That Was The Year That Was – Tom Lehrer

It’s rare that I find a musical comedy album I enjoy, but there’s a reason Tom Lehrer, the man who first set the periodic table to the tune of the “Major-General’s Song” is such a legend. I actually first heard some of this album in a class on the history of the Cold War- not only is this album violently funny, it serves as an illuminating historical artifact regarding popular sentiment (including the ways in which popular sentiment was very wrong). The humor is consistently clever, especially when Lehrer lampoons the nuclear standoff in “MLF Lullaby”, “So Long, Mom (A Song For World War III)”, “Who’s Next?”, and “Werner von Braun”, skillfully pointing out consequences you might not have realized of the era awaiting armageddon. The moment of epiphany that acts as the impetus to different kinds of jokes is constantly strewn throughout this album. The lyrics are often delightfully lurid, conjuring up images so ribald that you’ve just got to laugh, especially on “Smut” and “Pollution”. His dark comedy works in the same way, juxtaposing, for instance, political assassinations with kitschy peace-and-love messages. The musical arrangements are quite fun, especially on “Pollution”, but perhaps his greatest musical achievement is the speedy vocal groove of “New Math”, which must be heard to be believed. It’s just so impossible to follow, and Lehrer revels in it, skewering the new educational methods of the Cold War era on their merits; you’ve never heard a man perform subtraction so intensely. By the way, Tom Lehrer released all his music into the public domain last year, so all of us musicians have good reason to learn them. Go listen to it now! I know I haven’t given you any proof that this is funny, but you’ll know it’s hilarious within the first five minutes.

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