By the time “Weird Al” Yankovic released Running with Scissors in the summer of 1999, he’d received laser eye surgery and started wearing his hair longer and often appearing in public without a mustache, so it was a total change in his appearance. It wasn’t that much of a change in his music, though, with the album still being made up mostly of parodies and style parodies. I remember reading that he’d considered naming the record “Album One,” as it features a song about Star Wars and many people were simply referring to The Phantom Menace as “Episode One.” Instead, he went with a title that doesn’t directly relate to any of the songs, but did allow for some funny cover art.
The Saga Begins – For the lead single, Weird Al once again returned to the idea of a classic rock parody about a movie, this time rewriting Don McLean’s “American Pie” to be about The Phantom Menace. He wrote it based entirely on Internet spoilers, and when he finally did see the film, he was reportedly glad he only had to change one line. It’s told from Obi-Wan Kenobi’s point of view, and while it suffers from being more of a plot summary than actually satirizing the movie, there are some amusing lines.
The video, which starts and ends in the desert of Tatooine but mostly takes place in the Mos Eisley Cantina, mostly features original alien designs, although there are appearances by Queen Amidala and Mace Windu, and keyboardist Ruben Valtierra is dressed as Darth Sidious. It had become traditional by this point for Al to end live shows with “Yoda,” and after the release of this album he would precede that with this song, making it a Star Wars double-feature of sorts.
My Baby’s in Love with Eddie Vedder – It’s not too surprising that Al would eventually turn to zyedco, a musical style that features accordion. I’m not quite sure why he’d pair this with a song about his girlfriend having a celebrity crush, but it works, and there are some clever rhymes. Vedder’s well-known nineties boycott of Ticketmaster is referenced rather humorously when Al mentions “hanging out at the Ticketmaster.” How would that even work? Apparently a lot of Al’s younger fans at the time had no idea who Vedder was. I can only imagine their reaction to some of the artists mentioned on his earlier albums.
Pretty Fly for a Rabbi – Back in the Bad Hair Day era, Al started playing a parody of the Offspring’s “Come Out and Play” called “Laundry Day.” I loved the way it worked out, but apparently the band wasn’t into it, and Al didn’t like the song enough to pursue it. They did, however, approve a parody of their “Pretty Fly (for a White Guy)” that incorporated a lot of Yiddish. Al has mentioned that a lot of people think he’s Jewish, and while he’s really not, he knows enough people who are to make the parody effective. Tress MacNeille sings the “how you doing, Bernie?” parts, and the opening line is a curse basically meaning, “May you turn into a blintz.” The line “mecca lecca hi mecca hiney ho” is actually Jambese, not Yiddish, but it still kind of fits. It’s been noted that, when Al plays part of this one in a medley on his live DVD, you can see a kid singing along with the line, “The parents pay the moil and he gets to keep the tip,” despite likely not getting the joke.
The Weird Al Show Theme – By the time this album was released, the show had been canceled, but he included the theme on the record anyway. The theme has some quite absurd lyrics, only a few of which really have anything to do with the show itself. I only noticed recently how the first line parallels that of the Beverly Hillbillies theme. The animation in the show’s opening was done by three different cartoon studios.
Jerry Springer – Barenaked Ladies is kind of a goofy band that Al was a fan of, and who appeared in the first episode of The Weird Al Show, so it’s not too surprising that they’d become a parody target. I actually know some people who were fans of BNL in their earlier days, but didn’t much care for “One Week,” despite its being a big hit. Interestingly, the album that it was on, Stunt, has a cut-out figure holding scissors on the cover. Probably no intentional connection to Al’s album title, but you never know. Lyrically, this song is sort of a rewrite of “Talk Soup” in that it highlights the weirder aspects of daytime talk shows, but I think it works better than that one does. Al was considering doing a video for this one, but nixed the idea when Jerry didn’t want to be in it, saying that he felt the song was too negative. I don’t really get that, but whatever. He did end up doing a mini-video for just the spoken part, which he showed while performing the song at concerts.
Germs – While Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer” was included in “The Alternative Polka,” apparently Trent Reznor didn’t like the idea of Al parodying one of his songs, so instead he went with this style parody. While I find the concept of industrial music kind of interesting in and of itself, I can’t say I’m a fan, and that unfortunately applies to Al’s take on it as well. The lyrics are pretty good, but it’s too long and not varied enough to make for a great song. Some people love this one, though, so to each their own.
Polka Power! – While his last three polkas had all started in the original style of the first song, this one returns to the old trend of starting out with the polka music. I don’t have too much to say about this one, although Marilyn Manson leading into Hanson is clever. Not only is it another rather jarring transition, but I’d also seen multiple jokes about how the two names rhyme, so the medley seems to be acknowledging this. Also worthy of note are how the backing vocals in the call-and-response bits pluralize the pronouns: “Tell US what you want” in “Wannabe” and “Take US home” in “Closing Time.” If that was done in earlier polka medleys, I didn’t find it as noticeable.
Your Horoscope for Today – I remember ska being really popular around this time, and a lot of the people in my college dorm listening to it. It was fun, but I can’t imagine wanting to listen to an entire album of it. Here, Al blends the genre with comical horoscopes inspired by those from The Onion. The lyrics include both plays on common horoscope wording (“The stars say that you’re an exciting and wonderful person…but you know they’re lying”) and plain nonsense (“Try not to shove a roll of duct tape up your nose while taking your driver’s test”).
It’s All About the Pentiums – Al has said he likes doing rap parodies because there are usually a lot of lyrics to work with, although here the parody is actually a rock remix of “It’s All About the Benjamins” by Sean Combs, known at the time as Puff Daddy, then later as P. Diddy, then just Diddy. I don’t even know what he’s calling himself now. While the boastful lyrics are due in part to the source material, I’ve also heard computer nerds brag in quite similar ways. The Weird Al page on TVTropes mentions that most of the specifications referenced in the song are still pretty impressive and/or ridiculous even today. There might well be computers with one hundred gigabytes of RAM, but they’re certainly well above the standard. The line “I ain’t afraid of Y2K” is obviously dated, but since the song came out in 1999, I’m sure Al was aware this would soon be the case. I’ve come across other variations on the joke about mistaking an Etch-a-Sketch for a computer monitor. The computer lab at college had a Dilbert cartoon with this basic premise, and later on a Futurama episode would reveal that Zapp Brannigan keeps his schedule on an Etch-a-Sketch. I think I’ve also seen the bit about Wite-Out on a computer screen in other places.
The video combines spoofs of several different rap videos and genre clichés, with the part in which Al dances with Drew Carey parodying Combs and Mase in “Mo Money Mo Problems.” Emo Philips stars as the clueless newbie.
Truck Drivin’ Song – This album really runs the gamut as far as styles go. We go from industrial to polka to ska to rap and now to country. It’s really only a one-joke song, sort of similar to Monty Python’s Lumberjack Song in making someone in a stereotypically manly profession into a cross-dresser. Not one of Al’s best, but I have a personal reason for finding this amusing.
Grapefruit Diet – Around the same time as the ska craze came a bit of a swing revival, so it would have been remiss of Al not to parody something in this genre. The target here is a band called Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, because what jazz-pop band wouldn’t want to have a name that makes people think of incest? Unfortunately, the lyrics are more or less just “Fat” Part Two. Granted, the fat narrator now wants to lose weight, but most of the jokes are similar.
Albuquerque – The previous record for longest Weird Al song had been held by “The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota,” but this one beats it by about four and a half minutes. Al has said he meant this to be annoying due to its length and general pointlessness, but Al is just so good at absurd rambling that it’s become a fan favorite. It’s perhaps really more of a long joke set to music than a song per se, as most of it isn’t sung, and there’s a punchline of sorts that refers to something from much earlier that the listener might have forgotten about after all the story fragments that don’t go anywhere. I’m not sure why he picked Albuquerque, other than perhaps that it starts with his name, but I actually visited the city for the first time not long after this album came out. I’ve been there a few times since (my dad lives there), but I don’t recall the air smelling particularly like warm root beer. I was on the alt.music.weird-al newsgroup back in 1999, and there was some discussion as to what this was parodying, with guesses including the Dead Milkmen and Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant.” Al has since revealed that his main inspiration was the Rugburns song “Dick’s Automotive,” which I didn’t hear until today, but you can really hear the similarities not only in the style, but even in the rhythm, inflection, and word choice. In fact, both have someone being dismembered with a chainsaw.
The Rugburns also have a song about dying of an overdose in a hotel room with Eddie Vedder, so I have to wonder if that influenced the second song on this album.
That said, there are certainly other references as well. The flesh-eating weasels are likely a tribute to a Frank Zappa album title, the line “That snorkel’s been just like a snorkel to me!” is apparently a Cheech and Chong reference, and while the doughnut shop bit has a parallel in “Dick’s Automotive” it’s really closer to Monty Python’s cheese shop sketch. I believe Al first performed this one live in Albuquerque and nowhere else, but he made it part of his regular setlist on the Straight Outta Lynwood tour. It was the closer, of course, because how could he do any other songs after that?
That’s all for Al’s last album of the 1990s, but we still have a few more to go, and the new one will be out in less than two weeks. The tracklist for Mandatory Fun has been released, and by putting together the titles with similar ones of recent popular songs, it’s been speculated that he’ll be taking on Iggy Azalea, Lorde, Robin Thicke, and Pharrell. I’m somewhat surprised that I’ve actually heard most of the songs that are proposed targets, although Iggy Azalea isn’t on my radar at all. I listened to “Fancy” today, since that’s almost definitely going to be parodied, and I figure her appeal is because no one expects that voice to come out of a skinny blonde white Australian girl? Sort of like Fiona Apple in that respect, although not as good.