In my role as an Educator at the Fairbanks Museum & Planetarium, I regularly have to come up with new topics to teach to the thousands of kids that visit our museum every year. One of the most fun classes I’ve ever taught was called “What’s the Matter?” and it was about the Periodic Table of the Elements. I’m not going to pretend that this was a subject that I was already well prepared to teach: I didn’t care much for chemistry until I read Larry Gonick’s Cartoon Guide to Chemistry. I highly recommend anything by Larry Gonick! In addition to all the Mr. Wizard-style demos I would perform with liquid nitrogen or hydrogen explosions, my students really loved hearing Tom Lehrer‘s song as part of the video that Theo Gray used to promote his amazing book The Elements.
The only problem is that Mr. Lehrer’s cadence is so fast that many kids couldn’t understand the names of the elements. That’s one of the reasons why I recorded this song at a slower tempo (79 golden BPMs!) with a Roots Reggae flavor. Arranging and recording this song was my first step into the world of Do-it-Yourself multi-track music recording. I recorded all of the instruments during the same October night in 2010. The sun was rising by the time I tried laying down the the vocal tracks! Needless to say, my voice was in terrible shape. I went back a few days later and laid down the much better vocals that you can hear now, and then months later I added the intro riff and wrote and recorded the backing vocals:
Nature makes elements one through 92
93 and up come from me and you
Many more have been found since Tom wrote this song
But to make any of them you need a cyclotron!
Mr. Lehrer didn’t come up with the music underlying his cleverly constructed patter, though. Some may recognize the melody of this song as that of “I am the Very Model of a Modern Major General” from the 19th-century Gilbert and Sullivan musical The Pirates of Penzance!