Album #40: “An Evening Wasted with Tom Lehrer” — Tom Lehrer (1959)
OK you kids, listen up — back in MY day if you wanted comedy you didn’t have YouTube or “Funny or Die” or Comedy Central. We didn’t have LOLcats or HBO or even SNL. Back then, if you wanted to hear something funny, you either had to stay up late to catch a comedian on Carson … or listen to a comedy album.
Unless you lived in LA or Chicago or New York, where they had comedy clubs, your only hope to hear your favorite stand-up was on vinyl. Comedy albums frequently became runaway best sellers on Billboard and catapulted guys like Bob Newhart, Bill Cosby and George Carlin to national prominence. I first learned of Monty Python thanks to their records, as we rolled around on the family room floor of my friend’s suburban split-level hysterical with laughter. I had many of Monty Python’s best skits memorized years before I ever saw “Flying Circus” on TV.
Long before Weird Al you had Allan Sherman and Spike Jones doing hit music parodies, but the biggest of these singing comedians — or at least the one with longest shelf life — was Tom Lehrer. Ironically Lehrer, a college professor and mathematician by trade, only toured for a few years in the late 1950s, but his pithy ditties about science, S&M, WWIII and wholly improper behavior continue hold up almost 60 years later.
Lehrer went on to write songs for the original TV news parody show, “That Was The Week That Was” before going back to teaching and permanently retiring from the entertainment biz. There are several collections of his darkly humorous tunes, but you can’t do better than his best known live album, “An Evening Wasted with Tom Lehrer.” This record is essentially his greatest hits, including one that is still popular today, thanks to the internet. Here is Harry Potter himself, Daniel Radcliffe, singing “The Element Song” from memory. Because, science.