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Song Spotlight: “Tiptoe Through the Tulips”

  • Mood: Light (Humorous? Creepy?)
  • Themes: Romance, Flowers (Parody? Evil?)
  • Tempo: Walking speed (Tiptoe speed?)
  • Genre/Style: Vaudeville, 1920s

A couple of days ago, I posted a song spotlight on the song “When You Wore a Tulip and I Wore a Big Red Rose.” I promised another spotlight on a flower-themed song, and here it is: “Tiptoe Through The Tulips.”

I actually did not learn this song until recently, when it was suggested by Peggy, an activity director that I work with on a memory care unit. I discovered that this song has kind of a strange history, one that reminds us how important it is to consider the context in which a loved one learned this song. Context can be very individualized (for example, it may be a song played at their wedding or a loved one’s funeral), or it can be more communal, as it is with this song.

“Tiptoe Through the Tulips” was composed by Nick Lucas, the “Crooning Troubadour.” His recording hit the top of the charts in May 1929, and cover versions by three other artists also hit the charts that year. This traditional version of the song is pretty straightforward – it’s a sweet, romantic song about an innocent rendezvous in the garden, ending with a kiss. This is the version of the song that many older adults might know the best.

Perhaps the most famous version of this song, though, was performed by Tiny Tim, a singer and ukelele player who sang this particular song in a high falsetto voice. Tiny Tim apparently had a great interest in the old Tin Pan Alley songs and performed them seriously, but he didn’t grab popular attention until his falsetto singing turned him into something of a novelty act in the late 1960s. His version of the song will probably be most familiar to those in the Baby Boomer generation.

Perhaps the strangest fact of this song’s history, though, has happened just in recent months. Tiny Tim’s recording of this song was used in the soundtrack to the horror film “Insidious,” which as of this writing is still showing in theaters. While I haven’t seen the movie, I’ve read that “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” is pretty creepy in this context. You can see a TV spot featuring the song here (if you dare!)

What does this mean for us lovers of music who wish to share great songs with others? I don’t think it’s likely that many older adults will be familiar with the horror film context, but their teenage grandchildren might – you’ll want to be aware of this before introducing the song in an intergenerational context. Caregivers and facility staff members might be more familiar with the horror film context or Tiny Tim version of the song, too, so it helps to be aware of this before introducing the song. That doesn’t mean that this song can’t be enjoyed at its face value, though. It’s still a sweet, cheery song about springtime flowers for many people, and it’s a great song to have in any repertoire.