Not dead, just quiet: a belated and happy birthday to Tom Lehrer
April 11, 2018 10:12 PM   Subscribe

Tom Lehrer is still not dead, but he doesn't mind if you think he is*. He's a rare bird, one who falls into a tiny category of celebrities who packed it in at the peak of their careers; as he points out, “There’s me, Garbo, Salinger, and Deanna Durbin.” With around 70 recorded songs to his name** (though he only recognizes or claims 37), the prodigy who entered Harvard at 15 released two studio albums and three live albums between 1953 and 1965, and after 109 concerts, he called it quits. Since then, he's been pretty quite and generally elusive (previously), taking just enough time to grant 2 Chainz permission to sample his work, while keeping it cheeky in his reply.

* Circa 1981, he said "I was hoping the rumors would cut down on the junk mail, but they didn't."

The main reason I played was to put some money aside so I could do what I liked: teach and continue writing and lie down a lot and just enjoy myself.” And he did just that, teaching at UC Santa Cruz, where he was an instructor in math and musical theater for some 40 years, and generally avoiding fame and publicity.

The only “dissertation” Lehrer ever finished was a poem he wrote at 15 (he never completed one on statistics started as a graduate student in Harvard’s math department). Entitled “Dissertation on Education,” the poem exhaustively enumerated Lehrer’s academic disinterests. The final line is "And maybe I'll get into Harvard..." -- spoiler: he did.

It was there, in the early 1950s, Lehrer started performing satirical songs in the style of 1920s and 1930s musicals and earlier, particularly Gilbert and Sullivan, his first pick for his BBC Radio (archive) Desert Island Disc back in 1980, where he also talked about his music and educational background. Back to the 50s, first recording of Lehrer is from this period, titled The Physical Revue, a joking reference to a leading scientific journal, The Physical Review.

** I'm being generous in the track count by including songs recorded live as part of The Physical Revue, some of which you can download here, and with more that include additional descriptions, as well as some explanations of the referenced physics, thanks to Physics Songs dot org (hosted by Haverford College, and maintained by Walter F. Smith, Professor of Physics. Last update: Feburary 27. 2018)

From there, he started performing in night clubs in Boston, where a young Isaac Asimov saw him and liked the performance enough that he asked Lehrer for, and received, permission to publish the lyrics to "I Got It From Sally" (which later became "I Got It from Agnes") in his second autobiographical novel, In Joy Still Felt. Lehrer self-released his first album in 1953, Songs by Tom Lehrer (his lyrics, his music, his so-called voice, and his piano), with the following tracklist (all tracks start with someone else's intro, but the YT descriptions include good information, plus lyrics on screen):

Side A: Fight Fiercely, Harvard - The Old Dope Peddler - Be Prepared - The Wild West (Is Where I Want To Be) - I Wanna Go Back to Dixie - Lobachevsky
Side B: The Irish Ballad - The Hunting Song - My Home Town - When You Are Old and Gray* - I Hold Your Hand in Mine* - The Wiener Schnitzel Waltz*

*Sometimes labeled or grouped as "three love songs"; and the album has been re-issued with different track orders over the years (as heard here in a copy of the 1966 Reprise pressing), including as a four-track EP of non-offensive tracks, as deemed by Australians in 1960.

At this point, he took a two year hiatus from performing and allowed himself to be drafted into the army after getting deferred while being a graduate student, where he and a friend invented the Jell-O shot to bypass base rules against "alcoholic beverages" for a Christmas party. And he worked for the NSA, and in New Mexico at Los Alamos National Labs, who reference his song "Who's Next" in an article, but now we're getting ahead of ourselves.

Back in civilian life, with this one album and his performances, he gained recognition in England by Princess Margaret, whose doctor of music honoris causa from the University of London was conferred with the public notice that "that the Princess is a connoisseur of music and a performer of skill and distinction, her taste being catholic, ranging from Mozart to the calypso and from opera to the songs of Miss Beatrice Lillie and Tom Lehrer."

Following this surprising source of support, Lehrer's audience expanded, and so did his discography, as (well) documented there on the charmingly Web 1.0 Demented Music Database, which I'll cite plagiarize repeatedly hereafter.

In 1959, Lehrer recorded recorded shows at the Sanders Theater at Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, on March 20 & 21. The cover photograph was taken at The Hanna Theatre in Cleveland, OH, on April 4, 1959, because he hadn't planned for an album cover at the Cambridge shows, but made up for that by getting a photo at his next show. Tracklist for An Evening ˄Wasted With Tom Lehrer :

Side A: Poisoning Pigeons In The Park - Bright College Days - A Christmas Carol - The Elements (music written by Sir Arthur Sullivan) - Oedipus Rex - In Old Mexico
Side B: Clementine - It Makes A Fellow Proud To Be A Soldier - She's My Girl - The Masochism Tango - We Will All Go Together When We Go

(or as a single album-track; Album transcription at DMBd)

Later that year, he went back to the studio to record those very same tracks, which he released as More of Tom Lehrer (full album, stereo edition).

The following year, he released another live album, Tom Lehrer Revisited, in which he played his first album, again in a different order of songs. Side 1 was recorded live on November 23 & 24, 1959, in Kresge Auditorium at MIT in Cambridge, MA. Side 2 was recorded live at two concerts during Tom's tour of Australia in spring, 1960 - March 21 in Melbourne and May 4 in Sydney. The cover photograph was taken at Royal Festival Hall in London, England, after his performance there on June 29, 1960. The people in the audience are Jack Phipps, who worked for Ian Hunter (Tom's booking agent in England, not the actor), and a friend of his. (YT Playlist; transcription of entire record at DMBd)

The recordings Tom had made in Australia were of a lower technical quality than those made at MIT for this album, due in part to a possibly drunk engineer. Decca Records declined releasing the Australian recordings, so this album was assembled completely from the November, 1959, MIT concert. The songs and intros on this album that are also on side 1 of the American issue are the same recordings. (YT Playlist, with videos from that same chap who added the same intro and outro bits to tracks from Tom's first album, with lyrics on-screen)

And then, possibly to appease the Australians, Decca also released an AUS-only version with only recordings from Australia, titled Tom Lehrer Discovers Australia (And Vice Versa).

1965 was the end of Tom's recording career, and he went out with a bang, releasing That Was the Year That Was, recorded live at the hungry i nightclub in San Francisco, CA, over five nights in July - playlist, and the tracklist:

Side A: National Brotherhood Week - MLF Lullaby - George Murphy - The Folk Song Army - Smut - Send The Marines - Pollution
Side B: So Long, Mom (A Song For World War III) - Whatever Became Of Hubert? - New Math - Alma - Who's Next? - Wernher Von Braun - The Vatican Rag

(Album transcription at DMBd)

15 years later, Tom's limited song collection was turned into a musical review, called Tomfoolery or Tom Foolery, as summarized by Musical Theater International. There are two official cast recordings, with the original London cast (samples), and a rare recording of the Canadian cast. The review expanded the official Lehrer tracklist by two songs, with "I Got It From Agnes" (live, undated television performance by Tom) as mentioned previously, and "Silent E" (official video) one of 10 songs Lehrer wrote for the PBS children's educational series The Electric Company, seven of which are here in this playlist. As noted in the above-linked Desert Island Discs interview in 1980, he found the offer to write something other than what he was previously known for a refreshing inquiry.

Other songs that Tom wrote for TEC include "L-Y," "O-U (The Hound Song)" and "S-N (Snore, Sniff, And Sneeze)," which were included in Rhino's 3 CD collection The Remains Of Tom Lehrer alongside three new recordings from 1999, "N Apostrophe T" (written for Electric Company) "Selling Out" and "(I'm Spending) Hanukkah In Santa Monica." The collection includes extensive liner notes from Lehrer (Discogs album listing, click on the images to browse the liner notes in full).

If that's not enough rarities for you, DMDb includes lyrics for other miscellaneous tracks, which also has lyrical differences. But if you want more information about the lyrics, here are some annotations with some of the song lyrics. And if you want even more, here's Tom Lehrer on

To geek out even more on Tom Lehrer, DMDb has a page of additional content and links, including corrections to the 2014 Buzzfeed article, and a a 1997 internet quiz to identify all the musical quotes of Tom Lehrer, which he cited in an interview in Billboard Magazine, June 21, 1997 about Rhino Reissues Lehrer's Seminal 'Songs' Albums. That article also notes that he was at that time still the second-most requested artist on the Dr. Demento show, after Weird Al.

To dig up some more old gems, check out The Tom Lehrer Wisdom Channel, with clips like The Dodge Rebellion Theatre, performed on the Dodge Industrial Film of the same name, and animation of "Pollution" by Astrafilms Inc. for the U.S. Communicable Disease Center, from 1966 or '67. And of the same vintage, Tom's full Copenhagen performance (previously). To see a more (relatively) recent Tom in action, here's some rare Lehrer lecture footage, previously covered.
posted by filthy light thief (46 comments total) 153 users marked this as a favorite

filthy light thief, you have killed me and I am in heaven.

Me, 15 years old, on a camping trip at Detroit Lake in Oregon in my uncle's motorhome with my cousins. My oldest cousin, Dan, still one of my personal heroes, pulls out his portable cassette player and his collection of Dr. Demento shows that he has spent the last couple of months recording late night without his parents' knowledge.

He pushes play.

It wasn't just Tom Lehrer that twisted my mind that weekend, but it was partly him, and besides Demento himself, it was Lehrer and his genius tunes that forever bent the arc of my musical knowledge and preferences.

But I can't hear a Lehrer tune without thinking of Dan, now a full-time optometrist, part-time DJ and all-around humanitarian. He lives as expansively as Lehrer and his music.

Anyway, now to click on links until I collapse.
posted by vverse23 at 10:26 PM on April 11, 2018 [6 favorites]

Oh man, didn't TL claim to A) invent jello shots and B) ended up geeking out with Daniel Radcliffe during this transition to Broadway cause he's a huge Gilbert and Sullivan nerd?
posted by The Whelk at 10:32 PM on April 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

I recall that the songs on "That Was the Year That Was" were originally written for the short-lived American version of the satirical comedy show "That Was the Week That Was", which also introduced David Frost to the US. That's the only Lehrer factoid I knew that was not in this post or one of the 16 previous Lehrer-centric FPPs (including one from a MeFi legend named wendell 15 years ago)
posted by oneswellfoop at 10:58 PM on April 11, 2018 [5 favorites]

Wheeeee, I didn't know he was still alive and this has about made my day, and it's only one in the morning so far for me!

The local karaoke bar I sometimes reserve a room in with friends has Poisoning Pigeons in the Park and The Masochism Tango, and I usually find an excuse to sally on up and belt it out. His songs are not only biting and funny but terribly fun to sing.
posted by sciatrix at 11:01 PM on April 11, 2018 [3 favorites]

The Whelk -- there's a link about inventing Jell-O shots in the FPP.

filthy light thief -- thanks for starting this off with the info that he is still not dead. Though when he dies, the obit thread might as well just be a single link to this post.
posted by tzikeh at 11:20 PM on April 11, 2018 [7 favorites]

I normally don't like "jukebox musicals" due to the lack of a plot, but Tomfoolery works, darn it. If you can ever see it, go see it.

I have so many memories of being introduced to Tom Lehrer and finding out other relatives liked him too, including singing about the pigeons. I also knew someone who knew him at UCSC, but I gather he wouldn't say much.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:24 PM on April 11, 2018

Lying in bed with a much older lover in San Francisco one night ca. 1996. Said lover starts singing "Smut." SWOON to said lover and to Lehrer songs. How had I never heard this before!?

Reading metafilter ca. 2006: Posts of videos of actual Lehrer! SWOON to actual Lehrer, of which someone posts in the thread, "Who knew he was a fox!"

2018: SWOON to this post!
posted by goofyfoot at 11:30 PM on April 11, 2018 [2 favorites]

Jumping back in to say OMG he's NINETY.

... hang in there, Mr. Lehrer.
posted by tzikeh at 11:33 PM on April 11, 2018 [2 favorites]

I want to know who animated Silent E, because it is delightful.
posted by davejay at 12:01 AM on April 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

As a child in 80's Britain, I taught myself to sing 'The Elements' using a cassette I made by holding up my tape recorder to the TV, which I then transcribed using the Children's Britannica article on the periodic table. It took years to track down the rest of his work on LP and a wonderful book of the scores I found by chance in a music shop.
Reading this now beings both a profound rush of nostalgia for the great man, and an extraordinary sense of wonder at the era we live in, where such bounty is available instantly and for free. Thank you for the post.
posted by Heloise9 at 12:17 AM on April 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

Absolutely amazing that his 'farewell tour' was 50 years ago. I wonder what it was like to have him as a teacher of math and musical theatre?
posted by rongorongo at 12:20 AM on April 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

Not sure if this is linked above - but here he is in an appearance from 1998 still sounding absolutely at the top of his game. Personally I'd like to imagine the guy who could have written "We'll all go Together When we Go" about this week's events as secretly amassing a collection of Trump era satirical songs.
posted by rongorongo at 1:17 AM on April 12, 2018 [4 favorites]

What an amazing, comprehensive, and witty post — just like the man himself. Perfect!

I’ve always loved Lehrer’s music, and used to include it on mix tapes among the punk and ska and rock songs. His piano-playing was always very good, with a lot of swing and so much style that it was like a duet partner.

Mark Russell had that PBS show where he did political and topical songs that were like, but not as good as, Lehrer’s stuff (though Russell did produce a lot more stuff over time).
posted by wenestvedt at 3:12 AM on April 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

“Today,” he said in 2002, “everything just makes me angry, it’s not funny anymore. Things I once thought were funny are scary now. I often feel like a resident of Pompeii who has been asked for some humorous comments on lava.”

Imagine if he were asked about 2018!!!
posted by chavenet at 3:19 AM on April 12, 2018 [14 favorites]

Thanks! Grew up with Tom Lehrer records in the house. My mother had a real love for poisoning pigeons in the park - she loved singing that with a sly grin suggesting she may have taken his advice at some time.
posted by parki at 3:56 AM on April 12, 2018

I once heard the Canadian soprano Measha Brueggergosman do The Old Dope Peddler as an encore. Sadly, it doesn't seem to be on line or even on disk, but you should definitely listen to her sing it if you ever get the chance. She sings it very slowly and just kills it.
posted by ALeaflikeStructure at 5:13 AM on April 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

'new math' is a real favourite- especially as you do the problem and then are expected to do it in base eight (it's easy if you are missing two fingers) - this song helped me, beginning computer science student, grok how to do math with non base 10 endings. It was great! Also when I finally saw HMS Pinnafore I had the flash of recognition when they played "Modern Major General" and I said "HEY!! It's the elements song!"
posted by freethefeet at 5:14 AM on April 12, 2018 [7 favorites]

I always thought I'd discovered Tom Lehrer in college, probably via Dr. Demento. Today I learned that it was actually as a pre-schooler via The Electric Company. This probably explains a lot about my sense of humor, come to think of it.

Great post!
posted by camyram at 5:16 AM on April 12, 2018 [3 favorites]

I inherited my love of Tom Lehrer: my parents had one of the original ten-inch LP versions of his album. I just listened to "Poisoning Pigeons In The Park" on Spotify. Thank you for the detailed post, and for reminding me of him.
posted by tallmiddleagedgeek at 5:43 AM on April 12, 2018

The one Lehrer anecdote I have comes second hand, from a math professor of mine who once roomed with Tom Lehrer when both of them were at Harvard, and attended the show in question.

Apparently in the early days of his fame, but before he was too well known, Tom played a show where first a young man walked out on stage to introduce him, who went on for a while saying all kinds of superlatives about how wonderful Tom Lehrer was. Then that same young man crossed to the piano and started playing, because of course it was Tom who had just introduced himself.
posted by fings at 5:45 AM on April 12, 2018 [14 favorites]

Of course he invented jello shots.
posted by tobascodagama at 6:02 AM on April 12, 2018 [6 favorites]

A few years ago fellow MeFite xingcat and I made a video for “I Hold Your Hand in Mine”.
posted by pxe2000 at 6:23 AM on April 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

If I had to pick a single comedian's work to take to the desert island, it would be TL.

A very rare gem indeed.
posted by Pouteria at 6:44 AM on April 12, 2018

I've been waiting my entire life for this post.

(I briefly considered doing a Tom Lehrer post years ago, then laughed as there are so many people better at internetting than me.)

I grew up at the exact right age for the 1970s "Electric Company." My sister and I absolutely adored "L-Y" and "Silent E," and after taking our baths we would be naked and shivering and first sing "D-d-d-d-d-patiently!", and then run back to our room singing "immediately!".

Years later, when I fell in love with "National Brotherhood Week" and "Who's Next" and "Alma" (making serious pre-internet efforts to find out who she was) and all the rest, I kept thinking, wait a minute. I KNOW this voice. It's part of my soul. Who is it? Reading the liner notes solved the problem, as did Dr. Demento who, as mentioned, played him all the time.

And I almost cried after hearing "I spent Hanukkah in Santa Monica / I spent Shavuot in St. Louis."

posted by Melismata at 6:47 AM on April 12, 2018 [3 favorites]

Lehrer, tell us,
How can we help but be jealous?
Ducks always envy the swans
Writing 'bout Alma and Walter,
You never did falter
With Gustav and Walter and Franz!
posted by Capt. Renault at 6:48 AM on April 12, 2018 [3 favorites]

If I had to pick a single comedian's work to take to the desert island, it would be TL.

First Weird Al, then Allan Sherman, then TL. :)
posted by Melismata at 6:49 AM on April 12, 2018

Ohhh, we are a Tom Lehrer family. Excited to dig into this post.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:09 AM on April 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

Wow - I did not know about The Electric Company connection. My dad taught HS chemistry and we first encountered TL when he bought a copy of "An Evening Wasted With Tom Lehrer" because of "The Elements".
posted by lagomorphius at 7:14 AM on April 12, 2018

The Tom Lehrer/Dan Radcliffe connection was mentioned above. I've heard that Dan's famous rendition of "The Elements" on Graham Norton came before he did How To Succeed in Business on Broadway, and someone on the show was a friend of Tom Lehrer's and knew Dan was a massive fan, so he set up a backstage meeting. He sent Tom that clip to explain "this is how much a fan this kid is of yours".

Dan says that Tom Lehrer presented him with a special gift as a result - a page of sheet music, ostensibly for "The Elements (As Per Aristotle)". It's basically the same as "The Elements", but is only four bars long, and the lyrics are:

"Theeeeeeeeeere's earth and air and fire and water."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:14 AM on April 12, 2018 [23 favorites]

Stephin Merritt credits Tom Lehrer with raising his game as a songwriter:
When I put out 69 Love Songs, I soon afterward interviewed Tom Lehrer when his box set came out. And he said that he doesn’t approve of false rhyming, and he thinks that he and [Stephen] Sondheim, with whom he went to summer camp, are the last bastions of strict rhyme. So, I took that as a challenge, and ever since then I’ve used only strict rhyme. Whenever there’s a false rhyme in any of my songs in the 21st century, you can tell that that song, or at least that part of the song, is from earlier.
However, the admiration isn't reciprocated. Lehrer's comment on 69 Love Songs was: 'That's 67 too many.'
posted by verstegan at 7:19 AM on April 12, 2018 [12 favorites]

Ohhhh I still love Tom Lehrer. I remember "discovering" him in middle school. I was still young enough that sharp humor from past decades was a revelation to me. (Also see: the first time a kid notices how vibrant Shakespeare's plays are.) It was during the lead-up to the Iraq War, so "Who's Next" and "So Long Mom" felt particularly relevant. I remember hearing that he was a math professor at American University and putting it on my college shortlist for that reason. (This is obviously absurd, but y'know, I was a neurotic kid with a low level of agreeableness, so the excavated pop culture of the internet meant a lot to me.)
posted by grandiloquiet at 7:31 AM on April 12, 2018

Oh man. My father introduced me to Tom Lehrer's music when I was a teenager, and I adore it.
posted by Making You Bored For Science at 7:36 AM on April 12, 2018

I wish I could give a thousand favorites to this post.

I remember what joy I had in sharing Poisoning Pigeons in the Park with my nephew. He was just at that age and of that bent of mind to find it deliciously hilarious.

Happy birthday, Mr. Lehrer,
posted by LeftMyHeartInSanFrancisco at 7:56 AM on April 12, 2018

I really like Tom Lehrer. My life would be a darker place if the orchestral version of We will all go together when we go weren't in it. 80% of his songs are delightful.

Then we get to the Clementine and In Old Mexico and I find it much harder to continue to like the guy.

Please don't anybody tell me bad things about Caballero Reynaldo or the Portsmouth Sinfonia. I need at least a few incredibly silly musical heroes that don't make me cringe at least twice each album.
posted by eotvos at 8:09 AM on April 12, 2018

freethefeet: Also when I finally saw HMS Pinnafore I had the flash of recognition when they played "Modern Major General" and I said "HEY!! It's the elements song!"

Pssst -- "Modern Major-General" is a song from The Pirates of Penzance, not H.M.S. Pinafore.
posted by tzikeh at 8:44 AM on April 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

My stepdad talks about him in a way that reminds me of how Erdos used the word "died" to mean "stopped doing mathematics"- he's kind of like a Star Trek evil computer that can't understand why someone who could have kept on with grad school in math at Harvard would have done anything else
posted by thelonius at 9:28 AM on April 12, 2018

eotvos: Then we get to the Clementine and In Old Mexico and I find it much harder to continue to like the guy.

I've been pondering this general issue for a while, particularly after listening to a 4 CD set from The Brothers Four, a 1960s era folk-harmony group, after falling in love with their meloncholy track "Greenfields" -- they have a lot of awful songs. If you didn't know the words, they'd sound lovely, but the lyrics are terrible, full of the general "soft" misogyny and racism of the era, to the point that I found little redeeming in their songs. For a while I was wondering, "are they just a product of their time?" And then I thought of all the Kingston Trio songs I know, and none of them that I could recall had the same issues, or perhaps they weren't in the forefront like the Brothers Four.

Molly Ringwold said it better than I'm saying here -- "Erasing history is a dangerous road when it comes to art—change is essential, but so, too, is remembering the past, in all of its transgression and barbarism, so that we may properly gauge how far we have come, and also how far we still need to go." (quoted by vignettist in the recent post on this amazing New Yorker article).

I recognize the sarcastic wit of Mr. Lehrer was also accompanied by what so often and easily get brushed aside as "dated views," and I take heart in the fact that they are treated as such - no longer current, indicating that we have made progress, but remember that not all things from great people of the past were themselves great.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:55 AM on April 12, 2018 [8 favorites]

Re In Old Mexico, let me repeat a comment I made in a previous Lehrer thread back in 2014:

I admire Tom Lehrer for so many things, but especially for going back to the lyrics of 'Old Mexico' and replacing the lines 'How I wish I could get back / to the land of the wetback / and forget the Alamo' with 'To the land of mañana / and cheap marijuana / It's so easy to grow'.

That's the measure of his brilliance as a songwriter -- he had the decency to get rid of the word 'wetback' even though it's one of his most perfect rhymes, and then the genius to come up with something equally good.

posted by verstegan at 10:00 AM on April 12, 2018 [14 favorites]

I was introduced as a kid to Tom Lehrer by one of my older brothers. He was a Lehrer fan and bought the LP That Was The Year That Was for our mom. We played that record to death. Mom loved The Vatican Rag so much, she invited Monsignor, the pastor of our church, to dinner just so she could play it for him afterwards.

In the meantime, that brother was majoring in business at college and flunking chemistry class. It was required, which was the only reason he'd taken it. The professor was female and notorious for being both humorless and openly disliking males. He made an appointment with her just before finals. Expecting him, her office door swings open, and there's my brother, on his knees, holding a bouquet of roses and pushing a record player before him. Once inside, he plugs in the record player and plays her Lehrer's The Elements Song, while (still on his knees) he beseechingly presents the roses. She looked at him, listened to the record --- and laughed. He said, "I'm a business major, I promise I'll never have anything to do with chemistry, but I need to pass this class to get my degree!"

She passed him with a D+.

He owes it all to you, Mr. Lehrer.
posted by Lunaloon at 10:01 AM on April 12, 2018 [7 favorites]

Mom loved The Vatican Rag so much, she invited Monsignor, the pastor of our church, to dinner just so she could play it for him afterwards.

You MUST divulge how he reacted. I implore you.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:06 AM on April 12, 2018

For an older Polish Catholic priest, he took it well. He actually laughed, though not as much as mom was laughing.

This was circa 1970-71, and our church had a huge generational divide at that time. Monsignor R. had three young new priests serving under him, and they were definitely more aligned with the Counterculture than with the traditional (older) segment of our parish.

Mom being in her mid-forties, she felt closer to Monsignor than to the younger Fathers, but at the same time, having a household of eight kids, her social and musical interests were heavily infuenced by us. A few years later my sister and I played her Cheech & Chong's The Pope: Live at the Vatican and their Wedding Album, and she enjoyed them, too. Which disappointed us, a little, because we were hoping she'd find C&C offensive.
posted by Lunaloon at 10:17 AM on April 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

If your parents went to a fancy college in the late 1950s, they probably played you “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park” when you were 7, and “New Math” when you were 11, and blushed trying to explain “I Got It from Agnes.”

Yep. Played during dinner, with the family singing along. Later we played the Dr Demento show during dinner...on KOME, everyone's favorite bumper sticker.
posted by Kafkaesque at 10:31 AM on April 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

"... and blushed trying to explain 'I Got It from Agnes.'"

My dad started to explain that song to tiny little me, and before he really got going I interrupted him to say, "I assumed it was about VD." I have seldom heard him laugh so hard.
posted by kyrademon at 2:52 PM on April 12, 2018 [3 favorites]

I spent 4th grade in my rural elementary school and 5th grade in a fancy school run by a major University. Here are the differences I noted:

In the fancy school, everyone read "Asterix" and The Adventures of TinTin" (in French, bien sur), and listened to "ABBA" and "That was the Year that was".

I adored Tom Lehrer and can probably sing those songs today.
posted by acrasis at 4:37 PM on April 12, 2018

For another few takes on Tom, here's Marty Feldman & Derek Griffiths performing National Brotherhood Week and Pollution, both dodgy copies recorded (and probably re-re-recorded) from the 1974 BBC series 'Marty Back Together Again,' where Marty also performed The Vatican Rag (Feldman and those links previously).

And a parting shot from Tom: The Subway Song, from a radio performance in 1965.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:51 PM on April 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

I admire Tom Lehrer for so many things, but especially for going back to the lyrics of 'Old Mexico' and replacing the lines 'How I wish I could get back / to the land of the wetback / and forget the Alamo' with 'To the land of mañana / and cheap marijuana / It's so easy to grow'.
I hadn't heard that story and am grateful to learn about it. Thanks!

Though, I hadn't particularly remembered that "wetback" was in the song. The wallet theft and obnoxious pronunciation of "Akron, Ohio" stood out much more in my memory as pointlessly obnoxious. (On re-reading the lyrics, "typhoid?" It seems there actually were newsworthy Typhoid outbreaks in Mexico in the 70s, so perhaps that's not quite as weird as it sounds today.) I'm not sure the new lyrics make me like the song any better. But, I suppose the willingness to change them makes me like Lehrer more.
posted by eotvos at 10:30 AM on April 19, 2018

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