Saturday, November 10, 2012

Men Without Hats' "The Safety Dance"/Weird Al's "The Brady Bunch"

While listening to Weird Al's second album In 3-D, I heard a track called "The Brady Bunch" that stood out to me from the other cuts and had a melody I didn't recognize. The lyrics went like this:
You can watch Mister Rogers
You can watch Three's Company
And you can turn on Fame
Or the Newlywed Game
Or the Addams Family

Say, you can watch Barney Miller
And you can watch your MTV
And you can watch 'till your eyes fall out of your head
That'll be OK with me
And you can watch...TV
I remember thinking, "Damn, for a Weird Al original, this is really catchy!" Of course, it wasn't an original. It was a parody of Men Without Hats' "The Safety Dance."

This may be the rare instance of a Weird Al parody that is actually not as weird as the original song. Men Without Hat's lead singer and songwriter, Ivan Doroschuk, sounds like he's a robot that is running low on batteries. Particularly unnerving is the way his voice drops when he sings the word "Say," as if his computer programming has momentarily frozen. Even stranger than his delivery are the enigmatic lyrics:
We can dance if we want to
We can leave your friends behind
'Cause your friends don't dance and if they don't dance
Well they're no friends of mine
Say, we can go where we want to
A place where they will never find
And we can act like we come from out of this world
Leave the real one far behind
And we can dance
And sing!

We can go when we want to
The night is young and so am I
And we can dress real neat from our hats to our feet
And surprise 'em with the victory cry
Say, we can act if want to
If we don't nobody will
And you can act real rude and totally removed
And I can act like an imbecile
So obviously the song is about ... safety? Dancing? Dancing safely? Numerous theories floated around, from "a celebration of safe sex" to "a warning about nuclear proliferation." But the true inspiration was a little less dramatic:
The writer/performer, Ivan Doroschuk, has explained that "The Safety Dance" is a protest against bouncers stopping dancers pogoing to 1980s New Wave music in clubs when disco was dying and New Wave was up and coming. New Wave dancing, especially pogoing, was different from disco dancing, because it was done individually instead of with partners and involved holding the torso rigid and thrashing about. To uninformed bystanders this could look dangerous, especially if pogoers accidentally bounced into one another (the more deliberately violent evolution of pogoing is slam dancing). The bouncers did not like pogoing so they would tell pogoers to stop or be kicked out of the club. Thus, the song is a protest and a call for freedom of expression. Other lyrics in the song include references to the way pogoing looked to bouncers, especially "And you can act real rude and totally removed/And I can act like an imbecile".
Little did Doroschuk realize just how much of an imbecile the world wanted him to act like. The song peaked at #3 in the U.S. and #6 in the U.K. Men Without Hats were on their way!

Which brings me back to "The Brady Bunch." In the second half of his parody, Weird Al doesn't even come up with his own lyrics. He simply starts singing the Brady Bunch theme, word for word, to the melody of "The Safety Dance." In this fashion, Weird Al demonstrates that he can parody a song that is already funny, and although it might not end up being as funny as the original, it can still be its own sort of funny. Have you ever started making stuff up late at night with your friends? "The Brady Bunch" is sort of like that. Maybe it was a good idea, maybe it wasn't, but damn, you were having too much of a good time to care.

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