Tom Lehrer's "The Elements" and "Clementine" (1959)

Album Cover
Lehrer Records TL-102 (1959)
CD Cover
Reprise 6199 (1990)
Lehrer Records TL-202S
CD Cover
Rhino 72776)
Album Cover
MMT LP001 (1980)
Vocal Score Cover
The Vocal Score

While a student at Harvard University in the late-1940s, Tom Lehrer started writing irreverent parody songs, such as "Fight fiercely, Harvard" (a send-up of his alma mater) and "The Elements," a setting of the periodic table to the tune of "I am the very model of a modern Major-General."

After a while, Lehrer found he'd developed a small cult following among the Harvard community and figured he had enough material to make a record. Songs by Tom Lehrer (1953), published at Lehrer's own expense, became an international sensation and eventually sold 100,000 copies. (A live performance of the same material was later issued under the title Tom Lehrer Revisited).

Six years after Songs By…, Lehrer recorded another, even more popular, album called More of Tom Lehrer (1959), which included "The Elements" and "Clementine," a sketch about how various composers throughout history, including Gilbert and Sullivan, would have treated the famous folk-song.

Lehrer also performed the material from More… in a live stage show, a recording of which was released as the album An Evening (Wasted) with Tom Lehrer. This album included Lehrer's spoken introductions to the songs and became the best-known recording of the material. It was re-issued on Reprise Records in 1966, and it is this version that is available on CD.

Lehrer's other major album, That Was the Year that Was (1965), contained no specific references to G&S, but is particularly Gilbertian in the fiercely political nature of the satire. Some people consider Lehrer a twentieth-century Gilbert, which would be even more true if Lehrer had written plays as opposed to detached songs.

Tom Lehrer's career as a songwriter and performer was basically over after 1965. He did write a few songs after that, but he recorded no more albums. Over the years, he has given various explanations for his sudden retirement. He once said, "What's the point of having laurels if you can't rest on them?"

In 1980, the producer Cameron Mackintosh made a successful stage musical called Tom Foolery drawn from Lehrer's earlier material. "The Elements" was one of the songs included, and it was recorded on the original cast album.

"The Elements" is one of Lehrer's cleverest creations, fitting the 100-or-so (at the time) elements to the tune of the Major-General's song. The versification is perfect, with no awkward "jamming" of words to fit the tune. "Clementine," on the other hand, never struck me as a particularly effective G&S parody, though it is of course vintage Lehrer.

The success of Tom Foolery was the impetus behind Too Many Songs By Tom Lehrer with not enough drawings by Ronald Searle (Pantheon Books, 1981), which included piano arrangements of all but six of the songs from Lehrer's three main LPs, plus a few extras. The artist, Ronald Searle, was also responsible for the G&S-inspired cartoon, Dick Deadeye.

For someone who wrote only about forty songs, Lehrer's discography is incredibly complicated. A full accounting of his recorded output and lyrics of all the songs can be found at the Lehrer Discography website. The table below lists only those records and CDs that include either "The Elements" or "Clementine."

Issue History
1959 Lehrer Records Mono LP TL-102 More of Tom Lehrer, studio recording, contains both "The Elements" and "Clementine."
Stereo LP TL-102S
Decca 10"Mono LP LF 1323
1959 Lehrer Records Mono LP TL-202 An Evening (Wasted) With Tom Lehrer, composite live recording; same tracks as More of Tom Lehrer, but includes spoken introductions not found on the studio version.
Stereo LP TL-202S
Decca Mono LP LK-4332
Stereo LP SKL-4097
1966 Reprise 7" Mono 45rpm PRO 224 Includes "Clementine" and three other songs
Mono LP R-6199 Same material and title as the mono version of An Evening (Wasted) with Tom Lehrer
Simulated Stereo LP RS-6199 Stereo-enhanced version of the mono pressing; why the original stereo was not used is a mystery to Lehrer adicts, as the simulated sound apparently does not work particularly well
196-? SEPL LP 1-3 Three-record set, released in Denmark, containing all three Lehrer albums
1980 MMT Stereo LP LP001 Tom Foolery Original London Cast Revue; includes "The Elements." (Note: the Tom Foolery Canadian cast recording omits "The Elements.")
Cassette [need number]
1990 Reprise CD 6199 Exists in two versions, with the same catalog number; one version is the "enhanced stereo" of 1966, the other the original mono
1994 Eclipse CD 844 241-2 Includes An Evening Wasted… and Tom Lehrer Revisited, both in the original stereo.