like most campfire songs, all you really need to know is three chords:  it’s G, C, G, D7 and another G.  Just keep playing these chords over and over again … sooner or later one of the kids will start singing:

On top of spaghetti, all covered with cheese,
I lost my poor meatball, when somebody sneezed.
It rolled off the table, and on to the floor,
And then my poor meatball, rolled out of the door.

Play guitar and amaze your friends and family!

Usually after this verse, nobody remembers the words and a small scuffle may break out, arguing about what word in the song comes next.  However, for you, this is a definite “Fake it ‘til you make it” situation, because usually somebody sings the rest of the song.  When in doubt, just go “La, la, la,” to the tune of “Old Smokey” until someone picks it up, or you could access the lyrics here  Oh, and did I mention that “On Top of Spaghetti” is quite the earworm?  You’re welcome.

Once that guitar is in your hands, remember that the point of this is to play a song that makes the eyes of the small children shine and the adults nod their heads “yes” like a dashboard bobber toy.   You are not to play anything too sad or traumatic or scatological for the children to handle, unless you want to conduct a deliberate act of revenge on the relative who handed you the guitar in the first place.  No matter what or how well you can play your soulful rendition of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt”, Johnny Cash’s “Empire of Dirt” or David Bowie’s, “The Man Who Sold The World“, this is probably not the time to show these off —unless you want to see children with trembling bottom lips and eyes brimming with tears.  Other inappropriate choices include Lou Reed’s “Walk on The Wild Side”, Lily Allen’s “Fuck You,” or “Add It Up” by Violent Femmes.  These are songs that can get you referred to as Uncle Dirt Bag the rest of your life.

Instead try singing these:

“The Ants Go Marching”


“Do Your Ears Hang Low?”

“Down by the Riverside”

“My Bonnie Lies Over The Ocean”

“This Land is Your Land”

“The Wheels on The Bus”

If looking up these popular songs to sing by the Campfire is just too much, then your other default choice is that classic hit by Peter, Paul and Mary, “Kumbaya”.  In this case you simply play C, F, C for three lines followed by F, C, G, C, again and again and again and sing the following lyrics again and again…forever.

Kumbaya my Lord, kumbaya
Kumbaya my Lord, kumbaya
Kumbaya my Lord, kumbaya
Oh Lord, kumbaya

Someone’s singing Lord, kumbaya
Someone’s singing Lord, kumbaya
Someone’s singing Lord, kumbaya
Oh Lord, kumbayah

You then replace “singing” with “laughing”, “praying”, “sleeping” until it is time to put the kids to bed.  Refrain from using substitutes, such as “Someone’s drinking now Lord,” however it is fine to sing things like “Everyone’s going to bed now, kumbaya…” or  “This song is over now, kumbaya…” to put a cap on the eternal variations that can spontaneously happen … oh by the way, this classic campfire song is a champion amongst earworms too.  You’re welcome again.