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  1.  (6710.1) it's a good time for a thread asking the Whitechapelers level of exposure to the great Doctor L.

    Here's a quote from the ArchDrude himself, on his childhood with Tom's albums in the family home: (Whole piece over at Head Heritage, of course.)

    Unlike Grandma Cope’s, the house in Glascote Heath had an indoor toilet, a bathroom, electricity and plumbing upstairs, a car parking space and – supplied by a pushy ex-suitor of my mother’s – a heavy walnut radiogram with a single 8” speaker that played records at 33, 45 and 78rpm respectively. Cannily, the ex-suitor also provided my parents with their first LP – a 10” record called SONGS OF TOM LEHRER – to go with the radiogram and, thus, we were all introduced to the dulcet tones of this cheerful Harvard mathematician. I say ‘we’ because I was always included in social gatherings in Glascote Heath, wielded as a one-metre mascot and magical totem by my mother, who loved to show off my memory and voice by parading me in front of her friends singing note-perfect renditions of Tom Lehrer songs. That Lehrer’s lyrics were somewhat ‘off colour’ (to use the vernacular of the day) only added further grist to my mother’s Modernist mill, and she later claimed throughout my teenage and early adult years to anyone who would listen that I had known all of Lehrer’s best songs by heart by the time I was three-and-a-half years old. And, dammit, from the trouble Lehrer’s lyrics got me into throughout my childhood, I do believe she may have been right.

    For Tom Lehrer was the ultimate Wolf-in-Sheep’s-Clothing, a bespectacled and Uber mild-mannered academic within whose tra-la-la catchy bastard songs were contained endless tales of incest (‘Oedipus Rex’), drug use (‘The Old Dope Peddler’, ‘Bright College Days’, ‘Be Prepared’), xenophobia (‘In Old Mexico’), violent institutionalized racism (‘I Wanna Go Back to Dixie’), violent homicide (‘The Irish Ballad’, ‘I Hold Your Hand in Mine, Dear’), violence to animals (‘In Old Mexico’ again, as well as ‘Poisoning Pigeons in the Park’), all these songs sitting quite happily alongside more acceptable targets of the day such as fear-of-Communist-spies and the atom bomb in ‘The Wild West is Where I Wanna Be’, and the end-of-the-world through the USA and USSR’s policy of Mutually Assured Destruction (‘We Will All Go Together When We Go’). Even a raunchy-sounding love song like ‘She’s My Girl’ in actuality celebrated the poor personal hygiene of the singer’s girlfriend. And thus, material that would have got a feistmeister such as Lenny Bruce sacked immediately was – in the hands of this congenial Harvard academic – easy enough to sneak past the unsuspecting authorities, as unnoticed as Sidney Vish warbling ‘You cunt, I’m not a queer’ at the beginning of ‘My Way’. I mean, no one but Tom Lehrer would – back in 1959 – have dared to introduce a song like so:??“This is a song about a young necrophiliac who achieves his childhood ambition by becoming coroner.”

    I found Lehrer in my early teens, round about when the stage show 'Tomfoolery' was at the West End. Had the pleasure of seeing him do the first live TV performance of his STD vector song "I got it from Agnes..." The whole family sing him often, even the Teenager appreciating the wry and bitter words and those deceptably simple tunes.

    So, can any of you do all the Elements song without a cheat sheet? I usually balls it up in verse 2...
    • CommentAuthorSarahK
    • CommentTimeSep 1st 2009
    I can't, but my dad can. When I was a toddler, he could play the piano part (or fake it) as well.

    I too grew up on Tom Lehrer, although not as comprehensively... Didn't discover most of his stuff until early-to-mid adolescence (well after I was old enough to understand what I was singing). Although one of my earliest memories is of my father dancing me around the living room while singing The Wienerschnitzel Waltz.

    I drank some champagne from your shoe, tralala
    I was drunk by the time I got through, tralala
    For I didn't know as I raised that cup
    It had taken three bottles to fill the thing up...


    I decided while in college that if I ever go to graduate school and have to write a thesis, I will label the index Vladivostok Telephone Directory.
      CommentAuthormister hex
    • CommentTimeSep 1st 2009
    "Ze Rockets go up/ Who cares where they come down?/ That's not my department/ said Werner Von Braun."

    Oh, but I've loved Tom Lehrer since I was but a young boy. The man who quit Capital-S-Satire when Kissinger got the Nobel Peace Prize.

    When I was but a boy, I'd also do Negro Spirituals, for some reason ... (THE REASON WAS : Robert Guilliame in PURLIE.)

    All you kids out there! Tom Lehrer's more important than Hunter Fucking Thompson, fer xhissakes!
    • CommentTimeSep 1st 2009
    @Mister Hex, that's my best friend's favorite lyric.

    I, on the other hand, am a wee bit partial to "we'll murder them all amid laughter and merriment, except for the few we take home to experiment..."

    He was right. Life is skittles and life is beer.
    • CommentAuthormunin218
    • CommentTimeSep 1st 2009
    Ooooh..... when I was in high school, I was in a performing arts program.

    Poisoning pigeons was in my repertoire, and Masochism Tango was in a friend's repertoire.

    • CommentTimeSep 2nd 2009 edited
    From memory...I have a friend in Minsk, who has a friend in Pinsk, whose friend in Omsk has friend Tomsk has friend in Akhbolinsk [close, it's Akmolinsk], whose friend in Aleksandrovsk, has friend in Petropavlovsk, whose friend somehow is solving now the problem in Dniepropetrovsk.

    Managed to send up academia *and* Russian novels (and, for all I know, the place-to-place chapter in the Iliad) at the same time.

    I first heard his songs on Dr. Demento, a radio show syndicated out of Pasadena, Calif. ("under the smogberry trees" - Dr. Demento's still alive.). Great stuff, a world of long-forgotten comedy records, novelty records, etc. that a new generation would rediscover thanks to ReSearch's Incredibly Strange Music books. The quality dropped a little because fans started recording songs for the show, but Dr. Demento was discriminating enough to weed outthe crap. I used to record the shows off the stereo by holding up a mike from a cheap-ass Radio Shark Realistic cassette recorder (with cheap-ass Realistic C-60s; C-30, C-60, C-90 GO!). I still have them somewhere around.

    Those are all the elements, that are known in Ha-vard
    There are many others but they haven't been discah-vered

    Tom Lehrer gave me a musical vocabulary I forgot I had for years, and I'm glad to know he's still alive.

    I've got a couple of the 10" records. They turn up here at flea markets.
    • CommentTimeSep 2nd 2009
    I listened to a lot of Lehrer when I was younger, forgot about him, and then rediscovered him several years later with "poisoning pigeons in the park" and "The Vatican Rag" jogging my memory. Wonderful damn artist with a sharp with and deceptively simple lyrics. Also is it just me, or did Animaniacs take a cue from him with some of their musical numbers?
    • CommentTimeSep 5th 2009
    Think I was in my late teens to early twenties when I first heard him. I'm still amazed he could get away with The Old Dope Pedlar - a cheery, sympathetic song about an old man giving free drugs to children.
    • CommentTimeSep 8th 2009
    oldhat-- oh hell yes, "The Vatican Rag." as a Catholic kid growing up, that was a beautiful thing. yes, I'm pretty sure Animaniacs paid some homage to him as they did to so many other classic influences ("Yes, Always" comes to mind).
    • CommentAuthorVermilious
    • CommentTimeSep 8th 2009 edited
    @roque-Animaniacs is basically a descendant of the good Mr. Lehrer solely by the virtue of doing smart, current songs. I always felt that The Nations of the World was directly inspired by the Elements, and I'll uphold things like U.N. Me as the direct descendant of most of That Was The Week That Was.

    I discovered Tom Lehrer when the kids radio program I liked played Pollution, my father recognized it, and broke out our two CDs worth of Lehrer material. I still try to sing Poisoning Pigeons on the first day of spring every year, and I still break into his songs on occasion. Using other bases in math prompts New Math. Last year, in class, I had a professor who would slip song quotes into his discussion, and then be sad when no one got them. So one day he uses National Brotherhood Week, and I immediately launch into the rest of the song. Singing. I've never gotten so many funny looks in a class. Totally worth it, though.
    • CommentAuthorJRadley
    • CommentTimeSep 8th 2009
    I have a copy of the live album 'That Was The Year That Was' which includes some brilliant between song banter almost as witty as the songs themselves. Following on from Smut (I do have a cause. Obscenity. I'm in favour of it.) he makes a great quip about President Johnson practising escalatio on the Vietnamese. And Introducing National Brotherhood Week he points out 'This year, for example, on the first day of the week Malcolm X was killed, which gives you an idea of how effective the whole thing is.'

    Some of the satirical songs have - understandably - dated poorly, but the paen to America's 'number one instrument of diplomacy', Send The Marines, sounds remarkably topical:
    For might makes right/And till they've seen the light/They've got to be protected/All their rights respected/Until someone we like can be elected

    My favourite of his satirical songs is the brilliant - and previously mentioned - Werner Von Braun:
    Some have harsh words for this man of renown/But some say our attitude/Should be one of gratitude/Like the widows and cripples in old London town/Who owe their large pensions to Werner Von Braun.
    • CommentAuthorlead_pipe
    • CommentTimeSep 9th 2009
    There would be no Weird Al if there had been no Tom Lehrer.

    I have Songs and more songs on CD, and the traditional Irish jig is one of my faves:

    About a maid I'll sing a sing / sing rickety-tickety-tin / about a maid I'll sing a song / who never knew her family long / not only did she do them wrong / she did every one of them in
    • CommentTimeSep 12th 2009 edited
    my dad had a couple of Tom Lehrer 10"s which i discovered at an early age and snuck them out to play on the family dansette (i used to lie in front of it for hours listening to records - i loved the smell it gave off as it warmed up), between them and a peter seller's album, best of sellers, which included a children's program encouraging you to attack your babysitter (i've googled it, it was called auntie rotter) with an axe, I had very little chance.

    I can recite oedipus rex, and often do. the elements i tum te tum a lot.