70. "The Check's in the Mail"
(Original; from "Weird Al" Yankovic, 1983)
Al is always so good at poking holes in sleazy, greedy, insincere people; I've always felt like this was a missing number from the movie version of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. Al parodies those slick businessmen who delay payments, weasel out of litigation, and avoid you when they're trying to get away with something. "Don't try to call me, I'll be in meeting every afternoon, for a year, maybe longer, keep in touch, thanks for dropping by and have a nice day." I love how it builds in its craziness; "Why don't you leave a message with my girl or have lunch with your machine?" You can almost feel the flop sweat. (Aside: boy, does anyone say "the check's in the mail" anymore, even when derisively describing that attitude?)
69. "Slime Creatures from Outer Space"
(Original; from Dare to Be Stupid, 1985)
This sounds like a 50s alien invasion sci-fi movie that never got made, and that's fantastic. I would've been so happy if this song had shown up in Mars Attacks! I especially love how understated some of the lyrics are: "They're not very nice to the human race." I also like the nostalgia I detect in the song, celebrating a genre that was mostly dismissed as kiddie fare. This is like a Joe Dante movie in all the right ways.
68. "Here's Johnny"
(Parody of "Who's Johnny" by El Debarge; from Polka Party!, 1986)
Al takes the hit single from Short Circuit and turns it into a celebratory ode to Ed McMahon. Much like "Midnight Star" and "Mr. Popeil," it's a celebration of the wonderful weirdness of our culture.
Aside 1: Have you ever really, really listened to "Who's Johnny"? Listen to the lyrics. That's not a cute song about a robot that gains self-awareness. There are some dark mind games going on in this song. The song's narrator knows his lover is cheating on him, but she's being coy about it, alternately throwing it in his face and acting like nothing's wrong. This is Emotional Abuse: The Song. Definitely did not notice that when I was 10.
Aside 2: This is my top song off of Polka Party!, which makes this the first album I've completed on this list. Wow. No song from Polka Party! will even be in the top 50! And at this point, this list is nearly impossible to make, because all of these songs are so great to me.
67. "Hooked on Polkas"
(Medley; from Dare to Be Stupid; 1985)
This is the first of Al's polkas I ever heard; in fact, Dare to Be Stupid is the first album (cassette) I ever bought with my own money (birthday money), and of course I was roundly teased by my dumbass, fun-hating peers for doing so. At their best, Al's polkas are a tour-de-force through a moment in the zeitgeist, with virtuoso accordion, capturing a time when we all liked a bunch of songs that we'll forget about in a year or two. Somehow, this one especially captures a time and place for me. Your mileage may very. (Here's the list of songs used.)
Note: I linked a live performance from 1985; every other video of it I could find was either "blocked in your country" or cut off the opening, which is some great accordion.
66. "Your Horoscope for Today"
(Original; from Running with Scissors, 1999)
A bunch of ridiculous horoscopes set to a spot-on version of third wave ska. Even a couple of members of Reel Big Fish play on this one. It's pleasant enough music, but kids, imagine what it's like to live in a world where every time you turned on the radio it just sounded like this. The lyrics are hilarious. I think my favorite of the horoscopes is "The stars predict tomorrow you'll wake up, do a bunch of stuff and then go back to sleep."
65. "Happy Birthday"
(Style parody of Tonio K.; from "Weird Al" Yankovic, 1983)
This song is exactly as cynical as I am, especially about my birthday. I don't know if that's exactly Al's point--although this is probably the closest he ever got to a genuinely snotty, sarcastic punk song--but I realize this song really reflects an attitude I've had about the world ever since... well, ever since junior high, I think. Also, a punk song with an accordion break is amazing.
64. "Livin' in the Fridge"
(Parody of "Livin' on the Edge" by Aerosmith; from Alapalooza, 1993)
There's rotten food in the refrigerator; Al's afraid to go in and just throw it out because it's so nasty. Yeah, I can relate. I think he explored the premise better here than he would later in "Trash Day," and with a better song, too. The scream is my favorite bit here.
(Style parody of The Beastie Boys; from Even Worse, 1988)
Short but sweet rap about the game Twister. Not much to say about it other than it's ridiculously funny and it doesn't overstay its welcome.
62. "Skipper Dan"
(Style parody of Weezer; from Alpocalypse, 2011)
An ode to a fine art major who dreamed of an acting career and now works as a guide on the Jungle Cruise ride at Disneyland. This is a pretty poignant one for Weird Al; he obviously sympathizes with the song's narrator instead of making fun of him, and I like that. I think this would be painful if it were mean-spirited.
61. "Headline News"
(Parody of "Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm" by Crash Test Dummies; from Permanent Record: Al in the Box, 1994)
Boy, this song really dates me. This came out the fall after I had graduated high school in 1994, and comments on the media oversaturation of the Michael Fay, Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan, and Lorena and John Wayne Bobbitt stories. That was a weird time; apparently we had nothing to worry about then, so we ended up talking a lot about these stories and exploited their personal lives. Just a few years later and they would have had reality TV specials. You guys can talk all you want today about how we make people famous for doing nothing, but I'll take a Kardashian or a Teen Mom any day, because they're easy to ignore and we don't have to pretend they're important news stories. Our society's always been pretty easily distracted.
Musically, the song feels like the culmination of Al's first era as a musician, a sort of celebration of the old and a bridge to the new. It's produced more like one of his older songs, with the accordion break and the sound effects and hand sounds, and its thematic lauding of our preoccupation with the bizarre. But at the same time, it sounds a little more cynical, a little more surprised that we're really wasting our time on some of this, as though the guy who gave us odes to Yoda and tabloids and the Pocket Fisherman even thinks we've gone too far. (When asked about the song, Al quipped "I wanted to write a song about these people because I don't think they're getting quite enough media attention.") The music video continues this feeling, with its sort of old-fashioned sideshow vibe (parodying the original Crash Test Dummies video) and its cameos. When was the last time you thought about Doug Llewelyn? You're welcome.
Until next time.
Tuesday, May 26, 2015
70. "The Check's in the Mail"