Satan Eats Cheese Whiz


Since my look back at “Weird Al” Yankovic’s first album went pretty well, I might as well continue with his second, “Weird Al” Yankovic in 3-D. This time, there’s very little accordion, and the parodies sound a lot more like the songs they’re imitating. It’s the first of his albums to include a polka medley, and it sets the general tendency for the track lists to alternate between parodies and originals. “Eat It” is here, of course, but so are some others that I would consider classics, even if the public at large might not. So here we go:

Eat It – Probably Al’s most famous song of all time and his first true hit parody. Aside from the noises and the fact that it’s faster and in a different key (not something I would have noticed myself, not having an ear for such things, but not at all surprising considering how different Al’s voice is from Michael Jackson’s), it sounds pretty similar to the original. While the basic idea for the parody is one I’m sure plenty of children came up with on their own, the lyrics really are pretty clever, being from the point of view of a parent of a picky eater. All the clichés are there, including starving children, not getting dessert unless you clean your plate, and playing with food instead of eating it. The video is very similar to that for “Beat It,” except with gags thrown in.

Midnight Star – One of Al’s most memorable originals, I’ve heard that he had wanted to release this one as a single, but the record company wanted to focus on his parodies instead. A lot of the headlines mentioned are real, including the Incredible Frog Boy, who was in the Weekly World News years before the now more famous Bat Boy.

The Brady Bunch – I’m not sure where the idea of performing a television theme song to the tune of a pop number originated, but there’s a pretty well-known version of the Gilligan’s Island theme set to the tune of “Stairway to Heaven” by the otherwise mostly unknown band Little Roger and the Goosebumps, for which Led Zeppelin’s lawyers threatened a lawsuit.

Al had earlier done the Beverly Hillbillies theme to “Miss You” by the Rolling Stones, and of course later revisited that theme with a Dire Straits parody.

Buy Me a Condo – Al has said that this reggae song is based on the humorous juxtaposition of Rastafarianism and American materialism. My favorite line is “Ain’t gonna work in the field no more, gonna be Amway distributor.”

I Lost on Jeopardy – While I have heard the song that this one is parodying, Greg Kihn’s “Jeopardy,” on the radio a few times, I have to wonder if this is a parody that’s surpassed its source material in the public consciousness. Jeopardy! actually wasn’t on the air at the time, and Al likes to think he was instrumental in its revival. Announcer Don Pardo appears in both the song and the video, and original host Art Fleming is in the video, as is Greg Kihn.

Polkas on 45 – The polka medley of popular songs has become a staple of Al’s records, and this one started a lot of the elements that would become common in them: the use of banjo (intended, from what I’ve heard, as a nod to Spike Jones), “Hey! Hey! Hey!”, yodeling, sound effects (particularly the gunshot), one song played at a slower tempo and more of a swing style than a polka one (in this case Foreigner’s “Hot Blooded”), and the drawn-out word at the end. This one mixes hits from the sixties and seventies with contemporary ones, and also includes the Lawrence Welk theme. I just learned last night that the title is a reference to Stars on 45, a novelty band known for performing medleys.

Mr. Popeil – The title refers not to infomercial king Ron Popeil, but to his father Samuel, who was inventing and marketing gadgets before his son. Ron originally worked for his dad, but they later became competitors. The song is a style parody of the B-52’s, and one of the female vocalists is Samuel’s daughter Lisa Popeil.

King of Suede – It’s interesting to note that this album has both a Police parody and a Police song (“Every Breath You Take”) in the polka medley, which would later be the case with Eminem and Lady Gaga as well. Al apparently did a lot of research in wholesale fabric stores in preparation for this parody.

That Boy Could Dance – Kind of an odd part of Al’s oeuvre. It’s not parodying anything in particular, and the humor is more subtle than usual. Really, it comes across as filler, but I wouldn’t say it’s really a bad song, just not that funny. It seems like, whenever Al isn’t working in a particular style, his songs tend to be very saxophone-heavy. Also worth noting is that, like the preceding song, it’s about a loser who grew up to be rich and famous in his own niche.

Theme from Rocky XIII (The Rye or the Kaiser) – While Al’s parodies are usually about subjects that have nothing whatsoever to do with the original song, this one actually references the Rocky franchise while also qualifying as one of Al’s numerous food-related parodies. It’s about a retired Rocky Balboa who owns a delicatessen. In the movie Rocky Balboa, a retired Rocky owns a restaurant, so I guess you could call that an example of art imitating parody. I appreciate that the jokes aren’t JUST about food, and “Eye of the Tiger” has an insanely addictive tune anyway.

Nature Trail to Hell – While this song doesn’t have much in common with Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” I wouldn’t be too surprised if that was the inspiration for Al to do a number about horror movies. The 3-D fad is one that comes and goes, and it was in vogue at the time Al recorded this song; I know Friday the 13th Part III was released in 3-D in 1982. This is the longest track on the album by far, clocking in at almost six minutes. I think the fact that it keeps appearing to be about to end but then doesn’t is part of what makes it work. It’s Al’s first song with a backwards message, “Satan eats Cheese Whiz.”

The ending note has been compared to that of the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life,” and while that seems like a rather trivial thing to compare, it’s iconic enough that the reference is likely intentional.

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3 Responses to Satan Eats Cheese Whiz

  1. samuraifrog says:

    As fate would have it, I ended up listening to this album again last week. I have to say, I’ve always liked this one, but I think it holds up a little less when I hear it now. Part of that is the production, I think. There’s something that’s always seemed a little muted about it to my ears. It’s more like a transitional album; the bridge between the earlier, rougher, more homemade sound and the pop brilliance of the next album–one of my favorites by anyone ever.

    “Eat It” was such a hit that when he didn’t really have any big hits after it, I used to hear him referred to all the time as a one-hit wonder with a “where are they now?” sheen to it. Even though he had a hit with “Fat” and “Smells Like Nirvana,” I always used to encounter people who thought he had ONLY recorded “Eat It” and were surprised he even had any albums.

    I think “Midnight Star” is okay, but I like it a little less every time I hear it. Maybe because a lot of the headlines don’t seem as silly and funny as they used to when I was a kid.

    I remember a lot of kids my age seemed to think “The Brady Bunch” sung to the tune of “The Safety Dance” was the height of absurd hilarity. Weird what kids laugh at. But, you know, kids think sped-up recordings are hilarious, so I’m out of touch with them.

    My favorite line in “Buy Me a Condo” is “Ja, Ja, Ja, life is so very hard. I need a ja-ja-ja-jacuzzi in the backyard.”

    I was lost in the TV Tropes rabbit hole the other day, and they mentioned that Weird Al’s version of “Jeopardy” had long-eclipsed the Greg Kihn original. The trope–where a parody, homage, or reference has surpassed the original in common public knowledge–is actually called The Weird Al Effect. I found that fitting.

    I, too, didn’t get the reference to Stars on 45 in the “Polkas on 45” title. I weirdly assumed, because he used so much classic rock in it, it was a reference to 45 rpm records. The polkas are always a highlight to me; I’m disappointed when his albums don’t have them.

    You know, it didn’t hit me before (and I don’t know how) that “Mr. Popeil” was a B-52s style parody. I think because it’s one of my least favorite songs in his catalog. I also used to skip it back when I was a lad and only had a cassette copy someone had duped onto a record for me. Their record skipped, and somehow the tape also became garbled in the same place, so I used to go past it. But it is very B-52s-y. (And, like a lot of B-52s songs, there is also a point where I start to worry it will never end.)

    I love “King of Suede.” I love “King of Pain,” too; the tune in general just gets me. If pressed, I prefer Al’s version. It’s like this lovely little drama centerpiece, and the way it’s dramatic about opening an apparel shop really strikes me in some kind of profound way. I also just love the way Al sings the words “Willy’s Fun Arcade.” No idea why. But if I ever open an arcade–something I’ve thought about a surprising amount–that’s what I plan to name it.

    “That Boy Could Dance” has always reminded me a bit of Frank Zappa’s “Dancin’ Fool” and “Be in My Video.” Not for any real reason, though; musically they aren’t at all similar. It is kind of jarring hearing an Al original that’s not a style parody, but if anything, it shows he really does have the ability to write funny, catchy songs. His style parodies… Al is an underrated musician. Look at his style parodies. Look at how he can slip in and out of other artists’ styles without just ripping them off or sounding dull. The man’s musical craft is just flat out underrated.

    It’s worth pointing out that dance films were something of a rage in ’83 and ’84. Disco was dead, but dance movies weren’t. This album came out a month or two ahead of Footloose; if the album had come out later, he might have just been parodying “Let’s Hear It for the Boy” or something. He kind of got the drop on them, in a way.

    I absolutely love “Theme from Rocky XIII.” That song made my Dad, a Rocky fan, burst out laughing so hard when he first heard it. I still know all the words.

    “Nature Trail to Hell” is, like “Mr. Frump in the Iron Lung” and “Happy Birthday,” one of those songs I thought was so edgy and dark and hilarious when I was a little kid. Now it seems a little too labored to me. You can’t really hold it against the song that it sounds like something that kids might have found hilarious in 1984 but sounds dated now. But I don’t enjoy it as much as I used to. Ah, well.

    Sorry I leave such long comments on these, it’s just that I barely know anyone who is into Al and actually has interesting, insightful things to say about his music. These are really fun. I hope you keep going. Thanks for these!

    • Nathan says:

      I’m perfectly all right with the long comments. So many of my posts don’t get any replies at all, so it’s nice when they spawn some actual discussion.

      I get the impression that Al doesn’t write with kids in mind, but his songs appeal to kids because that’s just the kind of sense of humor he has. So, yeah, some of his songs don’t stand up as well to adult listening, although there are some I probably like better as an adult.

      The whole idea of epic songs about mundane topics, as with “King of Suede,” is one that Al does quite well. I guess most of the food songs are like that as well, when you think about it.

      I guess Lewis Carroll’s parody poems from the Alice books were examples of the Weird Al Effect from long before Weird Al.

      • samuraifrog says:

        They did have a number of specific examples of those, including Carroll’s poems and the parodies of contemporary notable figures in Don Quixote.

        I like how you put that about Al’s childlike sensibility. Certainly there are songs of his I like better now than when I was a kid. The ones I don’t enjoy as much as an adult generally make me remember what it was like being a kid and listening to them, which is also nice. He’s got very few songs that I just don’t dig.

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