My Son the Folk Singer | My Son the Celebrity | My Son the Nut | For Swinging Livers Only!
Collector’s Choice Music
Do people still produce novelty records these days? Besides “Weird Al” Yankovic, it’s a bleak field in the 21st century, but perhaps this mega re-issue of Sherman’s entire catalog will bring some self-effacing humor to the overly-serious over-produced modern music scene. So who’s this Allan Sherman? A nice Jewish boy from the TV industry, he got fired from producing his own game show I Know A Secret, then went on to get fired from the Steve Allen Show, and then from a game show so obscure it doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page.
Desperate for mortgage money in 1962, he recorded his first album in one day, giving us My Son the Folk Singer. The music parodies the pop hits of the day with hysterical lyrics mirroring the Borscht Belt comedians that worked the Poconos. A passing familiarity with post-war American Jewish assimilation helps to get some of the references, but the charge forward and take no prisoners singing will leave even the waspiest of you laughing. All eight of his albums are now re-mastered on high quality polycarbonate compact discs complete with Dr. Demento penned liner notes, and if there’s one thing Collector’s Choice packaging excels at, it’s high-tone liner notes.
Which disc to buy? It’s a tough call — they’re not offering this collection as a box set, which they really ought. I have the first four here, let’s see what’s noteworthy. Like all comedy, the first time at bat is often golden, and My Son the Folk Singer has nary a bad cut. The horse opera parody “Streets of Miami” and “Sarah Jackman” might be enough, but “The Ballard of Harry Lewis” regales us with a garment worker who heroically dies at his sewing machine. It’s probably the best cut on the disc by today’s comedy standards.
Follow up collection My Son The Celebrity takes the same tack as the first LP — silly and clean parodies performed in front of a live audience. It opens with a great Broadway medley parody “Al ‘n Yetta” and next revives a WWII favorite with “Won’t You Come Home, Disraeli?” Later, another brilliant combination of Hebrew wedding music and social commentary arises in “Harvey and Sheila” and love story riddles with acronyms set to the traditional tune “Hava Nagila.” Finally, he tackles Gilbert and Sullivan with “When I Was a Lad.” This disc is a keeper, as is the next one My Son, The Nut. The historical diatribe “You Went the Wrong Way, Old King Louise” is only topped by “Automations,” a romantic geek ballad for those evenings you want to slow dance with an RCA 503 main frame computer.
By the time Sherman had written three albums, several things had happened. Songwriters began to realize the value of a high profile parody, and Allan was turning away subject songs rather than fear copyright infringement suits. In one year, he released three albums and toured extensively. He was burning out on For Swinging Livers Only — the material feels more forced. The album title riff off one of Sinatra’s big albums and the production values are higher, but even with more elaborate backing arrangements I find this the weakest disc. “Pop Hates the Beatles” is worthwhile and a long time favorite on the Dr. Demento show. “Beautiful Teamsters” and “J.C. Cohen” are solid pieces of comedy, but he includes a parody of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” which drags on and on, as that song always does.
Sherman died young, but he left a huge comic legacy and influenced the likes of “Weird Al” and Dr. Demento. Even his weakest material can still bring a smile, and if you’re sending your child off to summer camp, surprise him with this collection of innocent silliness.