May 11th, 2012

Ranking Alapalooza

As most of you know, I attended a Christian college.  There were very strict rules in place about a lot of things, and breaking those rules would earn you demerits and/or trouble.  I lived at home during my college years, so I wasn’t bound by some of the dorm-specific rules, but I was still bound by most of them.  It’s basically the “if you want to attend/be a member here, you agree to live by these rules” kind of thing. No big deal. You don’t necessarily agree with all the rules, but you agree to live by them while you’re there.

I heard often from my friends that lived in the dorms about “music checks.” On random days, a music check would be announced and those living in the dorms had to leave their music cassettes and CDs  out on their beds when they left their rooms for the day so that dorm supervisors could make sure everything they had was on the approved list.  (I know this sounds barbaric and whatever, but that’s not the point here, so bear with me.) Basically you could have certain types of Christian music (no Stryper, thanks!) and classical and some soundtracks (which were limited by rating of the movie and some other factors).  College kids being college kids, of course, there were plenty of stories of people hiding music here and there, not putting it out on music check days, that kind of thing.

I don’t remember what year it was, or even if this particular album was included, but I loaned some of my Weird Al CDs to my friend Rhonda.  She had a similar sense of humor to mine, and I knew she would enjoy them. Weird Al certainly wouldn’t pass check because he parodies mostly pop music, and uses the pop music while doing so.  I said when I gave them to her, “Don’t get them taken away!” with a laugh.  It was a few days later when she informed me that she had gotten in trouble for having them and they were taken away. Not only that, but my name had been mentioned, so I was probably going to get hauled in now, too.  Sure enough, the Dean summoned me to his office.  I don’t remember his exact words, but it was along the lines of, “I understand why a person such as yourself would have these, just… don’t loan them to anyone on campus again, okay?”  and he handed them back – probably the only time in his history that he did that.

TWIST: A couple of years later, I worked at the college as the Director of Student Activities… and that same dean was my immediate supervisor.

And now, the album. Alapalooza was released in October of 1993.

11. Talk Soup – Song about daytime talk shows.  I’m not a huge fan of daytime talk shows, and I’m not a huge fan of this song.

10. Achy Breaky Song – A direct spoof of the song “Achy Breaky Heart,” about how Al would rather listen to pretty much anything other than that song. I like this song, but I can’t listen to it, for one reason: one of the things Al says he’d rather hear is “fingernails on a chalkboard,” and the mental image is something I can’t deal with.

9. Traffic Jam – Any time I listen to this song I get kind of anxious, the same way I feel when driving through Chicago.

8. Waffle King – I love the idea that someone would “run this whole town” because he’s got a great waffle recipe. Brilliant.

7. Frank’s 2000″ TV – Al’s poke at consumerism, but still using his love of TV.  “I can watch The Simspons from 30 blocks away!” sounds both indicting and exultant.  Plus, the song is super catchy.

6. Young, Dumb & Ugly – Apparently this is a style spoof of AC/DC. I had no idea. The song is about punk kids who do all manner of rebellious things, like keeping their library books til they’re way overdue. I love stuff like this that sounds tough but isn’t. (Note: the “MadMup” moniker reflects my love of just that sort of thing. Nobody’ afraid of an angry pile of felt.)

5. Bohemian Polka – My appreciation for this song has grown in direct proportion to my appreciation for the original. Instead of doing a polka medley on this album, Al made a polka version of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and it’s pretty much brilliant.  Wayne’s World had come out the year before and the Queen song was experiencing a renewed heyday.

4. Harvey the Wonder Hamster – This song is only 21 seconds long, but it never fails to make me feel happy. Harvey the Wonder Hamster was a character that showed up on Al’s MTV specials originally, and then was a regular on his Saturday morning show, where this song got used as Harvey’s entrance/theme song.

3. Jurassic Park – Another movie-in-song-form that is just wonderful. It features some most excellent screaming in the middle, and also the line “I admit it’s kind of eerie, but this proves my chaos theory,” a line you wouldn’t hear anywhere else, I don’t think.

2. Bedrock Anthem – A spoof of two Red Hot Chili Peppers songs mashed together about TV’s favorite prehistoric group. More yabba-dabba-doos than you can shake a stick at, and a super-fun song to sing along with.

1. Livin’ in the Fridge –  I couldn’t even tell you why I like this song so much. It’s about food that’s been left too long in the fridge and has spoiled, a topic I would generally find repulsive. However, the Aerosmith song it’s based on has a grand, epic feel to it, and it lends this parody more weight. It also features a wonderful mid-song scream that I always want to emulate when singing along, but am always a little afraid to try.

In case you’re wondering: Rhonda finished out the rest of her schooling without further incidents and went on to marry a nice man with whom she’s had a couple of kids. She still appreciates good humor and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if she lets/makes her kids listen to some Weird Al here and there.

May 1st, 2012

Ranking Off The Deep End

My friend Brian went to a Weird Al concert last night, so it seemed like a good impetus to do the next album. I’ve been able to go to two Weird Al concerts and they are simply fantastic.  He is 52 years old, but his energy and enthusiasm are infectiously young.  Laughter, it would seem, really is a good medicine.

This is kind of a weird album for me. It has one of my favorite Al songs but overall it’s probably my least favorite of his albums. Don’t confuse “least favorite” with “don’t like” – I still enjoy it, I just don’t enjoy it as much as some of his other albums.  I remember the first time I heard this album. I was on summer tour with a singing group for my college, performing in schools and churches. People from the church would house us for the night and we would leave for the next place in the morning. At one house I stayed in, the son had a cassette of this in his room and I stayed up way too late listening to the whole thing.  This album was released in April of 1992, but I think it was the summer of 1993 that I heard it for the first time.

Onward to the list!

11. Taco Grande – A parody of “Rico Suave” about Mexican food. I’m not a huge fan of Mexican food, nor am I huge fan of Latin-style music. This song wasn’t really targeted to me. Note: this song features Cheech Marin rapping in Spanish, even though he only knew basic Spanish. He read the rap phonetically.

10. I Was Only Kidding – A relationship song, the basic premise being “Remember when I said you were beautiful and I would love you forever? I was only kidding!” Kind of meaner than I expect Al to be.

9. You Don’t Love Me Anymore – Another relationship song, with Al figuring out that the girl in the song doesn’t love him anymore. He figures it out because she keeps trying to kill him.  The video for this song spoofs the video for “More Than Words,” but the song is an Al original.

8. The Plumbing Song – A parody of two Milli Vanilli songs, way before the lip-synching scandal broke. “Blame it on the drain” is a phrase that is handy to sing any time you have plumbing troubles, though I doubt most plumbers would get it/enjoy it.

7. Airline Amy – A sort-of relationship song, in the sense that Al’s fallen in love with a stewardess.  It includes a couple of great lines like “I found a little piece of heaven / On a  747” and “You set my ever-lovin’ heart on fire.”

6. The White Stuff – A New Kids on the Block parody about Oreo cookies. To this day I can’t eat an Oreo with singing “The white stuff!” in my head. The secret to writing a catchy parody song? Base it on a catchy original.

5. I Can’t Watch This – A TV song about horrible shows. It’s funny how often Al gripes about TV, because he clearly loves it. This is a parody of MC Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This.”

4. Polka Your Eyes Out – Polka melody that includes The B52’s, Billy Idol, R.E.M., and ends with Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby,” and I would go so far as to say it “ends brilliantly with Vanilla Ice’s ‘Ice Ice Baby’.”

3. Trigger Happy – A Beach Boys-inspired song about gun ownership. His pronunciation of the word “pillow” in this song always stuck out to me, because he pronounces it “pellow.” Eh, fun song any way, but probably won’t be used by the NRA any time soon.

2. When I Was Your Age – A song about how everything was so much harder when he was a kid. As the song progresses, things get worse and worse, to the point where I’d probably put this one in the “dark comedy” category. Sample lyric: “Daddy’d whup us every night til a quarter after twelve / Then he’d get too tired and he’d make us whup ourselves.”

1. Smells Like Nirvana – One of Al’s most famous songs, a parody of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” When Al talked to Kurt Cobain to ask permission to do the parody, Kurt asked if it was going to be about food. “It’s going to be about how people can’t understand your lyrics,” Al replied. Kurt was quoted as saying later he knew their band had made it big when Weird Al did a parody of their song.  This song, much like “(This Song’s Just) Six Words Long” makes fun of the song itself, and has kazoos, mooing, and yelling enough for any three other songs combined. A definite Al classic.

Bonus: Bite Me – At the very end of the last song (“You Don’t Love Me Anymore”), there’s a 10-minute gap of silence, followed by 7 seconds of Al screaming and making weird noises. It was inspired by Nirvana doing basically the same thing on their album, and was meant to “scare people who had forgotten the album was playing,” Al says. On the (sadly) short-live Weird Al Saturday morning TV show, this was used at the end of the episodes.

Some of the bigger news about this album is what didn’t make it. Al had been waiting for Michael Jackson’s next album to hit, and when he asked MJ if he could parody “Black or White,” MJ said no, because he didn’t want to dilute the message in that song. He did say Al could use any other song on the album, though, but Al did not. Al also had an idea to use Paul McCartney’s “Live and Let Die” as a basis for “Chicken Pot Pie,” and Paul McCartney was keen to have Al do a parody of one of his songs, but had to “begrudgingly refuse,” as he was a vegetarian and could not condone the eating of meat. Al understood, since he is also a vegetarian.  Throughout the course of his career, Al has asked Prince for permission to parody his songs and has always been denied. Some people just have no sense of humor, I guess.

April 17th, 2012

Ranking UHF

This is a tough one to write – not because I can’t put the songs in favored order, but because I want to write about the movie!  …which I suppose I could do, but it doesn’t fit in this series.  The official title of this album is “UHF - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack and Other Stuff.” It includes a few things that were in the movie, but the bulk of it is like any other album. Seven of the songs aren’t even in the movie, and a couple of the tracks aren’t even songs. I’m going to do two lists from this one.

The first list is the “extras” list:

  • Gandhi II – The audio of the Gandhi II movie commercial in UHF. “Don’t move, slimeball!” and “I’ll have a steak, medium-rare” are the highlights here.
  • Spatula City  – Commercial in the movie that is so great I’m just going to link to a video of it.
  • Let Me Be Your Hog – They couldn’t afford the song they wanted for a particular scene, so Al wrote this as a bit of filler.
  • Fun Zone – An instrumental song used as the theme to Stanley Spadowski’s Clubhouse in the movie.

The second list is the song ranking list:

9. Attack of the Radioactive Hamsters from a Planet near Mars – Pretty much what the title of the song says. Reminds me a lot of the Slime Creatures from Outer Space song from a few albums back.

8. She Drives Like Crazy – Spoof of FYC’s “She Drives Me Crazy,” about how bad a girl drives. Kind of a “meh” song for me, partially because he does such a good job approximating the FYC singing style that it’s not terribly enjoyable.

7. UHF – All about TV, used as the theme song for the movie.

6. Spam -Spoof of REM’s “Stand” that exceeds the original, I feel.

5. The Hot Rocks Polka – I really like this concept: it’s one of Al’s standard polkas, but it only uses Rolling Stones songs. Neat! I’d love to see him do a Beatles polka.

4. Money for Nothing/Beverly Hillbillies – Spoof of, well, “Money for Nothing” by Dire Straits. Al didn’t want to title this track this way but was forced to. It was an odd thing for the label to make him do, but they figured no one would know what song it was based on. Who knows? I’ve heard plenty of stories about how music labels wouldn’t know their heads from a hole in the ground.  Anyway, this one’s about the TV show The Beverly Hillbillies, if that wasn’t evident from the title. “That little Clampett got his own cement pond” is just one of many great lines. Fun fact: Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits gave Al permission to use this song on the condition he be allowed to play guitar on it.  Al has talked about how it ended up being kind of difficult to get it all worked out, because Knopfler had played the song live so many times that his solos sounded different than the release track, which is what Al was after.  I think it ended up okay.

3. Isle Thing – Another TV song!  This one about Gilligan’s Island and is just a hoot.

2. Generic Blues – The only blues song you’ll ever need. My wife is a choir/music teacher at a middle school, and she’s in the middle of a series on teaching the blues. I gave her this one to use as an example in class and according to her it meets all the criteria. I figured I did those kids a favor.  Apparently B.B. King counts this among his favorites as well. I love that.

1. The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota – This right here is my answer to the question, “What’s your favorite Weird Al song?” It’s a folk song about a family taking a road trip to see the Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota (based on an actual thing in Darwin, MN). I love the story of this stereotypical middle-of-the-country family taking this trip, one of a grillion that they’ve taken (fun fact: all the other attractions mentioned in the song are based on real places, too).  While this might not be the Al song I’ve listened to the most, it’s still my favorite. My only wish is that he would’ve included an Abe Vigoda/Minnesota rhyme in it somewhere. A missed opportunity, that.

I highly recommend the movie, as it is just silly fun. Al does for movies and TV what he’s been doing for songs, but it isn’t just a series of spoof scenes – there’s an actual plot and everything! Plus, you get to see a pre-Seinfeld Michael Richards doing a proto-Kramer schtick with a lot of fun moments.  This movie is easily in my top 20, and might even be top 10, I’d have to think about it.