Friday, October 5, 2012

The Greg Kihn Band's "Jeopardy"/Weird Al's "I Lost On Jeopardy"

Greg Kihn was a Huey Lewis-esque bar band rocker with a penchant for punny album titles (Next of Kihn, Kihnspiracy, Rockihnroll, Kihnsolidation, Kihntagious, Citizen Kihn ... it goes on). In 1983, he released the #2 hit "Jeopardy," which featured some killer music, but some rather generic lyrics:
Where were you
When I needed you
Well you could not be found
What can I do
Oh I believed in you
You're running me around

Well you can take it as a warning
Or take it anyway you like
It's the lightning not the thunder
You never know where it's gonna strike

Our love's in jeopardy, baby ooh
Our love's in jeopardy, baby ooh

It was a good jam, but something - hard to say what, exactly - was missing. Only one man knew what that special something was. I can practically see him sitting there in his basement, the light bulb appearing over his head. "Hmm ... 'Jeopardy'..."

Suddenly, in the hands of Weird Al, a mundane love song became the dark, twisted tale of an overly-confident game show contestant.

While the song's video is excellent, there is something to be said for simply listening to "I Lost On Jeopardy" on its own; with less visual distractions, the angst of the protagonist really seeps in. However, it's fascinating to see what Jeopardy used to look like before Alex Trebek took over, and before the "answers" were displayed by a block of actual television monitors on the wall. Someone on YouTube commented, "Why didn't he get the actual host, and use the actual set?" Umm ... Weird Al did get the actual host, and he did get the actual set. Did you know that Jeopardy goes back to 1964? In fact, in the early '80s, the show had briefly gone off the air, but the popularity of "I Lost On Jeopardy" helped bring it back in its new and improved incarnation. Also, keep your eye out for the real Greg Kihn in a "hey everybody, I'm a good sport" cameo.

In another sign of Weird Al's new-found industry clout, not only did "I Lost On Jeopardy" feature then-current host Art Fleming in the video, it also featured announcer Don Pardo, who delivers this scathing monologue over the guitar solo:
That's right Al
You lost
And now let me tell you what you didn't win
A twenty volume set of the Encyclopedia International
A case of Turtle Wax
And a year's supply of Rice-A-Roni, the San Francisco treat
But that's not all
You also made yourself look like a jerk in front of millions of people
And you brought shame and disgrace on your family name for generations to come
You don't get to come back tomorrow
You don't even get a lousy copy of our home game
You're a comple-hete loo-hoo-ser
Admit it: this is probably what most of us feel like saying to failed game show contestants (announcers included), but we're just too polite to go there. There's this pathetic notion on game shows and thousands of other contests held daily in small towns all across America, in summer camps, in high schools, in retirement homes, that you should be given points for "trying," and that even if you come in last, you should still win "something." You know what? Maybe you just failed, OK? Maybe you don't deserve our charity. As if a case of Turtle Wax is going to make you feel any better.

But as brilliant as Don Pardo's brutal contestant takedown is, the greatest moment of the song, in my opinion, occurs immediately afterward. Here is Weird Al, he's just been completely raked over the coals by the show's announcer, he should be a shambling wreck of a man, but he simply jumps right back in with an enthusiastic "Don't know what!" His failure has essentially bounced right off him. I find this oddly inspiring. Instead of sounding utterly despondent, he only sounds mildly miffed. "Guess it just wasn't my night," he surmises. That one little moment, I think, says miles about the boundless optimism of the American spirit. The man should be crushed and ruined, but nope, he's still dreaming of doing better "next weekend on The Price Is Right." In America, hope springs eternal.


Herr Zrbo said...

Your timing is excellent. Greg Kihn was just booted off (or forcibly retired) from his long running host on 98.5 KFOX here in the bay area. He was one of the longest running hosts on radio. I started listening to KFOX about a year ago as it and 107.7 The Bone are the only classic rock stations in the area.

And now KFOX has changed it's programming, so it now seems like it's classic 'everything'. I kid you not, the other day they followed up a Jimmy Buffet song with Pearl Jam's 'Evenflow'. What kind of radio station is this? It's like they can't make up their mind what they want to be.

Little Earl said...

Yes, Greg Kihn is a Bay Area guy. Did you happen to notice Mission Dolores in the "Jeopardy" video?

yoggoth said...

Sounds better than most stations these days!