Allan Sherman

From Academic Kids

Allan Sherman (sometimes incorrectly Alan), November 30, 1924 - November 20, 1973, was an American musician, parodist, satirist, accordionist, and television producer.

Sherman was the creator and original producer of the popular Goodson-Todman game show I've Got a Secret (1952-1967), but was fired after a particularly unsuccessful episode (featuring Tony Curtis) that aired June 11, 1958. Later, he found that the little song parodies he performed to amuse his friends and family were taking on a life of their own. He released an LP of these parodies, My Son, the Folk Singer, in 1962. The album was so successful that it was quickly followed by My Son, the Celebrity.

The first LP was mainly Jewish-folk-culture rewritings of old folk tunes, but by his peak with My Son, the Nut in 1963, Sherman had begun to appeal to a larger audience, and broadened both his subject matter and his choice of parody material.

In My Son, the Nut alone, his pointed parodies of classical and popular tunes savaged summer camp ("Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh" to the tune of Ponchielli's Dance of the Hours), encroaching automation in the workforce ("Automation" to the tune of "Fascination"), space travel ("Eight Foot Two, Solid Blue" to "Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue"), the exodus to the suburbs, ("Here's to the Crabgrass" to the tune of "English Country Garden"), and his own bloated figure ("Hail to Thee, Fat Person", which blames his obesity on the Marshall Plan).

At the height of his popularity in 1965, Sherman published an autobiography, A Gift of Laughter. For a short period, Sherman was culturally ubiquitous. He sang on and guest-hosted The Tonight Show, appeared in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, and narrated his own version of Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf with the Boston Pops under Arthur Fiedler (this concert was released as an album Peter and the Commissar). A children's book version of "Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah" with illustrations by Syd Hoff was released. A pirate album, More Folk Songs by Allan Sherman and His Friends, contained two parodies Sherman had recorded in the early 1950s with material by other artists.

Later albums grew more pointedly satirical and less light-hearted as the decade lost its innocence, and Sherman took up his pen to skewer protesting students ("The Rebel"), consumer debt ("A Waste of Money" to "A Taste of Honey"), and the generation gap ("Downtown", "Pop Hates the Beatles").

Allan Sherman's large body of parody work (over 100 recorded parodies in 5 years) was brilliant on many levels: His choice of material was itself funny, his lyrics were self-contained and consistently funny (and usually led to a climactic punchline), and yet spookily paralleled the sounds of the original, and his choice of topics was always timely and relevant. Finally, his humor was charming, self-deprecating, insightful, and never seemed to be trying too hard. His brilliance inspired a new generation of developing parodists such as "Weird Al" Yankovic, who pays homage to Sherman (for the sharp-eyed) on the cover of his own first LP. Sherman is also credited with introducing Bill Cosby to a national audience, and thus launching that popular entertainer's career.

Like his contemporary Tom Lehrer, Sherman wrote satirical songs for the two-year-long "highbrow" satire program (the American version) That Was The Week That Was (1964-1965), including his Dropout's March. Unfortunately, his topics were often relevant only to his own time and place; unlike most of Lehrer's, Sherman's parodies generally don't date or travel very well. But anyone familiar with the American concerns of the era will still find all his songs hilarious. And a few are timeless -- "Hello Muddah", the abovementioned story of the boy from Camp Grenada, is as fresh now as ever, and has been translated into other languages -- Sweden has translated and adopted the song as its own.

Sherman's creative career was rather short. After its peak in 1963, his popularity declined precipitously during 1964 and by 1965 he had released two albums that didn't make the top 50. In 1966 Warner Brothers dropped him from the label. Disillusioned but still creative, in 1973 Sherman published the controversial "The Rape of the A.P.E.", which detailed his point of view on American Puritanism and the sexual revolution. He was struggling with lung disease during the book's writing, and he finally succumbed to emphysema in November of 1973 at the age of 48.

Sherman's personal life was rather miserable, both before and after his sudden success as a singer-songwriter. An excellent biographical article (http://www.petabit.com/steve/LATimes_Granada.html) details his rise and fall, as well as the follow-on story of his son Robert Sherman, who was the original "Boy from Camp Granada".

Allan Sherman was interred in the Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery in Culver City, California.

His works were not forgotten after his death -- his "Best of" CD was released in 1990, and a musical revue of his songs entitled "Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah" toured in 2003. "The Rape of the A.P.E" is once again topical and actively sought-after, though rare.

Brief discography

  • My Son, the Folk Singer (1962)
  • More Folk Songs by Allan Sherman and His Friends (1962) [pirated album]
  • My Son, the Celebrity (1963)
  • My Son, the Nut (1963)
  • Allan in Wonderland (1964)
  • Peter and the Commissar (1964)
  • For Swingin' Livers Only (1964)
  • My Name is Allan (1965)
  • Live!! (Hoping You Are The Same) (1966)
  • Togetherness (1967)
  • My Son, The Greatest (Posthumous, 1990)

Bibliography

  • A Gift of Laughter: The Autobiography of Allan Sherman (Atheneum, 1965)
  • The Rape of the A*P*E* -- The Official History of the Sex Revolution 1945-1973: The Obscening of America. An R*S*V*P* Document
    • ISBN 0872164535, Playboy Press, 1973.
    • (The title page notes that APE stands for American Puritan Ethic and RSVP for Redeeming Social Value Pornography -- the book is either wildly funny or wildly offensive, depending on your point of view.)
  • "Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah", (children's picture book)
    • ISBN 0525469427, Dutton Books; 1st edition (May 1, 2004)
    • Hardcover: 32 pages

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