Tom Lehrer – More of Tom Lehrer

Good morning RC,Is today’s RC a highbrow affair?  Well we’ve got an album from a Harvard grad and a mathematician on tap today.

Thomas “Tom” Lehrer’s album: More of Tom Lehrer http://grooveshark.com/#!/playlist/Tom+Lehrer+More+Of+Tom+Lehrer/66064107

Read more about Tom here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom_Lehrer

Fun facts:  Tom released a live album in 1959 (same year as today’s record) called An evening wasted with Tom Lehrer.  This album was released before today’s album even though it had the exact same playlist!  The result was a good deal of effort by mean to find the LP versions of the songs instead of the live ones.   Hopefully they’re all the studio….

Tom was a researcher at Los Alamos, and a teacher at MIT and theUniversity ofCalifornia when he wasn’t making his music.

Ali:

RC: Tom Lehrer – More of Tom Lehrer

Preconceptions:
This was actually my curiosity pick. I could tell you that I have loved Tom Lehrer my entire life but that would make me a liar. Also, I’m pretty sure if someone my age or younger is like “Oh man, Tom Lehrer helped me through my childhood”, they are most likely lying. I didn’t know who he actually was until Daniel Radcliffe mentioned him and sang the Elements Song on Graham Norton. I count him separately because his childhood was full of private tutoring and he doesn’t have an American public school education. The pattern of the melody was very familiar, so I’m guessing it was parodied on Animaniacs. I can almost see Yakko singing something like that.

Mood:
Happy. I just finished listening to Episode 15 of the Pop My Culture Podcast (with the Rifftrax/MST3K guys) and have been giggling. Also, I might have a fever. But I’m giggly and not surly so this is a first with this new category in my reviews.

After Listening:
Ah. The melody is that Pirates of Penzance song about being a General. I still think Wakko Yakko and Dot used the melody as well. I love this guys voice. His sarcastic lyrics are awesome as well. “Sliding down the razorblade of life” sounds like a lyric in a Screamo song, but it’s actually in a song about College. Lehrer’s lyrics are venomous and subversive without having any real filth in it. There are songs that elude to something, but his songs are playing to an intelligent audience. I dig that.

Favorite track/tracks:
Poisoning Pigeons In The Park – … … … f*** pigeons. Oh, and f*** doves too, those g**d***ed albino pigeons.
The Elements – This was the song that made me want to choose this album.
Oedipus Rex – Quite possibly one of the funniest songs that I have ever heard. I had to read Oedipus for my Philosophy class and thought it was the grossest, funniest story.
In Old Mexico – … What? I was the girl growing up that loved Victor Borge’s standup, so I pretty much love any joke that teases grammar, pronunciation and punctuation.
Clementine – the stylistic changes throughout the song are mighty impressive.
She’s My Girl – If Paul and I get married, this is going to be our song.

Least favorite track/tracks:
I can’t think of one.

Overall (1-5 stars):  5

Josh:

Tom Lehrer – More of Tom Lehrer: 4 stars

Precon: The News Hour guy from PBS?

Favorite Track: Poisoning Pigeons in the Park
Least Favorite: It Makes a Fellow Proud to be a Soldier

Sounds like it’s from the 20′s. At least his voice does.
Good for an early comedy album. I wonder what a guy like this would be doing today.
How did we not find “A Christmas Carol” for our holiday playlist?
I’d like to think “The Elements” is an early forerunner to Blackalicious’ “Chemical Calisthenics.”
I’m getting some Carlin and Steve Martin from the spoken bits. This guy must have been an influence.
Every song has a good concept. Funny and much edgier than I would have thought, in obvious ways like “Pigeons” and “Masochism,” but also with a subtle touch like in “Soldier” and “We Will All Go Together.” Listening to the whole thing gets a little tedious but still quite good overall.

Magic the Gathering Card: “The Jester’s Cap”

Marissa:

Tom Lehrer-More of Tom Lehrer

Pre-Conceived Notions- Absolutely none

As Listening:
Poisoning Pigeons In The Park- hopefully the whole album is like this.  I honestly didn’t see it coming and had to check the title of the song
Bright College Days-I feel like this might be what Animal House is based on
A Christmas Carol-I need to play this for my Pops.  He’ll love it, proving once again that cynicism about commercialism of Christmas has probably been happening since that first French hunter paid waaaaay too man beaver pelts for those fake gold beads from the Native Americans.
The Elements-impressive, I wish I had heard this song during my Chemistry class Junior Year.  I might have bumped my grade up to a B+
Oedipus Rex-hahahhahahahhahahhahahhahahahahhahahahhahahhahhahahahahahahahhahahah
“He sure knew who a boy’s best friend is” brilliant
In Old Mexico-oh the person who just disrupted the office with laughing…that’d be me.  Bonus points for figuring out how to fit “Dysentery” into a rhyming scheme
It Makes a Fellow Proud to Be a Soldier Sadly still relevant to society today.
She’s My Girl-I don’t understand what he’s complaining about, didn’t they sleep in separate beds in the 50s?  Also, peanut butter stew is probably delicious.  But still a nice twist on the Showboat tune: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eI0oMBd-Drc  I always think the approach to a successful relationship is realizing the worst the person has to offer and then going “yeah…I can work with that”
The Masochism Tango- delightfully scandalous.  I think Scent of a Woman would have been an even better movie if Al Pacino had not only had to dance to, but also sing this song

After Listening: Well, blessedly, this is a short, fun album.  The lyrics are whipsmart, the satire stands the test of time, and ironically enough, for an album from the 50s, a lot of it still holds relevance. There’s nothing lazy about this album and I appreciate that Lehrer knows, for the most part, when a song needs to leave the party.  Before today I had never heard of him, now I’m glad that I’ve listened and will pass this on, although most likely my parents will be some of the few people who will appreciate it.

Favorite Track: Oedipus Rex
Least Favorite: Clementine

Overall: 4.4

Mike:

Preconceived Notions:  Never heard of the guy before I started putting his playlist together and what I found was remarkably interesting to me.  Like my favorite art composer Charles Ives – who had a successful career in insurance and worked on music in his spare time, so it seems that Mr Lehrer had musical life outside of his business pursuits.  Although, unlike Ives- who would sink the entire span of his life into music – Lehrer retired after a only few albums.  He taught politics, math, and musical theatre all at the collegiate level, and served with the NSA (!) – so it’s little wonder he only had so much room for musical creation in his life.

After Listening:  The lyrical wit on here is apparent from the get, and though scathing and biting in moments, it’s always delivered with impeccable smoothness.  It’s a very nice change of pace to see a parody/comedy album take a high brow approach  – even if they are dealing with such absurd subjects as poisoning pigeons or the Oedipus complex. Some of this record’s subject matter is pretty racy given it’s pre 60’s existence – and it’s a feather in Tom’s cap to write about these sensitive things elegantly enough as to not turn audiences off, without being too subtle and spoiling the humor. Musically the album is mainly piano only and Tom is smart enough to keep the durations of these short less the lack of instrumentation weary the listener.  This is not to say he’s devoid of musical talent, far from it. What we really get is a dark humored collection of show tunes, and so the music must often create a stereotypical mood suited to the lyrics.  And so on songs like In Old Mexico we get Spanish influences, while on Clementine he actually moves through several musical styles- so as a listener there is musically enough depth on the album.

Favorite Tracks:  “Clementine” – I love the premise of this track – that folk songs are terrible creations of the people and would be best suited to being written professional “artists”.  The Cole Porter style verse is a tongue and cheek whining about suggestive urges, the Mozart verse is sung in period Italian,  the 3rd verse is cool jazz…definitely has a Monk flavor, and the last verse in Gilbert and Sullivan – complete with a shot at them (“full of words and music signifying nothing”)  The musical accompaniment to each style switch is impressive and dead on – at least with the Monk, Porter, and Mozart which I am most familiar with.
“We will all go Together When We Go” – A rare musical accompaniment of more than just piano- upright bass, strings, and woodwinds – create a positively lighthearted romp about an impending nuclear apocalypse.  It’s downright cheery.

Least Favorite Track: “In Old Mexico” – Sort of what I feared the album could be, a stereotypical stale backing that goes far too long, when the main force of your comic intent is to overdramatize an accent.  Just not a lot there from an album that had to that point led you to expect a little higher grade of effort.

Overall 4.31  Lehrer’s lyrical strength really separates this album out from other comedic based records RC has given a chance so far.  The man is intelligent and uses that intelligence to craft lines which often don’t go for a bottom line reaction – they sort of work on you in little doses, until they paint a picture so humorous you have no choice but to smile.  Musically it’s an above average record, and ideas like Clementine help mediate concerns that on relistens I might find less and less to like about it.  A clever record that pushes mundane topics into absurdity.  It’s a fun ride.

Thomas Lehrer: “If, after hearing my songs, just one human being is inspired to say something nasty to a friend, or perhaps to strike a loved one, it will all have been worth the while.”

Paul:

After letting this record sink in for a few more minutes, I’ve decided to go beyond my personal scoring system and bump up my score for this record to a solid 4 Stars, because the overall album doesn’t deserve to be dragged down by one shitty song (In Old Mexico).

Take Note, Stat Monkey—and below is a revised copy of my review with that revision

Tom Lehrer – More of Tom Lehrer

Preconceptions: I am unfamiliar with this. Sounds old and boring, but I can’t tell for sure. Maybe I just need to get over myself. That could very well be the case. Isn’t there a news show … The Lehrer Report, or something like that… Lehrer News Hour… it’s something like that. Does Tom Lehrer have anything to do with it? Clearly I have no idea what I’m talking about.

After Listening: Old, but certainly not boring. Generally I can’t get my interest up for satirist stuff like this, but this turned out to be a very enjoyable listen. I expected it to be far cornier than it is. Indeed, in some ways Tom Lehrer has a sorta sharp edge to his music, and I couldn’t shake the impression that the album is a late 60s recording, rather than a late 50s one, so it has an ahead of its time feel to it. In fact, I kept picturing Lehrer performing on the late 60s Smothers Brothers show, which was very edgy for its time (and therefore its demise). Did Lehrer ever appear on that show?

Anyway, this album is a good time and a solid satirical jaunt through the mind of a witty dude living amidst the America of the 50s. This is also the first time I’ve heard a light-hearted song about nuclear holocaust—good times, Tom, good times.

Favorites: We Will All go Together When We Go, Clementine, Oedipus Rex
Least: In Old Mexico

Overall: 4 stars

Seth:

Preconceptions: When I was a child, I watched the Electric Company on PBS. When my aunt saw I enjoyed the songs Lehrer wrote for the show, she introduced me to his extremely age-inappropriate albums. My personality was certainly shaped (or warped) by these songs.

Ivy: Poisoning Pigeons in the Park, Masochism Tango, The Elements
Bush: N/A

Overall: Lehrer is unique in American comedy. His work plays like intellectual & subversive vaudeville. You may not realize how risqué and subversive these lyrics were in their time as they are played in respected styles ranging from tin pan alley to opera, but my mom was livid after hearing her 10-year-old singing about murdering birds and BDSM. I learned more about mathematics and chemistry from Lehrer than any teacher at Our Lady of Victory or St Bernard (although, songs like Vatican Rag may have been partially responsible for my lack of success in those schools.) His irreverence toward his Ivy League environment may have been due to his outsider background as a New York City Jew, but probably more to his general smartassedness. These songs are brilliant, hilarious, catchy, and were a mere hobby of a man whose accomplishments range from earning a Masters at the age of 20 before serving as an enlisted man, to teaching at Harvard & MIT, to inventing the freaking Jello Shot.

Rating: 5.0
Prelisten Guess: 5.0
Season to Date: +1.18

Extra Credit: Do yourself a favor and seek out his live performances on An Evening Wasted With Tom Lehrer and That Was The Week That Was. His stage patter adds greatly to the humor of the songs.

admin (196 Posts)

Record Club began in the cold, dank, snowmageddon scene that was New England of January 2011. We’re probably no different than you. We all work in cubicles, some in smaller, less private cubicles than others; that just means we have to be even sneakier about how we listen to our music. But we have to listen to our music, mostly as a way of saving our own personal sanity. Sometimes our opinions lead us to debates that may or may not be published in their entirety on this site, but I can promise you’ll at least get a glimpse of the way our minds work. The main goal is to find new music we like or find old music that we didn’t know we liked. Sometimes we succeed, sometimes it’s a total and complete disaster. After our ears have rejoiced or stopped bleeding we try something else. This is our pattern, every Tuesday and Thursday. Sometimes, when the club isn’t officially in session, just to keep everyone on their toes, we throw in a theme day. We’re beginning to run low on our original list, so please, if you have albums that you’d like us to review or themes that you’d like to see our playlist of, feel free to contribute. After all, we’re all in this together once we punch the time clock. So if you’re busy (or just plain bored) lurking in your cubicle as you read this join in. After all, life wasn’t meant to be lived staring at a computer screen. I guarantee you, it’s at least more fun when you plug the headphones in.


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