Daring to Be Stupid with "Weird Al" Yankovic
I dive into a rock parody classic with some help from the Beer'd Al Podcast's host, Lauren Carey.
Thank you for spending part of your day with Michael’s Record Collection. When I got my first stereo, one of the records that was given to me at the time by my parents was a K-Tel compilation called Goofy Greats. It was an album full of songs with lyrics that either had little-to-no meaning or were silly in some way. There were songs like “Ahab the Arab” by Ray Stevens, “Yummy, Yummy, Yummy” by Ohio Express, “Surfin’ Bird” by the Trashmen, “Mah-Na-Mah-Na” by Piero Umiliani, and “The Name Game” by Shirley Ellis.
Although these songs weren’t meant to be taken seriously, they were fun and they appealed to me as a kid. They (mostly) still do. So, I have a history of being able to not take music too seriously all the time. Years later, I became a fan of “Weird Al” Yankovic in the 1980s and have seen him live on his Running with Scissors tour. Today, I’m taking a look at my favorite “Weird Al” album and letting you know about a podcast that has only deepened my appreciation for his particular brand of music.
Let’s jump right in.
When I was in my early teens, the days seemed long and boring, especially in the summer. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t a fan of the structure imposed by school — go to this class at that specific time, sit in that assigned seat because the teacher can’t remember your name if you sit wherever you want every day, etc. When I could be, I was outside playing football, basketball, wiffleball, baseball or some other random game with friends from the neighborhood.
But when no one was around, or the other kids went inside for dinner and family time, I had to fend for myself to fill the hours. Listening to records passed the time nicely, but sometimes nothing would fill that hole quite like a new experience. I’d escape the boredom in two primary ways: I would either explore other worlds via a never-ending series of books (mostly science fiction or fantasy), or I would explore the radio waves. I would turn the stereo knob up and down the dial, looking for something interesting.
That’s how I came across the Dr. Demento radio show. Barry Hansen (a.k.a. “Dr. Demento”) had a weekly show that was broadcast on a local radio station every Sunday night. It was my first appointment-listening radio show, and it would later be joined by the likes of In the Studio with Redbeard, Flashback, and live music shows on various FM stations.
Dr. Demento’s show was different than anything else I was listening to on the radio at the time. It consisted of goofy novelty songs, offbeat tunes, and other music with weird or zany lyrics. That’s where I first heard Frank Zappa’s “Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow,” and crazy stuff like “Fish Heads” by Barnes & Barnes. There was a time I enjoyed Ogden Edsl’s darkly humorous “Dead Puppies Aren’t Much Fun,” until we heard it one Sunday night as we arrived home from vacation, only to find out that our own pooch had passed away of a virus while we were gone. It was instantly no longer funny.
But there were a few years during high school when I just couldn’t miss Dr. Demento’s show.
After I’d been listening for some time and became an upperclassman, I made one discovery from listening to Dr. Demento that stayed with me for life, and that was the music by a guy named “Weird Al” Yankovic. All I knew about him was that he played the accordion and inserted his own words into popular songs. I frequently made up my own goofy lyrics to songs, so this was right up my alley. Dr. Demento’s show exposed me to some of Yankovic’s early parody songs like “Another One Rides the Bus,” “I Love Rocky Road,” and “My Bologna.”
I looked forward to new Weird Al songs and when we finally got MTV on our cable network, Yankovic’s music was right there in front of me, accompanied by videos that aped those of the songs he parodied. Classics like “Eat It” and “I Lost on Jeopardy” were among my favorite MTV videos.
But it wasn’t until Yankovic’s third album, 1985’s Dare to Be Stupid, that my enjoyment of his music took a more “serious” twist. I finally heard one of his albums all the way through at a friend’s house. I was already familiar with his parody songs and had even heard one of his polka medleys (“Polkas on 45”) on Dr. Demento. Hearing Dare to Be Stupid all the way through was a different experience. In addition to the usual parodies, such as “Like a Surgeon,” “Yoda,” and “Girls Just Want to Have Lunch,” there were actual original songs. I hadn’t heard one of those before!
These originals were still based on popular music, but instead of taking the basic original track and simply adding new lyrics to create a parody song, he mimicked a band’s style and created something new out of it. The title track off Dare to Be Stupid delighted me to no end, because it was a style parody of Devo — a band I was very much into at the time. I fell in love with the album upon hearing that, but those feelings only deepened when I heard “One More Minute,” which is sort of a breakup song done in the style of doo-wop music, with an Elvis vibe.
Dare to Be Stupid became my favorite “Weird Al” album and remains so to this day. I realize it’s an uneven album, frontloaded with the best songs, but there aren’t any skippers in the bunch.
Sharing the “Weird Al” Yankovic Love
At the end of 2020, I launched this newsletter. Due to having so much great material in my interviews with musicians left over after writing, I felt like I had to do something so that I didn’t just leave great insight from the music creators on the cutting room floor. So, I uploaded my videos to YouTube. But about six months later, I had another idea. I was already doing a couple of sports podcasts, so I figured I should make the audio from my interviews available for those who wanted to listen on their commute or while working out. I was already listening to a few music-based podcasts at that time, but I began to discover a huge community of podcasters out there who were putting out really good music-based content.
One of the podcasts I found early on was the Beer’d Al Podcast. The hosts of the show — Lauren Carey and her brother, John — were publishing a program that combined their love of craft beer and their enjoyment of Yankovic’s music. As someone who liked both of those things, I gave it a listen and found a whole lot to like.
“Beer’d Al gets lumped a lot in with shows that started during the pandemic because it's a show that started during the pandemic,” Carey said. “But the idea for it came a little bit before that, and the pandemic was just the thing that made us go, ‘Oh well, let's just do it. Now we have time.’”
How does one go about creating a show that mixes a kind of beverage with a musical artist?
“So, the general premise is, it's my brother and myself and we do what we say we do,” Carey said. “We take our two favorite things in the world and smash them together, because Weird Al was the thing that kind of kept us bonded as kids, because we're about two years apart. And you know, especially when you're teenagers, it's like you kind of hate each other a little bit, but we always found common ground in Weird Al. You know, one of us could turn Weird Al on and go ‘Oh, okay, like you're not so bad.’”
When the siblings got older, they found they also shared an affinity for craft beer. With two things they both felt strongly about, there was some initial uncertainty when thinking of a topic for a podcast that they could do together.
“I think I might have mentioned Weird Al, and John might have mentioned beer, and then he was the one who just kind of had the moment. He went, ‘Well, why not both?’ I'm like, ‘Brilliant. That's the hook.’ You know, because craft beer, especially from like funky little microbreweries, has a lot of the same humor that Weird Al does, especially when naming the beers and it's just people doing weird stuff. And that's what Weird Al does, too.”
Lauren and John have done more than 100 episodes of the show already, which varies in format.
“I have done over 100 episodes of the Beer’d Al Podcast. My brother has done about half of that,” Lauren said. “Because every other week of the show I have a guest on, you know, you're on the show to talk about the Weird Al topic du jour. The main backbone of the show is my brother and myself pairing a craft beer with a Weird Al song, but then every other week it's a free-for-all.”
Due to her expertise, I invited Lauren to discuss my favorite Weird Al record and we ended up doing a crossover, discussing the album in a different way on her show. (More on that below.)
Dissecting Dare To Be Stupid
The album kicks off with “Like a Surgeon,” a parody of Madonna’s hit song, “Like a Virgin.” I’ll cop to liking the “Weird Al” version much better. I am not a huge Madonna fan, although I do like some of her songs. I was never a big fan of “Like a Virgin,” but Yankovic’s funny, social commentary on the medical profession stands well on its own. And if it didn’t, the brilliant music video would still be worthwhile.
It's a fact, I'm a quack
The disgrace of the A.M.A.
'Cause my patients die
Yeah, my patients die
Before they can pay
Note that he’s a disgrace not because his patients die, but because they die before they can pay. It’s brilliant and darkly funny. The song is so smart (and catchy) that it reached No. 47 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart despite being a parody song.
“I think ‘Like a Surgeon’ holds a very interesting spot in Weird Al lore, in that it’s the only parody he ever did that the idea came from somebody else,” Carey said. “And it came from Madonna herself. And so you can't be mad at that. And yeah, this song is hilarious.”
The title track is second in the running order, and it is a perfect Devo style parody. Yankovic’s understanding of Devo’s sound and how to mimic it while creating something original is mind-blowing. The song’s underlying message is about not taking oneself too seriously and that it’s OK to be silly. It includes a laundry list of things the listener should do that invert common sayings. Al tells you to look a gift horse in the mouth and to bite off more than you can chew. And as a throw-in to Devo fans, he makes a potato reference. There is a lot of potato imagery in Devo’s own brand of goofy music and artwork, but Al insists here that “Mashed potatoes can be your friend.” The music video parodies several Devo eras and ideas and augments the song nicely.
“One thing I love about the song ‘Dare to Be Stupid’ is how, throughout Al's career, it's kind of taken on a life of its own, because he's done it in different styles on the last two Vanity tours,” Carey pointed out. “So, he did it in the style of the Grateful Dead a couple years ago, and then the one I just saw, he did it in the style of like, lounge lizards, which was hilarious.”
Huey Lewis & the News songs were ubiquitous in the 1980s, so it comes as no surprise that Yankovic parodied one of their tunes. “I Want a New Duck” is loaded with duck puns and hopes that his new duck won’t do random things you might not normally expect a duck to do, such as chew a hole in your socks, raid the ice box, or steal your beer. The Huey Lewis & the News sax solo is replaced by a “quacks solo,” with duck sounds in place of the saxophone. My favorite part of the song is when Al punctuates a double entendre about his new duck showing him to “get down” by yelling “Get it?!” to make sure it doesn’t slip past the listener.
Despite Al calling it out, it can still slip past the listener.
“There was one day embarrassingly recently, where I was like, ‘Oh, my God, I get it,’” Carey said. “And I said it out loud to no one.”
My favorite song by Yankovic is up next, in the form of “One More Minute.” Al can sing, and he shows that off somewhat here, although he still hams it up a bit. It’s brilliant lyrically, with the song starting out with him hearing that his girl is leaving. His response is…less than healthy.
So I pulled your name out of my Rolodex
And I tore all your pictures in two
And I burned down the malt shop where we used to go
Just because it reminds me of you
The rest of the song is devoted to all of the things he’d rather do than spend one more minute with her, each one simply awful beyond imagining. But, for me, the kicker is the line “I guess I might seem kind of bitter.” I just love the way he couches that bitterness three times in such a short span. I guess I might seem kind of bitter. It’s genius. But it’s also sung so well — not just by Al, but the backing vocals as well. It’s a great sounding song.
“For the longest time, this was my favorite part of any Weird Al concert, because he puts on the smoking jacket and has the scarves, and he'd go out into the audience and like really ham it up for the women and stuff, but I loved that part,” said Lauren. “And so, that really gives the song a special place in my heart. But yeah, I mean the man can sing — the man that can absolutely sing — and this may have been the first time people actually noticed how well he can sing, but I think he's proved it quite a lot, you know?”
Yankovic’s parody of “Lola” by the Kinks is fairly straightforward but it has become a concert staple when he tours. “Yoda” isn’t the only Star Wars-themed parody song Al’s done but it’s one of his best. The guitar work is underrated. Musically it stands up well against the original. Waiting for permission from George Lucas and the Kinks reportedly delayed the song’s release by five years, but it’s a solid song and a fun sing-along for Star Wars nerds (like me).
“He just finally put it on this album here, and it took on a life of its own, you know for him and in his career. He closes every concert with ‘Yoda,’” Carey said.
Side 2 of Dare to Be Stupid kicks off with a rare cover song. Yankovic does a faithful cover of the George of the Jungle theme song. It suits his style well but it was a strange choice. But Al got the last laugh, as the song was used in the 1997 Brendan Fraser film by the same name. Neither Carey or myself skip the song but it’s not a favorite for either of us.
“He didn't write it or anything like that. He wanted to put it on the album, fine. He's allowed,” Carey said.
The gem of Side 2 for me is “Slime Creatures from Outer Space.” As he did with his Devo pastiche, Yankovic takes on the musical style of Thomas Dolby — specifically he models it after “Hyperactive.” The song also pays tribute to the great cheesy sci-fi movies of the 1950s, with a creepy Theremin sound and crazy effects.
“This is one of the ones that definitely took some time to grow on me, because I didn't understand everything that was going on,” Carey admitted. “But, now that I do, it's like, oh my god, this is genius.”
The last of the hit song parodies on the album is “Girls Just Want to Have Lunch,” a send-up of Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” which reportedly was “requested” (in quotes to indicate it was a very strong request from the label) by Scotti Bros. Records. Yankovic delivers an odd vocal performance on the song — whether because there’s no way he could reach Lauper’s vocal range, or as a bit of a protest, I’m not sure, but I’d love to know. There are also several burp and fart noises throughout the song. To me it comes off as a bit of a protest, but maybe he just liked it that way.
“You can tell that his heart wasn't fully in this one. And honestly, just on principle as a girl, we want more than lunch,” Lauren said.
“This is the Life” is a style parody of music of the 1920s or 1930s and it ended up being used for the film Johnny Dangerously. It’s a cute little song, and features some of Jon “Bermuda” Schwartz’s best drumming on the album, but it’s not one of my favorites on the record, particularly the mock tap dance section in the middle. However, there is excellent keyboard work and a scorching guitar solo, so it has its moments. There’s also an odd hip-hop record scratch sound about two-thirds through the song that anachronistically interrupts the proceedings.
“You’ve got the mock tap dancing, and then it leads into a like a ripping guitar solo, but then you get the ‘What up what up?’ (part) which gets me every time,” said Carey.
“Cable TV” is a pastiche that is supposedly a sendup of the Elton John song “Hercules.” There are other songs that sound similar to “Cable TV,” which is mainly memorable for its lyrics. I still remember when we got cable, and we had one of those boxes that was attached to a “remote” box via a wire. There was a knob that changed which level of numbers you used to select the channel and the numbers were either one through nine or one through zero (I forget which). But watching cable television when it was new was a strange experience. There were channels that would have programming that changed dramatically from one hour to the next. ESPN at that time had Australian rules football, billiards, and all manner of other fringe sports.
There’s good (electric?) piano, a killer sax, big backing choir vocals, and just generally a lot going on in the song.
Finally, the album closes on “Hooked on Polkas,” which begins and ends with more traditional polkas, but through this four-minute song, he plays multiple polka styles and sings the actual lyrics to several popular songs, including:
“State of Shock” — The Jacksons and Mick Jagger
“Sharp Dressed Man” — ZZ Top
“What’s Love Got to Do with It” — Tina Turner
“Method of Modern Love” — Hall & Oates
“Owner of a Lonely Heart” — Yes
“We’re Not Gonna Take It” — Twisted Sister
“99 Luftballons” — Nena
“Footloose” — Kenny Loggins
“The Reflex” — Duran Duran
“Metal Health (Bang Your Head)” — Quiet Riot
“Relax” — Frankie Goes to Hollywood
The man smashes songs from several musical styles into this polka. There’s progressive rock, blue-eyed soul, R&B, synth rock, new romanticism, blues rock, and hair metal songs all polka’d up with brilliant transitions and it ends the album on a fun note.
“All of the polkas have something to them that I feel is special,” Carey said, although she admitted she would prefer it be placed somewhere else in the running order instead of at the end.
The 11 songs total just a smidge under 37 minutes of listening time and the album flies by every listen. I’ll let other people take their music too seriously. When it comes to listening to a great “Weird Al” album, I’m happy to dare to be stupid.
“Like a Surgeon”
“Dare to Be Stupid”
“I Want a New Duck”
“One More Minute”
“George of the Jungle”
“Slime Creatures from Outer Space”
“Girls Just Want to Have Lunch”
“This is the Life”
“Hooked on Polkas”
You can find out more about the Beer’d Al Podcast and hear Lauren and I break down Dare to Be Stupid track by track in the video below, or on the accompanying MRC podcast (Episode 65), which is available on all major podcast outlets. And be sure to check out my appearance on the Beer’d Al Podcast starting tomorrow, as Lauren and I discuss the album in an entirely different way, ranking our songs from the album. You can learn more about her podcast at the show’s website, www.beerdalpodcast.com, and be sure to follow the Beer’d Al Podcast on all the major social media channels. Lauren handles those and she’s a great follow.
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