Ever since college, I have had a dysfunctional relationship with music. I have a decent enough grounding in music history and literature that I can hold my own in a conversation about, say, nationalism in music composition, and depending on how much alcohol the other person in the conversation has consumed, I will come off as an authoritative voice.
Yet, I often gravitate toward music that is obscure, irreverent and downright naughty. For me, that fetish began in high school when I first listened to a borrowed copy of a Monty Python compilation album titled “The Final Rip Off,” specifically a track on that album called “Sit on My Face,” which sounded eerily like “Seventy-Six Trombones” from “The Music Man.”
In college, my fetish blossomed when I was introduced to the music of Tom Lehrer. If you don’t have a basic awareness of Mr. Lehrer’s music by the time you turn 30, there is still hope for you, but I am grateful to have been exposed to his musical comedic genius the first semester of my freshman year. Do you know how you often wish you could go back and recreate the first kiss you ever had with the love of your life (or at least with a former boyfriend/girlfriend who was a really good kisser)? That’s how I feel about the first time I ever heard Mr. Lehrer play and sing “The Masochism Tango.” I was in Wes Flinn’s dorm room in Morehead State University’s Cartmell Hall, doubled over laughing to the point of tears and being unable to speak.
Take your cigarette from its holder,
And burn your initials in my shoulder.
Fracture my spine,
And swear that you’re mine
As we dance to the Masochism Tango.
It’s all Wes’s fault for getting me hooked on this crap.
Over the years, I have collected various forms of so-called “novelty music,” though I hate that term because it’s very dismissive of the intellect involved in creating music that should have as much merit as the output of “serious” composers. Mr. Lehrer, a Harvard-trained mathematician, wrote a song that was variations on the folk tune “Clementine,” incorporating the styles of Cole Porter, W.A. Mozart, Thelonius Monk (I’m taking a stab at that one, because in his remarks Mr. Lehrer only said he was emulating the “modern cool school of composing”) and Gilbert and Sullivan. The label “novelty music” cheapens that creative process, in my opinion.
I came to know the music of Allan Sherman courtesy of Pandora radio (God bless modern technology). I had known for years that he was the voice and genius behind the popular tune “Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah,” but I was ignorant of the rest of his work, or his oeuvre if we really want to get pretentious. One of my favorite tunes of his really isn’t his tune at all; it’s a parody of the Gilbert and Sullivan song “When I Was a Lad” from “H.M.S. Pinafore.” Mr. Sherman kept intact the spirit of the song, an illustration of how cronyism, going to the “right school,” and apple polishing could help one go far in life and career. He adapted the lyrics to reflect a more modern tale, shifting the setting from a 19th century law firm to a 20th century advertising agency.
One day, when I was listening, though, a jaunty tune came on the radio, with Sherman’s signature unrefined voice cranking out lyrics, and I had to pull over the car to really listen.
There is a place I long to go and I confess
It’s Peyton Place.
They’ve got a brand new meaning for “togetherness”
In Peyton Place.
I was vaguely familiar with the reference to “Peyton Place.” I knew it was a film from the mid-1950s and a popular soap opera from the 1960s, and that it had all the accoutrements one usually associates with American daytime entertainment, namely sex and other related intrigue.
The beauty of Mr. Sherman’s “Peyton Place, U.S.A.” is that even a modern audience can enjoy it. They may not know “Peyton Place,” but if you tell them to think of, for example, Wisteria Lane from “Desperate Housewives,” they will make the connection.
The fun with this tune is that Allan Sherman never quite comes out and says the word “sex.” It’s all in the subtext, which is the most fun part of seduction anyway.
“Peyton Place, U.S.A.” earned the distinction of being the first ever song I downloaded from iTunes. Still, I wanted to see it on Youtube. I searched, hoping for a live recording. Alas, it’s not out there, or I’m just not looking in the right place. So, I decided to pay tribute to Mr. Sherman’s tune with a video of my own making.
I have also searched for sheet music of this tune, but that also ended up at a dead end. To the best of my knowledge, there is no Allan Sherman Songbook, though there should be. I think a lot more people would gather drunk around a piano if they could sing Allan Sherman tunes.
Because if you can’t sing Allan Sherman while blasted out of your mind, then the terrorists win.