Sign My Poodle, S’il Vous Plait

My look back at “Weird Al” Yankovic’s catalog moves into the new millennium with Poodle Hat from 2003. The title apparently derived from a time when Al’s poodle Bela sat on his head. It’s kind of unusual among his album titles, because while it’s whimsical, there isn’t any actual joke to it. The cover shows Al on a subway with Bela on his head, and most of the other riders are friends and family. I remember buying this album at Target on the day it came out and recording it to a cassette because my car at the time didn’t have a CD player. It was not one of his better-received albums, perhaps due partially to a lack of promotion.

Couch Potato – Al returns to his old standby subject of television with this parody, featuring a narrator who has kind of a love/hate relationship with the tube. There are elements here of “I Can’t Watch This” in that it’s a rap that criticizes some TV shows of the period, but it’s not quite as negative. It mentions both then-contemporary shows and old favorites like The Flintstones and The Muppet Show. I believe the joke about TiVo thinking someone is gay because they watched Will and Grace is based on an actual anecdote. This remains the only lead parody on one of Al’s albums NOT to have a music video, because apparently Eminem gave permission for the song but not a video. That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, both because Eminem frequently employs comedy in his own songs and videos, and because I’m not sure why a video would be so much more objectionable than the song. When Al did a fake interview with Eminem, he made it less absurd than usual, instead pointing out the rapper’s hypocrisy.

I do think it’s strange that Al didn’t try to make a video for any other parodies on the album, but apparently the “Couch Potato” one was already in pre-production, so maybe it was a budget issue. You know what I’m saying?

Hardware Store – I believe Al said that he originally intended this to be a style parody, but it ended up sounding nothing like the artist whose style he was trying to imitate, so it’s basically a true original. I don’t know who that artist was, but the song is excellent as it is. The premise of people in a small town being really excited because a big hardware store is opening is probably pretty accurate. One part of the song has Al quickly listing many different items the store sells (including automatic circumcisers), and the speed with which he does it has led to his never even attempting to play this one live.

Trash Day – A parody of Nelly’s “Hot in Herre,” which will probably come to my mind for the rest of my life whenever someone mentions the heat. It’s interesting that most of the parody titles on this album don’t really give an indication as to what they’re spoofing. I can understand why “Couch Potato” wouldn’t be called “Lose Your Mind,” as that would give no indication as to what the song was about. I’m not sure why he didn’t just use “Rotten Herre” as the name of this one, though. I don’t find this to be one of Al’s more memorable parodies, but I always like it when I listen to it, mostly for the lines “it’s so bad the roaches wear slippers” and “I wipe my feet before I go outside.”

Party at the Leper Colony – Apparently leprosy doesn’t ACTUALLY cause body parts to fall off, but that’s become such a common part of popular culture that it’s not surprising Al would use it in this song. It’s mostly a collection of puns, although as someone pointed out, it’s kind of surprising he didn’t include the line “throw your hands in the air” anywhere in it. It has a Bo Diddley rhythm, and Buddy Holly, Kenny Loggins, and Bruce Springsteen (specifically Clarence Clemons’ saxophone work in his songs) have also been proposed as influences.

Angry White Boy Polka – This polka medley has a more consistent theme than most of them, and it’s a theme that contrasts well with the cheerful music. Two years prior, Al directed the video for Ben Folds’s “Rockin’ the Suburbs,” which also mocked this variety of music. Ben has said that he was mostly aiming his song at Korn, however, and they’re conspicuously absent from the polka. I’ve seen the genre of Limp Bizkit and their complaining comrades referred to as “nu metal,” although I’m not sure exactly what that means. Mostly lots of screaming about wanting attention, apparently. On the other hand, I don’t think the Hives, the Vines, the White Stripes, and the Strokes really fit the category. They were white boys (well, aside from Meg White), but not particularly angry; their style has been described as a revival of garage rock. I do love what Al does with “Last Night,” though, so I don’t object to their inclusion. Eminem is represented again here, and while he qualifies as an angry white boy, he doesn’t do the screamy metal thing.

Wanna B Ur Lovr – Described by Al as a song where he’s trying to sound like Beck trying to sound like Prince, it’s made up entirely of terrible pick-up lines. Some are ones I’ve heard pretty often, although I don’t know whether anyone genuinely uses them. Others parody common lines (“You must have fallen from Heaven; that would explain how you messed up your face”), while others are presumably original and often humorously disturbing (“My love for you’s like diarrhea; I just can’t hold it in”). The song samples some sound effects from Donkey Kong and Pac-Man. My main gripe about this one is that it’s long, being one of few Al songs that breaks the six-minute mark, and unlike most of the others there doesn’t seem to be any particular reason for it to do so. In concert, this seems to have replaced “One More Minute” as the one where Al goes out into the audience.

A Complicated Song – Meh, I have to say this comes across as rather desperate. Avril Lavigne‘s “Complicated” was definitely ripe for parody, as it was played constantly and its lyrics are so freaking stupid. Al pretty much admitted, however, that he couldn’t think of any one theme to apply to the entire song, so instead he came up with three unrelated verses. The last verse about being decapitated and finding it merely inconvenient is pretty good, but the other two not so much.

Why Does This Always Happen to Me? – Al had collaborated with Ben Folds several times in the past, and here he does a style parody of Ben’s music with Ben himself playing the piano part. According to Al, the lyrics are based on his own selfish side, and while they’re obviously exaggerated, I think there are identifiable elements to them. I’m sure many of us have seen a car accident and not thought about the victims at all, just about how it tied up traffic. We know it’s self-centered, but it’s still human. The line where the narrator is upset because his late friend owed him five dollars is kind of a recurring theme in Al’s work; the bit in UHF where Bob refuses to bash in George’s head because George still owes him five bucks comes to mind.

Ode to a Superhero – Like “Yoda,” “Jurassic Park,” and “The Saga Begins,” this one pairs up an older song with a then-current movie, in this case Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” and Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man. While I’ve grown a bit tired of “Piano Man” due to its overexposure, I’m glad Al was able to parody a Billy Joel song. Back in Al’s earlier days, he recorded “It’s Still Billy Joel to Me” about Joel’s attempt to break out of his soft rock image by incorporating new wave into his 1980 album Glass Houses, but it was already dated by the time Al’s first album came out, and it was somewhat meaner than usual for him (although that’s still rather tame by the standards of most comedians).

“Piano Man” had actually used accordion, and in his version Al plays the solo on the instrument as well. The lyrics are the typical somewhat snarky plot summary, and while it’s obviously not as epic as “The Saga Begins,” it’s probably funnier. The funniest line is the one about how Willem Dafoe is scarier without the “dumb Power Rangers mask” on. Hey, he’s not wrong.

Bob – As someone who enjoys playing with words, how could I not appreciate a song that’s made up entirely of palindromes? And Bob Dylan is an obvious choice for a style parody, the fact that his first name is both a palindrome and sort of a running gag for Al being nice bonuses. I know I’d come across several of the palindromes incorporated in the song before, but not all of them, so I don’t know whether any were original with Al. For the most part, the order of the lyrics just seems to be based on what sounds good, but there are a few that are obviously purposely paired up, like “Ah, Satan sees Natasha/No devil lived on” and “Pa’s a sap/Ma is as selfless as I am.” This was the only song on the album to receive a music video, which of course spoofed Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues.”

eBay – The Backstreet Boys’ song “I Want It That Way” was already four years old by the time this album came out, but since it was still receiving radio play (unlike, say, the New Kids on the Block song Al spoofed on Off the Deep End), the parody wasn’t as outdated as it could have been. It focuses on the sort of weird stuff you can buy on eBay, comparing it to a “worldwide garage sale.” I believe this parody came out around the same time eBay started using song parodies in their own commercials; the one I can remember used the tune of “On Broadway” (“They say there’s shopping day and night on eBay”), although obviously Al’s was more absurd.

Genius in France – I haven’t really heard that much by Frank Zappa, but I can still appreciate this style parody of his work, with Frank’s son Dweezil playing the opening guitar solo. I enjoy all the stylistic variations within it. The idea for the lyrics comes from how popular Jerry Lewis is in France, although I’m not sure the narrator actually IS Lewis so much as someone inspired by him. It was somewhat unfortunate that the “freedom fries” thing was in the public consciousness around the time the album came out, as I don’t think the song is supposed to be at all political. It is interesting how mocking the French is still socially acceptable, but I guess the fact that they’re more of a national group than an ethnic one helps. Besides, in this particular song, I think the fact that the narrator holds his biggest fans in such contempt is part of the joke. I’ve seen it mentioned that Frank Zappa mentioned poodles in several of his songs, but then so does Al, so I suppose it would have been doubly odd if they HADN’T been mentioned here.

I already did a song-by-song review of Straight Outta Lynwood when it came out, so I don’t see much point in doing another. That was almost eight years ago, but I can’t say my opinions on the songs have changed all that much. I do appreciate “Do I Creep You Out?” a little more now, although it’s still not as good as “Melanie”; and while I still like “Canadian Idiot” I think it might have been a little too easy. My review of Alpocalypse wasn’t song-by-song, though, so I might still do that one. Since I’ve been doing these at the end of the week (my original goal was to do them on Thursdays, since that day appears several times in Al’s work, but it hasn’t always worked out that way), I guess Mandatory Fun will already be out by then, although who knows whether I’ll have my copy yet? I pre-ordered it, but I never seem to be one of the lucky people who gets my pre-orders before the official release date.

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10 Responses to Sign My Poodle, S’il Vous Plait

  1. Onib says:

    As a side note, while Al never performed Hardware Store live, the comedy artist Steve Goodie has a live version of his Harry Potter based parody of it. I’m still not sure how he didn’t pass out after that bridge.

    • Nathan says:

      A Harry Potter parody? Is it about the hardware store in Diagon Alley?

      • Onib says:

        It’s more of an overview of the first book with the bridge describing all of the things to be found at Hogwarts. Feel free to watch the video I included last time (it looks like wordpress embedded it rather than listing the site – let’s see what it does if I don’t include the http beginning… “”).

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  3. Nathan says:

    Kind of weird to parody Weird Al (even if it’s a song that wasn’t originally a parody itself), but the guy did a good job with it.

    • Onib says:

      I forget now at what point he wrote it, but it did appear on Twenty Six & a Half, the recent Weird Al tribute album, which also included a small number of other parodies of Al songs such as “My Baby’s in Love with Jon Bermuda.”

  4. samuraifrog says:

    I remember being so happy when this one came out because it seemed like it had been even longer than it actually was between albums. I’m always excited when he’s got a new one out. I can pretend that his week of videos was a birthday gift for me, right? I mean, my birthday was smack dab in the middle of it.

    I like “Couch Potato.” It’s weird that I’ve never given a lot of thought to how many times he’s gone to this joke of just talking about how bad everything on TV is. One of the lyrics reminds me of my old gripe about how the show should be called “Everybody Tolerates Raymond for Some Bizarre Reason.” I hated that show, but my Mom wouldn’t stop watching it for a while… I kind of hate TV in general from about 1996 to 2004. (Years approximate.)

    I’ll have to look up the lyrics to “Hardware Store” again. I don’t care much for the song, but I really wonder whose style he’s trying to parody. Anyway, his vocal gymnastics always impress me, but during the list-of-tools section, Becca swears she hears him say “motherf***er” every time.

    Yeah, it is too bad “Trash Day” has such a generic title. It’s not bad, but not really memorable. Al’s not a bad rapper; I don’t think he gets enough credit for that. “Trash Day” resonates for me today because today I cleaned out the fridge… just a little too late.

    “Party at the Leper Colony” reminds me a lot of the Eddie and the Cruisers soundtrack.

    Boy, listening to it again now, “Angry White Boy Polka” is my least favorite of Al’s polkas. Not that it’s bad, it’s just made up almost 100% of songs I don’t like. I don’t like a lot of the pop music from the mid-nineties to the mid-2000s. No wonder I was listening to Disney music. I get the title; so much music at the time just felt like white boy rage that it had become cliche. Not what I was interested in hearing in my twenties. I do like “Fell in Love with a Girl,” but I like the Joss Stone soul cover.

    “Wanna Be Ur Lovr” is funny, but yeah, it’s so long that I get bored halfway through. I lose it at “You smell like Fritos,” though.

    We differ on “A Complicated Song.” I think maybe my sense of humor is more childish than I thought… (Not saying that sarcastically, it is entirely possible.) The music is kind of pleasant, but that frigging Avril song was not ubiquitous and so, so, so awful. She’s a cutie, but I cannot stand her music. “A Complicated Song” is just ridiculous enough that it keeps me laughing, particularly the final verse.

    “Why Does This Always Happen to Me?” might be my favorite song on this album. Becca’s a big Ben Folds fan, and I like the parody of his style. You’ve pegged the lyrics; a lot of the reactions he has are pretty human. I think that gives the song more of a richness than going over the top with it. Great piano work from Al.

    “Ode to a Superhero”… a parody of Billy Joel about Spider-Man, what’s not to love? Huh, I think this is the rare Weird Al album where I prefer the, er, second side to the first. Second half? I’m a real Spidey fanboy with this song. And Al fanboy. And Billy Joel fanboy. Too much epic.

    I have nothing to add to your words about “Bob.” It’s perfect. Also, my Dad’s name is Bob, so that’s fun for me.

    I remember those eBay commercials, too. Now I don’t know anyone that uses eBay seriously, except to get an idea of how much something might be worth. I like Al’s song. Actually, it kind of made me like “I Want It That Way” just because Al’s version made me appreciate the music. It’s just really well-produced. I like how Al is singing these silly lyrics about ridiculous stuff as though it’s these are the most sublime things he’s ever come across.

    “Genius in France” is a clever style parody, but it just goes on and on. I appreciate it more on an intellectual level than I actually enjoy it.

    I remembered liking this album more than I guess I actually do. Like I said, though, it’s not my favorite period of pop music. It’s just whatever was in the air in pop culture at the time left me more or less cold. I liked the next one better.

    I still haven’t listened to Mandatory Fun, but I did watch the videos and I heard the polka on Tumblr, and I love what I’ve heard so far. I’ll have to catch it before I read your review. I hope you do the “Alpocalypse” song by song, also.

    • Nathan says:

      I kind of hate TV in general from about 1996 to 2004. (Years approximate.)

      But that’s when Futurama started!

      I’ve heard other people mention that they thought Al was cursing during the bridge in “Hardware Store.” I guess the human mind just kind of goes there when lyrics are hard to understand, like with “Louie Louie.”

      In a way, I think the polka works because I DON’T like the songs, and the new arrangement makes them more tolerable and points out the stupidity in the lyrics. I actually do like the Eminem song, though.

      I’m trying to remember the last thing I bought on eBay. Probably an out-of-print Oz book. I was always more likely to use, which is owned by eBay but doesn’t require bidding.

      I think that “Genius in France,” when compared to something like “Albuquerque,” is more varied in terms of music, but much less so in its subject matter.

  5. samuraifrog says:

    Futurama was the bright spot in those years! Actually, three of my favorite shows were on in that time period: Farscape, Futurama, and Invader ZIM. All of them canceled. Damn it.

    • Nathan says:

      And all involving aliens. I guess it makes a certain amount of sense that there would be a lot of that near the turn of the twenty-first century, since we were supposed to have commercial space flight by then.

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