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Tom Lehrer

Tom Lehrer was one of comedy's great paradoxes -- a respected Harvard mathematics professor by day, he also ranked among the foremost song satirists of the postwar era, recording vicious, twisted parodies of popular musical trends which proved highly influential on the "sick comedy" revolution of the '60s. Despite an aversion to the press and a relatively small recorded output, Lehrer became a star, although he remained an enigma to even his most ardent fans; he rarely toured, never allowed his photo to adorn album jackets, and essentially retired from performing in 1965, leaving behind a cult following which only continued to grow in his absence from the limelight.

Lehrer was born April 9, 1928; even as a child, he frequently parodied popular songs of the day, and also learned to play piano. In 1944, he left New York City to study math at Harvard, earning his master's degree within three years and remaining as a graduate student through 1953. During his student years Lehrer wrote The Physical Revue, a collection of academic song satires staged on campus in January, 1951; an updated performance followed in May of the next year. He also sang his parodies at coffeehouses and student gatherings throughout the Cambridge, MA area; as demand for an album of his songs increased, he spent $15 on studio time to cut Songs by Tom Lehrer, a 10" record privately pressed in an edition of 400 copies.

The record sold out its entire run, and as the Harvard student body dispersed across the country for Christmas vacation, the disc spread ("like herpes," Lehrer joked) far beyond its intended local audience. Soon Lehrer was inundated with requests for copies from across the nation; after several re-pressings, Songs by Tom Lehrer sold an astounding 350,000 copies on the strength of tracks like "I Hold Your Hand in Mine" (about a man who cut off his girlfriend's hand in order to nibble on her fingertips), "Irish Ballad" (a buoyant romp about a killing spree), and "My Home Town" (concerning a place where murderers teach school and old perverts operate the candy store).

In 1955, Lehrer was inducted to serve in the Army, and was honorably discharged two years later. Finally, in 1959 he recorded a follow-up, More of Tom Lehrer, featuring "Poisoning Pigeons in the Park" and "The Masochism Tango"; the same collection of songs were also recorded during a live performance at Harvard, and issued simultaneously as An Evening Wasted with Tom Lehrer. A tour of Europe followed, resulting in another concert collection, Tom Lehrer Revisited, which constituted live renditions of the tracks from the debut LP. However, controversial reactions to his "sick" comedy during a series of Australian performances prompted Lehrer to retire, and he returned full-time to his first love, teaching.

In early 1964, he resurfaced as a songwriter for the NBC news satire That Was the Week That Was. After the show's demise a year later, Lehrer recorded the material written for the program on an LP also titled That Was the Week That Was; the album, which featured his controversial "Vatican Rag," was the first in his contract with the Reprise label, which also agreed to reissue his earlier, self-released records. After re-recording Songs by Tom Lehrer to improve on the original master's poor fidelity, he again retired from show business to return to academia; however, his songs were played regularly on the Dr. Demento radio show beginning in the '70s, and he became the program's second most requested artist of all time (behind Weird Al Yankovic). Lehrer's subsequent returns to show business were brief -- in 1972 he wrote a dozen tunes for the children's program The Electric Company, updated older material for a 1980 musical stage show dubbed Tomfoolery (produced by Cameron Mackintosh of Cats fame), and some years later, agreed to write occasionally for Garrison Keillor. Lehrer continued to teach mathematics at the University of California at Santa Cruz, and at age 72 witnessed Rhino Records' 2000 reissue of his complete recorded works in the form of a three-CD box set titled The Remains of Tom Lehrer. ~ Jason Ankeny, Rovi
full bio

Selected Discography

Comments

He is brilliantly funny. There has never been anyone else like him.
In 1970, I was placed in a mental institution, staffed largely with idealistic grad students, who turned me on to Tom Lehrer. His songs, and his wicked sense of humor, helped me to work out ways to deal with life, and has never failed to bring a smile to my face. When I finally laid hands on a copy of Tom Lehrer Revisted around forty years later, I could still sing Pollution from memory. I'd give a lot to have more of him than the little that's available.
he is cool
love him!!!!!!!!! ! ! ! ! !
Tom Lehrer is so hilarious!
I love the Element Song he wrote, made studying fun!!
Lehrer is German for teacher :P
bnelson756
Got turned on to Tom Lehrer on The Dr Demento Show on WHFS here in the Washington DC area. Glad to find him on Pandora. :)
Been listening to Tom since I discovered him in high school. Some stuff is very period specific but if you get the references its even better.
This is so good
Great songs! The elements is so funny!
Awesome.
As of 10/8/2013, Tom is still splitting the year between Cambridge, MA & Southern California. His humor in day-to-day life is no different than his humor found in his songs. We have mutual friends.
My parents will love this! ....... wait
Great music!
Been a fan since 1962! Elements to my kids teachers! Live long I need to know U are put there poisoning pod helms in the park!
He's not dead, he's 84... And anyone who is offended by this probably thought Mr. Swift was being serious when he wrote about eating babies.
Too bad he is passed on
neonbloo25
I know it would be one of the most interesting experiences to be his pupil and if i had the chance, i wouldn't pass it, out of curiosity that is.
pure genius xD
He's not racist, he is joking about racism... You have to remember that he wrote his songs pre-civil rights era...
HWdance: He's not dead.
Harry: You can't become a satirist without offending someone, hun.
hes racist
dancingqueen 3 0 0 0
Me and my 3rd cousin always sing IN OLD MEXICO!
dancingqueen 3 0 0 0
Is he dead? Please answer me.
I love his style of singing.
boyd782
I actually own two of his LPs they are great to listen to, My children all grew up listening to Tom and now I am looking forward to introducing his music to my grandchildre n as they become old enough to understand his unique humor. Some of it is timeless but several songs really rewire understandin g of the cold war and the nuclear threat that we are up with.
At Christmas time you must be jolly. Time for missle toe and holly. Disapproval would be folly....bro t h e r here we go again! DMB
Oh contrar Misa Tange. Not 30 years. Immah Septuagenari a n and Lehrer was the drinking background with me and the buds in high school. 50 year. Cool that you found and enjoy him. That is the beauty of Pandora.. There are a lot of great people that would have faded into the mists of time but are now here for all, young and old, to enjoy. Tks Misa DMB
tracycrft89
My sister and her husband introduced me to Tom Lehrer. I used him as one of my radio stations for when I am in the mood for him and his style.
@cle4r: Oh. Thanks.
I'm a big Leherer fan
@ MisaTange, it was a little longer ago than 20-30 years. The bio says he retired in 1965, and that was 47 years ago.
AHAH:AHAHAHA H A H
I'm one of this generation's Lehrer fans and I just love him. His songs are timeless even though they were created 20-30 years ago. First found him through Pandora.
krgoebel
Dr Demento was a Sunday night stable when in college and to this day I will break out in a verse of Tom Lear, most people look at me like I am nuts, I just laugh to myself and keep on working.
pstic2
I first heard Tom Lehrer on WBZ in Boston. I would listen to him on my transistor radio tucked under my pillow, after my parents thought I was asleep. His material is so incredibly timeless. I find it just as funny today as when I was a teenager.
Whille a student at UCSC I had no idea he was a profssor there. I listened to Dr. Dimento every week at that time... no idea.
e2lauren
To the best of my knowledge, Tom Lehrer IS a brilliant man - not deceased. I expect Pandora's biographical information to be respectful and accurate, and I hope it will be corrected to refer to Mr. Lehrer in the present tense.
splinters435 4 3
had never heard this man before --but rather enjoy this parodie
Take that, PETA!!
Coming from a blue collar, politically active family, Tom Lehrer's records were part of the many wonderful things my parents introduced us to. His songs are completely relevant to our society today. I think my favorite was "New Math" - since I'm so bad at this. lololololol
pagesmiths1
Think I was 15 when my Dad brought home the album & I heard "soon we'll be sliding down the razor blade of life." I'm 68 now and I never got rid of that image in my head lol
haley83195
tom lehrer is in my opinion the greatest of the "musical" comedians i kno all of his songs by heart
The greatest/fir s t of the piano bar political thought raising songwritter/ e n t e r t a i n e r s .... followed be the likes of Steve Allen
Tom Lehrer is funny and super cute. Man, I love this guy.
I think Tom Lehrer is the best comedic song writer I have every heard. I first heard him from my friend she played the album for me and I head a good laugh
Lehrer was the absolute best at putting brilliant lyrics together with great piano. Nobody has ever done it as well. Where's the bio???
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