The music of Allan Sherman has not aged well. But that’s not a bad thing.
Over a few short years in the early 1960s, Sherman rose to fame as the premiere song parodist in American pop music, landing a string of No. 1 albums. But rock ’n’ roll’s surge halfway through that decade pushed Sherman’s orchestrated, sing-along comedy out of the limelight. By 1973, Sherman was dead at 48.
But if you’re like me — a child of parents who grew up in the ’60s — or my folks, you’ve heard Sherman’s music. If you’ve ever sung the clunky phrase, “Hello Muddah!. Hello Fadduh! Here I am at … Camp Grenada,” then Allan Sherman is in your brain. But for the past 37 years, Sherman’s been a forgotten relic of our culture’s musical past.
Listening to his recently reissued and remastered albums, released by Collectors’ Choice Music, which deals in hard-to-find, long lost titles, it’s easy to see why Sherman so quickly faded from the cultural consciousness. His music — parodies about Jewish culture sung to familiar melodies, often with a schmaltzy orchestra behind him — was just too nice to survive in a post-rock ’n’ roll world, where grit and attitude were everything.
But there’s value in these albums, even if today they sound awfully dated. In fact, that’s the point — Sherman’s music is a relic of the past, and since we know it was popular, it reminds us how much American culture has changed in the past 40 years.
Plus, Sherman did have a great sense of humor. One of his best known tunes, “Harvey and Shelia,” from 1963’s “My Son, the Celebrity,” is a chuckle-worthy tale of two stereotypical Jews falling in love, set to the tune of “Hava Nagila.”
“Harvey and Sheila chose a wedding ring. Harvey and Sheila married in the spring. She shopped at A&E; he bought a used MG. They sat and watched TV on their RCA,” Sherman sings.
“Borrowed from HFC, bought some AT&T, and on election day, worked for JFK.”
A silly verse harping on acronyms? Sure, but it’s also a fun look at the obsession with material goods present then as it is now. Sherman’s jokes about Hadassah, nervous Jewish kids at summer camp, Ivy League educations and complaining about everything strike a chord with Jews even today.
By 1964 (also the year The Beatles first landed in the United States, it should be noted), Sherman had fallen out of favor musically, and his cute, coy sense of humor was no longer so beloved. Sherman released his last album, “Togetherness,” in 1967. Tellingly, it was the only recorded without a live audience. He moved to Los Angeles and started working on a book, “The Rape of the A.P.E.” which was published in 1973 shortly before he died of emphysema.
Will these reissued albums — the first time Sherman’s records have been available on CD in their original form — reignite the public’s short-lived love of the portly parodist? No way. But as cultural relics, they do truly shine.
(Justin Jacobs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)