Diving for Doughnuts

There was a gap of about three years in between the UHF soundtrack and “Weird Al” Yankovic’s next album, Off the Deep End. He actually recorded a lot of it in 1990, but he wasn’t sure what to do for the lead parody. He considered doing another Michael Jackson song, specifically “Snack All Night” as a parody of “Black or White,” but Jackson said he really wasn’t comfortable with the idea as the song was pretty serious. Probably a good thing in the long run, as starting off a THIRD album with a Jackson parody about food likely wouldn’t have been that great for his career. Instead, when Nirvana made waves in the music world, he chose to go with their biggest hit to parody, also spoofing the artwork for Nevermind.

Instead of the baby swimming after a dollar bill on a fishhook, Al is swimming after a doughnut on a hook. I have to admit that, since I owned the cassette (hence a smaller version of the cover) and wasn’t that familiar with the Nevermind cover, I initially thought it was a life preserver. I guess it would have been more obvious if he’d gone with the working title, “Diving for Doughnuts.” I’m not entirely sure where “Off the Deep End” came from. Maybe some Jackson influence came through after all and it was inspired by his Off the Wall, although that album was thirteen years old by then.

Smells Like Nirvana – I can’t say I ever really got into Nirvana, or the grunge scene in general. I guess I like music with a little more zing. It does sound like Kurt Cobain was a pretty nice guy, though. The story has it that Al was having trouble getting in touch with Nirvana, so he had Victoria Jackson get Cobain on the phone when he appeared on Saturday Night Live. When Al asked for permission to parody “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” Cobain asked whether the parody would be about food. The actual subject matter was inspired by people pointing out how difficult Cobain’s vocals were to understand. I guess it’s the second of Al’s parodies to comment on the original song, after “(This Song’s Just) Six Words Long.” Well, there’s also “It’s Still Billy Joel to Me,” but that was never officially released. The words “bargle nawdle zouss,” which appear in the second verse, apparently came to Al in a dream. Also appearing in the song are animal sound effects and a gargling solo, the latter being something I believe Spike Jones had done in the past. The video was filmed on the same set as Nirvana’s original, and the same actor plays the janitor. It’s also the first appearance of Dick Van Patten in one of Al’s projects, here shown in the midst of the moshing audience wearing a suit and eating a burger. And as in “Like a Surgeon” and “Living with a Hernia,” Al falls down at the end of the video.

Trigger Happy – Another rarity for Al for is a song that takes a political stance, but this one does, coming out very much in favor of gun control and pointing out how easy it is for careless idiots to obtain firearms. It’s also a good example of somewhat disturbing lyrics contrasting with cheerful music, in this case the surf music of groups like the Beach Boys and Jan and Dean. It’s a favorite of mine, although I suppose it doesn’t hurt that I have similar views on gun control.

I Can’t Watch This – An example of how the delay on this album affected things is that MC Hammer had dropped the “MC” by the time it came out. This one is kind of nostalgic for me, not just because it reminds me of when the original song was a big hit, but also because of its references to the television shows of the early 1990s. Kind of unusual as far as Al’s television songs go in that it’s negative, but I guess you need a little bit of variety when you cover the same subjects pretty frequently. The idea of reciting lines from famous commercials over the breakdown parts is pretty clever. It took me a while to get the pun in the bit about Twin Peaks, by the way.

Polka Your Eyes Out – While basically more of the same as far as the polka medleys go, I always enjoy them, so that’s no problem. This one also deserves some distinction for being the first to start out playing the first song (in this case Billy Idol’s “Cradle of Love”) straight before going into the polka. It also brings back the slow part from the earlier polkas, here using “The Humpty Dance,” which was a fairly comical song to begin with. It ends with “Ice Ice Baby,” and I have to wonder why Al sings “check out the beat” when the original line was “check out the hook.”

I Was Only Kidding – By the time this album came out, Al had already started writing the original songs for his next one. This was originally intended as part of that batch, but Al figured the line “I really love you, NOT” would be outdated by the time it came out. So instead he switched out “Waffle King,” which he’d already recorded, with this one. Like “Happy Birthday,” it’s intended as a homage to Tonio K. It’s just total over-the-top goofy fun, not one of Al’s most memorable numbers, but enjoyable nonetheless.

The White Stuff – A New Kids on the Block parody might have been slightly out of date even in 1990, let alone 1992; but it does have the nostalgia factor going for it. It’s another food song, this time about the filling in Oreo cookies. Am I alone in liking the cookie part better, or at least always preferring to eat them together? Kids are always licking out the filling in the commercials. Anyway, some funny lines here, including a mention of the narrator’s pancreas going into shock from too many cookies; but overall it’s more of the same.

When I Was Your Age – The joke about the old person telling the young one how difficult life was back in his day, often exaggerating quite a bit, is pretty tried and true, so it’s not surprising that Al would tackle the subject. Quite a few amusing lines in this one, including, “Every night for dinner, we had a big old chunk of dirt. If we were really good, we didn’t get dessert.” The music doesn’t appear to be spoofing anything in particular; it’s just generic hard work. Which is kind of strange, as the narrator is exactly the sort of person who would want the kids to turn that music down. (Boy, this ought to bug your parents.) Maybe that’s purposely ironic, though.

Taco Grande – I remember someone mentioning that there wasn’t any real need for Al to parody Gerardo’s “Rico Suave,” as it was already quite ridiculous. I don’t even remember having heard the song back when it was popular. I don’t have much to say about the parody either, although Al singing in Spanish is kind of interesting. Cheech Marin does a spoken-word bit over the solo, but since he actually didn’t know much Spanish, he needed it to be written out phonetically.

Airline Amy – This seems to be one of Al’s least popular songs among fans, and with good reason, because it’s not that funny. I guess the narrator is supposed to be delusional since he takes things a stewardess would do for anyone as signs of affection. But is he totally deranged, or is it just a harmless crush? I do like the line “Gotta get you in an upright locked position.” The song was apparently partially inspired by Jonathan Richman, and now that I think about it I can kind of imagine him singing it. I might have liked it better if he had.

The Plumbing Song – I’ve mentioned a few other parodies being a bit outdated by the time the album was released, but they don’t hold a candle to this one. A Milli Vanilli parody would have been a pretty obvious choice in early 1990, but by the end of the year they’d become a joke in and of themselves. Al himself said the parody had become redundant. It looks like it was actually recorded about a month AFTER the lip-syncing was revealed and the Grammy Award had been rescinded, but I’m sure by that time it would have been inefficient not to do it. It deserves some notice for being Al’s first combination of two songs for one parody. It’s mostly “Baby Don’t Forget My Number,” but with a little bit of “Blame It on the Rain” as well (and a brief reference to “Girl You Know It’s True,” although that’s not strictly relevant). Incidentally, there was recently a post on Back of the Cereal Box about Milli Vanilli’s appearance on the Super Mario Bros. 3 cartoon (I reviewed the same episode a few years back), and Mario and Luigi are plumbers. Coincidence? Well, yeah, but I find it amusing nonetheless.

You Don’t Love Me Anymore – I think what makes this quiet acoustic song work is how the music and the vocals sound so totally sincere that the darkly absurd scenarios described stand out even more by contrast. When Al wanted to do a video for this one, his label insisted that it parody another music video. Since people had pointed out the presumably unintended similarity to Extreme’s “More Than Words,” that’s what the video ended up spoofing. In addition, it’s also a direct follow-up to the “Smells Like Nirvana” video in some ways, as drummer Jon “Bermuda” Schwartz is shown removing his David Grohl wig and the janitor shows up again to play a cello (although there isn’t any cello to be heard in the song). Robert Goulet makes a guest appearance in which he is rather cartoonishly injured. When performing this live, Al keeps starting to play the guitar and then getting distracted by something, finally smashing the guitar at the end. Obviously this is done with prop guitars, but in the video he smashes a real one.

Bite Me – This hidden song (if you can consider it a song) is only on the CD version of the album. Hiding something after a lot of silence at the end of an album was popular at the time, and some pressings of Nevermind included a song called “Endless, Nameless” with vocals that were loud and garbled even by Nirvana’s standards. While that’s an actual song, this is just a few seconds of noise, meant to scare anyone who kept the CD playing. I know it’s coming and it still startles me a little when it starts. I’m not sure where it got this title, but it seems to be official.

Speaking of Al, if his Twitter is to be believed, he’s finished making a new album. Although it has been three years since the last one, I’m still a little surprised, since he released a lot of the songs from Alpocalypse online before the record was anywhere near completed. I guess he wants us to be surprised with this one. When I went into the break room at work a few days ago, they were talking on TMZ about how he asked Iggy Azalea for permission to do a parody, although whether that’s for this album or something beyond it I wouldn’t know. I don’t know if I’ve heard any of her songs or not, but it’s much easier these days to listen to anything I might not be familiar with before delving into the parodies. Anyway, there’s no telling when this will be released, but I’m looking forward to it. Until then, I’ll have to be satisfied with looking back at his old work.

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6 Responses to Diving for Doughnuts

  1. Matt Keeley says:

    Hm — I didn’t know that about “Airline Amy”. It might have worked better if it actually SOUNDED like a Richman song, too. Strange, given that I love Al and I love Richman, but that one just doesn’t really work at all.

  2. SamuraiFrog says:

    This one is something of the end to an era for me. Not entirely sure why. It was the last Al album I bought on cassette. It’s the last one I remember enjoying with my Dad. And it was the first one that came out after my parents got divorced. I didn’t actually buy any of his new albums until Running with Scissors came out. I bought that on CD and then bought all the ones I used to have on cassette and the ones I had missed on CD.

    I think there’s also something to the fact that he recorded a lot of the album in 1990 and didn’t release a lot of it until 1992. It feels a little stuck in earlier musical modes, if that makes sense.

    I love love love “Smells Like Nirvana.” The whole grunge thing just passed right by me, but “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was so omnipresent that it was nice to have something puncture some of the pretension. Grunge fans at my school were really full of the whole thing and oddly self-congratulatory about it. I guess grunge came along at just the right time for me to find the movement–not the music itself, but the way people my age (turned 16 in 1992)–rife with hypocrisy. Suddenly the things everyone loved unironically a year or two before was artificial and blah blah blah. I’m off on a tangent now. Sorry; I hijack the comments on these enough. Anyway, love this song.

    I never used to like “Trigger Happy” too much. I want to say that it’s because he doesn’t quite get the Beach Boys sound right, but more likely it’s because I’m such a Beach Boys snob that I can’t just hear it for what it is. Actually, hearing it right now for the first time in years I’m impressed by it. I can hear which sounds come from the Beach Boys and which sounds come from Jan and Dean. Fantastic job. Jeez, Aaron, stop being such a snob.

    I feel the same way you do about “I Can’t Watch This.” It really takes me back now, in a good way. It also works for me because, at the time, I was getting really bored with TV. (Probably because so many of the shows I loved in the 80s were leaving the airwaves.) Took me a long time to get that Lynch pun, too. By the time this album came out, In Living Color had already had a good go at MC Hammer. And he’d made a good appearance on SNL, too.

    Boy, I remember the first time I ever heard “The Humpty Dance” on the radio and thought, wow, what am I even hearing? Now I kind of dig it in its silliness. I think “Polka Your Eyes Out” is his best polka medley since “Hooked on Polkas,” and it sounds smoother than the previous ones. I can’t quite put my finger on why, but the arrangement is fantastic. I love the sudden yodel. Also the drum solo gag.

    I’ve never liked “I Was Only Kidding.” I think probably I just don’t like the music. I never noticed until now that Al sings it with a similar vocal affectation to the one he used in “Happy Birthday.” Makes sense.

    Boy, New Kids on the Block… my cousin Brandy (same age as me) was SO into those guys. Yeah, it seems way too late to have it on this album. “The White Stuff” is a cute song, but not a favorite of mine. When the album came out, it was just this bizarre reminder of how much my cousin’s love of the band had irritated me.

    “When I Was Your Age” sounds so much like my Dad, and probably his before him. The music’s a little generic, but the lyrics are hilarious.

    “Rico Suave” was so comfortable with its own ridiculousness, it does seem redundant for Al to parody it, especially when it’s another food song. I love his voice in this one, though. I’m surprised to hear he didn’t know much Spanish, I guess just because I love his accent in this. It’s just funny enough to make me laugh without being at anyone’s expense. I like it better than “The White Stuff,” anyway.

    I don’t care for “Airline Amy,” either. There’s always that song on the second side that’s a dud for me. (Wow, this is the last one I listened to on cassette, and so the last one where I have a concept of “sides.”)

    “Redundant” is definitely the word for “The Plumbing Song.” It makes this album seem older than it actually was; when it came out, Milli Vanilli were ancient history. It sounds really good, though. It’s well-made, it just wasn’t relevant anymore. It works better now, with the nostalgia filter of remembering how Milli Vanilli were everywhere back in 1990. I liked them better than the New Kids on the Block, at any rate. I wasn’t really into the popular music of the time anymore.

    For me, “You Don’t Love Me Anymore” is the crowning achievement of the album, and a nice close out, even if it’s a fake out. You nail exactly why the song works as well as it does. I’d put this in at least my top 10 of Al songs.

    Yeah,”Bite Me” startled me when I first heard it.

    This is a transitional album. Not for Al, but for my life. I always remember it as being better than it is, I think, but who cares? You like what you like. I really like this one.

    • Nathan says:

      I’m way behind on my Feedly..uh, feed; and I actually just read the post where you mentioned never getting into grunge shortly before writing this. I do feel that Al’s parodies can sometimes cut through the pretension associated with musical styles and their fans. It’s a good reminder not to take everything so seriously. Mind you, I’ve never understood the “I like this style of music, so I have to go along with the philosophy as well” kind of thinking. I remember reading that, when punk rock was new, it was common for its fans to trash the Beatles. Dude, you’re not losing any credibility if you like both.

      I recently referenced “The Humpty Dance” in a conversation with my wife, which she found quite amusing. I agree that “Polka Your Eyes Out” is one of the best medleys. The fake-out beginning and drum solo probably help.

      The generic music on songs like “When I Was Your Age” is probably part of why some listeners tend to dismiss Al’s originals, but they’re missing a lot of great stuff. I do sometimes get the impression that Al’s music tends to be a bit uninspired when he’s not spoofing someone else’s style, although there are exceptions. “You Don’t Love Me Anymore,” for instance, doesn’t appear to be a style parody of anything in particular.

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