New at THE AVID LISTENER: Tim Smolko, “Celebrating the Nuclear Apocalypse with Tom Lehrer”

We’re back with part two of Tim Smolko’s series about pop music and the Cold War. (If you missed part 1, you can find it here.) This week’s essay is about a particular musical satirist–Tom Lehrer–who wrote several songs about the very cheery topic of nuclear warfare. Tim offers a closer analysis of one song in particular: “We Will All Go Together When We Go” (1958). It’s a chipper little tune, an ear worm waiting to happen, and it’s chock full of musical and textual references. You can play at home: how many references can you find? 🙂

Here’s a teaser: “Like Pez, Peeps, and Pop Rocks, a novelty song is a sugar rush for the ear. The great number of novelty songs about the Cold War attests to the fact that people needed to diffuse their fear of the Soviet Union, and the possibility of nuclear war, with humor and satire. But can anything substantial be expressed about an immense subject like the Cold War through comedy? Perhaps Tom Lehrer’s songs can. They are a sugar rush, but they contain erudite social commentary.”


Read the entire essay here, and stay tuned for Tim’s next essay! As I mentioned last week, these essays are all sneak peaks at a book Tim and Joanna Smolko are publishing with Indiana University Press called Atomic Tunes: The Cold War in American and British Popular Music (due out 2018), a project that recently won the prestigious Hampsong Education Fellowship in American Song from the Society for American MusicWe’re absolutely thrilled that IU Press is allowing us to share these excerpts with you!

The Avid Listener: Listen. Write. Discuss. Repeat.


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