Hear Tom Lehrer Sing the Names of 102 Chemical Elements to the Tune of Gilbert & Sullivan

Tom Lehrer earned a BA and MA in math­e­mat­ics from Har­vard dur­ing the late 1940s, then taught math cours­es at MIT, Har­vard, Welles­ley, and UC-San­ta Cruz. Math was his voca­tion. But, all along, Lehrer nur­tured an inter­est in music. And, by the mid 1950s, he became best known for his satir­i­cal songs that touched on some­times polit­i­cal, some­times aca­d­e­m­ic themes.

Today we’re pre­sent­ing one of his clas­sics: “The Ele­ments.” Record­ed in 1959, the song fea­tures Lehrer recit­ing the names of the 102 chem­i­cal ele­ments known at the time (we now have 115), and it’s all sung to the tune of Major-Gen­er­al’s Song from The Pirates of Pen­zance by Gilbert and Sul­li­van. You can hear a stu­dio ver­sion below, and watch a nice live ver­sion taped in Copen­hagen, Den­mark, in Sep­tem­ber 1967.

Decades lat­er, this clas­sic piece of “Tom­fool­ery” stays with us, pop­ping up here and there in pop­u­lar cul­ture. For exam­ple, Daniel Rad­cliffe (of Har­ry Pot­ter fame) per­formed Lehrer’s song on the BBC’s Gra­ham Nor­ton Show in 2010. Enjoy.

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