I Get By on All My Prehistoric Knowhow

Alapalooza – “Weird Al” Yankovic’s eighth album, released in 1993, was named after the Lollapalooza music festival, but the cover design references Jurassic Park. In fact, some copies of it had a sticker clearly stating that it was NOT the Jurassic Park soundtrack. I kind of wonder why he didn’t call the album “Allosaurus.” Anyway, after the long wait before Off the Deep End, this one was kind of rushed out, and it shows. Its definitely one of his weakest, if not his overall weakest. It’s also, however, the first of his albums I heard all the way through, back when it was still pretty new. Go figure.

Jurassic Park – The lead single was inspired by Al hearing “Lola” on the radio and wanting to do another song about a movie set to a classic rock tune. He went with “MacArthur Park,” as written by Jimmy Webb and sung by Richard Harris, which, around the same time this album came out, was voted the worst song ever by Dave Barry’s readers. The parody is considerably shorter than the original, as it leaves out the middle part. The instrumental part is kind of long for Al, and is augmented with screaming and dinosaur sound effects. Some critics said this one didn’t really spoof the movie so much as just recap its plot, which is a fair criticism of most of Al’s movie-based songs, but there are some funny lines here. I appreciate the humorous understatement in “getting disemboweled always makes me kind of mad” and the clever ambiguity of “they’re really not all bad.” The video is done in Claymation, in a style much like that of Will Vinton, who created some dinosaurs of his own. Gags include a velociraptor realizing it has the key to the door, a human hand showing up to light a torch, an Energizer Bunny reference, and Barney (who is briefly mentioned in the lyrics) having his head bitten off. This last one always goes over well when Al plays this part of the video in concert. I actually saw him play the song live in its entirety at my first show in 1996, and during the solo he did a bit where he sat down and pretended to read the paper until the vocal part returned. This song was played a lot on a local children’s radio show, probably mostly to an audience that had never heard “MacArthur Park.”

Young, Dumb & Ugly – I’m sure you’re familiar with the trope of a straight-laced character trying to be rebellious, but only being able to come up with really minor immoral actions, like not returning library books on time. This is an AC/DC style parody that touches on a lot of these not-really-all-that-bad activities, like drinking milk from the carton and swimming right after eating. I’m kind of surprised there isn’t a mention of tearing tags off mattresses. It’s probably the funniest of the originals on this album, but unfortunately the bar isn’t all that high.

Bedrock Anthem – A song about The Flintstones is actually a good fit with one about Jurassic Park, as it continues with the prehistoric theme. I’m not sure whether this was intentional or not; Al said he did a Flintstones song when he did because the live-action movie was coming out soon. Like “The Plumbing Song,” it’s a parody of two different songs by the same artist. While Milli Vanilli’s “Baby Don’t Forget My Number” and “Blame It on the Rain” were pretty stylistically similar, however, the shift between the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Under the Bridge” and “Give It Away” is much more jarring. I know the RHCP have said they didn’t really care for the parody, but to be fair Al didn’t have much to work with. :P No, seriously, I’m not a fan of the source material here, but I don’t think a song necessarily has to be good to make for a quality spoof (although that can certainly help) so much as that it needs to be substantial. While this isn’t a case like “Girls Just Want to Have Lunch” or “She Drives Like Crazy” where there just aren’t enough lyrics to make for a successful rewrite, the choppy style of “Give It Away” is probably partially to blame for how Al’s lyrics seem a bit disorganized. I still like it, though. The video continues with Al’s usual tendency to combine imagery from the original video with references to the parody’s topic, while throwing in other jokes as well. Here, the instruments look like stone items from the show, while Al wears Fred Flintstone’s clothes with Anthony Kiedis’ dreadlocks. There are also several clips from the cartoon, a lot of comical props, another appearance by Dick Van Patten, and Al falling down at the end.

Frank’s 2000″ TV – I’d say this one, like “UHF,” is a good song that isn’t really laugh-out-loud funny. I mean, the main premise is silly (although certainly less so than it would have been back in 1993), but most of the rest of it pretty much logically follows from that. I like the general sound of it, however. It’s inspired by early REM, which puts them into the rare category of having been parodied, polka-fied, AND style-parodied by Al, along with the Police and Queen.

Achy Breaky Song – Like “(This Song’s Just) Six Words Long” and “Smells Like Nirvana,” this is a rare Al parody that actually comments on the original song, although here it just says he’s sick of hearing it. I’m sure a lot of people felt that way about “Achy Breaky Heart” by this time, but I’m also sure that was the case for other songs Al parodied as well, so I don’t know why this one gets that treatment. Al apparently thought the parody was somewhat mean-spirited, which is why he donated the proceeds to charity. From what I’ve read about it, however, criticism was not from Billy Ray Cyrus fans as much as it was from fans of the other artists he says he’d rather hear. I don’t know that there’s really anything personal to that, though; Donny Osmond later appeared in the “White and Nerdy” video, so I suppose there were no hard feelings there. I’ve certainly heard plenty of negative comments about most of the musicians mentioned in the song, although not so much about Tiffany. Sure, she had outlived her relevance by the early nineties, but did people actually put her in the same category as Barry Manilow and the Village People? Also worth noting is the return of the pitchfork in the brain from “Generic Blues.” I’ve never seen Al perform this song in its entirety during a live show, but when he included part of it in a medley, he incorporated some line dancing.

Traffic Jam – It’s well-known among Al’s fans that Prince turned down permission for him to do a parody on multiple occasions, one of the songs he wanted to spoof being “Let’s Go Crazy.” So instead he did this style parody that sounds quite reminiscent of “Let’s Go Crazy,” but not enough so to require permission or royalties. The lyrics, particularly the bit about the freeway being a parking lot, seem to owe a bit to the James Taylor song of the same name.

Talk Soup – Originally intended as the theme song for the E! show of that name, but not actually used in that capacity, it’s basically just a list of weird things people will reveal on talk shows. I have to say I’m not so keen on Al’s tendency to think the word “albino” is inherently funny. Same thing with “midget,” although surprisingly he doesn’t use that in this particular song. There are some genuinely funny concepts here, but overall it’s not particularly memorable.

Livin’ in the Fridge – From what I’ve read, this song was rather last-minute. Al needed another song to parody, and Aerosmith was the first band to reply to his request for permission. Even with this, the album only has four parodies and one polka, while all of his albums since then have had FIVE parodies. Dare to Be Stupid, Polka Party!, and UHF all also only had four, though. This is another food song, but it’s about SPOILED food, which is a little bit different. Well, actually, I’ve heard a mini-parody he did live called “Moldy Now” to the tune of the Thompson Twins’ “Hold Me Now,” but that of course was never officially released. The lyrics say that the food has been there since July, but doesn’t say what month the song takes place during, so we don’t know just HOW rotten it is. Incidentally, in his parody medley “Schticks of One and Half a Dozen of the Other,” Allan Sherman has a similar line that DOES say how long the bad food has been there: “But that big hunk of liverwurst has been there since October 1st, and today is the 23rd of May.” And the mention of “woolly mammoth steak” can be viewed as another minor link to the prehistoric theme of “Jurassic Park” and “Bedrock Anthem.” There was never a full video for this, but there was one for part of the song shown on The Weird Al Show.

She Never Told Me She Was a Mime – Eh, the only real joke here is given away in the title, so what’s really the point? And why the drawn-out ending? I guess it’s not really as bad as all that, but we all know Al can do better.

Harvey the Wonder Hamster – The theme song for Al’s best friend in the whole wide world, which was used in a few AL-TV specials before appearing on an album. The character of Harvey was named after record executive Harvey Leeds, and has been played by several different hamsters over the years.

Waffle King – Originally slated for release on Off the Deep End, it was swapped out for “I Was Only Kidding” and ended up here. It’s based on the idea of someone becoming famous and getting a swelled head over something silly, specifically making really good waffles. The egotistical lyrics are amusing, but it seems to go on a little too long, despite only being about four and a half minutes long. Although not as direct a style parody as many, the general consensus seems to be that it was inspired by Peter Gabriel, particularly “Sledgehammer,” a song he’d already included in a polka medley.

Bohemian Polka – Officially considered a polka medley for legal reasons (otherwise Al wouldn’t have received any songwriting credit for it, at least from what little I understand), it’s actually only a polka arrangement of one song, Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Since the original song encompasses several different musical styles anyway, Al is able to do a lot of the same stuff he does with the medleys. And while quite a few polka-fied songs benefit from the incongruously cheerful music, it’s particularly noteworthy here with lyrics like “Mama, just killed a man.” I’m sure the fact that Queen’s song was brought back into the public consciousness with Wayne’s World contributed to his using it here.

After this one, it would be almost three years before another record of new music from Al, and that’s been the pattern ever since. I’m sure there were multiple reasons for this slowed-down output, but the fact that this rather hurried album didn’t do that well was likely part of it. Next time, Al has a bad hair day and goes Amish.

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5 Responses to I Get By on All My Prehistoric Knowhow

  1. SamuraiFrog says:

    I guess I didn’t realize how quickly this album followed the last one. That makes it all the weirder to me that I didn’t get it when it originally came out, since I bought Off the Deep End right away… I think I must have thought Off the Deep End was much earlier since he parodied Milli Vanilli and New Kids and Gerardo. I’m not sure I even really noticed this one when it came out.

    I actually love the song “MacArthur Park.” I have a hard time not loving Jimmy Webb. I have the original album it’s on, Richard Harris’ A Tramp Shining. It’s interesting that Al covered the original instead of going off of Donna Summer’s disco version. I like hearing the music, but I get a little lost in Al’s version. Love the video, though. The instrumental section with the screams reminds me of the instrumental section in “Nature Trail to Hell.”

    I don’t ever really need to listen to “Young, Dumb & Ugly” ever again, but I do think it’s funny how Al’s voice always seems seconds away from breaking. He gets the AC/DC song structure, though.

    I’m not a fan of the source material for “Bedrock Anthem,” either, but I love Al’s song. I remember seeing the video a bit on MTV and always thought it was funny. It was very much of its time; lots of music videos had that similar choppy energy in 1993. I think it’s one of the strongest tracks on the album.

    I agree with you on “Frank’s 2000″ TV.” It’s not particularly funny, but the music is pretty and it’s just kind of nice.

    “Achy Breaky Song” really gets at just how impossible the idiotic original was to escape. It was everywhere. I don’t think it’s particularly mean-spirited.

    “Traffic Jam” I don’t much care for, which is a shame, because I really love Prince. It just doesn’t do anything for me. I feel the same way about “Talk Soup,” but I didn’t know about the E! connection. It sounds like a song from 1988, for some reason. I agree with your criticisms about some of his word choices, too.

    I love “Livin’ in the Fridge,” especially the gag with the scream. And I adore the Allan Sherman song you mentioned and still sing bits of it to annoy Becca with. (She’s not a fan.)

    I always skip past “She Never Told Me She Was a Mime.” But Harvey’s the next bit, and I always loved seeing him on AL-TV, so that makes me smile. “Waffle King” is cute, but it wears out its welcome surprisingly fast. This whole portion of the album is kind of a drag.

    But it ends with “Bohemian Polka,” which is one of my favorite things he’s ever recorded. I have a tendency to forget how weak this album is, because it ends on such a high note. And it is a weak album, and the one I return to least.

    • Nathan says:

      I know Al has said he didn’t really like the way his vocals came out on “Young, Dumb & Ugly,” since they were outside his register.

      I don’t find “Achy Breaky Song” mean-spirited either, but I guess Al tends to be overly sensitive about such things as he wants to maintain good relations with the original artists.

      Becca isn’t a fan of Weird Al, Allan Sherman, or both?

      Sometimes I wonder if “Waffle King” gets tedious to me because I’m anxious for “Bohemian Polka” to start. I guess I could just skip it, but I usually don’t like to do that.

  2. SamuraiFrog says:

    Becca’s not a fan of Allan Sherman. Weird Al she likes.

    • Nathan says:

      How can you not like Allan Sherman? Mind you, I’m sure people could say that about plenty of other things they like and I don’t. The bit of Game of Thrones I read didn’t really grab me, for instance.

  3. Pingback: Might as well get back to work | The Claire Violet Thorpe Express

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