The Electric Company and Tom Lehrer

My husband, Jason Pomerantz, has asked if he could write about an interesting experience he recently had….

When I was very young I was a big fan of The Electric Company. This was a wonderful show that ran on public television in the United States from 1971 to 1977. It was produced by Children’s Television Workshop and was aimed at kids slightly older than those who watched Sesame Street. It tried to be hipper than Big Bird’s show since the six and seven year olds it was intended for were much cooler than their four and five year old younger siblings. The songs were faster, the humor was more pointed. And, it had Spiderman! I loved it.

One thing I particularly enjoyed was a series of cartoons The Electric Company often ran that featured catchy songs about letter combinations. There was “LY”, “The Hound Song”, “Silent E” and “Snore, Sniff and Sneeze”. My favorite was “N’T”. Even though my birthdays were measured in the single digits, I think I appreciated the barely suppressed satire just perceptible beneath the animation and lyrics like:

Grouches all agree,
we get a glow saying ‘No’,
‘n’, apostrophe ‘t’ .

Flash forward eight or nine years. I’m a young teenager, thirteen or fourteen years old, and I’ve become of fan of song parodies. People like Alan Sherman, famous in the sixties for “Hello Mudda, Hello Fadda, Here I am at Camp Granada”. Or Weird Al Yankovic, best know for his satires of the first generation of MTV videos, like Michael Jackson’s “Beat It”, which became “Eat It”.

One of the most talented of the musical satirists I loved was Tom Lehrer. Lehrer grew to fame on the TV program”That Was The Week That Was”, a sketch show which ran in the mid 1960’s. His songs included “Who’s Next?”, “Wernher Von Braun”, and “Lobachevsky”. They featured bouncy, catchy piano melodies and they were all sung in Lehrer’s unmistakable voice: mischievous, cynical, and filled with an enthusiastic, devilish joy.

We grow and change as we get older. But there’s something fundamental at our cores that stays consistent. I realized this several days ago when my twelve year old son emailed Lisa and me a link to a song he had found. I was reading on the couch at the time and Lisa was working at her laptop at the dining room table. She clicked the link my son had sent and her computer began to play music. I was absorbed in my book so, at first, I paid no attention. But something struck me and I walked over to listen. The song was “Elements“. It’s all about the elements of the periodic table, and it’s very funny. It sounded familiar to me, and after a while I realized it was by Tom Lehrer. Someone had taken it upon themselves to animate it and had posted it on YouTube.

After it was over, I went to my own computer to see if I could find more Tom Lehrer videos. I was eager to hear music I hadn’t thought much about for twenty-five years. I typed his name into YouTube and… It was then I got a shock!

Many of the songs I knew as a teenager were available, but there was more. There was “LY“, “The Hound Song“, “Silent E“, “Snore, Sniff and Sneeze” – even “N’T“! The songs from the Electric Company I barely remembered from, not twenty-five, but more than thirty years ago. I suddenly realized that those songs I had loved so much in my early childhood had been by Tom Lehrer! I watched several and they were as funny and wonderful as I remembered them.

As teenagers we like to pride ourselves on our new maturity. We throw away our toys and turn our backs on childish concerns. But, I suddenly realized, we don’t change as much as we think. The music I loved when I was six was by the same artist I loved when I was fourteen. One I had never quite outgrown, even at forty.

Had listening to Tom Lehrer on the Electric Company in my formative years melded my taste, carving patterns in my mind that continue to influence me? Or had the patterns already been there, present at birth, waiting to be filled by any Tom Lehrer style tunes? Nurture versus nature, environment versus genes, who knows? Most likely, genes and environment are in a perpetual dance, influencing each other in complex, subtle ways, making us who we are.

I still don’t know why Spiderman never talked though…

-Jason

This article was posted on Friday, November 10th, 2006 at 11:18 pm and is filed under Electric Company, Mama Lisa, Movies, TV & The Internet, YouTube. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

8 Responses to “The Electric Company and Tom Lehrer”

  1. Debbie Says:

    Hello! I am trying to find all the words to a very old childrens song that my mother sang to me when I was a little girl . and also to all the grandchildren but I cant remember all the words? I so badly want to find the song. It was somerhing like; Two babes in the woods should be the title. it goes something like along time a go two dear little babes there names I dont know. they wandered away one bright summers day .Two babes in the woods two babes in the woods. it goes on and on about the babes getting lost in the woods and the robins so red strawberry leaves that covered there head. anyway in was a sad song because the babes ended up dieing but if you have ever heard a song like this please email me thanks you so much

  2. Lisa Says:

    Are these the lyrics you’re looking for…

    The Babes in the Wood

    O don’t you remember
    A long time ago
    Two poor little babes,
    Their names I don’t know,
    They strayed far away,
    On a bright summer’s day.
    These two little babes
    Got lost on their way.

    Refrain
    Poor babes in the wood!
    Poor babes in the wood!
    Oh! Don’t you remember
    Those babes in the wood?

    Among the trees high,
    Beneath the blue sky,
    They plucked the bright flowers
    And watched the birds fly;
    Then on blackberries fed,
    And strawberries red,
    And when they were weary
    ‘We’ll go home,’ they said.

    Refrain

    And when it was night,
    So sad was their plight,
    The sun it went down,
    And the moon gave no light!
    They sobbed and they sighed
    And they bitterly cried
    And long before morning,
    They lay down and died.

    Refrain

    And when they were dead,
    The robins so red,
    Brought strawberry leaves
    And over them spread
    And all the day long,
    On the branches did throng,
    They mournfully whistled,
    And this was their song:

    Refrain

  3. Rae Says:

    Thank you so much for sharing. My grandmother used to play her fiddle and to sing this song and another song called “Red Wing” to me. I was searching all over the Internet to get the complete lyrics. This version is almost exactly the one my grandmother sang. Thank you again!

  4. carol Says:

    I too have been trying very hard to find the lyrics to this song. My grandmother sang it many years ago and I wanted to share it with my grown daughter.

    Thank you,
    Carol

  5. Judy Says:

    Thanks for this analysis!

    I was born in 1963. I am fairly certain I didn’t see Electric Company, but I was familiar with Tom Lehrer from my parents playing his (more adult) stuff.

    Fast forward to 6th grade: we’re supposed to “write a play” (and with no preparation as to what a play is, what drama is, etc.) and perform one. It was me and two of the slower students in the class. I decided that instead we’d do “commercials”, well, actually parodies of them. Teacher was not amused.

    But I now think I see why I chose that and why satire and parody have always been my favorite literary devices!

    Thanks for the insight!

    Judy

  6. Deena Dailey Says:

    I tried to print the lyrics to Babes in the Woods but couldn’t?

  7. Lisa Says:

    I also have the lyrics to Babes in the Woods on my England pages. You can click the link to get there. Perhaps you can print it from there. Otherwise, I’d copy and paste them into a word document and print it from there.

    -Lisa

  8. Deena Dailey Says:

    Okay, I finally did download. My grandmother always sang it this way, “WWhen Arbor Day came, the robins so red, laid strawberry leaves all over their heads, and all the night long, they sang a sad song,…Poorbabes in the woods, poorbabes in the woods.

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