Monday, May 19, 2014

Comedy Albums

Where did you get your taste in music? From the radio, perhaps, or the internet? Recommendations from your friends?

And what kind of role did your parents play in the formation of your musical preferences? Did they pass their favourite artists on to you? Did they go to great pains to lay the right foundations, or did they leave you to carve out your own path?

My parents never really had that much impact on the music I listened to - the radio, the internet, and my friends were far more useful in that respect - but one thing they did contribute to my musical upbringing was comedy. Some people grew up with Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple blaring through the house; I had Tom Lehrer and Allan Sherman instead.

And while I would have liked to be able to talk about 'cool' music before I was halfway through my teens, I'm not too bitter about it because the comedy music that mum and dad (mostly dad) showed me is actually pretty awesome. Here, for example, is one of my favourite Tom Lehrer songs:

The comedy albums that I was subjected to as a young'un - and that Lehrer track is a prime example - are home to some of the best and cleverest lyrics I've ever heard, in any genre. Admittedly, a lot of the jokes went over my head back then, but I still loved laughing along with the live audience on Allan Sherman's The Streets of Miami, even if I had no idea why they were laughing:

Of course, when I started getting into indie rock, my fondness for comedy music was sidelined out of necessity. I was building a library of 'proper' music now, and there was no room on my CD rack for the likes of Sherman and Lehrer. I still listened from time to time - I remember spending hours on YouTube, immersed in the repertoire of 'Weird' Al Yankovic - but regardless of how much I laughed, I never bought any comedy albums of my own. I wouldn't have Weird Al sat alongside Radiohead and R.E.M. in my bedroom.

This run of pretentiousness was eventually broken, believe it or not, by The Lonely Island. Their videos were big hits in my friendship group - particularly Jizz in My Pants and I'm on a Boat - and when Incredibad came out, I decided to flout my own ban and purchase a copy. Not because I thought that The Lonely Island were somehow better than Weird Al and Tom Lehrer, but because I wanted to be the cool guy who knew all the songs and lent the CD to everyone else.

"Oh seventeen-year old Joel, you are so cool and hip. I like you better than my other friends."

That was five years ago now, but aside from Incredibad and Turtleneck & Chain (the second Lonely Island album) my CD collection is still a pretty humourless place to be. Writing this blog has made me realise how much I want my own copies of The Remains of Tom Lehrer and The Complete Flanders & Swann (two outstanding box sets, highly recommended if you've never heard of these people before). Now more than ever, I admire the outstanding level of wordsmithery that those two acts achieved - even Stephin Merritt can scarcely compare - and so I think it's high time I got over myself and let a little laughter in.

Even if, by purchasing a Flanders & Swann CD, I'm basically admitting that I'm exactly like my father and completely beyond hope forever.

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