The History of The Latest Crazy Song on American Horror Story

Judy knows your name!

Warning: Many, many spoilers ahead

Can we ship a special Grammy to the writers of American Horror Story: Asylum? Because they’re using music like some kind of demented Beethoven.

As we discussed a few weeks ago, Sister Jude’s obsession with “Dominique” by The Singing Nun was perfect. That song is not only too cheery for a nuthouse, but also has a sick and twisted back story that makes it a great metaphor for life with Devil Eunice and the Sexy Priest.

And in this week’s episode, the show does it again. After Devil Eunice smashes the “Dominique” record, she wheels in a great big jukebox.  And then she makes Sister Jude get shock therapy. And when Jude stumbles back into the break room, what does she see on the brand new record machine? Why, “The Name Game” by Shirley Ellis, which leads to the most glorious fantasy dance sequence you will ever see. Ever. In all your life.

I mean… my GOD. It’s so unsettling to see them all looking so happy! And to be lit so well! And it’s so tragic, really, that in Sister Jude’s shock-addled fantasy, all she wants is to look pretty and dance with Pepper. It’s so sweet, you know?

And of course, it’s also perfect that she chooses “The Name Game,” which is also the title of the episode. At this point in the series, almost everyone’s names and identities have become unglued. Sister Jude, defrocked, is Judy again. Dr. Arden is also a Nazi. Sister Mary Eunice is also the devil. Threadson is also Bloody Face. And if you want to pull back even further, you can argue that “naming” is the most terrifying thing in this show. If someone calls you crazy, whether you are or not, then you get tossed in Briarcliff. So to sing a peppy ditty like “The Name Game?” Where the singer gets to manipulate your name however she sees fit? In Asylum, that’s kind of terrifying.

Unlike “Dominique,” though, “The Name Game” doesn’t have a troubling back story to make things even creepier. The song was a #3 hit in 1964 for Shirley Ellis, who had a brief, bright career making R&B tunes out of convoluted instructions. Along with “The Name Game”—which has really confusing lyrics, if you think about it—Ellis also hit the top ten with “The Clapping Song,” which is full of confusing commands about when to slap or clap your friends. I think there’s something about kissing a doll. I’m not sure.

But I don’t guess it really matters, because “The Name Game” and especially “The Clapping Song” are hot, hot hits. When the groove is that awesome, who cares about the instructions?

And I guess that’s another window onto Asylum. Lots of people on this show have been talked into doing crazy things because someone spoke to them in the right way. And be honest, if you heard crazy messages set to “The Clapping Song,” you might shimmy your rights away and never even notice:

Mark Blankenship would love to do the Mashed Potato with Jessica Lange. He tweets as @IAmBlankenship



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