The Complete Flanders and Swann is a three-disc compilation that includes live recordings of their two revues -- At the Drop of a Hat and At the Drop of Another Hat -- and also a studio recording of their other songs, entitled The Bestiary of Flanders and Swann. The latter was a collection of songs that had appeared occasionally in their revues, but had mostly been written for other performers.
The first disc, At the Drop of a Hat, was recorded at London's Fortune Theatre in 1959. It contains some of their best known songs, and covers a range of subject matter, all of it done in a genteel, mannered, very English way.
Songs ranged from "A Transport of Delight," about London buses, "Design for Living," about the fashionable House and Garden set in England, "The Reluctant Cannibal," a song about hypocrisy and "Madeira M'Dear," about seduction. Their two best known songs are included here -- "The Gnu Song" (Pronounced "g-nu" all through the song), about just such an animal, and the much-loved "Hippopotamus Song," with the classic refrain "Mud, mud, glorious mud."
The second Hat revue, At the Drop of Another Hat, was as brilliant as the first. More overtly political this time on songs like "Slow Train," about the British government's closure of unprofitable train lines, and on "All Gall," a run-down of the career of Charles de Gaulle, but also managing to allude to the Profumo scandal.
In living up to the first revue's high standard, Flanders and Swann created several classics here: the jazz-inspired "First and Second Law" (a song about the laws of thermodynamics), "Ill Wind," in which Flanders sings an adaptation of a Mozart horn concerto and "In the Desert," a song about camels, sung in Russian by Swann.
The final disc, The Bestiary of Flanders and Swann, is, as the title may suggest, a collection of songs about animals. The songs are as good as the revue tracks, but being a studio recording means that something of the atmosphere that Flanders and Swann created with an audience has been lost.
This disc also features the Extiary, included only in this collection. The Extiary is a group of ten songs not found elsewhere, that were mainly extracts from revue performances. The most interesting songs here are the two fierce anti-war songs, "20 Tons of TNT" and "The War of '14-'18" - the former so named as Swann had discovered that the amount of man-made destructive material stockpiled in the world equated to 20 tons per man, woman and child on the planet.
Flanders and Swann's entire legacy is included in this compilation, and it shows two superb musicians and comedians at the height of their talents. While some of their work has dated unavoidably since it was first performed, their comedy and social observations are still on the whole relevant and very funny. Immensely popular throughout the 1950s and '60s, it is a shame that this music is not better known today.