Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Allan Sherman: "My Son, The Folk Singer" (1962/2010 re-issue) CD Review


Allan Sherman's first album features his great song parodies, such as "Sarah Jackman" (sung to "Frere Jacques").

My Son, The Folk Singer is Allan Sherman's debut album, and it hit #1 (as did his next two albums). (The pop charts were somewhat different before The Beatles arrived.) It was recorded in one night - August 6, 1962 - in front of a small audience of friends (who had access to an open bar).

Allan Sherman was thirty-seven years old at the time of the recording. Before this, he'd produced game shows such as I've Got A Secret. The album was such a smash hit that Warner Bros. ran out of album jackets, and yet continued to sell the vinyl alone.

"The Ballad Of Harry Lewis"

Well, who is Harry Lewis? The audience seems to know. And regardless of whether the listener knows who he is, the line about "The Drapes Of Roth" is absolutely hilarious.

But anyway, Harry Lewis was a supporting actor in films. With his wife, Marilyn, he opened a hamburger restaurant in Los Angeles, Hamburger Hamlet (because his two ambitions were to play Hamlet and to open a restaurant). His wife then decided to create a line of clothing, and it's this that the song is joking about.

"The Ballad Of Harry Lewis" is sung to "The Battle Hymn Of The Republic." There are lots of jokes relating tailors to priests, introducing Harry Lewis as "a man of the cloth." And the funniest line is "He was trampling through the warehouse/Where the Drapes of Roth are stored."

"Sir Greenbaum's Madrigal"

This song tells the story of a knight, Greenbaum, whose name alone gets a big laugh from the audience. Also getting a large laugh are the lines, "Said he, I don't want to be a knight/That's no job for a boy who is Jewish." This is sung to the tune of "Greensleeves." This song also features the great line, "Oh, wouldst I could kick the habit/And give up smoting for good."

"My Zelda"

"My Zelda," which is sung to the tune of "Matilda," is about a wife who takes her husband's money and runs off with the tailor. Allan sings, "My Zelda, she found her big romance/When I broke the zipper in my pants." Allan Sherman has a whole group of back-up singers, and these singers somehow elevate the humor by singing it seriously, doing it straight (in this song and others). Also, this song really demonstrates Allan Sherman's spot-on comic timing.

"Sarah Jackman"

"Sarah Jackman" is a phone conversation sung to the tune of "Frere Jacques." It's a duet with Christine Nelson, and it's probably the funniest song on the album. It was the most popular tune from the album when the record was originally released, and it's easy to see why.

It starts, once he's sure he's got the right number, "Sarah Jackman, Sarah Jackman/How's by you, how's by you?" They discuss their families: "How's your sister Doris?/Still with William Morris" and "How's your brother Bentley?/Feeling better mentally." In addition to the William Morris Agency, it includes references to Lolita and The Peace Corps.

"Jump Down, Spin Around (Pick A Dress O' Cotton)"

"Jump Down, Spin Around (Pick A Dress O' Cotton)" is a song about shopping and getting bargains. It's hilarious, especially considering the song it's parodying - "Pick A Bale Of Cotton." The only work done by the folks in this song is taking a dress off the hanger more quickly than the other shoppers. Allan and the back-up singers sing, "Gotta jump down, spin around, save a dollar eighty/Gotta jump down, spin around, save a lot of dough/Gotta get yourself a bargain."

"Oh Boy"

"Oh Boy," which is introduced as "The Ballad Of Oh Boy," is one of the funniest songs on the album. It's amazing how many different line readings Allan Sherman could give to the line, "Oh boy." It starts, "We'd like to know what you think/Oh boy/What's your opinion of mink?/Oh boy."

This song is very funny, though many of the references are clearly dated. There are references to Chief Justice Warren, Sylvia Porter and Barry Goldwater. To everything, Allan Sherman's response is "Oh boy." And then there's a switch: "Sir Arthur Conan Doyle/Both great." This song is sung to the tune of "Chiapanecas."

"Shticks And Stones"

The album concludes with "Shticks And Stones," which is actually a medley of parodies with basically just vocals and drums, and much laughter. It turns "Jericho" to "Geritol," for example. And why not?

As funny as this album is, one can't help but wonder, "Would I be laughing even more if I were Jewish?" The answer is probably yes. And even more if this were 1962. But it doesn't matter. There are plenty of laughs for everyone even now in 2010.

The music was arranged and conducted by Lou Busch. Doctor Demento (Barry Hansen), who's made a living playing parodies on the radio, wrote the liner notes for this album.

CD Track List

  1. The Ballad Of Harry Lewis
  2. Shake Hands With Your Uncle Max
  3. Sir Greenbaum's Madrigal
  4. My Zelda
  5. The Streets Of Miami
  6. Sarah Jackman
  7. Jump Down, Spin Around (Pick A Dress O' Cotton)
  8. Seltzer Boy
  9. Oh Boy
  10. Shticks And Stones

My Son, The Folk Singer is scheduled to be re-issued on September 7, 2010, along with seven other Allan Sherman records, including My Son, The Celebrity (1963), My Son, The Nut (1963) and For Swingin' Livers Only! (1964). All eight are being released by Collectors' Choice Music.

(Note: I originally posted this review on August 4, 2010 on another site.)

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