Michael Flanders and Donald Swann opened At the Drop of a Hat, a multi-topical "after dinner farrago" on New Year's Eve 1956 at the New Lindsey Theatre in London. It ran for three weeks and then moved to the Fortune Theatre where it prevailed from 1957 to 1959. In the ultra-conventional 1950s theirs was considered a brave undertaking; "...just two chaps, one of them in a wheel-chair if you please, singing their own songs at the piano" on a heavily curtained stage adorned with a single domestic living room floor lamp. Their first album, recorded in May of 1959, bore the same name as their increasingly popular revue. Five years later, after touring the show literally around the world, a sequel LP appeared bearing the deliberately predictable title At the Drop of Another Hat. Produced by George Martin, this enjoyable smorgasbord of early- to mid-'60s British humor holds its own in comparison with its predecessor. Beginning with a lively "folk-round" describing a chain of domestic utility crises (strung together with riffs borrowed from Beethoven's Egmont Overture), the 1964 audience and posterity are treated to a music hall setting of the first and second laws of thermodynamics (capped with a disparaging reference to the Beatles and A Hard Day's Night); a tale of camels in the desert, sung in Russian; an egotistically torqued exercise in melodic braggadocio; a send up of Charles De Gaulle; a marvelously imaginative narrative fantasy that places olives and those who handle them within the Spanish bullring; a peculiarly moving Tennyson-like ode to the wonders of oceanic adventure, complete with a squall and a bout of seasickness; a heartfelt paean to old-fashioned railway transportation in which the names of the stops are voiced with loving devotion; a bizarre daydream invoking an imaginary league of professional litterbugs; a bracing caricature of English xenophobia cheerily garnished with ethnic slurs; a heart-and-bone-warming salute to bathtubs and bathing, and various miniatures poking fun at astrology, aviation, and the complexities of camaraderie. Flanders, who was an accomplished actor, is at his very best in "New Built Up Area," a soliloquy expressing the viewpoint of a disgruntled denizen of Salisbury Plain who is faced with the newly erected Stonehenge. "Ill Wind" might be this duo's greatest artistic accomplishment, for here Flanders sings his own words set to the Rondo from W.A. Mozart's Horn Concerto in E Flat Major, Number 495 in the Köchel-Verzeichnis. Note that Flanders practiced the piece using a turntable that spun Mozart's record too speedily. This accounts for the superhuman tempo as Flanders obsesses over a pilfered horn and Swann races to keep up with him. Generations of listeners have learned to savor and cherish the combination of Flanders' satiric wit and Swann's virtuosic piano technique. In 1991, a three-CD set combined their live albums with additional material including a studio-recorded Bestiary. Hopefully that compilation will resurface to carry their artistry forward into the 21st century where it is sure to be sorely needed.
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AllMusic Review by arwulf arwulf