Ten Green Bottles

Album: Kid's Classics (1830)

Songfacts®:

  • "Ten Green Bottles" or simply "Green Bottles" is a well known children's song. Sometimes the title is cut down to "Nine Green Bottles" or even "Five Green Bottles."

    Unsurprisingly it lends itself readily to parody; during World War II, a variation called "Ten German Bombers" combined the parodied words with the melody of "She'll Be Coming 'Round The Mountain." This variant was also popular with children, though needless to say some parodies are most definitely not suitable for children, at least not for the under fives, such as "Ten Sheep Shaggers," which has been used at soccer matches against Welsh teams. (The Welsh sheep shagging farmer is an old ethnic joke along the same lines as Zip Coon or the Englishman with a stiff upper lip).
  • The United States spawned a somewhat awkward variation "99 Bottles Of Beer" which runs:

    Ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall
    Ninety-nine bottles of beer
    Take one down, pass it around
    Ninety-eight bottles of beer on the wall


    Obviously this takes somewhat longer to sing, and the full version is clearly not suitable for classrooms.
  • Like many folk songs, the origin of "Ten Green Bottles" is lost to antiquity. It is believed to be of English, more specifically of Yorkshire origin, although one suggestion is that greenbottles refers to officers of the Metropolitan Police, apparently underworld jargon for the new force founded by Act of Parliament in 1829. This could explain why the bottles were said to be hanging on the wall rather than sitting on it. This explanation sounds plausible, but in September 1998, a French academic found a fragment of a manuscript, apparently dating from the late 14th Century, which appears to be the earliest extant version. It runs:

    Syxthene boetell gryne
    Yhangen, Yhangen
    Yhangen, Yhangen
    Syxthene boetell gryne
    Doonfal won
    Syxthene boetell gryne
    Yhangen, Yhangen
    An...


    >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Alexander Baron - London, England, for all above

Comments: 2

  • Thomas Flanagan from Wigan LancsMy mother recounted this as a playground song used in skipping etc. However the "libretto" ran somewhat differently involving youngsters of non-white ethnicity.
    There were other such skipalong rhymes and ditties from the 1920s and 1930s including, as a tribute to Ghandi's visit to Lancashire at that time, one telling of his unfortunate mishap as a result of his sitting on a box of eggs; there are plenty more that I can recall, but modern sensitivities would be cruelly assaulted by the rare language.
    You can sanitise your bathroom, but bleach has no effect on phenomena of an abstract kind, such as the past.
  • Greg from EdinburghThe origin myth is from a spoof article: http://www.standingstones.com/greenbot.html
see more comments

Editor's Picks

Janis Ian: Married in London, but not in New York

Janis Ian: Married in London, but not in New YorkSong Writing

Can you be married in one country but not another? Only if you're part of a gay couple. One of the first famous singers to come out as a lesbian, Janis wrote a song about it.

Howard Jones

Howard JonesSongwriter Interviews

Howard explains his positive songwriting method and how uplifting songs can carry a deeper message.

Little Richard

Little RichardFact or Fiction

Was Long Tall Sally a cross-dresser? Did he really set his piano on fire? See if you know the real stories about one of rock's greatest innovators.

Elton John

Elton JohnFact or Fiction

Does he have beef with Gaga? Is he Sean Lennon's godfather? See if you can tell fact from fiction in the Elton John edition.

Rick Springfield

Rick SpringfieldSongwriter Interviews

Rick has a surprising dark side, a strong feminine side and, in a certain TV show, a naked backside. But he still hasn't found Jessie's Girl.

70s Music Quiz 1

70s Music Quiz 1Music Quiz

The '70s gave us Muppets, disco and Van Halen, all which show up in this groovy quiz.