I absolutely have to start with this.
I can’t remember how old I was when my dad first played this to me – maybe 10-11 or so – but you can imagine the impact a song like “Poisoning Pigeons In The Park” had on me, bloody hilarious. I must have been having proper science lessons at school because “The Elements” resonated too – such a clever song. Mind you, I had no idea at the time who Oedipus Rex was or what was significant about him loving his mother, and several other songs would have gone straight over my head.
Listening to the record again, as we have any number of times now, you realise how audacious something like “The Masochism Tango” would have been for the late 50s. “We Will All Go Together When We Go” is ahead of its time – fear of a nuclear war is much more of a 60s thing in my mind, but obviously the 50s too.
If you’ve never heard “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park” before, get over to YouTube and have a listen and then explore the rest of his work. The other thing to bear in mind is that Tom Lehrer was never a professional performer – he was a mathematician who graduated from Harvard, worked at Los Alamos and the NSA, and taught at MIT.