Mashed Potatoes Can Be Your Friends

Released in 1985, “Weird Al” Yankovic’s third album, Dare to Be Stupid, showed higher production values than the first two. Al was more of an established artist by this time, and the label was presumably willing to spend more on him, hence a whopping four music videos for songs on the record. This one is actually lighter on parodies than the first two; they each had five, while there are only four here, one of which was apparently insisted upon by the label. There is a cover, however, as well as another polka medley. While the album art isn’t quite as involved as that for the self-titled record, I do appreciate the seemingly random collection of objects surrounding Al.

Like a Surgeon – The only known Al parody to have been suggested by the original artist. The story goes that Madonna told someone at a party that he should do a song with that title, and that someone happened to be friends with Al’s manager. The parody includes what might be the most commonly misheard Weird Al lyric, as the way he sings the line “Better give me all your gauze, nurse” has led many listeners to wonder what “gozners” are.

The video for this song includes some allusions to the original, including a lion walking around, Al writhing on a hospital gurney the same Madonna did in a gondola, and a Madonna impersonator making a brief appearance. Most of it, however, is just about showing hospital procedures in as bizarre and inappropriate a way as possible. It’s also the first video to show Al falling down at the end, which would become a recurring gag in later ones. There’s an allusion to an earlier Al song in that one of the patients is shown reading the Midnight Star, and there’s a spoken Three Stooges reference before the music starts. After Madonna did a live version of “Like a Virgin” that had her on a bed with men in cone bras on either side, Al did much the same when performing “Surgeon” live.

Dare to Be Stupid – The title track is a clever style parody of Devo, which Mark Mothersbaugh is known to have said was ” the most beautiful thing I had ever heard.” It’s one of Al’s most famous original songs, with good reason, as it’s a lot of fun. It doesn’t hurt that the word “stupid” is kind of inherently funny to my mind. I appreciate how “I can’t hear you” is followed up with “Okay, I can hear you now,” a good play on a lyrical cliché. This bit is played a little more straight when the song is performed live, with added repetitions of “I STILL can’t hear you!” The song’s Wikipedia page identifies the particular Devo songs referenced in both the song and the music video, and I’m not familiar with all of them.

The radiation suits and goggles are from Devo’s “Satisfaction” video; and Al’s video also features an interocitor from the B-movie This Island Earth, which you might know from the Mystery Science Theater 3000 movie. The song also appears in the animated Transformers film, accompanying footage of a Transformer voiced by Eric Idle, meaning you get two comedy legends for the price of one. It’s like they say, you gotta buy one if you want to get one free.

I Want a New Duck – Hey, wasn’t there already a parody of Huey Lewis’ “I Want a New Drug”? You know, the theme from Ghostbusters? Seriously, “Duck” focuses on puns, something I can appreciate. When Al did a version of “Peter and the Wolf” with Wendy Carlos, he named the duck character Bruce as an allusion to this song. Also, I understand it was used in the Disney special Down and Out with Donald Duck.

One More Minute – Basically therapy in the form of comedy, this song is one Al wrote after an actual break-up, channeling his feelings into this jokey doo-wop number. The picture he rips in the video is of his actual ex-girlfriend. The first few times I saw Al live, he went into the audience during this song, although he’s since switched to doing this with “Wanna B Ur Lovr” instead.

The video and the way he sang directly to girls in the audience during live performances were both at least partially inspired by “Spend This Night with Me” from the movie Top Secret!

Yoda – While Al recorded the demo for this one back in 1980 when The Empire Strikes Back was new, it took a while for him to secure permission from both George Lucas and Ray Davies. Apparently, when he asked Davies personally, the writer claimed he’d never been asked before. By the time the parody was officially released, Return of the Jedi had come and gone, and the line about “making these movies ’til the end of time” was likely known not to have come true. Then again, Mark Hamill is now supposed to appear as Luke Skywalker in the upcoming Episode VII, so it might be a case where it took reality a few decades to catch up with the joke. My favorite line is the understated “I know Darth Vader’s really got you annoyed, but remember if you kill him, then you’ll be unemployed.” While the released version was carefully made to resemble the original “Lola,” live performances are closer to the demo, with the accordion as the lead instrument. They also incorporate a chant that changes a bit with each tour. Interestingly, this song didn’t appear on Al’s first Greatest Hits album in 1988, but was on the second from 1994. I’ve also seen the CD being sold in somewhat more recent years with a sticker saying it features “Yoda,” as if that was the hit single, when of course it wasn’t.

George of the Jungle – The only straight cover in Al’s catalog, and it’s of a television theme song. It figures, doesn’t it? It’s quite faithful to the original, and I’m not sure why he chose this one in particular. I guess he was just a fan of the show, which I’ve never watched, although I did see the live-action movie.

Slime Creatures from Outer Space – A tribute to science fiction films and themes from the 1950s, complete with a theremin and goofy alien vocals on the titular line. The humor is largely based on understatement, with such lines as “They wasted everybody on my block, there goes the neighborhood” and “I sure hope they don’t come in here, I just shampooed the rug.” At the very end, you can just make out the line, “Who you gonna call? Slime creatures!”, an obvious reference to the aforementioned Ghostbusters theme.

Girls Just Want to Have Lunch – Apparently the label insisted that Al include a Cyndi Lauper parody on the album, and he didn’t want to do “Glue Colors.” (Seriously, “True Colors” didn’t come out until a year or two later, but it’s the first Lauper song title that I could come up with an obvious parody title for.) It seems rather phoned-in, and is the only food-themed parody that didn’t appear on the compilation The Food Album (excluding ones he hadn’t written yet, obviously).

This Is the Life – Al further demonstrates his mastery of many different genres with this take on music from the twenties and thirties, albeit with a metal guitar solo and rap-style record scratching thrown in. It was written as the theme song for the movie Johnny Dangerously, which I’ve never seen, and apparently some video releases don’t include it for whatever reason. The video alternates between clips from the film and Al as a rich guy hanging out at a jazz club.

Cable TV – Another song based on something fairly mundane being presented as incredibly exciting. It’s strange to think that cable television was once something fairly novel, but it definitely was for me, as I grew up without it. The stations and programs Al mentions aren’t really as bizarre as you might expect with this premise. I’m also not sure if there’s any actual joke in the line “Bugs Bunny direct from Atlanta”; all I can figure is that it has something to do with how Ted Turner’s networks showed a lot of Looney Tunes cartoons. This song has the distinction of being the first Al lyric to include the number twenty-seven, which also showed up on “now serving” signs in the “Like a Surgeon” and “This Is the Life” videos. The backing vocals are provided by Julia and Maxine Waters, who have performed with a lot of famous musicians, perhaps most notably on Michael Jackson’s “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin'”. They’d show up from time to time on later Al songs as well.

Hooked on PolkasWikipedia claims that the title of this song is a reference to a 1981 record that mixed classical music with disco, although I remember seeing it used as the title to a polka collection presumably unrelated to the Al song. Unlike with “Polkas on 45,” this one is entirely made up of contemporary songs from the time. Well, that’s not counting the beginning bit from the ragtime standard “12th Street Rag,” which I understand was the theme from The Joe Franklin Show, on which Al appeared a few times. I’ll admit to never having been much of a radio listener, but a fair number of the songs included here don’t appear to have aged all that well. Considering how prominent Al was in the 1980s, it’s kind of strange that these were his only takes on Hall & Oates or Duran Duran, and not even of their better-known songs. Al had also spoofed “State of Shock” on AL-TV, which included a video of record executive Harvey Leeds singing it.

The take on Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It” is probably the best part of the medley, and Nena’s “99 Luftballons” was also an excellent candidate for a polka rearrangement due to its being in German.

Overall, I think daring to be stupid really paid off. Next week (or whenever I get around to it), it’ll be time for a polka party.

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4 Responses to Mashed Potatoes Can Be Your Friends

  1. Matt Keeley says:

    I’m really surprised you’ve never seen George of the Jungle — it’s a great show, Jay Ward Productions’ last TV show, and it’s got SUPER CHICKEN. Which has “you knew the job was dangerous when you took it, Fred” as a catch-phrase. (And I seem to remember Al using that line in something too.) Highly recommended.

    And, yeah, I’m pretty sure “Bugs Bunny direct from Atlanta” is a direct refernce to TBS (a/k/a WTBS, one of the biggest early cable successes and basically one of the first things of using a normal station as a cable station — WTBS was just a Atlanta non-network TV station, and in that sort of “oh shit we need to get channels” thing, Ted Turner saw an opportunity and launced TBS national via cable as a “superstation”.

    WGN is another superstation, though I actually don’t have it in my market. Which means I get a bunch of ads for that Salem show, but have never actually seen it. (That said, it looks kinda awful so I doubt I’d see it anyway.)

    Also — has there ever been an official answer about the line? I’ve heard it as “gauze, nurse” and “gossamers”. (I always heard it growing up as “gozmerce”, which I was never sure what that was.)

    • Nathan says:

      I’m also surprised I’ve never seen GotJ, especially considering that I’ve liked Rocky and Bullwinkle for a while. Then again, I mostly saw that on videocassette, and I’m not sure they had comparable video releases for George.

      I’m pretty sure it’s “gauze, nurse,” as that would fit the best with the hospital theme. It doesn’t really sound like that, though, does it?

  2. samuraifrog says:

    This is the jewel in the crown for me. It was the first cassette I ever bought with my own money (although, to be fair, I think it was money a relative gave me for my birthday, as I was in elementary school at the time). But still, this was the beginning of my music collection. I played it until the tape eventually gave out, a decade or so later. This is one of my favorite albums by any artist.

    There’s not really a bum song on here, though I don’t quite enjoy the second side (back when albums still had sides) as much as the first.

    This was that great era when it seemed like Al was on MTV all the time, too. I used to be thrilled when AL-TV would show up. “Like a Surgeon” ended up getting quite a bit of play. I didn’t really “get” what “Like a Virgin” was all about. To this day, I prefer Al’s version. I always heard “gozners,” too. It has to be “gauze, nurse,” but as a kid, I just sang along phonetically.

    “Dare to Be Stupid” is everything you need to know about my pop culture-damaged brain. It’s my theme song. It’s the most amazing thing ever. I’m sure you’ve seen The Compleat Al. I always think of the scene where he wakes up in a daze and starts describing these things he’s seen in his dreams, and it’s all the weirdness from the “Dare to Be Stupid” video. Even though it was only a year later, I was thrilled when it showed up in Transformers: The Movie, which was the apex of my Transformers love.

    “Are you boys cooking up there? Are you building an interociter?” It still gets said a lot in my house.

    “I Want a New Duck” is another song that sent my Dad into hysterics when he first heard it. “One More Minute” is one of my top 5 Al songs. (I assume… maybe that’s a list for me to make.) Unlike “Happy Birthday” and “Nature Trail to Hell,” “One More Minute” IS still a song that sounds edgy and grosses people out. My friend Carl and I used to sing it at youth group campfires. People hated/loved it.

    “Yoda” wasn’t the hit single, but it certainly was on the playground. Every kid I knew loved that song, even the ones who thought it was dorky to listen to Weird Al. The mania for Star Wars still hadn’t died down by then; that took a couple more years. I may be misremembering, but I feel like it wasn’t until late 1986, after the Lucas-produced Labyrinth and Howard the Duck both failed, that people started to feel generally like Star Wars wasn’t coming back. In my freshman year of high school (1990-1991), it was considered quite uncool to still be into it. I got ripped on a bit for it.

    Some local channel used to show old episodes of George of the Jungle when I was a little kid; it’s one of those shows that I loved so early that I have no idea when I first started watching it. When that song showed up on the album, I was so into it. To this day, I have all the lyrics memorized. A guy I used to work with was quite put out about 15 years ago when I couldn’t get through to a local radio station; they were having a contest where, if you called in and sang the theme song, you could get Jimmy Buffet tickets. I’ve never been a fan, but this guy was a huge Parrothead. I tried to win them for him, but couldn’t get through. Ah, well.

    I was also glad to see the song on the soundtrack of the 1997 movie. Yes, I have the soundtrack. I love that movie.

    I love all the sound effects in “Slime Creatures from Outer Space.”

    “Girls Just Wanna Have Lunch” is very half-hearted. You can tell he’s not into it. Supposedly that’s why he sings it in such a ragged way. That’s one I’ve never really been into, but my Dad thought it was funny. That’s his kind of humor. The lyric “She eats like she’s got a hole in her neck” is the kind of thing he would say as a joke.

    “This Is the Life” is one of my favorite songs. I think it’s just the carefree, just-the-right-side-of-smug tone he has. I always think they might as well have used that as the theme song to MTV’s Cribs. Or any of their “Holy crap, these people are effing rich!” series. I’ve been quoting the line “If money can’t buy happiness, I guess I’ll have to rent it” for a long, long time.

    “Cable TV” is the one song I tend to forget about on the album. It’s in that same sort of space as “Such a Groovy Guy” and “That Boy Could Dance,” those late-second-side songs that I just sort of forget about a little bit. The line about Bugs Bunny and Atlanta is definitely a reference to Turner Broadcasting. Turner was already making his move to buy the MGM/UA library; MGM already owned Associated Artists Productions, which gave Turner most of the Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies cartoons. The sale was completed in 1986, but in 1985 he was already talking about how he was going to buy Bugs Bunny.

    “Hooked on Polkas” is probably my favorite of the polkas, but maybe it’s just because it’s the one I’ve listened to the longest. Or maybe it’s because I knew all those songs from the radio when I bought the album and, you know, I was 9. I do have a tendency to croon the portion where he does “We’re Not Gonna Take It.”

    I love this album so much. I don’t feel like he ever reached this height again, as much as I love a lot of his later stuff.

    • Nathan says:

      I originally got all of Al’s albums up through Alapalooza on cassette, so I still sometimes think of which side a song is on, something that would have no meaning to somewhat first introduced to them on CD or digital download. When I first saw the CD of DTBS, I was fascinated by how much detail they left off the cassette version of the cover.

      I saw The Compleat Al when I rented it from the video store years ago. The part with him dreaming the video was great, and that’s where I first saw the Harvey Leeds “State of Shock” video. I do remember not caring much for the narration, but oh well.

      “Yoda” probably gained in popularity again when the Star Wars prequels came out and “The Saga Begins” was Al’s latest single.

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