Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Ranking Al: #15-11

15. "This Is the Life"
(Original; single from the motion picture Johnny Dangerously, 1984)
We're pretty much getting into esoteric favorites from here on, I think. Johnny Dangerously is just the worst movie. I remember it used to be on one of my local stations (WFLD-32, I think, or maybe WGN) an awful lot when I was a kid. I never thought it was funny, but I watched it a ton because of my incredible crush on Marilu Henner, which has never really gone away, honestly. I watched too much Taxi as a four year-old for it to ever go away. Anyway, as much as the movie blows, this song is just wonderful. I'm honestly not sure what it is I love so much about it; the lyrics, about a rich gangster living the high life, are ridiculously exaggerated, but not in a way that sounds really fresh after 31 years. But the enthusiasm of the production and Weird Al's performance is infectious; it's this weird, exuberant silliness that comes through. Actually, this does have one of my favorite Al lyrics: "If money can't buy happiness, I guess I'll have to rent it."

14. "Good Old Days"
(Style parody of James Taylor; from Even Worse, 1988)
Gosh, I know so many people who hate this song. At the time, it really felt like a vindication of my warped, occasionally cruel sense of humor. Hey, I got it from having to go a step further than the assholes who were bullying me. Which was everyone. Even my Mom, which is why I especially enjoyed playing this for her. This is a perfect parody of exactly the kind of crappy wuss-rock and easy listening that she was exclusively into at the time. See, when I was a little kid my Mom was all kinds of fun, but as she got older and the pressures of adulthood really wore on her, she got really, really depressed and spent less and less of her time engaged with us kids. She was a young mother (19 when I was born), and she could lose her patience all the time, every day, and get physical with us, and we were always kind of afraid of her losing her cool and screaming at us, but she could also be really fun, and we kind of lived for those moments. But she fell into this depression for a long, long time, and that was just shattering, because I assumed it must be our fault somehow, and I didn't know how to fix it. She would just lie in her bed, upstairs, with the curtains closed, watching TV and eating. It became harder and harder to pretend things were normal, and even now, I feel weird thinking about it, because I've pushed a lot of that whole time period out of my mind. Seriously, anything between late 1984 until 1994 can be blurry and uncomfortable.

So as my parents were separating and the inevitable divorce was coming, my Mom stopped being the rock-loving, fun-loving girl she was when I was little and became... well, a clone of her own mother, who wanted everything gentle and nice and would make me feel bad and wrong for being a loud, rock-loving 12 year-old, which was just reinforcing the way the kids at school made me feel bad and wrong for being fat and clumsy and (in a total reversal of my earlier school years) withdrawn and quiet. Oh, and still into cartoons, because I was fucking 12, Shane, you impossible piece of shit.

Anyway, this song came along at the right time for me, because it was Weird Al's version of gentle and nice and he just destroys it by being a complete and total psychopath, and it was exactly what I needed at the time. And I remember playing it for adults who would not only be horrified at the Charles Manson meets James Taylor lyrics, but disgusted with me for finding it hilarious, which was basically my way of rebelling at the time. I was a freaky kid, and... well, I didn't love it that way, but it was basically my attempt to try and force the world to deal with me on terms that I set for it. It didn't always work, but this was a time when it did.

Sometimes I even amaze myself when I get off on a tangent like this and realize that most of my life has just been a defense mechanism. How fucked up is that? And how fucked up is it that, just before this song came out, I got into my own depressed state and tried to deal with it by laying in bed all day and just listening to music, only for my Mom to scream at me until I got up? Jesus Christ. Let's move on.

13. "Dog Eat Dog"
(Style parody of Talking Heads; from Polka Party!, 1986)
Some time ago, I proclaimed that I had finished Polka Party! quite early, naming it one of my two least favorite Weird Al albums. It still is, easily, one of my least favorite Weird Al albums, but I forgot that it has one legitimate masterpiece on it: this exquisite style parody. It's especially funny to me having worked in offices in the past, because I find that kind of job totally empty and mind-numbing. I'm always surprised when I listen to this song how many of the lyrics have been in my own lexicon for ages now. I still find myself saying "Hold on a minute, just one more jelly doughnut" (I don't even like jelly doughnuts) and "I'll have a coffee with a carcinogenic sweetener." Oh, and of course, "Where's my liquid paper? WHERE'S MY LIQUID PAPER??" I love the way Al imitates David Byrne's clipped vocal delivery on this song.

And with that, I am now finished with Polka Party! for real.

12. "King of Suede"
(Parody of "King of Pain" by The Police; from "Weird Al" Yankovic in 3-D, 1984)
The original version of this song is my favorite Police song; I love that Al takes a song about depression and rejection and spins it into a song about a clothier who is very proud of his business and claims the title of King of Suede. It fits in with In 3-D's theme of celebrating the mundane rather than ridiculing it. The Police song is full of so much hyperbole that truly gets at the emotional depth that emotional pain can feel like when you're young and everything is so epic and sweeping, and then Al juxtaposes that odd rhythmic structure of despair and turns it into a declaration of dedication to a craft.

Aside: Al sings the song with accent. Is he saying the store is next door to Willy's Fun Arcade, or Wheelie's Fun Arcade. Because I've always heard Wheelie's, and I just want it to be that, so... who cares which is right, I'm just going to go on picturing Wheelie's Fun Arcade.

And that closes out "Weird Al" Yankovic in 3-D for me. Honestly, I thought it was an album I didn't like as much as it turns out I do.

11. "Smells Like Nirvana"
(Parody of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" by Nirvana; from Off the Deep End, 1992)
I never felt any closeness to the original version of this song. When Nirvana happened, I was so walled off from a lot of what was happening in popular music because I just didn't want to associate with my peer group, even from the removed distance of just partaking in music. I didn't want any particular sense of cohort with the kids who were even still tormenting me daily, so I just didn't get into Nirvana, because suddenly everyone was wearing flannel shirts and growing their hair long and feigning disaffection and telling me that the very things that made my life so hard to live--being poor, being different, being sensitive, being frustrated and angry--were suddenly "in." Like... what? Since when?

So, funnily enough, me being me, it was actually the Weird Al version of the song that helped me when I needed it.

Weird Al released both the movie and the album UHF in 1989. The movie was a flop, but I loved it. My Dad and I went to see it in the theater at a time when I felt like things were really falling apart. We went to see it on a weekend, just the two of us, and laughed and laughed. He had long since moved out of the house and was living with my future stepmother. My parents' divorce had been finalized just a few weeks before. Everything just felt shattered, and I was periodically going through intense depressions and just closing myself off more and more from everything and everyone, because at home, at school, in the world, everything was reinforcing this feeling I had that I shouldn't express myself to anyone, because my feelings weren't important. But Weird Al was always something my Dad and I could laugh at together.

Weird Al didn't release anything after that until suddenly this song came blazing onto MTV in 1992. It took everyone's favorite song and poked fun at the fact that the lyrics were unintelligible--so hard to understand, in fact, that MTV used to play a subtitled version of the video. Annoying at the time how many kids there were who didn't get what the lyrics were meant to represent, but still pretended it was deep and meaningful and represented them in some way. Yeah, TJ, your mommy's been buying you everything you ever wanted since you were a baby and coddling you like you were gonna be veal someday, but now you're really depressed and disaffected, man, life's real hard here in the fucking suburbs, right?

Anyway. Anyway.

As you can see, I was bitter about how grunge took my age group by storm and turned them all into even bigger hypocrites, so I wasn't really into their music. Honestly, I never even listened to Nevermind until... well, until earlier this summer, after I saw Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck on HBO. And it is a great album, actually. But I really needed the distance to fully appreciate it.

Weird Al's always going to mean more to me, because this song, and the accompanying album, came out in 1992 and, once again, my Dad and I had a Weird Al album to laugh with. And it came with a bonus of taking the self-importance out of a bunch of self-involved assholes who were oh-so-sensitive but still tormented the shit out of me.

Esoteric reasons. All that said, it's a damn good song.

Until next time.


Tonio Kruger said...

Heh. When that Nirvana parody song first came out, I could not help joking to a fellow co-worker about how Weird Al Yankovic seemed to done a better version of a Nirvana song than Nirvana itself.

And yes, Nirvana was a bit overrated back in the day. Granted, there were many music groups back in the 1990s that I disliked more but I always thought there was something a bit pretentious about the group and its admirers. On the other hand, its popularity did force me to start listening to more music outside the rock genre so perhaps I should be grateful...

Roger Owen Green said...

As I've noted, I put Smells Like Nirvana at #1 because it was a rebirth, of sorts, for Al, but it was also NOT about food, as Cobain had asked about.

King of Suede -YES! Definitely in my top 25, quite possibly top 15.

Melody Steenkamp said...

Off Topic :

Just wanted to say hello to you as a new teammember on ABC_Wednesday and Roger informed me that you are (or were) too !

Hope you are doing and feeling well, wishing it to you!

Regards, Melody

SamuraiFrog said...

Thanks for saying hi! Enjoy your time at ABC Wednesday!

Roger Owen Green said...

Why I am such a sucker for lines from unrelated songs; "99 problems but a switch ain't one" on the new album, and the Blue Suede Shoes line in King of Suede.