Say, Say, Oh Playmate: We traced the story of this old song and hand clapping game, and have the lyrics

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Remember Say Say Oh Playmate - at Click Americana
Millions of people know “Say, Say, Oh Playmate” — also known as just “Playmate” — but very few folks today know much about the song.

The rhyme — which became the song’s lyrics — have been around a lot longer than the music itself. 

The tune we know as “Playmate” is actually from a song called “Iola,” composed and published by Charles Leslie Johnson sometime between 1904 and 1906.

A singer/songwriter/musician named Saxie Dowell has been credited with writing the song, but from what we were able to discover, he is most likely the one who first paired the old Victorian-era rhyme with the Johnson ditty.

Since then, “Playmates” has been recorded dozens of times by a wide variety of musical artists… and also sung thousands of times by kids on the playground.

Here is a collection of insights into the song from the past century, along with several variations on the theme — including the popular pre-WWII radio version and renditions of the song from other creative artists… plus a cover version by a celebrity that might surprise you.

Say Say Oh Playmate - at Click Americana

Say, Say, Oh Playmate: The clapping game, demonstrated

See some sheet music for Say Say Oh Playmate plus directions for the clapping game here!

No cellar door to slide down — and the rain barrel, also, died with the song that told of it (1910)

From The Kansas City Times via The Washington Post (July 17, 1910)

I don’t want to play in your yard,
I don’t like you any more.
You’ll be sorry when you see me
Sliding down our cellar door;
You can’t holler down our rain barrel.
You can’t climb our apple tree;
I don’t want to play in your yard
If you won’t be good to me.

The song is dead. it was laid to rest a dozen years ago. Did the song cause the cellar door and rain barrel to die also, or did the passing of the door and barrel cause the death of the song? No one knows. At any rate, all three are dead.

Have you ever in 1910 heard a disgruntled Miss threatening her playmate, next door, by telling him that he couldn’t slide down the cellar door or holler down the rain barrel at her house? it wouldn’t have any effect on the offender now, you know, for the slanting cellar doors and the old oaken barrel under the spout at the corner of the house are things of the past.

Say Say Oh Playmate - Bring your dollies three - at Click Americana

Perhaps you hadn’t missed the two things that were the delights of your playmate and yourself, years ago. Many people do not know that the cellar door and the rain barrel are antiquities.

“Every day we tell people who want them put on their houses that they are out-of-date,” said an architect yesterday afternoon. “Now, when we put outside steps into the cellar at all, we put an open ‘ramp’ of concrete around the opening with steps of solid concrete.

“A good drain in the bottom of the hole carries off all water… The slanting doors were bound to go. They were hard to handle, often being heavy, and frequently it was inconvenient for the woman of the house to go outside to gain access to the basement.”

“The old rain barrel is replaced by a concrete cistern, equipped with a charcoal filter, in which the water from the roof is purified before it passes into the cistern.”

With the cellar door and the rain barrel gone, and now that the children are amusing themselves with other things, it is plain to be seen that the age is in need of another song, similar to the one quoted above. Why not something like this:

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I don’t want to play on your lawn.
I will like you ne’er again;
I’ll tell papa not to take you
Out in our new aeroplane;

You can’t ride my Teddy wagon.
You can’t hear my dog say “Please”
I’ll not let you use my rollers
in the evening’s gentle breeze.

MORE: Baby First Step, Betsy Wetsy, Swingy, Dancerina, Cheerful Tearful & other vintage dolls from the ’60s

Willie Nelson sings “Playmate”

The tune was covered in this century by none other than Willie Nelson.

“Playmate” lyrics in the Willie Nelson version

Playmate, come out and play with me
And bring your dollies three
Climb up my apple tree
Look down my rain barrel
Slide down my cellar door
And we’ll be jolly friends forever more

But she couldn’t come out and play
It was a rainy day
With tearful eye, she breathed a sigh
And I could hear her say

I’m sorry, playmate, I cannot play with you
My dolly’s got the flu, boo hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo
Hasn’t got no rain barrel, hasn’t got no cellar door
But we’ll be jolly friends forever more

Say Say Oh Playmate - Apple tree - at Click Americana

Playmate, come out and play with me (1967)

The Courier-Journal (Louisville, Kentucky) – October 18, 1967

Evidence is at hand of an old song, as well as an old recitation, about the two little neighbor girls who slid down the cellar door, climbed the apple tree, hollered down the rain barrel, etc.

We’ve already had a fragment of the recitation, now for a sampling of the song.

“I believe,” writes Mrs. Robert H. Singletary, Louisville, “that this song was introduced (it certainly was plugged!) between 1939 and 1945 by Kay Kyser on his radio show, Kay Kyser’s Kollege of Musical Knowledge.

I may not have every word just right, but I am sure this was the main message:

Playmate, come out and play with me
And bring your dollies three.
We’ll climb my apple tree,
Climb in my rain barrel,
Slide down my cellar door
And be jolly friends forever more.

Now she couldn’t come out to play,
It was a rainy day.
With tears and sighs
I heard her cry,
And this is what she said:

I’m sorry, playmate, I cannot play with you.
My dolly’s got the flu,
Boo-hoo-hoo, boo-hoo-hoo.
Can’t climb your rain barrel,
Slide down your cellar door,
But we’ll be friends forevermore.

MORE: Free to Be…You and Me: A one-of-a-kind, star-studded message to kids (1973)

An old version: “Playmates,” by Kay Keyser and his orchestra (1940)

Playmates, by Kay Keyser and his orchestra 1942

Say Say Oh Playmate - Rain barrel- at Click Americana

When looking at the lyrics for the song, the rain barrel line, in particular, seems to be subject to the most change over the years. Some variations we found include:
  • Look down my rain barrel
  • Shout down my rain barrel
  • Holler down our rain barrel
  • Cry down my rain barrel
  • Call down my rain barrel
  • Climb in my rain barrel
  • Slide down my rainbow

Say Say Oh Playmate - Cellar door - at Click Americana

Getting ’50s retro: The Fontaine Sisters’ version of “Playmates” from 1955

“Say Say, Oh Playmate” – Ambre McLean

Here’s an interpretation of “Say, Say, Oh Playmate” by singer Ambre McLean, who has created a gorgeous multi-layered of the schoolyard classic by live looping each verse. (If you don’t know what that means, watch the video and you’ll see.)

Say, say, oh playmate: Basic lyrics

Say, say, oh playmate,
Come out and play with me
And bring your dollies three
Climb up my apple tree

Shout down my rain barrel
Slide down my cellar door
And we’ll be jolly friends
For ever more, more, shut the door

Say Say Oh Playmate - song and rhyme- Click Americana

MORE: See popular board games of the 1950s or of the 1960s

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19 Responses

  1. We grew up saying, “slide down my rainbow into my cellar door”. I never realized it was wrong but I don’t remember ever seeing the actual words until now. I also had no idea it was an actual song.

  2. We always sang: (1970’s)
    Oh jolly playmate
    Come out and play with me
    And bring your dollies 3
    Climb up my apple tree
    Slide down my rainbow
    Into your cellar door
    And we’ll be jolly friends
    Forever more…..1234

    Then we had another:
    Oh jolly playmate
    I cannot play with you
    My dolly has the flu
    Boo hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo
    Can’t slide down your rainbow
    Into my cellar door
    But we’ll be jolly friends
    Forever more 1234
    Something like that lol

  3. My girlfriend and I viewed it as a sexual song. That the dollies three was talking about a man’s genitalia or a woman’s two breasts and vagina. Think about it. “Slide down my rain barrel and into my cellar door.” We thought it was kinda a creepy song.

  4. A comment:
    I learned the song Playmate when I was just a little girl in rural Iowa when we kids were busy playing outside, hollering down rain barrels (some nice echos) and sliding down cellar doors (sit on something sturdy to avoid splinters!) for fun! I’m 68 now. I think the song has to do with the effects of the 1918-1919 Spanish flu from a child’s perspective. Here are the lyrics I learned:
    “Playmate, come out and play with me, and bring your dollies three, climb up my apple tree. Holler down my rain barrel, slide down my cellar door, and we’ll be jolly friends for evermore.
    Well, she couldn’t come out and play, tho it was a sunny day. With a tearful eye, she breathed a sigh, and I could hear her say: “I’m sorry playmate, I cannot play with you. My dolly has the flu, boo hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo. Ain’t got no rain barrel, ain’t got no cellar door, but we’ll be jolly friends forevermore.“”
    Good memories! We loved shouting “Ain’t!” which was never OK with our elders which made it all the better! Thanks!

    1. I’ve been researching this song all pm. Yours is the way I always heard it. Plus some sheet music renditions. Guess my mom just put them all together but good to know someone else heard it the way I did. By the way I’m older than u.

  5. S, Yuck!…I’m gonna pretend I never read your version…otherwise it will destroy one of my best memories of my mom singing as we kids drifted into pleasants dreams.

  6. My father passed away at the early age of 40 n it became difficult for my mom to make ends meet. Although we were blessed to have our family home it was a struggle for my mom to make sure taxes were paid tv n cable were a luxury we could not afford. As kids my mom used to tell us stories n sing songs to us. One of my favorites was playmate…with th verse ending with…slide down my rain barrel n through my cellar door but we’ll be jolly friends forever more. I am now 64 yrs. old n 7 yrs since mom passed on, my desire is to keep this song n all of the nursery rhymes n songs that I can remember alive. My children n grandchildren know all of these and have promised to continue passing them along. For my son n grandsons I changed the words from “dollies three” to “your little doggie” which in turn they would say “my little doggies got the flu, boo hoo, boo hoo, boo hoo”. Thanks for letting me share.

    1. Thank you so much for sharing your memories! Love that you’re teaching your grandchildren – and very cute to change it to doggie instead of dolly.

  7. I was talking about ‘ring around the rosie’ being about the pox epidemic, and he remembered his mother singing this song, but he could only remember a few phrases – ‘sliding down the cellar door’ and ‘singing down the rain barrel’. She remembered the song as being related to an epidemic from when she was a child. She died in 1989 at 94 yrs old, so this epidemic was a long time ago.

  8. I have looked and looked for the version my mother (born 1926) sang for us. It was adapted for the Tuberculosis crisis during her childhood.
    The changes were:
    SUNSHINE come out and play with me
    I don’t want old TB to fool around with me
    He brings the sniffles and makes me stay indoors
    Da da da da da forevermore

    I will come out and play
    I’ll make a sunny day
    But I can’t do it all alone
    I need your help this way
    Da da da da da
    Da da da da da da da
    And we’ll be jolly friends forevermore

    I wish the American Lung Society could help.

  9. I’m 51 and we used to sing it:

    Say say my playmate
    Come out and play with me
    And bring your dollies three
    Climb up my Apple tree
    Slide down my rainbow
    Onto my cellar door
    And we’ll be jolly friends
    Forever more more more more more

  10. .My mother sang this song growing up in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada in the early 1900’s. She taught it to me about 70 years ago. The tune and lyrics are very similar to these later versions. I’ve never heard it performed, but it has always been in the back of my mind.

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