from my sketchbook: allan sherman

I know a man, his name is Lang and he has a neon sign. Now Mr. Lang is very old so, they call it....
When I was five or six, my favorite singer was Allan Sherman. I listened to my parents’ Allan Sherman records. They had his first five releases. I knew every lyric to every song. I knew the order of every song on every album. My Mom and Dad roared with laughter at Sherman’s songs and laughed even harder at their six year-old mimic. But the funniest thing of all was that I had no clue what Allan Sherman was singing about. I had no idea that these songs were parodies of traditional and popular melodies. I didn’t understand the double meanings and intricate wordplay that Sherman worked into each of his songs. I just thought they were funny songs with funny words sung by a funny man with big funny glasses.

When I was older, I remember being embarassed the first time I heard Ponchielli’s Dance of the Hours and sang the familar lyrics of “Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah”, thinking it was just an orchestral arrangement of the classic Allan Sherman composition. As the years went on, I heard more and more original versions of songs that Allan Sherman so expertly satirized. And I finally understood why they were funny.

My son grew up listening to a local Philadelphia radio show called Kids Corner. The host, Kathy O’Connell ┬áregularly plays “You Went The Wrong Way, Old King Louie”and has introduced a new generation to Allan Sherman. Someday, those kids will understand why that song is funny.

I'm singing you the ballad/Of a great man of the cloth/His name was Harry Lewis/And he worked for Irving Roth/He died while cutting velvet/On a hot July the 4th/But his cloth goes shining on
Allan Sherman passed away from emphysema just before his 49th birthday.
I visited his grave on August 11, 2008 – my 47th birthday.

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  1. He was one of the staples of the old Dr. Demento Show when I was a kid, before the “new wave” of “Weird” Al Yankovic and his contemporaries.

    His “12 Days of Christmas” parody is classic stuff.

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