30 November, 2010

Advent Calendar in Song: A Christmas Carol

One of the obsessive past times of my childhood was maintaining a collection of comedy records, this consisted of a mix of stand-up records and comedy songs. I mastered, to my naive ear, an impersonation of Jimmy Durante, I'd proudly sing "It's My Nose's Birthday, Not Mine", which I felt my proboscis helped sell despite the failings of my vocal delivery. Later I learned Allen Sherman's Harvey and Sheila, an acronym filled tale of upwardly mobile love set to Hava Nagila. I'd perform a party piece at some of my parents dos before being sent to bed, which really meant sitting on the stairs trying to listen to the conversations and attempting to fathom the adult world.

I first hear Tom Lehrer round a campfire, a counsellor singing The Irish Ballad, the beautifully gruesome send up of folk murder ballads (can you imagine what Nick Cave could do with this?), and The Hunting Song. When that summer was over I immediately got hold of the 3 Tom Lehrer albums that were in print, the first studio version, and the second and third live versions (I didn't find out later until the fantastic Rhino box set release that Lehrer had recorded and released the first two albums twice, studio and live). I greedily listened to his sardonic and satirical ditties, and added another pointless skill to my resumé, by memorizing his setting of the names of the chemical elements to the tune of Modern Major General.

Tom Lehrer's A Christmas Carol, as I first heard it, was from the live version of his second set of songs, An Evening Wasted With Tom Lehrer. He has fun skewering commercialized Christmas whilst segueing into pastiche of some actual carols.

Stan Freberg's sketch Green Chri$tma$ drives home the commercialization message with a bit of a sledge hammer, but is so rife with puns and references, and his high standard production value, we do well to forgive any overkill. Freberg was a voice actor in cartoons, later a radio and TV comedian and a subversive ad man (I'm surprised he hasn't been worked into Mad Men in some direct or indirect fashion). He doesn't pull many punches.

Before I discovered Tom Lehrer, Allen Sherman had been my musical comedy god, he'd re-purpose hit songs into comedic routines by writing new lyrics. The Twelve Gifts Of Christmas is admittedly not his best, and has dated the worst (imagine trying to explain that a small japanese transistor radio with one faulty earpiece was the Ipod Shuffle of its time) but it's the only seasonal one, and I've a soft spot for the man unfairly remembered for just Hello Muddah Hello Faddah.

I'll leave you for today with this sketch from Eddie Lawrence, a character comedian and actor. I'm not sure whether I heard it first on Dr Demento (a weekly radio show featuring novelty records, filled a bit much with the grating cackle of the zany presenter, but very supportive for good and ill of the struggling novelty and comedy market, so to blame for Weird Al Yankovich), or the local radio with its all too wacky zoo morning format. It's silly, but it made me laugh as a kid.



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