[Submitted to NPR’s All Songs Considered on June 28, 2012]
Born in 1968, I have fond memories of media-based technology. My first television was a console model–the kind with no remote that took half a minute to warm up and which, when turned off, condensed the picture on the tube to a tiny dot which lingered and then winked out. Dad had a cassette recorder, the condenser microphone of which got liberal use. We would record things from the TV by setting the recorder near the speaker and trying very hard to be quiet. I remember having my own copies of things like the theme from The Mickey Mouse Club, music from Captain Kangaroo, and others.
Then one day Dad played Spike Jones’ "Cocktails For Two." I had to have it! Dad recorded it onto a cassette tape which I am sure I wore out. I got to the point where I could mimic all of the "hic"s and "glurg"s in the song myself. Dad had pulled the record from which that tantalizing song came out of a cupboard. I had to see what other treasures existed within! There was a little bit of everything; Beatles, Elvis, Enoch Light, Tom Lehrer. Just looking at the covers was fun! They were works of art all by themselves!
And then one day this cover caught my eye. I don’t know if it was the pretty lady in the cocktail dress or the fact that she was holding a dead chicken; the fat, bald guy standing on the pedestal playing a guitar or the fact that he was barefoot; or the biggest (what looked like) sausage I had ever seen hanging from a tray being supported by a stone statue of a naked baby. But I had to know what was on this record!
The album was 1962’s "Allan Sherman’s mother presents: My Son, The Folk Singer". The melodies of some of the songs were familiar. I recognized "The Battle Hymn Of The Republic" in "The Ballad of Harry Lewis" and "Greensleeves" in "Sir Greenbaum’s Madrigal," but the lyrics were different. Many of them were outright funny to me in my pre-pubescent state. "My Zelda found her big romance, when I broke the zipper in my pants," sounded dirty (though I didn’t know why). Regardless, it made me giggle. Listening to Sherman say "Oh boy…" over and over in the midst of a comical string of pop culture references recorded almost 30 years before Billy Joel’s "We Didn’t Start The Fire" had me in fits. And listening to the back-and-forth between Sherman and Christine Nelson in "Sarah Jackman" (Frére Jaques) was voyeuristic, like picking up on the party line at our camp and putting your hand over the mouthpiece. But most of the material was over my head and only "funny" because the audience on the album was laughing.
This was my first taste of Borscht Belt humor, though I obviously didn’t know that’s what it was called at the time. Not being Jewish, I didn’t understand most of the cultural references; not that I would at that age anyhow. I have spent my life subconsciously tracking them all down. My research is not overt, but every so often I will hear one and my brain will say, "Ah! So THAT’S what ‘B’nai B’rith’ means!" or "THAT’S who David Susskind was!"
Judging by the reaction of the audience on the album, if nothing else, Sherman is hilarious without working blue. I spent many hours listening, re-listening, and singing along to that record. There are some references to which I am still not hip. In this day of Wikipedia it would be trivial for me to track down each and every one about which I have question. But there’s no romance in that. My subconscious research continues. Though I do wish someone would explain why the line "Stein with an ‘e-i’ and Styne with a ‘y’" is funny…