An Evening Wasted with Tom Lehrer
|An Evening Wasted with Tom Lehrer|
|Live album by Tom Lehrer|
Reprise/Warner Bros. Records
|Tom Lehrer chronology|
- "Poisoning Pigeons in the Park" – 2:38
- "Bright College Days" – 3:03
- "A Christmas Carol" – 2:54
- "The Elements" – 2:16
- "Oedipus Rex" – 3:41
- "In Old Mexico" – 6:26
- "Clementine" – 4:40
- "It Makes a Fellow Proud to Be a Soldier" – 4:50
- "She's My Girl" – 2:53
- "The Masochism Tango" – 3:30
- "We Will All Go Together When We Go" – 5:32
"Poisoning Pigeons in the Park"
The lyrics parody springtime songs, and refer to the practice of controlling pigeons with strychnine-treated corn in 1950s Boston.
- Spring is here, a-suh-puh-ring is here.
- Life is skittles and life is beer.
- I think the loveliest time of the year
- Is the spring! I do - Don't you? 'Course you do.
- but there's one thing that makes spring complete for me
- and makes every Sunday a treat for me
- All the world seems in tune
- On a spring afternoon
- When we're poisoning pigeons in the park ...
As is common with Lehrer's songs, the self-described "corncrake-voiced" delivery is accompanied by a series of contrived rhymes. The poison names produce rhymes such as "try an' hide" with "cyanide", and "quickenin'" with "strychnine".
This song was also part of the studio-recorded album, More of Tom Lehrer, and had its moments. Before the first orchestra rehearsal, the pianist had seen the sheet music. It had only the notes, but no title or lyrics. At first glance, he recognized the style ("Oh, it's a waltz"). However, when the conductor announced the title, saying, "'Poisoning Pigeons in the Park', take one", the pianist shouted, "WHAT?!", and fell off his bench. Observing this, Lehrer remarked, "I had never seen anything like that."
"Bright College Days"
The lyrics of "The Elements" are a recitation of the names of all the chemical elements that were known at the time of writing, up to number 102, nobelium. It can be found on his albums Songs & More Songs by Tom Lehrer as well as An Evening Wasted with Tom Lehrer. The song is sung to the tune of Sir Arthur Sullivan's "Major General's Song" ("I am the very model of a modern major-general...") from The Pirates of Penzance. Here are the opening and closing lines:
- These are the only ones of which the news has come to Ha'vard,
- And there may be many others, but they haven't been discovered.
- [Piano coda: Shave and a haircut, two bits]
The final rhyme of "Harvard" and "discovered" is delivered in an exaggerated parody of a Boston accent.
Since that time, 16 more have been discovered: lawrencium, rutherfordium, dubnium, seaborgium, bohrium, hassium, meitnerium, darmstadtium, roentgenium, copernicium, nihonium, flerovium, moscovium, livermorium, tennessine, and oganesson.
At his concert in Copenhagen (1967), Lehrer admitted, "I like to play this song every once in a while, just to see if I can still do it!" Indeed, several of Lehrer's fans, such as actor Daniel Radcliffe, have tried and failed to sing it.
Lehrer comments that most popular movies of the time have a catchy title song that helps to draw in audiences. Believing that a recent (1957) film adaptation of Sophocles' play Oedipus Rex had failed at the box office because it did not have such a song, he wrote this one in ragtime style.
Clementine is a parody of the old folk song "Oh My Darling, Clementine" as it might have turned out had it had been written by various composers in widely different styles of music. The first verse was in the style of Cole Porter (suggestive of "Night and Day"); the second verse an aria for baritone in the style of Mozart "or one of that crowd"; the third verse in the style of the Beatnik "Cool School" (suggestive of Thelonious Monk's "52nd Street Theme"); and the rousing finale was, in Lehrer's paraphrase of Shakespeare, "full of words and music, and signifying nothing," in the style of Gilbert and Sullivan (suggestive of "My name is John Wellington Wells" or other patter songs).
Lehrer's argument for rewriting the song is that folk songs in general are "so atrocious, because they're written 'by the people'," and that the original "Clementine" has "no recognizable merit whatsoever."
"It Makes a Fellow Proud to Be a Soldier"
A parody of the official songs in use by the various branches of the United States military. Lehrer explains that the Army "didn't have no official song" when he started basic training; he wrote this one in an attempt to remedy the situation. (The branch adopted "The Army Goes Rolling Along" as its song in 1956, one year after Lehrer enlisted.) The lyrics poke fun at the Army's policy at the time of accepting almost everyone who wanted to enlist, even those with criminal backgrounds or a lack of intelligence.
"The Masochism Tango"
To the tune of a traditional tango, that generally asks the singer's dancing partner to "Haunt him and taunt him and, if at all possible, to consume him with a kiss of fire", the lyrics exhort the partner to sadistically inflict pain on the singer.
The song ranges from comical:
- I ache for the touch of your lips, dear,
- But much more for the touch of your whips, dear.
- You can raise welts
- Like nobody else,
- As we dance to the Masochism Tango.
To somewhat exaggerated:
- Take your cigarette from its holder
- And burn your initials in my shoulder
- Fracture my spine
- And swear that you're mine
- As we dance to the Masochism Tango.
And even a little violent:
- Bash in my brain,
- And make me scream with pain,
- Then kick me once again,
- And say we'll never part.
But all the while keeps its mocking tone common to the works of Tom Lehrer:
- Before you here I stand,
- My heart is in my hand... eccch!
- Lehrer, Tom (March 1959). An Evening Wasted with Tom Lehrer. Cambridge, MA: Allmusic.com.
- Faulkner, Clarence (1999-05-01). "As It Was in Region 5,1949-1964". The Probe. 200: 7 – via DigitalCommons@University of Nebraska - Lincoln, "City-wide pigeon control in Boston, MA using strychnine-treated whole corn".
- "Insider". Paul-Lehrman.com. 1997.
- Lehrer, Tom. "The Elements". privatehand.com. (Flash animation)