William Matheson (nova_one) wrote,
William Matheson

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RetroReview: "Weird Al" Yankovic

The release of The Essential "Weird Al" Yankovic last year made me think - if I were picking the tracks for such an album, which ones would I pick? Would my ideal compilation end up being longer, shorter, or far, far longer?

The exhaustive way to find out is to go through each track one-by-one. It'll be a fun trip down memory lane, as I was into Weird Al before I owned a CD player or optical-drive-equipped computer, so I have his first nine albums only on cassette. As you might expect, that's a bit of a handicap in terms of having them neatly arranged in my MP3 folders, and I don't listen to them as often as I otherwise would.

(Speaking of cassettes (and LPs too), I'll be subtly denoting the switching of sides by three dashes, up to Running With Scissors, the last album to have any kind of analog release. (The UHF soundtrack of 1989 was the last one to come out on an LP; 1985's Dare to Be Stupid was the first one to come out on CD (at first issue).))

With an effort, I'm going to restrict myself to a "keep-it" or "leave-it" rating 'system'. If I don't do this, I'll start getting into KEEP* and KEEP** and it'll become a great old mess trying to figure out just how good a song is. It's easier to just say "KEEP" if it's any good.

So, let's begin! Oh, and I'm starting by going through all of the studio albums, then for my last post I'll hit the singles, published and some unpublished, that aren't available on the main studio albums. So I'm skipping great tracks like "Pac-Man" for now, but I'll get to them later.

1. "Weird Al" Yankovic
1983, Rock 'n Roll Records

parody of "Mickey" by Toni Basil
+ Brings back 'memories' of I Love Lucy. (Of relatives watching the reruns on TV Land, that is.)
- The jokes aren't much more than describing what might happen in the show.
- Utterly incomprehensible to me when I first heard it; I hadn't heard "Mickey", so any parody effect was lost on me.
+ It's over quickly, clocking in at 2:36.

"Gotta Boogie"
+ In instrument and arrangement, it's a fine disco pastiche.
- The subject matter is a little sophomoric...
+ ... but it's a much better listen and far less disgusting than tracks like "A Complicated Song" and "Party at the Leper Colony".

"I Love Rocky Road"
parody of "I Love Rock 'n' Roll" by Joan Jett
+ It rocks.
+ It's a clever parody.
+ It's catchy; it's a track that comes to mind unbidden.
+ It makes me wonder how he can "keep a couple of quarts in [his] locker at school". Does he have a mini-fridge in it? Must be some locker.

"Buckingham Blues"
+ Point taken; with all that wealth and fame, why aren't Charles and Diana happy?
- Due to the inevitable divorce and the tragic passing of Diana, this song has aged extremely poorly.
- It's not a very good listen. Weird Al does a far better blues pastiche on UHF's "Generic Blues". I'd gush about that track now, but we'll leave it for the capsule review of UHF.
- The jokes are kind of pedestrian - stuff about playing croquet, going on cruises, and never eating Chef Boyardee.

"Happy Birthday"
+ It simply rocks from intro to close. I'm no music critic, I can only say it's fast and catchy.
+ It's meaningful - a much better song about the futility of birthdays than The Arrogant Worms' 1995(!) attempt, "The Happy Happy Birthday Song". With that kind of lead time, they should have known about this one and if they did they should have made something comparably good.
+ The imagery is vivid and engaging.
+ Short and sweet at 2:28.

"Stop Draggin' My Car Around"
parody of "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around" by Stevie Nicks
+ A clever pun
+ Hilarious lyrics about a beat-up old car that the singer can't even afford to keep
+ A reminder of the bad-old-days of automobile reliability and disco-era sensibilities
+ It's fun to sing

- - -

"My Bologna"
parody of "My Sharona" by The Knack
+ Possibly Al's best food song
+ Also a clever pun
+ The devotion is equal and possibly even more believable
+ There is great manic energy in this song. It goes at a breakneck pace. Al's parodies are usually faster-paced than the originals - it's particularly apparent in this track.
+ It's fun to picture Al going through the grocery store buying all the bologna in sight.
+ Short like a food song should be, at 2:02.

"The Check's In The Mail"

I'm going to interrupt the flow here. This, and another song on this album, is a type of original that Weird Al doesn't do anymore, and I sorely wish he would. It's a tight song about liars and smooth-talkers. It's not aiming to be over-the-top funny, but the rhymes are clever in their way. Also, songs like this are tantamount to Weird Al actually expressing a viewpoint in a song more directly than the ridiculous extremes he reaches in songs like "Trigger Happy" (which is pretty clearly in "favor" of gun control). Trigger Happy is an awesome song, but songs like The Check's In the Mail make their point adequately with a water pistol as opposed to an ICBM.

+ I love the chorus. It's nothing outrageous, just "... you're beautiful, don't ever change... my girl will call your girl, we'll talk, we'll do lunch, or leave a message on my machine..."
+ It kind of reminds me of Billy Joel's "The Entertainer". The Entertainer is probably the superior track. But Weird Al's had his share of corporate angst as well.
+ There's a hint that the guy might get what's coming to him in the end. But the ending isn't final, nor should it be.

"Another One Rides The Bus"
parody of "Another One Bites the Dust" by Queen
+ Fast and catchy.
+ A good exploration and execution of a seemingly simple pun.
+ It's acoustic! Almost folksy compared to its arena rock inspiration.
+ I love the Who reference. I wish Al had done a good Who parody at some point. Or Led Zeppelin, for that matter.
- I could do without some of the sound effects.

"I'll Be Mellow When I'm Dead"
+ Here's another song in the ilk of "Check's in the Mail" - it's fairly straight-up.
+ It's probably one of Al's most "personal" songs. It's a raging rant against people who are always telling you to "chill out" when it's not warranted.
+ It's also a great take-down of New Age reasoning. The song ages very well for this and other reasons. You could release it today and it might be a hit.
+ It's rockin', and the lyrics are tight.

"Such a Groovy Guy"
+ A serviceable send-up of narcissists.
+ Love the (sometimes corny) BDSM references. Yes, in a Weird Al album! Zappa's "Valley Girl" that also does was released first - but being a year or two behind Zappa is still pretty good.
+ Even the music is... groovy.
- I worry about people who might associate "tops" with asshats. It's certainly dangerous when these traits intersect.

"Mr. Frump In The Iron Lung"
+ A mellow closing track, fitting in well to close the album.
+ You can feel the sincerity of the friendless loser going to Mr. Frump every day just because he's the only person who'll "listen".
- It's a little cruel to mock people who depend on these kinds of devices to breathe and thus live. People have lived their entire lives in these things.
- Some people still have the ability to speak. In fact, at least one got a college degree and wrote her memoirs.
+ That said, the real target of ridicule is the person who goes to see Mr. Frump. He self-narrates, and he's not in on the joke.

So, how does Weird Al's self-titled album fare? Pretty good - 10 songs out of 12 are "keepers" by my standards. (6 originals and 4 parodies - I'll be keeping these counts as well.) At this rate, it'll be hard to justify a 'compilation' that only trims the edges off of albums. But worry not - Polka Party!, Alapalooza and Poodle Hat are all still ahead. ;-)

Second opinion:
allmusic - 3½ out of 5 stars

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