Where’s My Liquid Paper?

I believe “Weird Al” Yankovic’s 1986 release Polka Party! remains his worst-selling album. It does seem to have been somewhat rushed out after his last record, and lacks a big hit parody. At the time I was getting Al’s albums on cassette, this was one of the hardest to find. In fact, I’m not even sure I was aware of its existence until I came across it in a record store one day. Despite lacking hits, I don’t think it’s actually a bad album, just one that kind of slipped under the radar. I thought it was a little odd that there were only ten songs on the album, but the previous two only had eleven each, and one of those is the minute-long “George of the Jungle.” It was only later on that twelve songs per album became his standard.

Living with a Hernia – Al’s label suggested “Living in America” for him to parody, as James Brown was on the same label. It in Rocky IV, and he’d already parodied the Rocky III theme, so that’s…something. The idea for the song is based on how Al thought Brown always looked and sounded like he was in pain while performing, so the hernia was a possible explanation for this. The parody includes a list of common hernias where the original listed United States cities. For the video, which was filmed on the same set as the Rocky IV performance, Al had the dancing worked out methodically. Not surprisingly, Al dressed up as Brown looks a bit unsettling.

Dog Eat Dog – Sort of like “Dare to Be Stupid,” this is a style parody of another band that made kind of weird music in the first place, Talking Heads. You might think artists like that wouldn’t need to be parodied, but these are two of his best songs, so it obviously works. Talking Heads songs tended to be about the same sorts of subjects Al sometimes covered, particularly as far as making fairly mundane things sound epic, so it’s a good fit. It does a good imitation of David Byrne’s Al has said the lyrics were inspired by when he first started working at a record company and was kind of impressed at having his own desk and cubicle, although he later grew to hate it. While the bridge is an obvious reference to “Once in a Lifetime,” there are references to other Talking Heads songs as well. The chorus is similar to “Stay Up Late,” the ending is reminiscent of that of “And She Was,” and I just realized today how much the rant about jelly doughnuts resembles the “Do I smell home cooking? It’s only the river” bit in “Cities.” I actually watched Stop Making Sense a few hours ago, so that was timed pretty well. I got to see Al perform this one live once, and he wore the giant suit and did some of Byrne’s jerky movements. This probably would have made a good video, but the budget was limited.

Addicted to Spuds – A solid enough parody of Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love,” but there isn’t really a lot to say about it. I do enjoy the line, “You planned a trip to Idaho, just to watch potatoes grow.” When playing the song live, he was accompanied by people in Mr. Potato Head costumes, as an homage to the heavily made-up women in Palmer’s video.

One of Those Days – I guess it’s mostly because of the somewhat jazzy piano, but this reminds me a bit of “Cable TV.” I think it’s funnier, though. The lyrics are mainly a comic progression from mundane bad occurrences to incredibly severe ones, although there are minor annoyances later in the song as well. “A 747 crashed into my den, and there’s nothing but Tater Tots for dinner again.” The tone in which Al sings about these things seems to give them equal weight.

Polka Party! – The polka medley is the title track this time, but that doesn’t mean it’s particularly different from the others. That’s not a problem, mind you, because I always love the polka medleys. I find the way Al sings Aretha Franklin’s “Freeway of Love” pretty amusing, and the transition from Janet Jackson’s “Nasty Boys” to Falco’s “Rock Me Amadeus” also works well. One thing this medley doesn’t have is one song done at a slower pace, as with “Hot Blooded” in “Polkas on 45” and “Footloose” in “Hooked on Polkas.”

Here’s Johnny – A parody of the theme song from Short Circuit about Ed McMahon. I believe the story goes that Al tried to get McMahon to appear in the song but couldn’t, so he instead had comic actor John Roarke do the voice. According to the IMDB, Roarke would also play Clint Eastwood in a commercial bit for The Weird Al Show.

Don’t Wear Those Shoes – This song is pretty interesting. It doesn’t appear to be a style parody of anything in particular, yet it still sounds very eighties, with its heavy use of jangly synthesizer. The opening is very similar to that of the Kinks’ “Father Christmas,” and Al has admitted to some Kinks influence on the song. The lyrics bear a definite resemblance to “Blue Suede Shoes,” although of course they’re much more ridiculous. Another curious thing to note is that the couple in the song has a poodle, as Al and his wife would in real life many years later. There’s also the bit in UHF with Raoul throwing poodles out the window. He may well have an affinity for the breed, even if his references tended to have them being severely injured. I think this might also be the first Al song to involve someone’s head being impaled with a sharp object, in this case a railroad spike.

Toothless People – Three out of four of the parodies on this album are of movie theme songs. I wonder if that was intentional, or just a strange coincidence. Although performed by Mick Jagger, the theme from Ruthless People was never really a hit (I don’t recall hearing it at all until I purposely sought it out), and Al claims he pretty much only did the parody because he’d already gotten permission. I suppose this is sort of a case of the same artist being parodied and polka-fied on the same album, since there’s a Rolling Stones song (which is actually a cover) in the medley. While hardly as hafl-assed as “Girls Just Want to Have Lunch,” it’s definitely not among Al’s best work. It DOES promote good dental hygiene, though!

Good Enough for Now – Speaking of half-assing things, Al’s first country song is basically an intentionally half-hearted love song, with the singer mocking clichés by saying the woman she’s addressing is just pretty good. I like the idea, but some of the lines don’t really sound as mean as they could. I mean, “You’re not perfect, but I love you anyhow” actually comes across as kind of sweet.

Christmas at Ground Zero – When the label tried to get Al to make a Christmas record, he came out with this song juxtaposing the holiday season with nuclear annihilation. I believe it’s Al himself playing the glockenspiel on it. The songis really quite funny, but likely was ruined for much of the population by the fact that everyone refers to the World Trade Center site as Ground Zero. For what it’s worth, I still like it. There was a video for this one that was done on the cheap, consisting mostly of stock footage. I’d forgotten until watching it just now about the Ronald Reagan clip, which is cleverly ambiguous when taken out of context like that.

While this record was a bit of a setback for Al, it obviously didn’t end his career. It was a few years before he’d come back, but come back he did, and in a way that was…even worse.

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4 Responses to Where’s My Liquid Paper?

  1. Pingback: Day 22 | The Claire Violet Thorpe Express

  2. samuraifrog says:

    I think, like you, I didn’t really know this album until I accidentally walked across it. It was like finding a lost treasure that turned out to be made of brass. It’s not a go-to of mine. It has a couple of songs I love, but, yeah, it’s not up to the three albums preceding it.

    “Living with a Hernia” is another one of those songs that just took my Dad off guard and made him laugh really hard.

    “Dog Eat Dog” is one of my favorite Al songs. I love that you titled this entry “Where’s my liquid paper?” because I have a tendency to just say that in the same tone as Al does, and Becca can never remember where that line is from. I also have tendency to tell waitresses “I’ll have some coffee with a carcinogenic sweetener.” (Though actually I just use Half and Half.)

    I remember “Addicted to Spuds” well because my friend Carl made up a very, very explicit version of this song when we were in junior high.

    “One of Those Days” always catches me, because I don’t think of it as a song I love until I’m actually listening to it, and then it cracks me up for the exact reasons you say.

    The part in “Polka Party!” that I’m always quoting is “Ooh! Rock me Amadeus!” Mentioning “Freeway of Love” reminds me of an interview I saw with Al way back around this time where he said that he thought they’d give Aretha Franklin a Grammy that year, not for the actual song “Knew You Were Waiting for Me,” but out of sympathy for having to do a duet with George Michael.

    I still love “Here’s Johnny,” in large part because “Who’s Johnny?” was kind of my song back in ’86 when it was all over the radio. I was 9 and it was catchy.

    The stretch of the next three songs is that point on Al’s albums where they start to run together for me. “Don’t Wear Those Shoes,” “Toothless People,” and “Good Enough for Now” just don’t really do much for me. “Good Enough for Now” is a pretty decent description of the album itself.

    “Christmas at Ground Zero” can be added to the list of songs I thought were edgy and subversive when I was a kid. Weirdly, it doesn’t make me laugh as much anymore, but I sing along with it. And to this day, it’s always on my Christmas mixes (much to my Mom’s annoyance). It’s a perennial.

    I’m looking forward to Even Worse… I’m going to pull out my CD and listen to it again. It came out at kind of a weird time for me, and I haven’t really gotten to fully appreciate it for a while.

    • Nathan says:

      I seem to recall that, back when “Rock Me Amadeus” was a hit, there was one version with the “ooh!” girl and one without, and my mom complained about how she didn’t like the former. So it was kind of funny to be reminded of that some time later when I first heard the polka medley.

      • samuraifrog says:

        Oh, yeah, I do remember that! There were also the two versions of “Hungry Like the Wolf,” possibly for similar reasons. (One version with the woman groaning, one without.)

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