Thomas Andrew Lehrer is an American retired singer, satirist, songwriter, and mathematician, having lectured on mathematics and musical theater. He rose to fame after bringing academic satire with his corny tracks about nuclear physicists, chemistry, mathematics, and many other subjects. Lehrer is also best known for his most perennial songs such as “The Elements,” “Lobachevsky,” and “The Masochism Tango.” According to Classic Rock History, Tom produced very few albums and performed far less than an average music performer, but he remains to be one of the legends in the music industry.
In addition to his successful music career, Lehrer was a direct inspiration for political satirists like Mark Russell and songwriters like Frank Zappa and Randy Newman. His music career also became more popular after the success of Dr. Demento’s radio shows, which often featured Tom Lehrer’s music. Read on to learn more about the top 10 Tom Lehrer songs.
10. Poisoning Pigeons in the Park
The song “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park” features Tom Lehrer’s 1959 studio album. This track is considered one of Lehrer’s most famous and best songs. The singing style in this song is cheery and bright, while the theme is sinister, especially when he sings about taking some pigeons back home to ‘experiment.’ This song tries to highlight something about society when a track talking about cheerily killing off animals barely raises any concern anymore. While most people view this song as very creepy, ‘Poisoning Pigeons in the Park’ is considered one of the most gloriously awkward songs to be ever recorded by Tom Lehrer.
9. National Brotherhood Week
The song ‘National Brotherhood Week’ is one of the several political songs by Tom Lehrer. While the song’s subject and some of its references are deemed outdated, this song by Lehrer is considered one of his more popular and oft-referenced political tunes. The main subject in the song was National Brotherhood Week, which was usually held once in the third week of February. This event usually entailed the locals abandoning social hatred and racism for a week, which Lehrer thought was ludicrous. However, National Brotherhood Week was celebrated for decades in America, especially in the ’30s, till the ’50s. Brotherhood Week was very keen on advocating for anti-Catholic, anti-Jewish, and anti-immigrant sentiment in the United States.
8. Wernher Von Braun
Tom Lehrer, a mathematician turned music-satirist, is a damning critique of Wernher Magnus Maximilian Freiherr von Braun. Wernher was a German American space architect and a member of the Allgemeine S.S. and Nazi party. The song ‘Wernher Von Braun’ explains Lehrer’s complete hatred and even branded him as heartless and hypocritical. This song is featured in the 1965 album dubbed ‘That Was the Year That Was’ recorded in San Francisco. The album performed relatively well, reaching No.18 on Billboard’s Top 200 Albums.
7. Send the Marines
According to This Is My Jam, Tom Lehrer served in the army for several years and later decided to use these experiences to compose a few songs. The song ‘Send the Marines’ is more of a critical and pointed political song that illustrates with depression precision the dismissive way U.S. forces are used to set up puppet dictators worldwide. ‘Send the Marines’ was also recorded in 1965 and featured in the solo debut album, ‘That Was the Year That Was.’
6. Who’s Next?
The song ‘Who’s Next?’ was one of the most popular hits by Lehrer that talked about nuclear proliferation. This song was released when the U.S.S.R. and the U.S. had been rapidly developing their nuclear arsenal. China has already successfully tested its nuclear bomb in 1966 and progressed to develop nuclear missiles. This song was one of the songs played by Tom for his last major public music performance in 1998.
5. So Long, Mom, (A Song for World War III)
Nowadays, most people assume that the world will end in the form of either an intelligent ape, zombie, or robot uprising. But Tom Lehrer suggests that there is another probability of World War III. This is another war song by the legendary Lehrer, where he sings about the hypothetical U.S.S.R. conflict that everyone seems to be worried about.
4. We Will All Go Together When We Go
The track ‘We Will All Go Together When We Go’ was first recorded in March 1959 in English. After that, the song was re-recorded in different languages, such as Danish, Spanish, German, and Swedish, in 1967 by Per-Anders Boquist. Initially introduced as a survival song, ‘We Will All Go Together When We Go’ is pitched as a means of cheering up mourners, and in a way, this is one of the least cynical song recordings by Tom Lehrer. The song tries to put things in perspective on how we should not worry about our own trivial lives. This song is featured in a 1959 album titled ‘An Evening Wasted with Tom Lehrer.”
3. The Definition of a Derivative
There are usually not many songs about mathematical concepts, which is mainly attributed to the fact that they are hard to rhyme, have comprehensibility problems, and are harder to dance to. However, the singer-songwriter and mathematics lecturer Tom Lehrer comfortably manages to achieve all this in several of his mathematical tracks. The song ‘The Definition of a Derivative’ uses the tune from ‘There’ll be Some Changes Made,’ a 1930s W. Benton Overstreet jam.
2. I Got it From Agnes
The song ‘I Got it From Agnes’ is one of Lehrer’s live performances, featured in the 1966 album Songs & More Songs by Tom Lehrer. Since the ‘it’ was never explained, his audiences in the strait-laced world of the early 1950s knew this song sang about AIDS. Additionally, the song became even more viral at the time of the recent health epidemic COVID-19. The song was originally performed in the 1950s, but he did not record it until 1996 and included the song in his album.
1. A Christmas Carol
While Christmas songs in the 1950s were considered lame, Tom Lehrer’s ‘A Christmas Carol’ hugely impacted people’s view of Christmas songs. This song is easy to sing along to and has a jolly vibe that clearly describes the true meaning of the festive season. According to Toplessrobot, this track is also included in his 1959 solo studio album titled, An Evening with Tom Lehrer.