My Son, The Folk Singer
At his best, Allan Sherman was as perceptive an observer of the American Jewish experience as Philip Roth or Saul Bellow, and when he was on a roll he was a lot funnier than either, and that's certainly the case with 1962's My Son, the Folk Singer, Sherman's first album and the record that made him an overnight success, selling over a million copies within a few months of its release. Musically, Sherman's shtick was to take familiar melodies and fuse them to new lyrics that offered a very funny and openly Semitic take on contemporary American life, as "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" was transformed into the tale of a tailor named Harry Lewis, "The Streets of Laredo" became "The Streets of Miami," and the French ditty "Frere Jacques" accompanied a telephone conversation with "Sarah Jackman." While My Son, the Folk Singer was the most openly "Jewish" of Sherman's albums, the bulk of Sherman's humor was recognizable to anyone familiar with the absurdities of suburban life in the Kennedy era, and while many Jewish humorists treated their material as some sort of inside joke, by marrying his lyrics to songs familiar to everyone he gave them a universal appeal -- and it certainly didn't hurt that most of the numbers on his debut album are howlingly funny. While so many Jewish artists frequently focused on the often painful desire to assimilate into mainstream American culture, Sherman's characters were so innately Jewish that whether they landed in Scarsdale or the Old West, their accents and appetites traveled with them, and the unspoken but clear acceptance of the comic foibles of Sherman's twin cultural allegiances has much to do with why My Son, the Folk Singer remains both funny and potent more than four decades after it was recorded.