Tom Lehrer explains this 1953 song as being the lesser of two evils. He said in an interview in 1996, "The Old Dope Peddler was just intended as a takeoff on a certain genre of sentimental songs, like The Old Lamplighter and The Umbrella Man, which no one remembers any more. The idea was, it was only going to be funny if I took the most repulsive, antisocial character to write the song about. I thought about doing The Abortionist, but at that time you couldn't even say that. The dope peddler was the second choice, so there it was."

The Old Lamplighter and The Umbrella Man are two saccarine songs, reflective of nostalgia for an era that never really was. An era in which lovable working people who knew their place toiled cheerfully at their menial occupations.

This song parodies them expertly. The tune meanders along in a whimsical waltz time as it tells a sordid tale in a romantic, old-time way.

When the shades of night are falling,
Comes a fellow everyone knows.
It's the old dope peddler,
Spreading joy wherever he goes.

Every evening you will find him,
Around our neighborhood.
It's the old dope peddler
Doing well by doing good.

He gives the kids free samples,
Because he knows full well
That today's young innocent faces
Will be tomorrow's clientele.

Here's a cure for all your troubles,
Here's an end to all distress.
It's the old dope peddler
With his powdered happiness.

© Tom Lehrer; First appeared on Songs by Tom Lehrer. CST Approved. Lyrics appear with his written permission.

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