Tom Lehrer's "The Elements" and "Clementine" (1959)
After a while, Lehrer found he'd developed a small cult following among the Harvard community and figured he had enough material to make a record. Songs by Tom Lehrer (1953), published at Lehrer's own expense, became an international sensation and eventually sold 100,000 copies. (A live performance of the same material was later issued under the title Tom Lehrer Revisited.).
Six years after Songs By..., Lehrer recorded another, even more popular, album called More of Tom Lehrer (1959), which included "The Elements" and "Clementine," a sketch about how various composers throughout history, including Gilbert and Sullivan, would have treated the famous folk-song.
Lehrer also performed the material from More.... in a live stage show, a recording of which was released in the album An Evening (Wasted) with Tom Lehrer. This album included Lehrer's spoken introductions to the songs and became the best-known recording of the material. It was re-issued on Reprise Records in 1966, and it is this version that is available on CD.
Lehrer's other major album, That Was the Year that Was (1965), contained no specific references to G&S, but is particularly Gilbertian in the fiercely political nature of the satire. Some people consider Lehrer a twentieth-century Gilbert, which would be even more true if Lehrer had written plays as opposed to detached songs.
Tom Lehrer's career as a songwriter and performer was basically over after 1965. (He did write a few songs after that, but he recorded no more albums.) In 1980, however, the producer Cameron Mackintosh made a successful stage musical called Tomfoolery drawn from Lehrer's earlier material. "The Elements" was one of the songs included, and it was recorded on the original cast album.
"The Elements" is one of Lehrer's cleverest creations, fitting the 100-or-so (at the time) elements to the tune of the Major-General's song. The versification is perfect, with no awkward "jamming" of words to fit the tune. "Clementine," on the other hand, never struck me as a particularly effective G&S parody, though it is of course vintage Lehrer.
As an aside, the success of Tomfoolery was the impetus behind Too Many Songs By Tom Lehrer with not enough drawings by Ronald Searle (Pantheon Books, 1981), which included piano arrangements of all but six of the songs from Lehrer's three main LPs, plus a few extras. The artist, Ronald Searle, was also responsible for the G&S-inspired cartoon, Dick Deadeye.
For someone who wrote only about forty songs, Lehrer's discography is
incredibly complicated. A full accounting of his recorded output and
lyrics of all the songs can be found at
the Lehrer Discography website. The table below lists only those
records and CDs that include either "The Elements" or "Clementine."
Marc Shepherd, email@example.com
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Last Modified: 31-Dec-99