Although probably best known to modern audiences as the singer of "Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh (A Letter from Camp Granada)", Allan Sherman (born Allan Copelon, November 30, 1924 November 20, 1973) was a prodigious talent who started working in the entertainment industry in the late 1940s and kept going strong until his death from emphysema at age 48.
In the course of his career, Sherman turned his hand to scriptwriting, creating, producing and even acting (including a turn as the voice of the Cat of the Hat in the 1971 animated adaptation of the famous Dr. Seuss book).
With Albert Hague, he cowrote the 1969 Broadway musical The Fig Leaves Are Falling, which is notable for two things: the Broadway debut of David Cassidy (later of The Partridge Family), and closing after only four performances. He also guest-hosted The Tonight Show on several occasions, including the night Bill Cosby made his first appearance on the show; he would later be credited as co-producer on Cosby's first three albums for Warner Bros. Records.
He was also the author of several books, including the infamous comic novel The Rape of the A*P*E (American Puritan Ethic). He made his greatest impact on TV as creator of I've Got a Secret and as the producer of The Jackie Gleason Show, but it was his numerous albums of song parodies (starting with My Son, The Folk Singer in 1963) that made him a household name in the 1960s.
A fair selection of his work can be found with a simple YouTube search.
Tropes present in Sherman's work:
- Anti-Christmas Song: A variation: "The Twelve Gifts of Christmas", which replaces the traditional calling birds, turtledoves, etc. with various schlocky items, including, among other things, a pair of teakwood shower clogs, an indoor plastic birdbath, and a Japanese transistor radio.
- Been There, Shaped History: "Good Advice" depicts him having a direct hand in numerous inventions (the elevator, the model T, the wheel!) and scientific discoveries (Benjamin Franklin harnessing electricity, Sir Isaac Newton discovering gravity, Freudian psychology) by giving their creators, well, good advice. It gets subverted in the last verse, where he tells Christopher Columbus to sail west instead of east and sends him plummeting off the edge of the earth.Well, that was...
Bad advice! Bad advice!
Bad advice is just the same as good advice.
Everybody makes occasional mistakes,
And that was bad... ad... VICE!
- Big Eater
You had for breakfast two pounds bacon,
- Mrs. Goldfarb, in "Grow Mrs. Goldfarb", especially this one line:
Three dozen eggs, one coffee cake, and
Then you had something really awful:
Four kippered herrings on a waffle,
Nine English muffins, one baked apple,
Boston cream pie, Philadelphia scrapple,
Seventeen bowls of Crispy Crunch,
Then you said, "What's for lunch?"
"So I would clean the place, four, five, six times a day, because somehow I felt that that would keep the children from starving in Europe. But I was wrong: they kept starving, and I got fat!"
- His spoken-word piece "Hail To Thee, Fat Person" is about how his mother turned him into one by telling him to "Clean [his] place, because children are starving in Europe!"
- Disproportionate Retribution: Streets of Miami is about a lawyer getting into a gunfight to the death with his partner for criticizing his taste in hotels ("I'm going to the Fontainebleu. Pardner, it's moderner.").
- Early Installment Weirdness: The two songs he recorded for Jubilee in 1951, "A Satchel and a Seck" and "Jake's Song" note , were more overtly Jewish-themed than his later material, with Sherman (credited as "Eln Shoyman") singing in a Yiddish accent and throwing in Yiddish words.
- Fun with Acronyms: Largely the point of "Harvey and Sheila".Harvey's a CPA.
He works for IBM.
He went to MIT and got his PhD.
Sheila's a girl I know,
At B.B.D.& O.
She works the PBX,
And makes out the checks.
- Incredibly Lame Pun: The last line of "One Hippopotami":With someone you adore,
If you should find romance,
You'll pant, then pant once more
And that's! A! Pair! Of! PANTS!!
- In the Style of...: The title track of Peter and the Commissar has the commissars of music "improving" several classical tunes by setting them in hilariously inappropriate styles. They turn "Peter and the Wolf" into a bossa nova, Beethoven's Fifth into a cha-cha, Brahms' "Lullaby" into a rock-and-roll tune, "Swan Lake" into "Pete Tchaikovsky's Blues" and Verdi's "Aida" into a dixieland romp.
- Japanese Ranguage: Parodied at the end of "Lotsa Luck":When you buy a tape recorder of the automatic kind,
Lotsa luck, pal, lotsa luck.
If it's simplified for folks who aren't mechanically inclined,
Lotsa luck, pal, lotsa luck.
There's a small instruction booklet that's a hundred pages long,
And on page one, you get stuck.
It says, "If unsatisfactory,
You must bring this to the factory,"
But the factory's in Japan,
So rotsa ruck!
- Key Under the Doormat: Mentioned by Queen Elizabeth in "Won't You Come Home, Disraeli":Now don't leave me flat,
The key to the palace is under the mat.
- Know Your Vines: Just one of the many hazards of life in Camp Granada as described in "Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh (A Letter from Camp)":I went hiking with Joe Spivey
He developed poison ivy
- Later Installment Weirdness/New Sound Album: His last major album, 1967's Togetherness, was not recorded in a front of a studio audience and featured on the cover a slim Sherman wearing contacts, looking quite different from the fat, glass wearing man of a few years prior. Many of the parodies used musical arrangements that closely emulated those of the original hit versions of the parodied songs, which Sherman didn't usually do. The previous year, he issued the single "Odd Ball"/"His Own Little Island", both serious songs, in an ill-fated attempt to position himself as a straight pop singer.
- Long List:
- "Shake Hands with your Uncle Max" and "Sarah Jockman" both have sections with obscenely long lists of relatives.
- "Hungarian Goulash #5" depicts goulash as containing meat from a long list of species, from mutton to kangaroo to soylent.
- Race Lift/ Setting Update: Many of his songs take old folk songs and update them to reflect the mid-20th century American (often specifically Jewish-American) experience.
- Song Parody
- Spiritual Successor: Not surprisingly, Sherman was a huge influence on (and frequently compared to) "Weird Al" Yankovic.
- Stepford Suburbia: "Here's to the Crabgrass".
- Subverted Rhyme Every Occasion: As heard in his parody of "The Yellow Rose of Texas" in "Shticks and Stones":I'm Melvin Rose of Texas
And my friends all call me Tex
When I lived in old New Mexico
They used to call me Mex
When I lived in old Kentucky
They called me Old Kentuck
I was born in old Shamokin
Which is why they call me Melvin Rose
- Went to the Great X in the Sky: How "The Streets of Miami" ends: the Disproportionate Retribution above results in the gunman who killed his associate being forced to leave Miami, never to return, to avoid mob justice. He complains that New York is so cold that a person could die and winds up envying his murdered colleague, because "he's in that big Fontainebleu in the sky."
- With Lyrics: Sherman sometimes added lyrics to instrumental songs, a lot of them classical:
- My Son, The Nut featured "Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah! (A Letter from Camp)", sung to Amilcare Ponchielli's "Dance of the Hours", and "Hungarian Goulash No. 5", sung to Johannes Brahms' "Hungarian Dance No. 5".
- Allan in Wonderland features "Holiday for States", which lists the 50 states to the tune of David Rose's "Holiday for Strings", and "I Can't Dance", sung to Edvard Grieg's "Norwegian Dance No. 2"
- You Have to Have Jews: Given his Jewish background, Allan enjoys making all manner of Jewish references in his songs.