Civilization (Bongo Bongo Bongo)

by Brad Nelson   1/21/15

A song is worth a thousand words, so before I blather on, cue up this old one featuring Danny Kaye and the Andrew Sisters and have a delightful listen to a time when music was fun and playfully creative: Civilization (Bongo Bongo Bongo)

Song Facts writes:

The songwriters Bob Hilliard and Carl Sigman wrote this for a special musical show at the legendary New York nightspot The Copacabana. When The Copa turned down the song, Hilliard and Sigman used it in a Broadway stage revue called Angel in the Wings, which ran for 308 performances at the Coronet Theater from 1947-48. In the show, it was performed by Elaine Stritch. Louis Prima had a Top 10 hit with the song, but it was the comic actor Danny Kaye, with the Andrews Sisters, who took it to the top of the charts with a winning call and-response rendition.

In The Carl Sigman Songbook, Sigman’s son Michael calls this song, “a humorous satire of modern society. Telling what today we’d call the politically incorrect tale of the happy native who doesn’t want anything to do with the ‘advantages’ of modern life, its famous refrain goes, ‘Bongo, bongo, bongo I don’t want to leave the congo/Oh no no no no no/Bingle, bangle, bungle I’m so happy in the jungle/I refuse to go.'”

Wiki notes:

The Andrews Sisters and Danny Kaye recording was recorded September 27, 1947 and released by Decca Records as catalog number 24462. The record first reached the Billboard magazine charts on November 14, 1947 and lasted 10 weeks on the chart, peaking at No. 3

And the only reason I made acquaintance with this song is because it’s part of the in-game soundtrack dubbed “Galaxy News Radio” from Fallout 3, which is a post-apocolypic, retro-futurist, first-person shooter. My brother brought this to my attention. It’s a truly splendid soundtrack full of extraordinary songs such as Bob Crosby’s (brother of Bing) charming Way Back Home.

Definitely Harry wasn’t the only one who could sing.

I fancy myself a lover of old music, but I’d never heard of either of these songs until listening to the soundtrack. And you may have absolutely no interest in first-person-shooter video games for the Xbox 360. But if you can get ahold of the Galaxy News Radio soundtrack, you won’t be disappointed.


Each morning a missionary advertise with neon sign
He tells the native population that civilization is fine
And three educated savages holler from a bongo tree
That civilization is a thing for me to see

So bongo, bongo, bongo, I don’t want to leave the Congo
Oh no no no no no
Bingle, bangle, bungle, I’m so happy in the jungle I refuse to go
Don’t want no bright lights, false teeth, doorbells, landlords
I make it clear
(That no matter how they coax him)
I’ll stay right here

I looked through a magazine the missionary’s wife conceals
(A magazine? What happens?)
I see how people who are civilized bump you with automobiles
(You know you can get hurt that way Daniel?)
At the movies they have got to pay many coconuts to see
(What do they see Danny?)
Uncivilized pictures that the newsreel takes of me

So bongo, bongo, bongo, he don’t want to leave the Congo
Oh no no no no no
Bingle, bangle, bungle, he’s so happy in the jungle he refuse to go
Don’t want no penthouse, bathtub, streetcars, taxis
Noise in my ear
(So no matter how they coax him)
I’ll stay right here

They hurry like savages to get aboard an iron train
(The Tring-galim-bohoo-laham-bah-le Express)
And though it’s smokey and it’s crowded they’re too civilized to complain
When they’ve got two weeks vacation they hurry to vacation grounds
(What do they do Danny?)
They swim and they fish, but that’s what I do all year round

So bongo, bongo, bongo, I don’t want to leave the Congo
Oh no no no no no
Bingle, bangle, bungle, I’m so happy in the jungle I refuse to go
Don’t want no jailhouse, shotguns, fish hooks, golf clubs
I’ve got my spear
(So no matter how they coax him)
I’ll stay right here

They have things like the atom bomb
So I think I’ll stay where I “am”
Civilization, I’ll stay right here

Brad is editor and chief disorganizer of StubbornThings.
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Brad Nelson

About Brad Nelson

I like books, nature, politics, old movies, Ronald Reagan (you get sort of a three-fer with that one), and the founding ideals of this country. We are the Shining City on the Hill — or ought to be. However, our land has been poisoned by Utopian aspirations and feel-good bromides. Both have replaced wisdom and facts.
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6 Responses to Civilization (Bongo Bongo Bongo)

  1. Timothy Lane says:

    Danny Kaye loved fast-acting wordplay (often written by his wife), so this song would be right up his alley. I recall a variant on The Muppet Show with Dyan Cannon. (I also recall a cartoon show I saw a few times that featured a group of animals under a lion king living in the Bongo Congo.)

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      I didn’t know his wife wrote lyrics or poetry. Here’s the YouTube video of that Muppet Show episode you mentioned. I’d never seen that.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        Not lyrics or poetry. Think of the wordplay at one point in The Court Jester: “The poison in the pellet is in the vessel with the pestle. The chalice from the palace holds the brew that is true.” Then, after one is broken, they provide “the flagon with the dragon” to replace it. Apparently Kaye’s wife wrote a lot of those sequences.

        • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

          I love that scene.

          Years ago, Kaye gave a talk at, I believe, the Foreign Correspondents Club in Tokyo. (It might have been somewhere else like the Tokyo American Club) At the end he told the women in attendance that he was willing to kiss each woman who would come to the front. His only proviso was he could choose whether he would kiss them on the lips or forehead. Apparently, plenty of ladies got in line.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        Unfortunately, it didn’t play for me. Some videos do; some don’t. A lot of times it says I need a new version of Adobe, but whenever I’ve received and uploaded one, it’s never made a difference.

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