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Music / That Was the Year That Was

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That Was the Year That Was is a 1965 Live Album (recorded at the hungry i in San Francisco) by humorous singer-songwriter Tom Lehrer, featuring songs he had written during a stint on the American incarnation of the satirical current affairs show That Was the Week That Was. Most of the songs on the album, as well as a few of Lehrer's older songs, were performed on that show by their resident performers; "The Folk Song Army", "Smut", "Alma", "Wernher von Braun" and "The Vatican Rag" were not featured on TW3.

This was the only album not to be issued on Tom Lehrer's own label; it was released on the Reprise Records label. As part of the deal to issue the album, Reprise also got the rights to Lehrer's back catalog; in 1966, they reissued An Evening Wasted with Tom Lehrer and had Lehrer rerecord Songs by Tom Lehrer in stereo.


Track list

Side One

  1. "National Brotherhood Week"
  2. "MLF Lullaby"
  3. "George Murphy"
  4. "The Folk Song Army"
  5. "Smut"
  6. "Send the Marines"
  7. "Pollution"

Side Two

  1. "So Long, Mom (A Song for World War III)"
  2. "Whatever Became of Hubert?"
  3. "New Math"
  4. "Alma"
  5. "Who's Next?"
  6. "Wernher von Braun"
  7. "The Vatican Rag"

This album contains examples of:

  • Balance of Power: "Who's Next?":
    Then Russia got the bomb, but that's okay
    'Cause the balance of power's maintained that way
  • Captain Obvious Aesop: invoked One of the targets of "The Folk Song Army":
    We are the folk song army
    Every one of us cares
    We all hate poverty, war, and injustice
    Unlike the rest of you squares
  • Carry the One: In "New Math", Lehrer describes a traditional way of doing a subtraction problem: "Three from two is nine, carry the one..." but claims that in the New Math approach to mathematics teaching that was then in vogue, "the idea is to know what you're doing, rather than to get the right answer." As a result, he does the problem over again, with different carrying of the get the same answer, of course, but he does it so fast that it's hard to follow.
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  • Cheap Heat: Since That Was the Year That Was was recorded in San Francisco, he sings "the breakfast garbage that you throw into the bay, they drink at lunch in San Jose" in "Pollution" and gets an enthusiastic reaction from the crowd. The songbook Too Many Songs by Tom Lehrer suggests that anyone singing the song should similarly localize that line.
  • Dance Sensation: "The Vatican Rag" is a satirical example.
    First you get down on your knees
    Fiddle with your rosaries
    Bow your head with great respect
    And genuflect, genuflect, genuflect!
  • Deadpan Snarker:
    • "MLF Lullaby", regarding a proposal that the USA and Germany (among other countries) join forces in a multilateral nuclear deterrent force:
      Once all the Germans were warlike and mean, but that couldn't happen again
      We taught them a lesson in 1918, and they've hardly bothered us since then!
    • Pretty much the entirety of "Wernher Von Braun", including:
      "Once the rockets go up, who cares where they come down?
      That's not my department," says Wernher von Braun
  • Educational Song: Parodied with "New Math", which purports to be an attempt to make the 'New Math' understandable, but is really trying to make it as confusing as possible.
  • Ethnic Menial Labor: Discussed in "George Murphy", in the context of insensitive comments the real Murphy had made about Mexican migrants.
  • Everybody Hates Mathematics: "New Math" pokes fun at this attitude, especially the result of the 1960s attempt to introduce set theory in elementary school.
    Hooray for New Math, New Math
    It won't do you any good to review math
    It's so simple, so very simple
    That only a child can do it!
  • Filth: The subject matter of "Smut".
    All books can be indecent books, though recent books are bolder
    For filth (I'm glad to say) is in the mind of the beholder
    When correctly viewed
    Everything is lewd
  • For Science!: "Wernher von Braun" is about the career of a German scientist who built missiles for the Nazis during World War II with the excuse that what he really wanted to build was space rockets but nobody would give him funding for that (and then after the war was rewarded for his work blowing up parts of England by being hired by the American space program).
  • Gallows Humor: "So Long, Mom (A Song for World War III)".
  • The Great Politics Mess-Up: A lot of the Gallows Humor in his songs is predicated on the fact that nuclear war with the USSR and the subsequent The End of the World as We Know It was considered inevitable at the time.
  • Gunboat Diplomacy: "Send the Marines".
    When someone makes a move
    Of which we don't approve
    Who is it that always intervenes?
    U.N. and O.A.S.
    They have their place (I guess)
    But first, send the Marines!
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: Alma Mahler Gropius Werfel is considered a controversial figure these days, partly because of her own self-confessed antisemiticnote  and pro-Fascist beliefs, and partly because she proved to be an Unreliable Narrator in her role as the caretaker of Gustav Mahler's legacy.
  • Hypocritical Humor: From the intro to "National Brotherhood Week":
    I know there are people in the world who do not love their fellow human beings, and I hate people like that!
  • Ironic Nursery Tune: "MLF Lullaby", a sweet nursery song about how you should rest easy and not worry about the fact that peace and the human race's continued existence depends on some really untrustworthy people.
  • I Will Find You: Given a suitably dark twist in "So Long Mom (A Song for World War III)":
    I'll look for you when the war is over
    [checks watch]
    An hour and a half from now!
  • Lame Pun Reaction: Lehrer apologizes for his own pun in "Whatever Became of Hubert?":
    "We must protest this treatment, Hubert"
    Says each newspaper reader
    As someone once remarked to Schubert
    Take us to your Lieder
    [spoken] Sorry about that.
  • Lyrical Dissonance: "So Long Mom" is a song about nuclear war set to a cheerful tune. The narrator is a pilot in World War III addressing his mother:
    While we're attacking frontally,
    Watch Brink-a-ly and Hunt-a-ley
    Describing contrapuntally
    The cities we have lost.
    No need for you to miss a minute
    Of the agonizing holocaust. (Yay!)
  • Midword Rhyme: "Smut".
    Give me smut and nothing but!
    A dirty novel I can't shut
    If it's uncut
    And unsubt—
  • Motor Mouth: "New Math".
  • Parental Bonus:
    • While most of his songs are still funny, there are lines he says that are rather topical to the 1960s. An example would be when he mentions that Massachusetts is the only state with three senators; it's because Robert Kennedy (from Massachusetts) happened to be a New York senator at the time.
    • "New Math" was supposed to make fun of the new (at the time) subtraction method, by using Motor Mouth to make it look as incomprehensible as possible. While New Math was mostly abandoned, the subtraction method he demonstrates in the song actually stuck around, and nowadays, kids are taught using that "new" method. Kids will now understand perfectly the incomprehensible "new" method, but struggle trying to understand the normal "old" method because Lehrer didn't bother explaining it too much (since he assumed people would be familiar with the method) and, as Lehrer himself points out, the "old" method wasn't actually meant to be understood.
  • Painful Rhyme: Lampshaded in "The Folk Song Army":
    The tune don't have to be clever,
    And it don't matter if you put a couple extra syllables into a line.
    It sounds more ethnic if it ain't good English
    And it don't even gotta rhyme... excuse me: rhyne!
  • Patter Song: "New Math".
  • Polluted Wasteland: The whole topic of "Pollution", which is a reversal of how Americans going overseas would be warned not to drink the water there, and how foreigners coming to America should prepare for it.
    If you visit American city,
    You will find it very pretty.
    Just two things of which you must beware:
    Don't drink the water and don't breathe the air!
    Pollution, pollution!
    They've got smog and sewage and mud.
    Turn on your tap
    And get hot and cold running crud!
  • Protest Song: Parodied in "The Folk Song Army". Lehrer believed that protest songs were utterly useless and was fond of reminding people of how effective the satirical cabaret shows of Weimar Germany were against the Nazis. He did several songs satirizing political issues of the day, such as nuclear proliferation, and senator and former Hollywood star George R. Murphy's racist remarks during an interview and other such things, but these were more Gallows Humor than protests.
    If you feel dissatisfaction
    Strum your frustrations away
    Some people may prefer action
    But give me a folk song any old day
  • The Short War: "So Long Mom" envisages that World War III will be one.
    I'll look for you when the war is over
    An hour and a half from now!
  • Short-Lived Big Impact: invoked The introduction to "Alma" discusses this. In particular, he mentions Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, noting that, by the time he was 37, as Lehrer was at the time of the album's release, Mozart had been dead for two years.
  • Shout-Out:
    • "Smut" has references to two classic works of erotic literature, Fanny Hill and Lady Chatterley's Lover.
    • In the banter accompanying "New Math", Lehrer jokes that he's always wanted to write a mathematics textbook because he has a title he knows would sell a million copies: Tropic of Calculus.
  • Subverted Rhyme Every Occasion: "The Folk Song Army".
    The tune don't have to be clever
    And it don't matter if you put a couple extra syllables into a line
    It sounds more ethnic if it ain't good English
    And it don't even gotta rhyme—excuse me—rhyne
  • Take That!:
    • "Wernher von Braun" is one long Take That to von Braun, and by extension to the people who employed him after the War.
    • "Send the Marines" takes aim at American foreign policy.
      For might makes right
      And till they've seen the light
      They've got to be protected
      All their rights respected
      Till somebody we like can be elected
  • Those Wacky Nazis: He references Wernher von Braun's Nazi past:
    Call him a Nazi, he won't even frown...
    "Heh, Nazi Schmazi," says Wernher von Braun!
  • Three Chords and the Truth:
    • He has a dig at this trope in the spoken intro to "Folk Song Army":
      I have a song here which I realize should be accompanied on a folk instrument, in which category the piano does not, alas, qualify. So imagine, if you will, that I am playing an 88-string guitar.
    • Then he does it again in the song itself, where he also pokes fun at the lyrical version:
      The tune don't have to be clever
      And it don't matter if you put a couple extra syllables into a line
      It sounds more ethnic if it ain't good English
      And it don't even gotta rhyme — excuse me — rhyne
  • Trophy Husband: "Alma", a ballad dedicated to socialite Alma Mahler Gropius Werfel, whom he praises for managing to marry three of the greatest minds of the day and having the raciest obituary he had ever had the pleasure of reading.
  • Verbal Backspace: "New Math" gets a gag out of a subtraction error:
    And so you've got thirteen tens
    And you take away seven,
    And that leaves five...
    Well, six actually...
    But the idea is the important thing!
  • Vice President Who?: The theme of "Whatever Became of Hubert?", regarding Lyndon Johnson's VP Hubert Humphrey.
    Whatever became of Hubert? Has anyone heard a thing?
    Once he shone on his own
    Now he sits home alone
    And waits for the phone to ring
  • War Is Glorious: Done, tongue firmly in cheek, in "So Long Mom (A Song for World War III)".
  • When All You Have Is a Hammer...: "Send the Marines".
    Fortunately, in times of crisis like this, America always has its number one instrument of diplomacy to fall back on...
  • Word Schmord: In "Wernher von Braun":
    Call him a Nazi, he won't even frown
    "Ha, Nazi Schmazi," says Wernher von Braun
  • World War III: "So Long Mom" is a parody of jingoistic World War II songs, updated for the next Big One.


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