March 5th, 2012

Ranking “Weird Al” Yankovic in 3-D

Al’s second album, released in 1984, which was still earlier than I first heard him. This is the big one, the one that put Al on the map.

11. Mr. Popeil – This album starts a series of Al albums where I don’t dislike a single song. Sure, I like some songs better than others (otherwise how would I do a ranking series?), but unless I tell you flat out that I don’t like a song, I still like it. This one’s a fun riff on all those “As Seen on TV” products.  Ron Popeil was the Billy Mays of his day, if Billy Mays was part Thomas Edison. “Now how much would you pay?” is the repeated punchline on this one.

10. That Boy Could Dance – An original that makes you think Al probably could have gone a less silly route into music and still have been okay. It’s the story of a kid who was a dweeby loser in school but grew up to be a great dancer and the coolest guy everyone wants to know.

9. King of Suede – A parody of a Sting song, which should immediately tell you this one’s not nearly as weird as the original. It’s all about a guy who sells suede … well, everything. Suits, shoes, all of it. And there’s a 30% sale!

8. Nature Trail to Hell – A spoof of horror movies, of all things. Not an every time listen, but enjoyable if you’re familiar with horror movie clichés at all.  Poor Cub Scouts :(

7. Buy Me a Condo – A reggae song about a guy movie to America from Jamaica and looking forward to all of the mid-America joys the country has to offer. Cuisinarts, jacuzzis, wall-to-wall carpeting – this guy is pretty psyched.

6. The Brady Bunch – Al (as you will see) loves him some TV. This is a parody of The Safety Dance, so it’s catchy as all get out.

5. Theme from Rocky XIII (The Rye or the Kaiser) – I didn’t hear this song until well after I saw Rocky III the first time (and became a life-long Sylvester Stallone fan because of it), so the spoof of that movie’s theme song showing what Rocky’s life would be several years after he retired was pretty humorous to me. In this song, Rocky owns a deli, and he’s constantly suggesting that people try “the rye or the kaiser,” rather than having the Eye of the Tiger. Love. It.  It’s particularly humorous to me that in the final Rocky movie, Rock is retired and owns… a restaurant. I’ll always wonder if that’s a nod to Al’s song.

4. I Lost on Jeopardy – This was the first Al video I ever saw. I think we were waiting for Star Trek to start and Entertainment Tonight played it over their credits as it ended right before. I didn’t really know what was going on, but I knew Al amused me.

3. Midnight Star – “They’re keeping Hitler’s brain alive inside a jar!” Al’s take on tabloid papers, as seen while waiting in the checkout lane.

2. Polkas on 45 – Ah, the beginning of the polkas. When Al was a kid, the story goes, a door-to-door salesman came around to the Yankovic household selling music lessons for either violin or accordion. Al’s mom chose the accordion, and the rest is history.  Though Al is not related to the famous Frankie Yankovic, you can’t help but know polka if you can play the accordion. Al’s polkas are mashups of several pop songs all together in a polka format, and they’re fantastic fun. I don’t know that I could list a favorite one of all his polkas, but you’re sure to see each one rank pretty high in this series.

1. Eat It – This is the song that made Weird Al a household name. Nobody was a bigger star than Michael Jackson, and there have hardly ever been bigger songs than Beat It.  It’s amazing to think that a) Al asked Michael if he could parody it, and b) that Michael said yes. Al has said many times over that he owes his career to MJ, and he’s probably not kidding. The video for this one is also a great parody of the Beat It video, with a little bit of Thriller thrown in.

When I type these up, I get some info on dates and track listings from Wikipedia, but any lyrics quoted are straight outta my head, because I still know pretty much every one of them.  I may not remember your name 5 minutes after meeting you, but ask me about some Weird Al lyrics and I’ve got you covered.

February 21st, 2012

New Series: Ranking Weird Al Yankovic

Today I’m starting a series I’ve been mulling for a long time now: going through each of Weird Al’s albums and ranking the songs in the order I like them. (Sorry, mom – this series won’t interest you much, I’m afraid!)

When I think about things that have been an influence on my appreciation for comedy, Weird Al Yankovic is in the top five. (Other influences: Bill Cosby, the Muppets, Steve Martin, and ComedySportz.)  I don’t even remember when I first heard of him or who introduced me to his work (though I’m guessing it was either Eric or Josh), but I remember taking to him right away. Al parodies pop culture – music, mostly, but he tends to hit most areas – in ways that are both humorous and honoring. He might be making fun of TV, but you can tell he likes the stuff he’s poking fun at. He also parodies in what I would call a “gentle” way. He’s rarely mean towards his subjects, and he always asks permission of the artists before parodying their songs.

It’s funny to me that I have mostly experienced Weird Al/pop culture backwards from his intention. His songs generally rely on a person knowing either the song he’s rewritten or the topic to which he’s referring. Most of his music Is stuff I’ve heard before I’ve heard the originals he’s spoofing. In fact, there’ve been several things I’ve found out about through him that I’ve gone on to enjoy in their own right.

So. His first album was released in 1983 and it was called “‘Weird Al’ Yankovic.” I’ll list the songs in the order I like them, from least to most. Keep in mind that I still like most all of his songs, I just like some of them more.

12. Gotta Boogie – Ugh. One of my least favorite of all his songs.  It’s a disco/booger joke that gets old quick. I dislike gross humor, and I dislike this song.

11. Such a Groovy Guy – I can appreciate the 70s-ishness of the main character of this song and appreciate the skewering of that sort of guy, but I dislike the character enough that it affects my enjoyment of the song.

10. The Check’s in the Mail – A song full of “business speak” that still holds up today, really. Add a couple of “proactive”s and “think outside the box”s and it would fit right in.

9. I’ll Be Mellow When I’m Dead – When I was younger I liked this song more.  “Let’s go be crazy!” was a common thought I had as a teen. Now that I’m older, I’m more of a “Let’s chill out” kind of guy.

8. Buckingham Blues – The story of Prince Charles and Princess Diana,  set to the blues. A great song, but too sad to enjoy anymore since we saw how that story ended.

7. I Love Rocky Road – Classic. Al sings a lot of food songs over the course of the next 30 years, as you’ll see. This one only suffers a little bit because it’s hard to match the key change in the middle parts when you’re singing along.

6. Another One Rides the Bus – This song may be why I don’t like riding public transportation of any sort.

5. Stop Draggin’ My Car Around – I’ve come to love the song this one’s a parody of, so this one’s gotten higher on the list over the years. When I hear the original, though, I sing the words to this one.  That… actually happens a lot with most songs Al has covered.

4. Happy Birthday – Synopsis: go ahead and have a happy birthday even though terrible things are happening all over the world! Darkly hilarious.

3. Ricky – I Love Lucy in convenient catchy song form.

2. My Bologna – One of Al’s first big hits, and one of many that’s better than the original song. Also: another food song.

1. Mr. Frump in the Iron Lung – Another terribly dark song that has always amused me way more than it should. Poor Mr. Frump.

There are 12 more albums left to go. I’m curious to see if at the end of it I can put together my top ten favorite songs or put the albums in order.  We shall see!

September 27th, 2010

15 Games

I got tagged in a note on Facebook entitled “15 Games in 15 Minutes” by my videogame boss.  It was really interesting to read his choices, and I knew immediately that I wanted to list mine.  Since I’m hoping my blog will be around longer than Facebook, though, I decided to do my list here.

The rules for this list aren’t nearly as interesting as the way my boss did his, so I’m going to follow his lead.  Basically, it’s a list of 15 games that will stick with you and why.  These won’t be in any particular order.

  1. Pac-Man (Atari 2600) – Most people talk about how awful this was, how bad a conversion from an arcade game to a home game, and how it missed the point on what Pac-Man should be.  From my point of view, I was playing Pac-Man.  At home!  Well, not my home specifically, but at someone else’s home.  At my age, that was just about the coolest thing in the world.
  2. Karate Champ (Arcade) – The original fighting game, y’all.  It had two joysticks: one for movement, one for moves.  Players combined different directions on both sticks to do the moves, hits were rated 1 or 1/2 points, and the first person to 2 points won the round.  You could fight against the computer or against another player.  Every third round there was a “Test your skill” minigame that had you breaking boards or knocking out a rampaging bull (which I never was able to do).  To this day, if I ever find an arcade cabinet of this game and have the money, I will do everything I can to buy it.
  3. Tomb Raider (Sega Saturn) – The first Tomb Raider game blew my mind.  The 3D, the exploration, the thrills — I still remember that T-Rex scaring the fire out of me the first time it showed up!  I have played every major release in the Tomb Raider series, and it’s still my favorite series of all time.  I ended up buying a PlayStation because Tomb Raider II wasn’t released on the Saturn.
  4. Mortal Kombat (Sega Genesis) – The Sega Genesis was the first gaming console I ever owned, and it was given to me with this game. It was so much better than the SNES version (read: “more violent”), and I spent hours trying to fight Reptile.
  5. The Last Ninja (Commodore 64) – My first computer was a C64.  Yes, I did a lot of useful things with it, but I also played a ton of games on it.  I never did finish this game because it was way too hard.  I particularly remember that there were a lot of very specific jumps you needed to make, but it was next to impossible because of the isometric view the game used.
  6. Donkey Kong (Intellivision) – After school there was a gap from being dropped off at the church to when Mom would pick my brother and I up.  When the pastor’s family got an Intellivision, we used that time to play it.  Boxing, Baseball, Kool-Aid Man, Pitfall, and Donkey Kong are the games I remember playing the most. Donkey Kong was pretty much just like the arcade version, so it was super-rad.  The pastor’s mom would visit them from time to time, and I remember her asking me many times in her Southern drawl, “Do you want to play some Donkey Kong?”  I don’t remember if she was any good, but I do remember thinking that any grandma that would play videogames was pretty cool.
  7. Shinobi (Arcade) – For a while the Shopko in the town where I went to school had a Shinobi arcade unit.  After school while my brother participated in some sport or another or worked out, I would walk the 10 blocks or so, sometimes with a friend, sometimes alone, and play Shinobi.  It was the kind of game that you could beat if you memorized the patterns, and I got farther and farther in the game as I learned it more and more.  I eventually got so good at the game that I could beat it on one quarter without dying once.  A while back I bought the game on Xbox Live.  It’s still fun and familiar, but the 20 intervening years have ruined my recollections and I haven’t made it past the spinning Buddha boss.
  8. Prince of Persia (PC) – I feel a little guilty about this one, because the version I played was a pirated one people kept handing around at school.  I’ve more than made up for it on purchases of follow-up titles, and I bought the revamped original on XBox Live recently, but I still feel a twinge of guilt.  This game had 12 levels and you were given an hour to get through all of them.  I remember hours of fun with friends as we’d play it together, all of us working together to figure out the quickest routes and the puzzles.  Once we learned how to beat it in under an hour, the challenge became who could beat it the fastest.  I know for a fact I had it under 45 minutes at one point, but I don’t remember specific times.  And, of course, I still can’t beat the Xbox Live version
  9. PaRappa the Rapper (PlayStation) – The first rhythm/music game I played. The music was so much fun that I still occasionally listen to the CD I have of it, and I still remember large portions of the lyrics.
  10. Guitar Hero (PlayStation 2) – I saw a worker playing Boston’s “More Than a Feeling” at a local game store, and it wasn’t more than a month later that I bought a PS2 and this game.  From there I have played every major GH game (except the Metallica one) and moved on to the (in my opinion) superior Rock Band titles.  I have often joked about how much “More Than a Feeling” has cost me over the years.
  11. Batman: Arkham Asylum (Xbox 360) – Not only the best Batman videogame ever made (so far), but also one of the best games I’ve ever played.  The combat, gadgets, riddles, and Detective Mode gave me the experience of being Batman without the years of training or absence of parents.  It’s on the very short list of games that I’ve played through more than once.
  12. Sonic the Hedgehog (Sega Genesis) – This game is on this list mostly as a symbol.  While most everyone I knew had an NES and loved Mario, one friend had a Sega Master System and I fell in love with it.  To this day I’m not entirely sure why, but I gravitated towards Sega thereafter.  I find the Mario games to be kind of boring and I don’t care for the character.  I had a Genesis, a Nomad, a 32X, a Sega CD, a Saturn, and a Dreamcast and loved every one of them.  I still own 3 Saturns and 2 Dreamcasts (one is blue!), and a Master System, and the day I sold my Genesis for store credit is burned into my memory as one of my saddest days ever.
  13. World of Warcraft (PC) – I spent so many hours wandering around Azeroth, drawn by the scenery, the leveling, and the time spent with friends.  I have great memories of gathering with friends in-game on New Year’s Eve watching the fireworks in the skies over the major cities.  I haven’t had the time to play in a couple of years, but it took me more than a year to cancel (and stop paying for) my account.
  14. The Sims Series (PC) – The first thing I’d do was create a Sim-me.  Than I’d create a Sim-house version of where I was currently living.  Then I’d use the money cheat and fill that house full of stuff I couldn’t afford in real life.  I will never understand why it was so compelling to do Sim-chores when real-life chores were so loathsome.
  15. Tetris (Anything and everything) – Somewhere I still have the original GameBoy with a Tetris cartridge, but I don’t need it: I still occasionally see falling blocks when I close my eyes.

Your turn.  Make your list, post it on your blog, and leave a comment telling us where to find it.