The Day I Heard “Weird Al” Yankovic’s Bad Hair Day
By Jeffrey Kieviet
Where better to start than the beginning? I was never much of a music person as a child. Sure, my parents played kids’ music for me when I was a baby and I began to listen to some of the “oldies” as I grew up. We used to road trip a lot and I remember listening to “The Hobbit” audio book or a tape of The Dinosaurs performing Grimm’s Fairy Tales (remember “I’m the baby, gotta love me!”? Their version of Cinderella: she was covered in ash and cinders because they lived next to an erupting volcano). One thing I remember in particular was a tape of The Looney Toons singing Beatles’ songs. Daffy Duck lisping “Yeth-terday,” Yosemite Sam shouting “Help” as Bugs blew up dynamite and tried to drown him, and quirky bits of dialogue during “Birthday” about what kind of cake Elmer Fudd was getting Taz.
So when I finally started to listen to music on my own, because I wanted to (and I wasn’t stuck in a car for hours on the way to a national park), it’s not surprising it ended up being something strange and hysterical. If you haven’t given “Weird Al” Yankovic a shot, this is where you should start. I was around 10 years old at the time, hanging out at my “girlfriend’s” (we were 10. Holding Hands was 3rd Base and we were taking things slow) house and she was listening to some rap. As I listened to the odd lyrics rhymed spoken by the unusual voice, I realized he was rapping about being Amish: churning butter, growing beards, not using electricity.
In the years since, I’ve grown my “Weird Al” collection and become a fan. I got to see him once at the local fair (now he has a 3-D movie at the fair about the workings of the human brain). He’s the reason I developed such an eclectic taste in music. Bad Hair Day has everything: hip hop, R&B, pop, rock, polka, as well as references and jokes about The Simpson, Forest Gump, and Santa Claus.
A subtle spectacle of the album is “Since You’ve Been Gone.” It’s a cappella (proving that even though his voice isn’t what you’d expect, it can carry and deliver a tune), and his band provides background vocal harmony so the sound isn’t something you hear everyday. The song is a series of hyperbolic expressions of how awful the singer’s life has been since the titular “You” has gone away. It gets worse and worse, feeling like “chewing on tin foil” & like “someone’s dropped a 2 ton bowling ball on my toes.” It builds and builds, like this person must have so wonderful, so exquisite, that the mere lack of her presence had put this man through horrific hardship. Then with a beautiful synchronicity of harmony, the final lines coos “I feel almost as bad as I did, when you were still here…cha!” Comic gold. And an original song. “Weird Al” isn’t all about parodies.
Other honorable mentions include “Amish Paradise,” of course. Even if Coolio wasn’t cool with it, it paints a picture of the Amish culture in more vivid black and white than “Witness.” Harrison Ford? Yeah, I never saw it either. “Phony Calls,” a parody of TLC’s “Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls,” about a jerky kid making prank phone calls and raising all sorts of hell. They even have a little snippet of Bart Simpson calling Moe’s Tavern and asking for “Mike Rotch.” Go ahead, say it aloud… Another truly bizarre number, in the style of They Might Be Giants (yeah, just in the style of the whole band, not a particular song), “Everything You Know Is Wrong” is the Salvador Dali of contemporary music. This song is the reason I am capable of abstract thought. The last song of the album, “The Night Santa Went Crazy,” is what carolers should be singing. The title says it all, chaos, fire, raining bullets. But don’t worry, Santa gets out of prison in only 684 more years.
His polka medleys are always the cat’s pajamas (or the bee’s knees. Some animal’s something). Since I was fairly unfamiliar with most popular music at the time, this polka (“The Alternative Polka”) was my first introduction to the chorus of many hit singles. “You Oughta Know” by Alanis Morrissette, “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” by Smashing Pumpkins, and “Closer” by Nine Inch Nails (instead of swearing the chorus used car horns and various other cartoon sound effects, “ I wanna *oink* you like an animal, my whole existence is flawed, you bring me closer to god”). This is a love song to the 90’s.
“I Remember Larry” always struck a personal chord with me because I have an uncle Larry, and he’s the only “Larry” I’d ever known. Both in the song, as in life, Larry is a practical joker. My uncle is a goofy man, and a lot of my sense of humor comes from him and my father. I probably wouldn’t like “Weird Al” if not for all the stupid jokes and silly pranks they pulled when we were kids. Uncle Larry drove us to Disneyland with my dad in the trunk the whole way. In the song, Larry takes things too far and revenge is exacted through the form of an kidnapping/abandoning-in-the-middle-of-nowhere “joke.” But it also gives kids ideas for fun pranks to pull, like brownie laxatives and switching someone’s toothpaste with glue. Hey kids, try putting Nair Hair Remover in shampoo; a bald head is good, clean fun! (Side note – my uncle Larry is a Beatle’s fan and absolutely despised the tarnishing of such art by the Loony Toons, even though he enjoyed them in their own right)
Lastly and honorably, the Pièce de résistance, “Gump,” parody of “Lump” by the Presidents of the United States of America. Even though I wasn’t familiar with the original song, the music rocked, the beat was punk, it was badass alt-rock. Then it retells the tale of Forest Gump in a 3 minute song. It catches everything: Lieutenant Dan, chocolates, showing LBJ his butt. The song is funny & catchy & everything good music is supposed to be. “And that’s all I have to say about that.”