Just Stick It in Your Pointy Ear

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.

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2 Responses to Just Stick It in Your Pointy Ear

  1. samuraifrog says:

    This album is special to me precisely because of where I was in my life when it was released. 1999 was a hard but happy year for me. At that point, Becca and I had been dating for 4 years, and we were both so excited about The Phantom Menace coming out. It was like getting be kids again; we even waited in line for tickets to opening day. Hell, she even waited in line at Toys ‘R’ Us at midnight to get some of the new action figures. This was the biggest deal. And, to hear the internet tell it, we were among the minority who loved (and continue to love) the movie.

    Having a new Weird Al Star Wars parody at the same time was icing on the cake. And that song was actually on the radio! I felt like things had come full circle. When I was 9, I was singing “Yoda,” and here I was at age 23 singing along to “The Saga Begins” every chance I could. That was such a great year. It was one of those occasions when I got to feel ahead of my time, because I’d never stopped loving Star Wars or Weird Al. No one seems to remember that time period from around 1986 to 1993 when Star Wars was considered dead and wasn’t popular anymore…

    Weird trivia about me: in 1999, I used to listen to a lot of Radio Disney. I was driving a delivery van for a living, and there was no cassette or CD deck in it, so I was at the mercy of the radio. Every station I could get was so repetitive that I’d flip over to AM stations playing music from the fifties or Radio Disney just to hear something different. Radio Disney, in addition to playing a lot of Disney music and Muppet stuff, played “The Saga Begins” a LOT. But they always edited the line “Do you see him hitting on the queen” to “Do you see him TALKING to the queen.” Always made me roll my eyes and chuckle.

    My favorite line from the song is Al’s “I frankly would have liked to stay.” Just the right amount of wistful to be hilarious.

    Al sure does get the zydeco sound right. It almost doesn’t matter to me what the song’s about, I just dig the music. I had actually forgotten he did a song about Eddie Vedder, although at the time, I thought the song was funny. In 1994, right after high school, I dated a girl who was big into the whole grunge thing and she was slightly older than me, so she was very into the “historical meaning” of being a part of Generation X, and she ADORED Eddie Vedder, so “My Baby’s in Love with Eddie Vedder” cracked me up the first time I heard it.

    I still think “Pretty Fly for a Rabbi” is hilarious. I like the reference to Jambi, but how can anyone think of Jambi and not smile?

    I’m glad he included “The Weird Al Show Theme,” because it’s catchy as heck. I loved that show.

    “Jerry Springer” came out at just the right time. I don’t care for Barenaked Ladies, and in fact I kind of hate “One Week,” but I find “Jerry Springer” not only funny but kind of just,,, pleasant to listen to. I like it better than “Talk Soup.” I don’t know what the magic formula is. Although “That goat doesn’t love you” always makes me burst out laughing.

    It says a lot that I consider this one of my favorite Al albums and managed to forget that “Germs” even existed. I like some industrial music–my wife LOVES it–but unless it’s David Bowie, a lot of it tends to run together for me. Al apes the sound perfectly, though.

    I think “Polka Power!” might be the last time he did a polka where I knew most of the songs in the medley. I was really surprised by “Ghetto Superstar,” though; I hadn’t heard it, and I was confused as to why “Islands in the Stream” was in the mix. This is probably my favorite polka of his, though, just because it makes me nostalgic for a time in my life when I was really happy.

    It sure did take ska a long time to really take off in this country. But, at least it led to remasters of the classic Madness albums from the early eighties. Lots of ska leaves me cold; a little goes a long way. Again, Al gets the sound right, and “Your Horoscope for Today” is kind of fun. I think sometimes “wacky for the sake of wacky” gets a little numbing for me, and ska is already so wacky…

    I love the video for “It’s All About the Pentiums” especially because Emo Phillips is in it. But those of us who love to shop in downtown Downers Grove will always love Emo. (My Dad used to see him on the train all the time in the early 80s, but never said anything to him.)

    “Truck Drivin’ Song” isn’t Al’s best, but it’s cute. It sounds like something from 1978.

    I can take or leave “Grapefruit Diet,” but I felt the same way about the swing revival. It reminds me a bit of Forbidden Zone, a movie I adore. I guess the best thing about the swing revival is that it reminded me of old cartoons. I don’t hate the music, but I don’t know if I want to listen to it for very long in one sitting.

    I never knew about “Dick’s Automotive” being the inspiration for “Albuquerque” until now; I’m one of the people who thought it was inspired by Dead Milkmen. I do enjoy how long and pointless it is. Al’s just so funny to listen to that I just wind up riveted to his monologue. “And EVERYBODY DIED! Except me.”

    Gosh, this was a fun time for me, back when this album was out. This is always a great one to revisit.

    • Nathan says:

      I only listened to Radio Disney when my wife forced me to because she thought it would annoy me, the sort of thing that happens more than you might think. I always kind of wondered if that was ACTUALLY what kids were listening to, or just what the programmers THOUGHT kids should be listening to. It seemed to mostly be teeny-bopper stuff. I don’t think I’ve ever heard Weird Al on there, although I did hear about the lyric change, which makes no sense because how is a nine-year-old TALKING to a fourteen-year-old at all noteworthy? And since when is “hitting on” an inappropriate phrase for children? Apparently the re-recording of that line was actually a compromise, as Disney originally wanted to just cut out that part of the song entirely. There was a local kids’ show in the Philadelphia area that played a fair amount of Al, although I was no longer listening to it at the time of RWS.

      Your observation on “Ghetto Superstar” reminds me of the first time I heard “Polka Face” during a concert and wondered for a second why it included “You Spin Me Right Round.” Then I remembered that I HAD heard the more recent song that samples that one, which was the one in the medley.

      I think “Horoscope” relies enough on the typical format of newspaper horoscopes to go beyond wacky for the sake of wacky. I do feel that “My Own Eyes” from Al’s new album sort of fits into that category, however.

      Al has said “Truck Drivin’ Song” was largely based on C.W. McCall, and that would be about the right time period.

      I recently came across a mention (on TV Tropes, I believe) that Al somewhat defied convention in “Albuquerque” by killing off a kid, as he mentions a little kid who kept throwing up and then says everybody but him died. Must be some good misdirection on Al’s part, because I never even thought of that before.

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