Thursday, December 20, 2012

"Hooked On Polkas" - Part I

Beginning with "Polkas On 45" from Weird Al Yankovic In 3-D, Weird Al discovered the comedic value of the "polka medley." I can see him in the studio now: "I've got it - imagine if all the great pop hits of the day were randomly slapped together ... and covered in the style ... of a polka band. I don't even need to write my own lyrics!"

"Polkas On 45," being Weird Al's first polka medley ever, featured a few contemporary hits like "Every Breath You Take" and "Burning Down The House," but mostly drew from classic rock, sampling snippets of songs by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Who, the Doors, and Jimi Hendrix. He probably figured, "Hey, this is the first and last time I'll ever do a polka medley. I mean, surely the gag will wear out its welcome, right?"

For his second polka medley, "Hooked On Polkas" from Dare To Be Stupid, Weird Al stuck exclusively to contemporary hits. (I managed to find a clip of the medley on YouTube, but it "contains content from SME and Warner Chappell, one or more of whom have blocked it in your country on copyright grounds"; little do SME and Warner Chappell realize, but their precious Weird Al polka medley is still available on YouTube ... as part of the complete album, which has been posted elsewhere and remains unblocked. Damn, I'm good. You can listen to the whole album if you'd like, but the medley begins at the 33:07 mark.)

Now, imagine hearing "Hooked On Polkas" in 1995. At the time, I recognized several of the tracks he'd crammed in there, such as "Footloose," "What's Love Got To Do With It," and "Owner Of A Lonely Heart," and I chuckled upon hearing them performed in such a bowdlerized fashion. But it's not very funny if you hear a polka version of a song you don't actually recognize, is it?

Now, imagine, years later, finally hearing the songs that Weird Al had performed with bicycle horns and hand claps as if he were playing at Cousin Morty's bar mitzvah. Yes: Weird Al's polka medleys introduced me to many a popular '80s song. See, what happened was, so much time had passed between these hits' heyday and 1995, I found myself listening to Weird Al's polka parody versions without ever having been exposed to the originals. This, I suppose, was amusing in its own roundabout way, although not in the way which Weird Al intended.

I could sort of sense at the time that I was experiencing a joke that I was not "in" on. For example, why was Weird Al shouting such nonsensical lyrics as "She looks so great/Every time I see her face/She puts me in a state/Ooh, a state of shock"? What forgettable pop hit was this? And why was he proclaiming "We're not gonna take it"? Take what? What was it that he was not going to take? Or "Bang your head/Mental health will drive you mad"? Or "So why don't you use it/Try not to bruise it/Buy time, don't lose it"? Or "Relax, don't do it/When you wanna go to it/Relax, don't it/When you wanna come/Relax, don't do it/When you wanna sock it to it"?

After listening to a Weird Al polka medley, you might come to the conclusion that most '80s pop song lyrics are completely ridiculous and make no sense. Let's take these one by one.

Question: does the presence of Michael Jackson and Mick Jagger automatically turn a song into a hit single, even if it kind of ... stinks? I.e. if a Jackson/Jagger collaboration falls in the woods, and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?

I'm guessing that young American teenagers listened to "We're Not Gonna Take It" by Twisted Sister and thought that they were being rebellious. But don't you think that, if it's 1984, and you really wanted to be rebellious, you would have been listening to something like Black Flag? Or hell, even if we stick with metal, how about Ride The Lightning?

What goes for Twisted Sister goes double for Quiet Riot. Quiet Riot are mostly known for "Cum On Feel The Noize," which was actually a cover of a song by '70s glam rock group Slade. Is it sad when your biggest hit was actually a cover? If it's any consolation, Quiet Riot did have another, smaller hit with "Metal Health." Listening to Weird Al's rendition, I thought the lyrics were "mental health will drive you mad," not "metal health will drive you mad." Because why would Weird Al be singing about metal?

Duran Duran's "The Reflex" was a #1 hit in both the US and UK, but that doesn't mean I have to like it. It has the same problem all the other crappy Duran Duran songs have - a lot of noises are being made but none of them blend together in a pleasing fashion. I think Simon Le Bon manages to sing "Why-eye-eye-eye-eye" in a more irritating manner than even Weird Al does - and Weird Al was trying to be irritating.

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