Before Weird Al Yankovic there was Allan Sherman. This summer marks the 50th anniversary of Sherman’s biggest hit, “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh,” a hilarious song in the form of a letter from a kid at sleepaway camp to his doting parents, and which features hapless campers like Joe Spivey (and his poison ivy) and Leonard Skinner (who got ptomaine poisoning after dinner). The ditty reached No. 2 on the Billboard charts, and Sherman’s album, My Son, The Folk Singer, sold 1 million copies.
In the early ’60s, Sherman’s songs were as ubiquitous as chopped liver at a bar mitzvah, and his oeuvre was just as Jewish. In Sherman’s fevered imagination, “Greensleeves” became an ode to Sir Greenbaum, a righteous knight who gave up crusading and moved to heavily Jewish Shaker Heights, Ohio. “Frere Jacques” became “Sarah Jackman,” a lady with an exhaustive list of rhyming relatives. President Kennedy himself was allegedly spotted singing about Ms. Jackman in a hotel lobby.
Despite ringing of a bygone era, Sherman’s routines are still sidesplitting. For the definitive collection, check out My Son, The Box. And for the sharp-eyed, search Weird Al’s debut album cover for a tip-of-the-hat to Sherman. (Hint: Squint your eyes at the foot of the bed.)