The Minority Report: Tom Lehrer


A man out of time-- Tom Lehrer was lampooning the Vatican and inviting nuclear war when Carlin was still on training wheels.

Thank God for Rhino Records (oh, if only we had a nickel for every time we've uttered those words). Prior to Rhino's comprehensive, exhaustive boxed set of Tom Lehrer's recorded material, the man's very name was fading off the history books like so much invisible ink. And, incomprehensibly, those who did remember him derided his legacy, denouncing Lehrer's work as topical, outmoded, dopey musical satire.

Well, pardon us very much, but fuck that. It may take an open mind and an open ear and a few spins on the gramophone, but Gimme Noise is here to tell you exactly why Tom Lehrer deserves to be remembered as one of the most important, the most talented, and one of the funniest satirists this side of the crucifixion. Head below the jump for 5 reasons to love Tom Lehrer.

Tom Lehrer performing "So Long Mom, I'm Off to Drop the Bomb" in 1967.

  1. Incomparable lyrical dexterity. Hey, we don't want to poo poo the great bard, but with lines like "This is what he said on/ his way to Armageddon" and an entire song that manages to pack to the periodic table of elements, in its entirety, into a jaunty, rhyming march, Tom Lehrer gives old Willie the Shake a run for his money. There have been other gifted linguists in the annals of musical satire, but none have ever managed Lehrer's turns of the tongue, a natural gift that manages to make every idea concise, biting, and downright hilarious.

  1. The guy can play. Unlike other musical satirists, who simply use middling musical talent as a gimmick to deliver the punchline, Lehrer was a classically trained and naturally gifted pianist. Even if he weren't singing about poisoning pigeons, and turning the Catholic catechysm and all things sacrosanct into lewd rags, his playing would be a joy to listen to. With Lehrer, the piano is the Bud Abbot.

  1. He wrote songs for Sesame Street and Electric Company. Anyone who wrote songs for Sesame Street is automatically worth paying attention to. Period.

4. Math wiz by day, musical satirist by night. That's right-- Lehrer is arguably more famous for his talents in high math than he is for his brief comedy career in the 50s and 60s. Piano, nuclear war, and numbers? Makes sense to us.

5. This song.