Dr. Seuss passed away in 1991, but the iconic author is still alive in the hearts of children and readers everywhere. From creating some of the most colorful characters ever put to page to satirizing social issues through storytelling, Seuss (born Theodore Geisel) was a creative talent unlike any other.
Today is the good doctor’s 113th birthday and, not coincidently, Read Across America Day, where children across the world celebrate their love of reading. But Seuss’ ability to turn a phrase or spruce up a sophisticated rhyme extends far beyond literature, and into the realm of music. Over the years, several musicians have borrowed lyrical cues or paid homage to Seuss, and we’ve compiled the most noteworthy.
1. ‘Clap Your Hands’ (1993), A Tribe Called Quest
A Tribe Called Quest have always been renown for their poetic approach to hip-hop. The jazzy instrumentals, the penchant for storytelling, and the vivid lyricism that Q-Tip and Phife Dog bring to the table aren’t far off from the colorful, metaphor-infused worlds of Dr. Seuss. And sure enough, Seuss gets a shout out in the track “Clap Your Hands,” off their 1993 album Midnight Marauders.
As the song is about the chemistry between Tip and Phife, the two emcees proceed to show how in the pocket they can be when it comes to clever punchlines, while Seuss and his hat (referencing that hat worn by the Cat in the Hat) are used to demonstrate just how well endowed Mr. Q-Tip is: “C*ck is longer than the hat worn by Dr. Seuss.” The lyric gives whole new meaning to said hat.
Read the lyrics for “Clap Your Hands” here.
2. ‘The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight’ (1992), R.E.M.
This 1992 cut from R.E.M.‘s eight album Automatic for the People is notorious for its coded lyrics and varied meaning. The title itself is a reference to the classic song “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” but the rest of the lyrics reflect a gibberish and colorful use of language that would make Dr. Seuss proud.
At the 2:33 mark, lead singer Michael Stipe announces that he will perform “a reading by Dr. Seuss,” while audibly laughing at the fact that he keeps saying “Zeus” instead of “Seuss.” The silliness is strangely befitting of the late author’s work, and the fun is affirmed by a title that literally sounds like a long lost Seuss story.
Read the lyrics for “The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite” here.
3. ‘Egg Man’ (1989), Beastie Boys
Like “I Am The Walrus” was for The Beatles, “Egg Man” finds the Beastie Boys tearing through a mountain of pop culture references and inside jokes. Over the songs runtime, we get lyrical and auditory nods to Humpty Dumpty, Psycho (1960), Taxi Driver (1976), the soundtrack from Superfly (1972), and much, much more. Dr. Seuss’ book Green Eggs and Ham (1960) is also dropped into the mix here, as the group rhymes “Sam I am/down with the program/green eggs and ham/Yosemite Sam!”
Where the song proves so impressive is that each supposed line of gibberish in fact builds on itself in strange, inexplicably logical way. “Egg Man” is a joyous journey into abstract storytelling, and it’s for this precise reason that the Dr. Seuss reference seems so fitting.
Read the lyrics for “Egg Man” here.
4. ‘Housequake’ (1987), Prince
An early track on the 1987 opus Sign ‘O The Times, “Housequake” finds the Purple One channeling the spirit of James Brown. It’s absolutely dripping with funk, and Prince pitches up his vocals for an especially limber collection of lyrical themes that don’t so much make sense as sound great over the melody. Prince sings of doing the Twist, jamming ’til the cops bust in, and, in an inspired bit of randomness, Dr. Seuss’ favorite meal.
“Now everybody clap your hands/come on/let’s jam y’all,” he sings, “let’s jam/don’t wait for your neighbor/green eggs and ham!” The latter bit of course being another reference to Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham. Who knew such a meal could sound so funky? The song starts at 1:57 in the video above.
Read the lyrics for “Housequake” here.
5. ‘Peter Piper’ (1986), Run-DMC
Dr. Seuss is a pioneer in the art form of rhyming. His books were considered oddities at the time of their release, but have since proven very influential on the way children learn and process information. In that way, it makes sense why hip-hop would gravitate so heavily towards his work– in his books, he honed the same verbal skills that rappers do. The first time we see this marriage of Seuss and hip-hop is the 1986 classic from Run-DMC, “Peter Piper.”
The rap trio put every famous nursery rhyme in a blender and pour out a slick riff that’s graced by Jam Master Jay‘s inescapably catchy cowbell beat. The lyrical nod to Seuss is subtle, and if one isn’t paying close attention they might just miss it: “Now Dr. Seuss and Mother Goose both did their thing/but Jam Master’s getting loose and DMC is the king,” they rhyme, at last finding a word that properly rhymes with Seuss. The doctor would be proud.
Read the lyrics for “Peter Piper” here.