Melodious Mirth 4

No round-up of rib-tickling rhythms would be replete without that swinging sultan of singing satire – and avid aficionado of amusing alliteration, along with much wickedly-waspish wordplay – deep breath, big drum-roll! – Tom Lehrer. 

The wonderful Wikipedia [Enough already! Ed.] describes him as a retired American musician, singer-songwriter, satirist and mathematician. In the early 1970s, Lehrer  largely retired from public performances to devote his time to teaching mathematics and music theatre at the University of California. He’s best known for the pithy and  humorous songs that he recorded in the 1950s and 1960s which often parodied popular musical forms, though he usually created original melodies when doing so.

Lehrer’s early work typically dealt with non-topical subject matter and was noted for its black humour in songs such as “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park”. In the 1960s, he produced a number of songs that dealt with social and political issues of the day. The popularity of these songs has endured their topical subjects and references. Lehrer quoted a friend’s explanation: “Always predict the worst and you’ll be hailed as a prophet.”

The Cold War may be over but, perhaps sadly, the song I’ve chosen still has bite today. His elegant, laid-back style has hardly dated and that innocent insouciance – and jaunty piano – somehow subtly subvert the seriousness of the subject-matter. A short, sharp shock … [He’s at it again! You’re fired! Ed.]


7 thoughts on “Melodious Mirth 4

  1. Yup, a classic indeed. (By the way, Dave, please watch that “Ed” of yours – he’s spoiling all your best lines …. Incidentally, does “short sharp shock” take us back to the brilliant Gilbert and Sullivan? Old but frequently rewritten to poke fun at modern mores – see Eric Idle and his “Little List” for example)

    1. I envy Tom Lehrer his freedom to speak his mind, Mike, subject as I am to somewhat mysterious editorial constraints. That said, I of course agree with anything the Editor is about to say #creepcreep … just looked up the G&S and Eric Idle connections, so I see what you mean, though was thinking more of the Tory party’s ill-fated 1990s idea of harsh punishment for petty crimes.

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