Sane, sane, they're all insane, fireman's blind, the conductor is lame
A Cincinnati jacket and a sad-luck dame
Hanging out the window with a bottle full of rain
Clap hands, clap hands, clap hands, clap hands

Said roar, roar, the thunder and the roar
*Sum-bitch* is never coming back here no more
*...moon intha winda ana bird ontha pole*
We can always find a millionaire to shovel all the coal
Clap hands, clap hands, clap hands, clap hands

Said steam, steam, a hundred bad dreams
Going up to Harlem with a pistol in his jeans
A fifty-dollar bill inside a palladin's hat
And nobody's sure where Mr. Knickerbocker's at

Roar, roar, the thunder and the roar
Son of a bitch is never coming back here no more
Moon in the window and a bird on the pole
Can always find a millionaire to shovel all the coal
Clap hands, clap hands, clap hands, clap hands

I said steam, steam, a hundred bad dreams
Going up to Harlem with a pistol in his jeans
A fifty-dollar bill inside a palladin's hat
And nobody's sure where Mr. Knickerbocker's at

Shine, shine, a Roosevelt dime
All the way to Baltimore and running out of time
Salvation Army seemed to wind up in the hole
They all went to heaven in a little row boat
Clap hands, clap hands, clap hands, clap hands
Clap hands, clap hands, clap hands, clap hands
Clap hands, clap hands, clap hands, clap hands


Lyrics submitted by archmastermind, edited by ktony


Clap Hands song meanings
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12 Comments

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  • +1
    General CommentAwesome song!!!

    well my interpritation of this song is; it's a song about the common man being sent to war, the fireman the conductor and how these people, when and if they come back are never the same again, or sane!

    "we can an always find a millionaire to shovel all the coal" is refering to how, in times of war, the wealthy are content to do the donky work, whilst the working class are being killed and maimed in action.

    "Roar, roar, the thunder and the roar" could this be the sound of war.

    "A fifty-dollar bill inside a palladin's hat" Reference to a palladin, which is a sword fighter/soldier.

    "And nobody's sure where Mr. Knickerbocker's at" could this be a reference to the fact that, the ice-cream man no longer drives by, as he too has met an unlucky end?


    franksblackdogon October 16, 2011   Link
  • 0
    General Commentguitar part sounds a bit like the theme tune from black books
    NJJon June 30, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General Commenti cant believe im only the 2nd person to comment on this song! Tom Waits is awesome, he's an unbelieveable musician! this song and Rain Dogs i would say are my 2 favorite songs by Waits so far. awesome song seriously.
    Sandman3987on January 06, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentEverytime I think of what this song may mean as I think of it, a following lyric makes me think it means something else.
    zorastruson April 28, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General Commentyea, this is by far my favorite song on raind dogs. just like zorastrus, i think it means one thing and then he something way off.
    mendigomartinon February 20, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General Commentthis song makes me think of jail for some reason
    vulgaron May 14, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI think this comes from a playground chant - goes something like:- 3-6-9 the goose drank wine the monkey chewed tobacco on the street car line the line broke the monkey got the choke & they all went to heaven in a little row boat clap clap!" (Correct me if I've got that wrong, it was a long time ago). Waits often uses little snippets like that in his songs.
    morbid moragon May 14, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI always thought that "Can always find a millionaire to shovel all the coal" was actually "Can always find a million in a shovel-load of coal." Such as finding a diamond.

    But, I just listened very closely and it definitely sounds like the former.
    Wattzon July 19, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI think this song may be telling story. There are three characters: a man, his adulterous wife or girlfriend, and the wealthy man the women has the affair with. The women left the singer via a train. But the train is not only the method of travel but associated with the motivation for travel. The train is characterized by insanity and delusion as the firemen and conductor are handicapped; This points to the irrationality of the women's decision to leave. The wealthy man the women is seeking is shoveling coal, not physically, but he is the driving force behind her transportation, her motivation for leaving. The roar is the sound of the train, the steam is produced by the train, which also produces a hundred bad dreams. I imagine the Moon in the window and a bird on the pole is the image the singer sees as he is looking out the window pondering how to respond. His decision is bold; He travels to Harlem with $50 seeking revenge. He doesn't find Mr. Knickerbocker, presumably the singers name for the wealthy man. He heads to Baltimore and upon finding them "They all went to heaven." He is alluding to the playground chant morbid moraq stated in his comment throughout the song because the singer feels the story to be pleasing and satisfying from the killers point of view because bad behavior was punished, even though the end was ripe with catastrophe.
    vacillatoron June 26, 2011   Link
  • 0
    My OpinionHi Everyone,
    I just signed up after landing here from a search on Tom Waits lyrics. My love for his work really began with "Heart Attack and Vine" and "Small Change". These, "Rain Dogs", and "Swordfish Trombone" are some of my favorites, but of course, there's lots more.

    I think it is possible to get carried away with trying to interpret Waits. I have always heard him as stream of consciousness, vivid imagery from the grungy side of life seen from the gutter, the bottle, and the bus station. He definitely uses old kid rhymes as evocations of.....something. "Liar, liar, with your pants on fire....."

    I certainly try to read things into his weird expressions. Some of them seem obvious, but that doesn't mean it's what he meant. That is his greatness. He is fluid and hard to pin down. He's a rambling beatnik, a carnival barker, a drunk, a bum. Amid all that down and dirty stuff he slips in touching sentiment, romance at the greasy spoon, all mixed with bittersweet longing.

    "I'll accept your invitation to the blues."
    ktonyon May 24, 2013   Link

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