Cats and Rats and Elephants

So this morning, I’m flipping through a copy of the New Yorker from several weeks back, and I stumble upon this cartoon. And next thing you know, I’ve got this song stuck in my head, part of which goes:

Oh, there were green alligators and long-necked geese
Hump-backed camels and chimpanzees
Cats and rats and elephants, but sure as you’re born
The loveliest of all was the unicorn

The upshot of the song is, like the cartoon, that the absence of unicorns from the fauna of the present-day can be traced back to a Noah-ark-flood mishap, in this case that the unicorns were too busy playing and being lovely to recognize that they ought to get on the boat.

But here’s the thing: I’ve only ever heard this song one place, and that’s on an LP I had as a child, which drew its title from another song about the last horse on the merry-go-round, who’s constantly trying to catch up with the others, only one day he looks behind him and suddenly figures out that he’s not last, but first!

I haven’t heard anything off of that record since I was, probably, seven. And, given the tenacity of the cats and rats and elephants now populating my brain, here’s what I want to know: Why don’t I have this kind of recall for things I read?


  1. My only guess is the fact that we play those songs endlessly whereas we only read a passage a few times at most.

    I have similar recall for movies that I’ve seen 5 or more times. I could probably quote “The Big Lebowski” if prompted by the visual images, but those kids songs definitely stick. In fact, I’m flashing back to a couple now.

  2. Disney had an old character called Horace Horsecollar, but I think Shel Silverstein is credited with writing that Unicorn song. You can hear the Irish Rovers sing it if you go to Amazon and look up Irish Rovers under music (there’s a free clip).

  3. I have a cartoon up on my office doorÛalso from the New Yorker, also about Noah’s arcÛin which a lion remarks conversationally to Noah, “You need two more gazelles.”

  4. Having perused this thread with nothing to add save “I remember singing this song in summer camp,” I found myself at an Irish pub over the weekend. Now, the fact that the celtic band played the song might be interesting enough to warrant comment here, but the fact that half the people at this bar remembered the accompanying gestures necessitates that I ask: did you ever know the gestures, and if so, do you still know them?

  5. Gestures? There were Gestures?

    Geez, all I had was Burl Ives on a scratchy LP. Now I want video. Or live performance. Or something…

  6. Hi the song is by Burl Ives. I think it was on more than one album as I used to have one, it also had

    ‘Whistling rabbit’ and ‘Angus Mcfergus Mc

    tavish Dundee’ oh and ‘Big rock candy mountain’ and others. My mum seems to have lost it though. real shame as I want it for my daughters. I don’t even remember the name of the album but it had a yellow cover. there were others too with some of these songs and others, you probably had a different one to me, and I cannot find them on CD. if I have any luck I shall pop back and let you know. Hope this helps

    I really loved that album as a child and even rememer all the words to Horace the horse….:)

  7. Hey you gotta go to Jacky & Paul’s bar show at the Surf City Hotel on Long Beach Island NJ this summer (Sunday nights?) where they do this song EVERY time and EVERYONE in the bar knows the gestures…they pass the microphone around the bar and let everyone have a go. The more drinks you have the funnier it gets…….and each year you remember a little more of it! I was also recently asked to find ‘Big Rock Candy Mountain’ for a school assembly; you should SEE the original hobo lyrics! Not at all the innocent words I remembered singing as a child (good thing I found the right ones for our kids!)

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