Rhube’s Music for the Apocalypse, No. 7: Who’s Next?, by Tom Lehrer

Everything was a bit bleak last week with Barry MacGuire’s protest song, ‘Eve of Destruction‘, so here’s the wonderful Tom Lehrer to brighten up the nuclear bunker.

Released the same year as ‘Eve of Destruction’, 1965, ‘Who’s Next?’ makes for an interesting contrast in terms of ways to respond to tragedy and impending doom. Where MacGuire’s song looked on nuclear proliferation and the state of global politics with bitter anger at the inevitability of destruction, Lehrer’s laughs at the morbid ridiculousness of the escalating arm’s race. Each country that gets the bomb has it’s own justifications – that their possession of the bomb will somehow make the world a better place:

First we got the bomb and that was good
‘Cause we love peace and motherhood!

Each verse brings a shift in key as new countries ‘up the ante’ by getting the bomb, increasing the sense of things spiralling out of control. Tom Lehrer’s warm-but-slightly-nervous laughter forms the perfect accompaniment to his lyrics. He captures both the fear at watching events you can’t control and the humourous absurdity – laughing because, well, what else is there to do?

The atomic bomb is not the present threat that it seemed to be in the Cold War. Arms reduction treaties have seen a dramatic fall in the number of nuclear weapons possessed by both the USA and Russia. But they still each have about 5,000 nuclear warheads currently, and seven other states are known or believed to have nuclear weapons. It’s estimated that it would take less than 100 – maybe as little as ten – atom bombs to destroy the world. It’s estimated that there are currently 16,000.

You have to laugh.

 

Rather frustratingly, I haven’t been able to find a legal digital download for this. You can buy it from US Amazon on the Tom Lehrer Collection CD, but that’s it. If anyone knows a way to legally obtain this as an mp3, please do provide links in the comments!

Otherwise… you can always listen to it as a part of the Rhube’s Music for the Apocalypse playlist on YouTube.

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