The Elements (song)
"The Elements" is a song by musical humorist Tom Lehrer
Tom Lehrer
Thomas Andrew "Tom" Lehrer is an American singer-songwriter, satirist, pianist, mathematician and polymath. He has lectured on mathematics and musical theater...

, which recites the names of all the chemical element
Chemical element
A chemical element is a pure chemical substance consisting of one type of atom distinguished by its atomic number, which is the number of protons in its nucleus. Familiar examples of elements include carbon, oxygen, aluminum, iron, copper, gold, mercury, and lead.As of November 2011, 118 elements...

s known at the time of writing, up to number 102, nobelium
Nobelium is a synthetic element with the symbol No and atomic number 102. It was first correctly identified in 1966 by scientists at the Flerov Laboratory of Nuclear Reactions in Dubna, Soviet Union...

. It can be found on his albums Tom Lehrer in Concert, More Songs by Tom Lehrer and An Evening Wasted with Tom Lehrer
An Evening Wasted with Tom Lehrer
An Evening Wasted with Tom Lehrer is an album recorded by Tom Lehrer, the well-known satirist and Harvard lecturer. The recording was made on March 20-21, 1959 in Sanders Theater at Harvard.-Track listing:#"Poisoning Pigeons in the Park" – 2:38...

. The song is sung to the tune of the Major-General's Song
Major-General's Song
I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General is a patter song from Gilbert and Sullivan's 1879 comic opera The Pirates of Penzance. It is perhaps the most famous song in Gilbert and Sullivan's operas. It is sung by Major-General Stanley at his first entrance, towards the end of Act I...

 from The Pirates of Penzance
The Pirates of Penzance
The Pirates of Penzance; or, The Slave of Duty is a comic opera in two acts, with music by Arthur Sullivan and libretto by W. S. Gilbert. The opera's official premiere was at the Fifth Avenue Theatre in New York City on 31 December 1879, where the show was well received by both audiences...

by Gilbert and Sullivan
Gilbert and Sullivan
Gilbert and Sullivan refers to the Victorian-era theatrical partnership of the librettist W. S. Gilbert and the composer Arthur Sullivan . The two men collaborated on fourteen comic operas between 1871 and 1896, of which H.M.S...


The song is also included in the musical revue
A revue is a type of multi-act popular theatrical entertainment that combines music, dance and sketches. The revue has its roots in 19th century American popular entertainment and melodrama but grew into a substantial cultural presence of its own during its golden years from 1916 to 1932...

 Tom Foolery
Tom Foolery
Tom Foolery is a musical revue based on lyrics and music that Tom Lehrer first performed in the 1950s and 1960s.Devised and produced by Cameron Mackintosh, it premiered in London at the Criterion Theatre, directed by Gillian Lynne, on 5 June 1980, where it had a successful run...

, which also includes many of Lehrer's other songs.

Description of the song

The ordering of elements in the lyrics fits the meter
Meter (poetry)
In poetry, metre is the basic rhythmic structure of a verse or lines in verse. Many traditional verse forms prescribe a specific verse metre, or a certain set of metres alternating in a particular order. The study of metres and forms of versification is known as prosody...

 of the song, and includes much alliteration
In language, alliteration refers to the repetition of a particular sound in the first syllables of Three or more words or phrases. Alliteration has historically developed largely through poetry, in which it more narrowly refers to the repetition of a consonant in any syllables that, according to...

, and thus has little or no relation to the ordering in the periodic table
Periodic table
The periodic table of the chemical elements is a tabular display of the 118 known chemical elements organized by selected properties of their atomic structures. Elements are presented by increasing atomic number, the number of protons in an atom's atomic nucleus...

. This can be seen for example in the opening and closing lines:
There's antimony
Antimony is a toxic chemical element with the symbol Sb and an atomic number of 51. A lustrous grey metalloid, it is found in nature mainly as the sulfide mineral stibnite...

, arsenic
Arsenic is a chemical element with the symbol As, atomic number 33 and relative atomic mass 74.92. Arsenic occurs in many minerals, usually in conjunction with sulfur and metals, and also as a pure elemental crystal. It was first documented by Albertus Magnus in 1250.Arsenic is a metalloid...

, aluminum, selenium
Selenium is a chemical element with atomic number 34, chemical symbol Se, and an atomic mass of 78.96. It is a nonmetal, whose properties are intermediate between those of adjacent chalcogen elements sulfur and tellurium...

And hydrogen
Hydrogen is the chemical element with atomic number 1. It is represented by the symbol H. With an average atomic weight of , hydrogen is the lightest and most abundant chemical element, constituting roughly 75% of the Universe's chemical elemental mass. Stars in the main sequence are mainly...

 and oxygen
Oxygen is the element with atomic number 8 and represented by the symbol O. Its name derives from the Greek roots ὀξύς and -γενής , because at the time of naming, it was mistakenly thought that all acids required oxygen in their composition...

 and nitrogen
Nitrogen is a chemical element that has the symbol N, atomic number of 7 and atomic mass 14.00674 u. Elemental nitrogen is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, and mostly inert diatomic gas at standard conditions, constituting 78.08% by volume of Earth's atmosphere...

 and rhenium
Rhenium is a chemical element with the symbol Re and atomic number 75. It is a silvery-white, heavy, third-row transition metal in group 7 of the periodic table. With an average concentration of 1 part per billion , rhenium is one of the rarest elements in the Earth's crust. The free element has...

And argon
Argon is a chemical element represented by the symbol Ar. Argon has atomic number 18 and is the third element in group 18 of the periodic table . Argon is the third most common gas in the Earth's atmosphere, at 0.93%, making it more common than carbon dioxide...

, krypton
Krypton is a chemical element with the symbol Kr and atomic number 36. It is a member of Group 18 and Period 4 elements. A colorless, odorless, tasteless noble gas, krypton occurs in trace amounts in the atmosphere, is isolated by fractionally distilling liquified air, and is often used with other...

, neon
Neon is the chemical element that has the symbol Ne and an atomic number of 10. Although a very common element in the universe, it is rare on Earth. A colorless, inert noble gas under standard conditions, neon gives a distinct reddish-orange glow when used in either low-voltage neon glow lamps or...

, radon
Radon is a chemical element with symbol Rn and atomic number 86. It is a radioactive, colorless, odorless, tasteless noble gas, occurring naturally as the decay product of uranium or thorium. Its most stable isotope, 222Rn, has a half-life of 3.8 days...

, xenon
Xenon is a chemical element with the symbol Xe and atomic number 54. The element name is pronounced or . A colorless, heavy, odorless noble gas, xenon occurs in the Earth's atmosphere in trace amounts...

, zinc
Zinc , or spelter , is a metallic chemical element; it has the symbol Zn and atomic number 30. It is the first element in group 12 of the periodic table. Zinc is, in some respects, chemically similar to magnesium, because its ion is of similar size and its only common oxidation state is +2...

, and rhodium
Rhodium is a chemical element that is a rare, silvery-white, hard and chemically inert transition metal and a member of the platinum group. It has the chemical symbol Rh and atomic number 45. It is composed of only one isotope, 103Rh. Naturally occurring rhodium is found as the free metal, alloyed...

And chlorine
Chlorine is the chemical element with atomic number 17 and symbol Cl. It is the second lightest halogen, found in the periodic table in group 17. The element forms diatomic molecules under standard conditions, called dichlorine...

, carbon
Carbon is the chemical element with symbol C and atomic number 6. As a member of group 14 on the periodic table, it is nonmetallic and tetravalent—making four electrons available to form covalent chemical bonds...

, cobalt
Cobalt is a chemical element with symbol Co and atomic number 27. It is found naturally only in chemically combined form. The free element, produced by reductive smelting, is a hard, lustrous, silver-gray metal....

, copper
Copper is a chemical element with the symbol Cu and atomic number 29. It is a ductile metal with very high thermal and electrical conductivity. Pure copper is soft and malleable; an exposed surface has a reddish-orange tarnish...

, tungsten
Tungsten , also known as wolfram , is a chemical element with the chemical symbol W and atomic number 74.A hard, rare metal under standard conditions when uncombined, tungsten is found naturally on Earth only in chemical compounds. It was identified as a new element in 1781, and first isolated as...

, tin
Tin is a chemical element with the symbol Sn and atomic number 50. It is a main group metal in group 14 of the periodic table. Tin shows chemical similarity to both neighboring group 14 elements, germanium and lead and has two possible oxidation states, +2 and the slightly more stable +4...

, and sodium
Sodium is a chemical element with the symbol Na and atomic number 11. It is a soft, silvery-white, highly reactive metal and is a member of the alkali metals; its only stable isotope is 23Na. It is an abundant element that exists in numerous minerals, most commonly as sodium chloride...


These are the only ones of which the news has come to Harvard
Harvard University
Harvard University is a private Ivy League university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States, established in 1636 by the Massachusetts legislature. Harvard is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States and the first corporation chartered in the country...

And there may be many others, but they haven't been discovered.

Lehrer was a Harvard math lecturer, and the final rhyme of "Harvard" and "discovered" is delivered in a parody of a Boston accent
Boston accent
The Boston dialect is the dialect characteristic of English spoken in the city of Boston and much of eastern Massachusetts. The accent and closely related accents can be heard commonly in an area stretching into much of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, and areas of south-western Nova Scotia...

—a non-rhotic manner—so that the two words rhyme. Lehrer did not normally speak with that accent.


Lehrer drew the inspiration for "The Elements" from the song "Tchaikovsky and Other Russians
Tchaikovsky (song)
"Tschaikowsky " is a patter song with lyrics by Ira Gershwin and music by Kurt Weill, first performed by American comedian Danny Kaye in the 1941 Broadway musical Lady in the Dark...

", written by Ira Gershwin
Ira Gershwin
Ira Gershwin was an American lyricist who collaborated with his younger brother, composer George Gershwin, to create some of the most memorable songs of the 20th century....

, which listed fifty Russian composers in a similar manner.

"The Elements" differs from the "Major-General's Song
Major-General's Song
I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General is a patter song from Gilbert and Sullivan's 1879 comic opera The Pirates of Penzance. It is perhaps the most famous song in Gilbert and Sullivan's operas. It is sung by Major-General Stanley at his first entrance, towards the end of Act I...

" in that:
  • Lehrer's usual performance is more monotoned than its source tune, although the sheet music in the 1981 book contains Sullivan's normal score.
  • As per usual with Lehrer, it is accompanied solely by his own piano
    The piano is a musical instrument played by means of a keyboard. It is one of the most popular instruments in the world. Widely used in classical and jazz music for solo performances, ensemble use, chamber music and accompaniment, the piano is also very popular as an aid to composing and rehearsal...

     playing (as opposed to a full orchestra).
  • On some of the live recordings, Lehrer pauses in the middle for spoken interludes, in which he talks to the audience (e.g., "I hope you're all taking notes, because there's going to be a short quiz next period!") while vamping on the piano.
  • The verse structure is altered, omitting the third verse of the original as well as all of the "responses" from the play's chorus, and adding an extra two lines at the end of the last verse.
  • The song ends with a piano coda (Shave and a Haircut
    Shave and a Haircut
    Shave and a Haircut and the associated response "two bits" is a simple, 7-note musical couplet popularly used at the end of a musical performance, usually for comic effect....

  • "The Elements" is in the key
    Key (music)
    In music theory, the term key is used in many different and sometimes contradictory ways. A common use is to speak of music as being "in" a specific key, such as in the key of C major or in the key of F-sharp. Sometimes the terms "major" or "minor" are appended, as in the key of A minor or in the...

     of C
    C major
    C major is a musical major scale based on C, with pitches C, D, E, F, G, A, and B. Its key signature has no flats/sharps.Its relative minor is A minor, and its parallel minor is C minor....

    , while the "Major-General's Song
    Major-General's Song
    I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General is a patter song from Gilbert and Sullivan's 1879 comic opera The Pirates of Penzance. It is perhaps the most famous song in Gilbert and Sullivan's operas. It is sung by Major-General Stanley at his first entrance, towards the end of Act I...

    " is in E-flat.
  • In some live versions, after the song is finished, he may tell the audience of an earlier version, from Aristotle
    Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...

    's time, that consists of Air
    Air (classical element)
    Air is often seen as a universal power or pure substance. Its supposed fundamental importance to life can be seen in words such as aspire, inspire, perspire and spirit, all derived from the Latin spirare.-Greek and Roman tradition:...

    , Fire
    Fire (classical element)
    Fire has been an important part of all cultures and religions from pre-history to modern day and was vital to the development of civilization. It has been regarded in many different contexts throughout history, but especially as a metaphysical constant of the world.-Greek and Roman tradition:Fire...

    , Water
    Water (classical element)
    Water is one of the elements in ancient Greek philosophy, in the Asian Indian system Panchamahabhuta, and in the Chinese cosmological and physiological system Wu Xing...

     and Earth
    Earth (classical element)
    Earth, home and origin of humanity, has often been worshipped in its own right with its own unique spiritual tradition.-European tradition:Earth is one of the four classical elements in ancient Greek philosophy and science. It was commonly associated with qualities of heaviness, matter and the...

    , explaining that it was a much simpler time.

Parodies and covers

Although "The Elements" is a pastiche of the Major-General's song, it has itself been parodied, including by the group Amateur Transplants
Amateur Transplants
Amateur Transplants are a London based, British parody musical duo consisting of medical professionals, Dr. Adam Kay and Dr. Suman Biswas , who came to prominence in 2005 with a song about the London Underground, parodying the Jam song "Going Underground"...

 (of London Underground fame) as The Drugs Song. The Jewish parody group Shlock Rock
Shlock Rock
Shlock Rock is an independent Jewish rock band, put together in December 1985, and officially founded in 1986, and led by, singer Lenny Solomon, which parodies popular secular songs, substituting new, religious-themed lyrics for the music. To date they have released 32 albums...

 acknowledges Lehrer and "The Elements" as inspiration for "The Shabbat Song". In the episode "Ex-File" of NCIS
NCIS (TV series)
NCIS, formerly known as NCIS: Naval Criminal Investigative Service, is an American police procedural drama television series revolving around a fictional team of special agents from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, which conducts criminal investigations involving the U.S...

, Timothy McGee
Timothy McGee
Timothy "Tim" McGee is a fictional character from the CBS television series NCIS. He is portrayed by Sean Murray. Timothy McGee is a special agent investigating crime in this police procedural show...

 and Abby Sciuto
Abby Sciuto
Abigail "Abby" Sciuto is a fictional character from the NCIS television series by CBS Television, and is portrayed by Pauley Perrette. Like Jethro Gibbs, Anthony DiNozzo and Donald Mallard, Abby was first introduced in the episodes "Ice Queen" and "Meltdown" in the television show JAG, and has...

 hum the song, and it forms a key clue in their case. In The Big Bang Theory
The Big Bang Theory
The Big Bang Theory is an American sitcom created by Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady, both of whom serve as executive producers on the show, along with Steven Molaro. All three also serve as head writers...

episode "The Pants Alternative", a drunk Sheldon Cooper
Sheldon Cooper
Sheldon Lee Cooper, B.S., M.S., M.A., Ph.D., Sc.D. is a fictional character from Texas on the CBS television series The Big Bang Theory, portrayed by actor Jim Parsons...

 starts to sing the song during his acceptance of an award from his university. In the 2006 episode of Gilmore Girls
Gilmore Girls
Gilmore Girls is an American family comedy-drama series created by Amy Sherman-Palladino, starring Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel. On October 5, 2000, the series debuted on The WB and was cancelled in its seventh season, ending on May 15, 2007 on The CW...

called "The Real Paul Anka", Luke Danes's daughter April and her classmates sing the song on the bus. Another pastiche of "The Major-General's song" in "The Elements" mode is the "Boy Scout Merit Badge Song," which lists all the merit badges of the Boy Scouts of America
Boy Scouts of America
The Boy Scouts of America is one of the largest youth organizations in the United States, with over 4.5 million youth members in its age-related divisions...


The song has been covered by other artists. For example, the rapper Jesse Dangerously
Jesse Dangerously
Jesse Dangerously is an alternative hip hop artist from Halifax, Nova Scotia. He is an active member of the Canadian East Coast music scene through the release of his own albums, appearing as guest vocalist on a large number of recordings by other artists, hosting a weekly radio show, writing a...

 covered "The Elements" on his album How to Express Your Dissenting Political Viewpoint Through Origami
How to Express Your Dissenting Political Viewpoint Through Origami
How to Express Your Dissenting Political Viewpoint Through Origami is the third album by hip hop artist Jesse Dangerously.-Track listing:# Progressive Narcissism # A Single Gay Male on His Thirtieth Birthday# Damaged Senses# Childish Fantasy...

, where the song is titled "Tom Lehrer's The Elements". The Gas House Gang
Gas House Gang (quartet)
Gas House Gang was a barbershop quartet that won the 1993 SPEBSQSA international competition. They started singing as a group in 1987.The quartet won the International Quartet Championship of the Barbershop Harmony Society in 1993...

 also sang the song on their first album. Daniel Radcliffe
Daniel Radcliffe
Daniel Jacob Radcliffe is an English actor who rose to prominence playing the titular character in the Harry Potter film series....

 sang "The Elements" on The Graham Norton Show
The Graham Norton Show
The Graham Norton Show is a British comedy chat show that is broadcast on BBC One in the United Kingdom. It was originally shown on BBC Two from February 2007 to May 2009 until it moved to BBC One from October 2009...

in 2010. In the first season of sketch comedy website LoadingReadyRun
LoadingReadyRun, often abbreviated to LRR, is a Canadian sketch comedy website, based in Victoria, British Columbia, founded by Graham Stark and Paul Saunders...

regulars Graham Stark and Andrew Cownden made a video of Stark singing the song accompanied by Cownden on the piano.

The song is included in Theodore Gray
Theodore Gray
Theodore W. Gray is one of the founders of Wolfram Research and is currently Wolfram's Director of User Interface Technology.He is a prominent element collector and created a wooden periodic table with compartments for samples of each of the elements...

's iPad
The iPad is a line of tablet computers designed, developed and marketed by Apple Inc., primarily as a platform for audio-visual media including books, periodicals, movies, music, games, and web content. The iPad was introduced on January 27, 2010 by Apple's then-CEO Steve Jobs. Its size and...

 app The Elements; for the Japanese edition, a translated J-Pop
, an abbreviation for Japanese pop, is a musical genre that entered the musical mainstream of Japan in the 1990s. Modern J-pop has its roots in 1960s music, such as The Beatles, and replaced kayōkyoku in the Japanese music scene...

 version of the song was created.

Further reading

  • Too Many Songs by Tom Lehrer, 1981, has sheet music for many of Lehrer's songs, including The Elements.

External links

The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.