Tom Lehrer Puts His Songs into the Public Domain & Makes Them Free to Download (for a Limited Time)

“Christ­mas time is here, by gol­ly / Dis­ap­proval would be fol­ly / Deck the halls with hunks of hol­ly / Fill the cup and don’t say ‘when.’ ” So sings musi­cal satirist Tom Lehrer on his hit 1959 album An Evening Wast­ed with Tom Lehrer — which was record­ed in March of that year, not that it stopped him from tak­ing an out-of-sea­son jab at the hol­i­days. “Kill the turkeys, ducks and chick­ens / Mix the punch, drag out the Dick­ens / Even though the prospect sick­ens / Broth­er, here we go again.” If it seems to you that he takes a dim view of Christ­mas, you should hear how he sings about every­thing else.

Now, more eas­i­ly than ever, you can hear how Lehrer sings about every­thing else, by sim­ply down­load­ing his music from his web site. “All copy­rights to lyrics or music writ­ten or com­posed by me have been relin­quished, and there­fore such songs are now in the pub­lic domain,” he writes. “All of my songs that have nev­er been copy­right­ed, hav­ing been avail­able for free for so long, are now also in the pub­lic domain.” In short, he adds, “I no longer retain any rights to any of my songs.” We post­ed about the release of those songs them­selves into the Pub­lic Domain a cou­ple years ago, but last month Lehrer made the songs avail­able online–for a lim­it­ed time.

Not only is An Evening Wast­ed with Tom Lehrer free to stream or down­load on — com­plete with tracks not avail­able even on Spo­ti­fy — so is its fol­low-up Revis­it­ed, That Was the Year That Was (fea­tur­ing per­for­mances of the songs he wrote for the Amer­i­can ver­sion of That Was the Week That Was) and the three-disc col­lec­tion The Remains of Tom Lehrer. Togeth­er these albums con­tain all the music Lehrer record­ed before he stood up from the piano and became a pro­fes­sor, first of polit­i­cal sci­ence and lat­er of math­e­mat­ics (though he did teach some musi­cal the­ater as well.)

Giv­en his sec­u­lar Jew­ish ori­gins and his obvi­ous dis­dain for the Mam­monis­tic hol­i­day sea­son (at least “as we cel­e­brate it in the Unit­ed States”) Lehrer would sure­ly get a laugh from us tak­ing this free release of all his music as a Christ­mas gift. And yet, like all the best Christ­mas gifts, it has both a sur­face val­ue and a deep­er one. Despite their top­i­cal late-fifties-ear­ly-six­ties ref­er­ences to things like “new math” and Vat­i­can II, his songs can still make us laugh today. But they can also show younger gen­er­a­tions a satir­i­cal sen­si­bil­i­ty they’ve nev­er known: cul­tur­al­ly lit­er­ate, dry with well-placed plunges into the low­brow, trans­gres­sive with­out cheap cru­di­ty, all sup­port­ed by musi­cal aplomb. Maybe Lehrer decid­ed to make his music free because now, in his tenth decade, he can be sure that nobody will sur­pass him. Find his music here.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Tom Lehrer Releas­es His All of Catchy and Sav­age Musi­cal Satire Into the Pub­lic Domain

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

Tom Lehrer’s Math­e­mat­i­cal­ly and Sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly Inclined Singing and Song­writ­ing, Ani­mat­ed

Cel­e­brate Har­ry Potter’s Birth­day with Song. Daniel Rad­cliffe Sings Tom Lehrer’s Tune “The Ele­ments”

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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