Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Huge '80s Hits That I Only Know Because Of Weird Al

And now for something that I suppose you might call a spin-off series of Huge '80s Hits That I Don't Actually Remember Hearing In The '80s.

The first cassette that I ever bought with my own money was Weird Al's Greatest Hits. True, it was actually my father's money, but I think I earned it by doing chores, and he had no influence on my purchase, and I kept the cassette in my own private music stash. The second cassette I ever bought with my own money was the Beatles' 20 Greatest Hits (an early version of Beatles 1), which was probably a better choice, but not by much. A few years later, a friend loaned me every Weird Al '80s album aside from Polka Party.

Listening to '80s Weird Al in the '90s was a strange activity. As many die-hard fans know, Weird Al often writes original compositions in addition to parodies. Listening to his albums a decade later, I was often unaware as to when a song was an original or when it was simply a parody of a song I missed the first time around. As a result, I later realized that several Weird Al "originals" were actually parodies.

Radio rotation can be a funny thing. A song can be playing twenty times a day for weeks at a time, and it seems like it's literally everywhere, and then DJs can just collectively decide that its time is up and everyone is sick of it, and the song gets locked away in a hyperbolic chamber deep within the recesses of pop culture, never to be heard from again, until it is rediscovered by a brave VH1 archeologist. Some songs will end up on permanent radio playlists even though they were only marginal hits at the time (for example, Madonna's "Holiday" only peaked at #16). By the same token, when was the last time you heard a radio station play "The Macarena"?

A pop culture satirist like Weird Al can be so in tune with the present cultural moment while he's satirizing, he can sometimes preserve works that would have otherwise been forgotten. Weird Al has had more longevity than most of the acts he's parodied.

Such is the power of Weird Al that, when I eventually heard the original hits, all I could think of was the Weird Al version. Even when I hear them today, all I can think of is the Weird Al version. I couldn't even sing you the actual lyrics, but I can sing the Weird Al lyrics.

A key part of Weird Al's appeal is the strength of his actual music. His production team over the years has done such a good job of professionally recreating the sound of the hits he's satirizing that when you're listening to his parodies, you're rarely distracted by the music. Hence, the discrepancy between the normal-sounding music and the ridiculous new lyrics is what generates the comedy. Am I stating the obvious? The lyrics are humorous, but he sings them in a serious fashion. Do you understand?

Above all, Weird Al's parodies call attention to the overall banality and interchangeability of the vast majority of pop song lyrics. I mean, "Beat It" might as well have been about food, right? It certainly wasn't Michael Jackson's magnificent wordplay that made the song a hit.

Sure, I heard "Like a Virgin" before I heard "Like a Surgeon." I heard "Addicted To Love" before I heard "Addicted To Spuds." But this series is a tribute to those '80s hits that I initially heard as performed by the mustachioed master.

1 comment:

ninquelote said...

Little Earl. I have to say I applaud the fact that you still post so much even though yoggoth and I have trickled off into obscurity. I peruse your tomes of music bloggery once in a while, although I don't read as much as I probably should, you are a great writer. Very conversational.
I'm commenting on this particular post because I too am a Weird Al fan for the same reasons you mention here. I once read in the entertainment section of the Redding newspaper of all places an article about Weird Al. The author made the comment that an artist hasn't produced a hit song until Weird Al has parodied it. I think that might hold especially true for the 80's.