Thursday, August 06, 2015

Ranking Al: #20-16

20. "Like a Surgeon"
(Parody of "Like a Virgin" by Madonna; from Dare to Be Stupid, 1985)
As this list has gone on, I realize I've been leaning on the idea of having esoteric favorites. Well... lists are subjective, right? The problem is, I can't come up with a lot to say about this song. I love it--obviously, as it's number 20 on my list--but I don't really have anything interesting to say about it. It's just a very, very pleasant listen. (And a pleasant watch--the video is hilarious.) I will say that I've never much cared for the original Madonna song, but I've always liked this one. Maybe it's just that Al sounds like he's having so much fun through the song. Also, I'm one of (it turns out) a number of people who originally heard the lyric "Better give me all your gauze, nurse" and wondered: what the heck are "gozners"? I call band name.

19. "Amish Paradise"
(Parody of "Gangsta's Paradise" by Coolio; from Bad Hair Day, 1996)
I think this parody is especially interesting if you take into consideration that Coolio's original song is itself a reworking of Stevie Wonder's "Pastime Paradise" from his 1976 masterpiece Songs in the Key of Life. That song was something of an attack on the sinful, materialistic society of modern times. "Gangsta's Paradise" goes further, illustrating an inescapable cycle of violence in a song that's as raw as it is dark. "Amish Paradise" goes in the opposite direction, flipping the coin over and giving us a culture that has eschewed modernity and lives a life that, as the stereotype goes at least, is relatively plain and uncomplicated.

I enjoy this song; I think it's funny. I've seen it criticized heavily for being weak (I think it was Entertainment Weekly who said something about the Amish being a pretty lame target for a parody), but those people are missing the point. It's turning Coolio's version on its head by reversing the premise. That said, I am a bit surprised I haven't seen Al criticized on this one for making light of a very real cultural problem of violence, poverty and racism. I don't think he's doing that--I think if he thought of it like that, he wouldn't have recorded the song--but I can see where people might find it misguided. Since I see "Taco Grande" called racist all the time, just something that popped into my head. Just food for thought, really.

(Also, this is the last listed track from Bad Hair Day.)

18. "Eat It"
(Parody of "Beat It" by Michael Jackson; from "Weird Al" Yankovic in 3-D, 1984)
I can actually remember the first time I saw this video, because I thought it was the original. "Beat It" got a lot of play on MTV, and the Bob Giraldi-directed video had become a staple. But then the guy at the bar spits out his drink, and I remember being surprised and wondering what was going on. I'm not sure if I even knew who "Weird Al" Yankovic was at that point (I was about 7 when this came out), but that's pretty much the moment I fell in love with his act: that one moment when his shot-for-shot music video parody began to deviate from the original. This was Weird Al's highest-charting single until 2006, and it won him a Grammy. It was a big hit. But for a 7 year-old, it was a world-changing pop culture moment.

To be honest, I'm not even a hundred percent sure what it is about this song that's so funny. Maybe it's just that it takes a cultural juggernaut and razzes it a little bit. Or that it takes the passion and urgency of Michael Jackson's then-omnipresent single and makes it about cleaning your plate because "other kids are starving in Japan."

17. "Ricky"
(Parody of "Mickey" by Toni Basil; from "Weird Al" Yankovic, 1983)
I see we're really into the "Weird Al just makes me inexplicably happy" portion of this list, but, well... he does. In 1985, I bought all three of Weird Al's first albums on cassette, and discovered this song. I'm not sure how I missed it, but eh, I was 5 or 6 when it came out. Maybe it just didn't make the impression. I did, however, truly love Toni Basil's "Mickey." I still do. Like "I Love Rock and Roll," mentioned in the previous installment, it's one of my all time favorite songs. It just makes me feel good.

This song makes me feel good, too, in large part because the original just brings me joy. Al's version is one of those songs I've mentioned before, where he takes something culturally ingrained but kind of mundane--in this case, I Love Lucy reruns--and enshrines it in the heavens with a celebratory song. It's that misaimed passion that I really relate to. I've heard people complain about this song, saying "What's the point? That Al watched I Love Lucy reruns as a kid?" Well, yeah. Of course it is. And so did you, and so did I, and so did America. I still watch I Love Lucy reruns. So hearing that theme at the end of this song makes me as bubbly as... well, as hearing Al shred the riff of one of my favorite songs on his accordion, honestly.

Don't ever apologize about loving something that everyone else thinks is stupid. Those things are like horcruxes for the child version of you. Those should never make you feel ashamed.

(For those of you keeping track at home, this is the last track to be listed from "Weird Al" Yankovic.)

16. "Fat"
(Parody of "Bad" by Michael Jackson; from Even Worse, 1988)
Alright, look. I've been fat a long time. About 30 years now. It started somewhere around 1985 or 1986, when I was nine or ten. I had a lot of ear infections as a kid, to the point where I was in danger of losing hearing in one or both ears. My parents and my doctor decided to treat me with prednisone, which is a corticosteroid, and one of the side effects of that is weight gain. (And hey, other side effects include depression and anxiety, so that's fantastic. I was already having major--ignored--problems with those.) That's when I started gaining weight, and I've never been thin since. I went from being a fairly popular, or at least well-liked kid with friends to the kid that everyone bullied. It was not the best situation; I was already nervous and getting more and more fearful from a cocktail of bullying, abuse and possibly either ADHD or bipolar disorder (yeah, we're talking about that now), and now I was having my self-esteem lowered further every day by kids who made themselves feel superior by making fun of the sensitive fat kid.

In 1988, I was pretty tormented, but it was still new enough for me to not be used to it yet. My best friend had just ditched me--in as sudden and cruel a manner as possible--in favor of popularity, and my parents were fighting constantly to the point where my Dad moved out and never moved back in. It was a truly shitty time in my life, is what I'm saying. And there I am, getting teased, bullied, beaten, yelled at, made to cry, neglected and underfed every day of my life... and suddenly Weird Al comes out with a song called "Fat."

And it makes my year.

For a little while, it was like I had an ally. Hell, not just that, but a damn anthem. Someone called me fat? I've got a song and dance to deflect it. Sometimes it makes people laugh in spite of themselves. Here's all of the shit I've been taking daily put into a song, and it's not mean-spirited. It's actually funny! Eff you, world! I'll show you once again who's fat! I can't explain how much that meant to me. (Of course, all of that confidence would be shattered by junior high just months later, but that's pretty much how junior high works.)

I love the video itself, a direct parody of the Martin Scorsese-directed "Bad" video, and a little bit like a sequel to "Eat It." (To this day, I still occasionally say "Yo, Ding-Dong, man. Ding-Dong, yo.") Michael Jackson thought the song was so funny that he let Al shoot the video on the same subway set used in "Bad." (The pinwheel gag is my favorite.) Once again, Al finds a pop culture juggernaut and puts that passion somewhere totally unexpected. And for me, that really hit a place where I needed it.

I'll show you who's fat.

Until next time.


Carl said...

The "gozners" thing wasn't just me?!? Hallelujah!!

Roger Owen Green said...

At some level, I think the food songs collectively took a nick on my lists after Kurt Cobain asked Al how he was going to turn Smells Like Teen Spirit into the same. So it's not just Eat It and Fat, but Rocky Road, My Bologna, et al. It's also why Smells Like Nirvana's #1 on my list; it seemed signal a new chapter. But my #11 to #25 list will surely have some food songs, as well as that Police song.

Roger Owen Green said...

That said, your personal identification with the song Fat is powerful stuff.

SamuraiFrog said...

Yeah, it is a little repetitive. I'm not sure if I have any food songs left to list... For me it's part of the MAD aesthetic that just reminds me so powerfully of growing up in the 80s and early 90s. Before we were supposed to be depressed about everything, as kids it was all pop music and arcades and junk food and reruns and just being snotty in general. But after a while you do kind of think, gee, how many more jokes about food do we have left?