Yo, Ding Dong, Man, Ding Dong, Ding Dong, Yo

While “Weird Al” Yankovic’s Polka Party! didn’t sell all that well, Al came back onto the scene with 1988’s Even Worse, with its lead single again parodying Michael Jackson with a food-related theme. This was the first time the album title and cover art parodied that of one of the artists he was musically parodying.

It’s also the only album of his other than the first that doesn’t include a polka medley, which is a sad loss. There’s talk of one having been planned, but it either hit a legal snag or Al decided he didn’t want to include more than one accordion-heavy song (a rule he’s thankfully relaxed on more recent releases).

Fat – The lead single and one of Al’s biggest hits, largely because of the video. The story goes that Al thought of the parody idea and originally didn’t want to do another Jackson spoof, but found the idea too appealing to pass up. In both the video and live performances, Al wears a fat suit and an exaggerated version of the outfit Jackson wears in the original “Bad” video. I have a friend who’s likened fat suits to blackface, and there really does seem to be something mean about them. Not that I feel Al really had any malicious intent, but it comes across as somewhat insensitive to me, especially considering how skinny Al is. Oh, well. That said, there are some pretty entertaining things about the video that aren’t directly related to the fat suit, like Al’s confusion over the sound effects and the “ho!” bit. The “Bad” video has Jackson and the dancers constantly yelling out what sounds like “Ho!” over the musical breaks, so Al makes a joke out of this by showing someone holding a garden hoe. When performing the song live, Santa Claus usually makes an appearance, although occasionally he used a prostitute instead. One of the bullies at the beginning of the video mentions Burger World, which is both where Beavis and Butt-Head worked and where Al’s character would work at the beginning of UHF.

Stuck in a Closet with Vanna White – Al’s take on weird dreams includes both common elements (public nudity, being trapped, seemingly random celebrity appearances, tardiness for tests in school) with even odder ones (bowling on the Starship Enterprise). I do think it’s a little on the longish side, especially considering how much of it doesn’t add anything to the humor.

(This Song’s Just) Six Words Long – So, IS this song just six words long? Obviously not, as it has other lyrics, but that’s comic exaggeration. But even if we just take the chorus, it really sounds to me like seven. I guess that’s why the title uses the contraction “song’s,” to make it technically six. The original song is called “Got My Mind Set on You” (six words), but the chorus is sung as “I got my mind set on you” (seven). Oh, well. I found it hilarious the first time I heard it, but unfortunately it loses some of its bite on even the second listen, let alone whatever listen this is for me. That said, it’s still funny, and one of the few times Al actually comments on the original song in the parody, in this case on its repetitiveness.

You Make Me – A style parody of Oingo Boingo that’s been described (by Dr. Demento, I believe) as possibly the closest Al has done to a straight love song. Kind of an odd thing to say about a song that includes lyrics like “Sometimes you make me want to build a model of the Eiffel Tower out of Belgian waffles,” but it works when you think about it as being about the sometimes odd and confusing feelings associated with being in love. One of the UHF stations in my area (and possibly other areas as well; I don’t know) used this song in a commercial for reruns of Night Court and Cheers, which was actually my first exposure to it.

I Think I’m a Clone Now – Back in the late eighties, Tiffany’s cover of “I Think We’re Alone Now” was omnipresent. I even remember dissecting its structure in music class. Now I pretty much only hear the Tommy James original. Anyway, Al’s version is full of puns: “I’m really beside myself,” “a womb with a view,” “every pair of genes is a hand-me-down.” I guess it’s good I love puns, huh? The lyrics don’t strictly make a lot of sense, as the first verse implies that nobody knows the singer is a clone, while the last one says he’s famous for it. Not a huge deal, but it does seem like a bit of an oversight considering how careful and methodical Al is said to be with his songs. It also utilizes the common misconception that a clone would be an exact duplicate of the cloned person, as in the same age and everything, but this is a case where I think scientific accuracy would have ruined the joke. I wonder if this song was an influence on Nellie McKay’s “Clonie,” which is also about someone being best friends with their own clone.

Lasagna – Another food parody, and a song that I think is best appreciated by kids. After all, “La Bamba” is a song that every English-speaking child knows, but has no idea what the lyrics are. It’s officially a parody of the Los Lobos cover, but Al never bothered getting permission from them since the song itself is traditional. Actually, with the obvious exception of “Bad,” ALL of the songs parodied on this album are cover versions. I like how this one was arranged to sound like music you might hear at an Italian restaurant, which of course includes accordion. While it was released as a single, there was no music video, although Al would later make one for just the last verse and chorus that appeared on one of the channel-changing segments of The Weird Al Show.

Melanie – I’ve seen people try to list stalker songs, leading to some argument as to whether, say, the Police’s “Every Breath You Take” (part of an Al polka medley, for what it’s worth) is about stalking. This song, however, undoubtedly is, with a genuinely creepy narrator on what at first sounds like it’s going to be a straight love song. Al has said he’s written other verses for it that he’s only played for his friends. Since I think the lyrics could have gone even farther than they did, I’m curious about what they are, but I doubt I’ll ever find out. I’ve seen Al perform this one live in both 1996 and 2011.

Alimony – Not only is this another parody of a cover, but it’s of another song originally made famous by Tommy James. It’s not one of Al’s more memorable parodies, but it might be the most fun song there is about the subject matter. It marks the third appearance in an Al song of the phrase “the check’s in the mail.”

Velvet Elvis – Al had already done a direct parody of a Police song with “King of Suede,” but this is a style parody of the same band, perhaps sounding closest to “Every Little She Does Is Magic.” It’s yet another epic song about something fairly mundane, in this case the velvet Elvis of the title. As with “Stuck in a Closet,” I think it might be a little overly long, although I suppose that helps add to the epic nature. I never thought this one was laugh-out-loud funny, but it’s clever in its own way.

Twister – The first rap to appear on one of Al’s albums, it’s a style parody of the Beastie Boys, with the lyrics being only slightly altered from those of an actual Twister commercial from the 1960s.

As far as I know, Al’s version was never used in a commercial, although it seems ready-made for one.
Good Old Days – Another song with a really creepy narrator, Al has described this as what he thinks a collaboration between James Taylor and Charles Manson would be like, but what it really reminds me of lyrically is the Warren Zevon song “Excitable Boy.”

That song has the title character raping and killing his prom date, while “Good Old Days” has Al’s character tying his homecoming date to a chair and abandoning her in the desert. It’s also somewhat similar to Tom Lehrer’s “My Home Town,” a spoof of nostalgic songs in which everyone in town turns out to be perverted and/or homicidal.

I find it to be a little unusual among Al’s work in that there’s probably more set-up than there are actual jokes in the lyrics, but I guess that just makes the brutal lines more effective when you do get to them. I mean, plenty of Al’s songs include characters perpetrating senseless violence, but this one comes across as particularly brutal even though there isn’t a whole lot there.

Next week (or thereabouts), our subject will be UHF, a soundtrack album that’s mostly stuff that wasn’t in the movie. Actually, I guess that’s not too unusual; Al himself has had songs featured on soundtrack albums when they weren’t played in the films. Anyway, I’ll probably have more to say about that when the time comes. We’re going to make a couch potato out of you.

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2 Responses to Yo, Ding Dong, Man, Ding Dong, Ding Dong, Yo

  1. samuraifrog says:

    I said earlier that I hadn’t revisited this one in a while. I thought it was because the album came out while my parents were separating, but now I think it’s because of “Fat.” I think fat suits are pretty mean-spirited, too. But I agree the idea of the song was too appealing to pass up. I’m torn because I think the song’s really funny, and the video is brilliant, but I was getting really fat at that point and as much as I love Al, maybe I’ve never entirely forgiven him for giving the kids in my school another song to mockingly sing at me at exactly the wrong time in my life. But I love the song itself, so who knows?

    I agree that “Stuck in a Closet with Vanna White” is on the long side. I’ve never really found it memorable. I listened to the album again this morning and I can’t really remember how it goes.

    I guess I can let Al cheat on “(This Song’s Just) Six Words Long.” It always gets me that in the chorus he’s clearly singing “This song IS just six words long,” which is seven words, but you’re right about “(Got My Mind) Set on You” and the way George sings it. I’ve always thought the joke about George Harrison’s song being repetitive was pretty lame, but I love the original song so much that I just dig hearing the music. The George Harrison song was such a huge hit. It was everywhere. It even had two music videos, and I always loved the one in the cabin with the animals. Cute stuff; George’s very Pythonish sense of humor.

    I tend to lose myself in “You Make Me.” It’s almost like the lyrics don’t even matter, I just get so caught up in the brilliant musical construction. I’ve always loved Oingo Boingo, and Al’s version of it sounds so much like the real thing.

    Hearing “I Think I’m a Clone Now” today just reminds me of how much I absolutely loved Tiffany when I was a kid. Who am I kidding, I still love Tiffany. But I haven’t heard her version of “I Think I’m Alone Now” in a very long time. I used to have the poster hanging up.

    For some reason, “Lasagna” makes me incredibly happy. I’ve seen people of all ages just crack up to that song. Half of the lyrics are things I’ve heard my wife’s Italian grandmother say in real life, which just makes the song that much funnier for me. Honestly, it might be my favorite song on the album. I’ve said before that Al’s albums tend to lose steam for me on the second sides, but this album is pretty evenly distributed for me. Many of my favorite songs on this album are on the second side.

    I just love how silly “Melanie” is. It deflates a kind of attitude that I’ve seen in real life and makes it genuinely ridiculous. “Now I may be dead but I still love you” describes the very dramatic feelings I’ve seen in a lot of seventh graders.

    I never liked “Alimony,” but I never liked the Tommy James original or the Billy Idol version that was so omnipresent at the time. My DAD loved that song, so every time it was on the radio he’d crank up the volume. You know, my Dad thought “Alimony” was hilarious, too, and it just occurred to me that he was about to start paying child support to my Mom. Wow. Can’t decide if that’s a little dark or just kind of funny. (For the record, my Dad wasn’t a jerk about child support, and actually asked to pay more than he was asked to.)

    “Velvet Elvis” cracks me up. That solemnity he brings to something as silly as a Velvet Elvis is hilarious. It reminds me of my cousin Crystal, who was very young at the time and went around for a few days singing “Velvis Elvis.” I still quote the line “He’s so fuzzy” at random.

    “Twister” cracks me up. My Dad was into the Beastie Boys and Run-DMC and a bunch of the rap you were hearing on Top 40 radio at the time, and he just laughed and laughed when he first heard it.

    “Good Old Days” is one of my favorites. Unlike some of the other songs we’ve mentioned, this one still sounds dark and edgy. Mainly it’s because the music sounds so sweet and innocuous, and then you hear the lyrics. I’ve seen adults recoil from this song. My Mom was listening to a lot of James Taylor types at the time, so this was sort of an antidote for me. That is sort of a comedy tradition, I guess, of remembering the old home town and realizing things were a lot weirder in reality. It’s a great cap to the album, too. I always expect something to come after, but no, that’s it.

    This album is a lot better than I remember it being. Al’s originals are as great as his parodies (one quick way to get me into an argument is to call Al “just a parody artist”), and some of the originals here overshadow the more well-known parodies for me.

    • Nathan says:

      I know Al has been making efforts to call more attention to the original songs on his newer albums, by having people make videos of them and such. It’s definitely a shame that people tend to ignore them, although that might be partially be due to the fact that they weren’t promoted so much in the old days. Then again, several of the originals on Dare to Be Stupid had videos, so I don’t know.

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