Stuck With The Wrong Lyrics

My childhood coincided with the peak of a unique blip in entertainment: the comedy album. In the early 60s, Bob Newhart, Jonathan Winters, and Vaughn Meader (The First Family) racked up huge sales, as did Bill Cosby a few years later. But my favorite was Allan Sherman. Sherman was a radio and television writer who started singing song parodies at parties. They were so popular that he got a recording contract, and his first album, My Son, The Folk Singer, was a big hit. He followed it up with the aptly named My Son, The Celebrity and with My Son, The Nut, which included the song he’s best remembered for, “Hello, Muddah, Hello Faddah,” otherwise known as the Camp Granada song.

Many of his songs were filled with outrageous, yet literate, puns. His song “The Ballad of Harry Lewis,” was sung to the tune of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Harry Lewis worked for textile manufacturer Irving Roth, and Sherman wrote: “Oh Harry Lewis perished/In the service of his lord/He was trampling through the warehouse/Where the drapes of Roth are stored.”

Sherman was the one who first enlightened me to the possibility of outrageous puns. Some of them my pre-adolescent mind got, some of them it didn’t. (It took me years to understand why “the drapes of Roth” was so funny). Sherman’s puns and rhymes inspired my love of words, and wordplay, and undoubtedly helped inspire me to become a writer. Of course, my 7th-grade biology teacher was not amused when I suggested that you could tell the sex of a chromosome by pulling down its genes. And my wife inserted a line into our wedding vows promising to love me “despite my puns.”

There’s another downside, which I discovered last week. My favorite classical music station was playing “Greensleeves,” and in my head, I started hearing the lyrics to Sherman’s parody, “Sir Greenbaum’s Madrigal.” Then last Sunday, during the premiere of Boardwalk Empire, the soundtrack included the song, “Fascination.” Because Sherman had used the tune for the basis of his song, “Automation,” I started hearing this while watching Steve Buscemi: “There’s an IBM 503/Sitting next to me, dear,/Where you used to be.”

I didn’t even have to replay the song to capture those lyrics. (You can if you want – Rhino Records came out with My Son, The Box a few years ago, containing CDs of all of Sherman’s recordings.) They’re stuck in my head. I have the same problem with “I See Bones” (based on “C’est Si Bon”) and a whole bunch of others from Sherman’s work. I frankly doubt I’m the only boomer with this problem. Can you listen to Rossini’s “William Tell Overture” without wanting to yell “Hi, yo, Silver, away!”?

Sadly, for all the pleasure Sherman brought me (and the cringes and winces he brought to others), his career had a fast trajectory both up and down. The albums subsequent to the My Son triad did poorly. His wife divorced him. He struggled with his weight, with drinking, and with emotional demons. He died in November 1973, just days before his 49th birthday.

Fortunately or unfortunately, he lives on in my head.

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About middleagecranky

The Middle-Age Cranky blog is written by baby boomer Howard Baldwin, who finds the world, while occasionally wondrous, increasingly aggravating.
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3 Responses to Stuck With The Wrong Lyrics

  1. lois says:

    Oh my…….I adored Alan Sherman………I still hear him in my head when certain music is played. Total brilliance. So sorry to hear his sad story but he brightened many lives including mine.

    Thank you for remembering him.

  2. Conqueroo says:

    ALLAN SHERMAN’S EIGHT WARNER BROS. ALBUMS INCLUDING MY SON, THE FOLK SINGER; MY SON, THE CELEBRITY; AND MY SON, THE NUT
    TO BE REISSUED ON COLLECTORS’ CHOICE
    ON SEPTEMBER 7, THE DAY BEFORE ROSH HASHANAH

    Song parodist chronicled Jewish suburban life and more through the ’60s with songs like “Harvey & Sheila,” “Sarah Jackman,”
    “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh” and “Pop Hates the Beatles.”

    LOS ANGELES, Calif. — If Stan Freberg owned the ’50s when it came to song parodies, Alan Sherman owned the ’60s. His string of three #1 albums in a row (My Son, the Folk Singer; My Son, the Celebrity; and My Son, the Nut) remains unmatched by any comedian before or since. Yet in what would qualify as a fershlugginer state of affairs, those very same classic albums have never been released on CD in their original form — appearing only on a now out-of-print Rhino Handmade box set. Collectors’ Choice Music will reissue Sherman’s eight Warner Bros. Records albums from 1962-67 on September 7, 2010 — one day before Rosh Hashanah in the Hebrew calendar year 5771.

    The digitally remastered albums include My Son, the Folk Singer; My Son, the Celebrity; My Son, the Nut; Allan in Wonderland; For Swingin’ Livers Only!; My Name Is Allan; Allan Sherman Live! (Hoping You Are the Same); and Togetherness and feature newly written liner notes by Barry “Dr. Demento” Hansen.

    Sherman’s musical career started when his career as a television producer (“The Steve Allen Show,” “I’ve Got a Secret”) came to a close. He had recorded a handful of Borscht Belt song parodies in the ’50s for Jubilee Records in his native New York and decided to take up where he’d left off. Having relocated to Los Angeles, Sherman was signed to Warner Bros. Records by A&R man and arranger-conductor Lou Busch. The recording session for what would become My Son, the Folk Singer took place where his next six albums would be recorded — Radio Recorders on Hollywood’s McCadden Place, where he was joined by six musicians, six singers, and a live audience of 100, seated in folding chairs, who noshed and imbibed. “I wanted it to be like a party,” he later wrote in his autobiography. The crowd laughter became an essential part of the Allan Sherman sound. The eight Allan Sherman reissues on Collectors’ Choice Music are as follows:

    • My Son, The Folk Singer: Sherman recorded his #1 debut album one night on August 6, 1962 with arranger Lou Busch at Hollywood’s Radio Recorders before a live audience of friends including Johnny Mercer, Theo Bikel and Pat Carroll. As reissue annotator Dr. Demento writes, “He had developed a style that somehow preserved the soul of Jewish humor but made it sound all-American.” The album contains such Sherman gems as “Sarah Jackman” (based on “Frère Jacques”), “My Zelda” (“Matilda”), “The Streets of Miami” (“The Streets of Laredo”), “Seltzer Boy” (“Water Boy”) and “Oh Boy” (“Chiapanecas”). The album sold so fast that when Warner Bros. ran out of album jackets, they continued to sell the vinyl alone.

    • My Son, The Celebrity: At 37, Allan Sherman, the portly ex-TV producer, was suddenly famous. In the space of three sessions in late 1962, he and Busch again invited friends to the studio, supplying folding chairs, hors d’oeuvres and an open bar. The resulting album featured “Harvey & Sheila” (set to the tune of “Hava Nagila”), painting a portrait of the emerging suburban Jewish upper middle class (“They bought a house one day/Financed by FHA/It had a swimming pool/Full of H20/Traded their used MG/For a new XKE/Switched to the GOP/That’s the way things go”). The second album, which also reached #1, also included “Mexican Hat Dance,” “The Let’s All Call Up AT&T and Protest to the President March,” “Won’t You Come Home Disraeli” and “Barry Is the Baby’s Name/Horowitz/Get on the Garden Freeway.”

    • My Son, The Nut: Sherman’s fan base now including President John F. Kennedy and Harpo Marx. The parodist once told Busch he wanted to record with a full orchestra, which Busch thought was indeed nuts, but agreed to add concert strings and brass to the mix for this 1963 album. Featured here is “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh,” sung from the vantage point of a malcontented kid at overnight camp. The Los Angeles Times called it “pure craft . . . Sherman clearly tapped not only his son’s experience that summer but the . . . terror of a child separated from his parents.” Other tracks included “You Went the Wrong Way Old King Louie,” “Automation,” “I See Bones,” “Hungarian Goulash No. 5,” “Here’s to the Crabgrass,” “Rat Fink” and “Hail to Thee, Fat Person.” The album held the #1 spot for eight weeks.

    • Allan in Wonderland: Sherman’s 1964 album didn’t reach #1 — the Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan three weeks after its release, thereby changing the pop charts forever — but Allan Sherman’s fourth album stood up well against its chart-topping forebears. In fact its humor might even have been a little more pointed, most notably “The Dropouts March,” which took a particularly cynical look at educators’ well-meaning efforts to keep kids in school. With psychiatry a popular topic for comedians in the early ’60s, Sherman provided “You Need an Analyst,” based on “I’ve Got a Little List” from The Mikado. The album maxed at #25 on the album chart.

    • For Swingin’ Livers Only: The album title was an homage to Frank Sinatra’s famous 1956 album Songs For Swingin’ Lovers. And indeed Sherman made no bones about on which side of the popular music divide he stood with “Pop Hates the Beatles” (to the tune of “Pop Goes the Weasel”). Also included are “The Twelve Gifts of Christmas,” “Grow, Mrs. Goldfarb,” “Your Mother’s Here to Stay,” “Pills,” “Shine On Harvey Bloom,” ”Beautiful Teamsters” and “Bye Bye Blumberg.” Although one of his most fertile periods for parody, the November 1964 release reached only #32 on the charts. Sherman kept himself in the public eye, appearing on the “Tonight Show” and authoring articles that year for Playboy, TV Guide, The Saturday Evening Post and New York Magazine.

    • My Name is Allan: The fad nutrition book of 1965 was The Drinking Man’s Diet, which advanced the peculiar notion that consuming alcohol would ease the stress of dieting and therefore promote weight loss — a notion that Sherman ran with on this, his final charting album. Featured were “The Drinking Man’s Diet” (not a song parody buy rather an original penned by Sherman and arranger Neil Hefti, who also composed the “Batman” theme), “It’s a Most Unusual Play,” “Peyton Place, USA,” “The Laarge Daark Aardvark Song” and “The Painless Dentist.” The humor also extends to the album title and cover — being Jewish is about the only thing Allan Sherman and Barbara Streisand had in common. The album stalled at #88 on the Billboard chart, and was the last album recorded at a Hollywood studio with invited guests in folding chairs.

    • Allan Sherman Live! (Hoping You Are the Same): Sparks, Nevada’s Nugget hotel/casino was not exactly Carnegie Hall. But after years of recording before invited guests at recording studios, this 1966 release was his first recorded in concert. This was not a rehash of greatest hits, however. Sherman premiered new material — much of it a minute or less in length — alongside a few of his best-loved songs. Included are “How Van Nuys Got Its Name,” “Smog Gets in Your Eyes,” “The Learner’s Brassiere,” “Mononucleosis,” “Scotch and/or Water,” “Sorry ’Bout That” and “In Which I Finally Admit That I Won World War II Single-Handed” and “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh — Nevada Style,” complete with a shout-out to the casino’s owner. Overall it was not a good year for Sherman; his 21-year marriage came to an end, and he’d added fame — which had begun to dissipate — to a list of addictions that included alcohol and carbohydrates. He relocated from Los Angeles to back New York, setting his sights on creating a Broadway musical.

    • Togetherness: Allan Sherman’s last album, from 1967, was the only one he made without an audience of any kind, and he and musical director Peter Matz (who he’d met an overnight camp) took full advantage of the studio environment with such effects as singing in the shower. The album’s single was “Westchester Hadassah,” a parody of the New Vaudeville Band’s “Winchester Cathedral,” itself something of a novelty record. He sang it in what Dr. Demento describes as “somewhere between the quaintly nasal sound of the New Vaudeville Band and the nagging woman of a thousand Jewish comedy routines.” Many of the songs were written by Sherman and composer Albert Hague for their Broadway show Birth Is the Coward’s Way Out (retitled The Fig Leaves Are Falling). Sadly, the production lasted a total of two days on Broadway.

    Sherman moved back to L.A. and began work on a book. By the time it was published in 1973, Sherman was in poor health, suffering from emphysema (after a lifetime of smoking) and increased weight. He died on November 20, 1973 at the age of 47.

    Forty-plus years after his heyday, with the re-release of his catalog, Sherman proves that good comedic music can have timeless appeal.

    # # #

  3. Virginia says:

    I have the same experience with every song the Gilligan’s Island crew used in their musical production of “Hamlet.” Every time I hear the Toreador Song, I hear the Skipper singing “Neither or borrower nor a lender be,” and when I hear “Barcarolle,” my brain inserts Ginger singing, “Hamlet, Hamlet….”

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