Behind the Repetitive, Sudsy Drinking Song ’99 Bottles of Beer’

Has anyone ever finished this song in its entirety? Amazingly, the answer is yes (see below). But while many people finish a bottle of beer in a given sitting, few have ever finished singing this long, repetitive, beer-themed song known as “99 Bottles of Beer.”

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With its beginning at 99 bottles and repeating lyrics with the number of bottles diminishing by one each go-round, the song is easy to remember, easy to sing, and indicative of some fun, rowdy times.

As such, the song has subsisted in all of its sudsy glory over the years because it’s a quirky one to start to sing before one gets tired out and, well, looks to perhaps cracking open a brew to relax.

But let’s get into the meaning behind the song.

When Was It Written?

Known as “99 Bottles of Beer,” or for the kids, “99 Bottles of Pop on the Wall,” the song comes from the mid-20th century. It is known both in the United States and its northern neighbor, Canada. It is known by many as the No. 1 drinking song in the world, whether sipping sodas or suds.

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While no one knows who wrote the song originally, some believe that it stems from the fourteenth-century nursery rhyme, “Ten Green Bottles,” which is also a numerically-repetitive song that goes:

Ten green bottles hanging on the wall,
Ten green bottles hanging on the wall,
And if one green bottle should accidentally fall,
There’ll be nine green bottles hanging on the wall.

Often, the song is sung to pass the time, much like the tunes “The Wheels on the Bus” and “The Song That Never Ends.” As a result, “99 Bottles of Beer” is often sung on road trips or in rooms where there isn’t much else to do.

As noted above, the song is repetitious, with its formal repeating for each lyric, with only the number of “bottles of beer on the wall” diminishing by one each line. The hope is to get all the way down to “1 bottle of beer on the wall” before concluding the number, and, perhaps, starting again in order to pass more time.

The Lyrics

In essence, the lyrics are simple, though there are a number of slight variations.

In general, the song is sung like this:

99 bottles of beer on the wall
99 bottles of beer
Take one down
Pass it around
98 bottles of beer on the wall
(continued)

Some alternative lines include:

If one of those bottles
Should happen to fall
98 bottles of beer on the wall

The song may end this way:

No more bottles of beer on the wall
No more bottles of beer
Go to the store and buy up some more
99 bottles of beer on the wall

Or, jokingly, the song can really never end, like this:

Negative one (-1) bottles of beer on the wall
Negative one (-1) bottles of beer
Take one down, pass it around
Negative two bottles of beer on the wall

Famous Renditions

The comedian Andy Kaufman was known to perform a rendition of the song during his shows, singing the song all the way down to “no bottles of beer on the wall.” The sheer repetitiveness and droning on would be funny to audiences in a shock-value way.

[RELATED: Behind the Meaning of the Endlessly Fun Nursery Rhyme “Five Little Monkeys”]

In addition, Knoxville, Tennessee band Atticus recorded a thirteen-and-a-half minute live version of the song at its show in Glasgow, Scotland. That rendition was on the band’s 2001 album, Figment.

And several years ago for International Beer Day, the iconic beer company Budweiser released a video of the song performed in its entirety, too.

Final Thoughts

For many, drinking is fun. It provides a little excitement to a day. But it can also be a long endeavor, taking hours. Especially if you’re sipping light beer from a bottle. So, that process needs a repetitive soundtrack. With “99 Bottles of Beer,” the world has just that. And the song, as such, will likely live forever.

Photo: Gettyimages.com

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