A unique song to say the least: My Ding-A-Ling

“My Ding-a-Ling” is a novelty song written and recorded by Dave Bartholomew. It was covered by Chuck Berry in 1972 and became his only number-one Billboard Hot 100 single in the United States. Later that year, in a longer unedited form, it was included on the album The London Chuck Berry Sessions.

The song tells of how the singer received a toy consisting of “silver bells hanging on a string” from his grandmother, who calls them his “ding-a-ling”. According to the song, he plays with it in school, and holds on to it in dangerous situations like falling after climbing the garden wall, and swimming across a creek infested with snapping turtles. From the second verse onward, the lyrics consistently exercise the double entendre in that a penis could just as easily be substituted for the toy bells and the song would still make sense.

The lyrics with their sly tone and innuendo (and the enthusiasm of Berry and the audience) caused many radio stations to refuse to play it. British morality campaigner Mary Whitehouse tried unsuccessfully to get the song banned. “One teacher,” Whitehouse wrote to the BBC’s Director General, “told us of how she found a class of small boys with their trousers undone, singing the song and giving it the indecent interpretation which—in spite of all the hullabaloo—is so obvious… We trust you will agree with us that it is no part of the function of the BBC to be the vehicle of songs which stimulate this kind of behaviour—indeed quite the reverse.”

In Icons of Rock, Scott Schinder calls the song “a sophomoric, double-entendre-laden ode to masturbation”. Robert Christgau remarked that the song “permitted a lot of twelve-year-olds new insight into the moribund concept of ‘dirty'”.

During a short spoken introduction to the song on the single, Berry refers to the song as “our alma mater”.

The controversy was lampooned in The Simpsons episode “Lisa’s Pony”, in which a Springfield Elementary School student attempts to sing the song during the school’s talent show. He barely finishes the first line of the refrain before an irate Principal Skinner pushes him off the stage, angrily proclaiming “This act is over!”

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