"O mein Papa" is a nostalgic German song, originally as related by a young woman remembering her beloved, once-famous clown father. It was written by Swiss composer Paul Burkhard in 1939 for the musical Der schwarze Hecht (The Black Pike), reproduced in 1950 as Das Feuerwerk (The Firework) to a libretto by Erik Charell, Jürg Amstein, and Robert Gilbert. In 1954 that musical was turned into the film Fireworks with Lilli Palmer.
It was adapted into English by John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons under the title "Oh! My Pa-Pa". A recording by Eddie Fisher with Hugo Winterhalter's orchestra and chorus was made at Webster Hall, New York City, on December 12, 1953. It was released by RCA Victor Records as catalog number 20-5552 (in US) and by EMI on the His Master's Voice label as catalog number B 10614. This recording became a No. 1 hit on the U.S. Billboard chart in 1954.
Fisher's version also made the UK Top 10; thus, in the UK, Calvert's version was number one while Fisher's made the top 10, but missed the top spot, and in the U.S., the opposite occurred. Calvert's version was the first UK number one hit recorded at Abbey Road Studios. The song returned to Abbey Road when Brian Fahey conducted an instrumental version in 1960, to be used as a backing track for Connie Francis' English-Yiddish recording for her album Connie Francis Sings Jewish Favorites. Francis overdubbed her vocals in Hollywood. In June 1966, Francis overdubbed the same playback once more, this time with the original German lyrics for her German concept album Melodien, die die Welt erobern.
U.S. television viewers were re-introduced to the song via the television show Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.. In the episode "Sing a Song of Papa", Jim Nabors' Private Pyle enters a talent contest at a nightclub. His rendition of the song wins him $25 and the admiration of the club's owner, who is apparently connected to organized crime, and predictable hi-jinks ensue. The episode closes with Nabors singing the song again with Italian lyrics.
The song has been performed and recorded by numerous artists since its debut, including Lys Assia,  Siouxsie and the Banshees (on 1979's Join Hands, as "Mother/Oh Mein Papa"), Björk (on Gling-Gló, as "Pabbi minn") and many others. The opening stanza was momentarily quoted in Frank Zappa's song "Billy the Mountain" (1972) in place of the word "fissure", a reference to Eddie Fisher. The song was also in the episode "Like Father, Like Clown" of The Simpsons sung by Krusty the Clown.
Oh, my Papa, to me he was so wonderful,
Oh, my Papa, so funny, so adorable,
Gone are the days when he would take me on his knee
And with a smile he'd change my tears to laughter.
The original German version of the song contains passages that more fully give the context to the listener; these don't appear in the English translation. It contains fractured grammar, confusing masculine and feminine nouns and adjectives, as if sung by a non-native German speaker or by a child not yet familiar with proper German speech.
Papa wie ein Pfeil
Er ritt auf die Seil
Dann warf er sechs Bänder
Er warf die sechs Bänder
Ei, wie er lacht,
Oh, mein Papa war eine wunderbare Clown.
- Flury, Philipp; Kaufmann, Peter (1979). O mein Papa… Paul Burkhard: Leben und Werk (in German). Zurich: Orell Füssli/Neue Schweizer Bibliothek. ISBN 3-280-01129-9. OCLC 6787865.
- Rice, Jo (1982). The Guinness Book of 500 Number One Hits (1st ed.). Enfield, Middlesex: Guinness Superlatives Ltd. p. 12. ISBN 0-85112-250-7.
- ""Oh! My Pa-Pa" score title page". Ecx.images-amazon.com. Retrieved 2014-04-03.
- "RCA Victor 20-5500 - 20-6000 78rpm numerical listing discography". 78discography.com. Retrieved 2014-04-03.
- "Eurovision's one hit wonders singing their way to fleeting fame" by Troy Lennon, The Daily Telegraph (Australia), 22 May 2015
- "Just Another Band From L.A. – Billy The Mountain". Robbert Heederik. Archived from the original on 5 June 2008. Retrieved 4 June 2008.
- Chen, Raymond. "Like Father, Like Clown". The Simpsons Archive. Retrieved 30 June 2008.
- John Turner; Geoffrey Parsons (1948). "Oh, My Pa-pa". MetroLyrics.
- Erik Charell; Jürg Amstein; Robert Gilbert. "Lys Assia – Oh, mein Papa" (in German and Dutch). In de Overtuin, Marijke van Freek.
- on YouTube (Lilli Palmer)