Tom Lehrer Puts His Songs in the Public Domain & Made Them Free to Download (For a Limited Time)
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Tom Lehrer Puts His Songs in the Public Domain & Made Them Free to Download (For a Limited Time)

“Christmas time has come, jeez / Rejection would be folly / Decorate the halls with holly chunks / Fill a cup and don’t say ‘when.’” so sang musical satirical Tom Lehrer on his 1959 hit album A Night Wasted with Tom Lehrer — which was recorded in March of that year, not that it stopped him from throwing out an off-season jab on a day off. “Kill the turkey, the duck and the chicken / Mix the punch, drag Dickens out / Though the prospect is sickening / Brother, here we go again.” If you think he looks down on Christmas, you should hear how he sings about everything else.

Now, easier than ever, you can hear Lehrer sing about everything else, just by downloading his music from his website. “All copyright to lyrics or music written or composed by me has been waived, and therefore the songs are now in the public domain,” he wrote. “All of my songs that were never copyrighted, that have been available for free for so long, are now also in the public domain.” In short, he added, “I no longer own any rights to my songs.” We posted about releasing the songs ourselves into the Public Domain a few years ago, but last month Lehrer made the songs available online–for a limited time.

Not only that A Night Wasted with Tom Lehrer free to stream or download at — complete with tracks not even available on Spotify — as is the follow-up Re-visited, It Was That Year (featuring performances of the songs he wrote for the American version It Was That Week) and a collection of three disks Remnants of Tom Lehrer. Together these albums contain all of the music Lehrer recorded before he left piano and became a professor, first of political science and then of mathematics (although he also taught some musical theatre.)

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 have made us laugh for taking free releases of all his music as Christmas gifts. However, like all the best Christmas gifts, it has a surface value and a deeper value. Despite the 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 never knew they could: culturally literate, dry with well-placed, transgressive without the cheesy crass, all underpinned by musical confidence. Maybe Lehrer decided to make his music free because now, in his tenth decade, he believes no one will surpass him. Find the music here.

Related content:

Tom Lehrer Releases All Savage and Catchy Musical Satire into the Public Domain

Hear Tom Lehrer Sing the Names of the 102 Chemical Elements with a Gilbert & Sullivan Song

Mathematically and Scientifically Inclined Tom Lehrer Singing and Songwriting, Animation

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

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcastst about the city, language and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter book about cities, book The City Without a State: A Journey through 21st Century Los Angeles and video series City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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