Tom Glazer – “On Top of Spaghetti”


Tom Glazer (1914-2003) was an American folk singer-songwriter and musician, mostly remembered for authoring the children song classic “On Top of Spaghetti.” He was principally known as a writer of ballads. His songs (either written or co-written) were turned into hits by other artists such as Vaughn Monroe, Gene Autry, Georgie Shaw, Billy Vaughn, David Carroll, The Four Aces, Frank Sinatra and Ray Anthony, Perry Como, Pete Seeger etc. His other compositions such as “Because All Men Are Brothers” and “Talking Inflation Blues” were recorded by Bob Dylan and Peter, Paul and Mary. Glazer was considered as one of the figures who spurred the postwar folk movement, who used music to relay his own political beliefs. He also wrote many songs for children, but his most successful was “On Top of Spaghetti,” which he sang along with the Do-Re-Mi Children’s Chorus. It was a top 20 hit in 1963. He died in 2003, aged 88.

Tom Glazer’s early life

Tom Glazer was born Thomas Zachariach Glazer in Philadalphia, Pennsylvania, on September 2, 1914

Glazer’s father died when he was four years old. He was later brought up by his mother and later, an assortment of relatives, before spending his days at an orphanage. He studied and played a variety of musical instruments during his youth. While still in his teens, Glazer relocated to New York, while he worked during the day to support himself in his night schooling.

Career as musician

After three years in New York, he later moved to Washington D.C., this time working for the Library of Congress. There Glazer encountered another Library employee, the legendary folklorist/ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax whose job was managing a catalog of American folk songs. Lomax imparted to Glazer about his knowledge of folk music, and this is where Glazer derived his earliest and most important musical influence.

Glazer made his first public appearance at small White House function arranged by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, for soldiers who were employed there as guards. He turned professional when he made his own solo public debut at the New York City Town Hall in 1943.

In two years Glazer hosted his first own radio show Tom Glazer’s Ballad Box, where he not only displayed his passion for folk music, but also to broadcast his political beliefs through songs such as “Because All Men Are Brothers”, “When The Country Is Broke”, “Taking Inflation Blues” and others. Those songs were later covered by Bob Dylan, Burl Ives, Pete Seeger, the Kingston Trio, Vaughn Monroe, Gene Autry, Georgie Shaw, Billy Vaughn, David Carroll, The Four Aces, Frank Sinatra and Ray Anthony, Perry Como, Peter, Paul and Mary, Josh White, Lead Belly, and so many others.

After the war a renewed boom in folk music began to develop, and Glazer was one of the catalysts behind that movement alongside Woody Guthrie and Burl Ives.

Glazer also composed music for a couple of films: a musical score for Elia Kazan’s A Face in the Crowd, and the title song for Laszlo Benedek’s Namu The Killer Whale (Glazer himself also performed the song).

“On Top of Spaghetti”

At first Glazer positioned himself as a folk musician for the adult audiences, but in the 1940s and 1950s he had begun writing and performing folk pieces geared for the children. These children’s records include When I Grow Up, The Chugging Freight Line and Come To The Fair.

Glazer’s greatest commercial success arrived via his novelty number “On Top Of Spaghetti,” sung by himself along with the Do-Re-Mi Children’s Chorus. Glazer based it on the traditional folk song “On Top of Old Smoky.” By the way, Glazer’s peer Pete Seeger had previously arranged another rendition “On Top of Old Smoky,” which was popularized by the Weavers in 1951.

“On Top of Spaghetti” climbed to its peak spot at #14 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1963. It also reached #4 on the easy listening chart that same year.

Unfortunately, most of Glazer’s material has fallen out of print, but his music has remained to be seen on many popular songbooks, including The Mother Goose Songbook.

Glazer died in Rochester, New York (some sources say he died in Philadelphia) on February 21, 2003, aged 88.

The most common and available source to score Tom Glazer’s recordings is the album Tom Glazer Sings Honk-Hiss-Tweet-GGGGGGGGGG and Other Children’s Favorites.