Childhood Car Tunes – Bad Hair Day by “Weird Al” Yankovic

I’d like to take some time to explore my main method of music absorption when I was a kid.  I would rarely listen to music through my headphones on my portable cassette player.  The last time I remember doing that was listening to my copy of What’s The Story) Morning Glory?, and the batteries were running low.  For some reason, I assumed the tape had somehow become warped, and I never trusted that cassette player again.

For the majority of the time, I’d listen to cassettes with my family through the van’s tape deck.  My mom would keep a sleeve that would hold approximately 12 cassettes with us when we would go on summer road trips and vacation.  I’ve got plenty of tapes that were in the rotation that I would like to discuss, but I’ll focus on one at a time.  For this blog entry, I will discuss the album Bad Hair Day by “Weird Al” Yankovic.

I can’t remember exactly when I received this album, or how I was even introduced to Weird Al.  All I know is that I related to him instantly, and I can relate to him to this day.  I even dressed up as the man last year on Halloween. However, it has only been within the past year or so that I realized how much my music collection was lacking in Weird Al content.  While I like comedy albums and own a decent amount of stand-up albums, I don’t drive to collect it as much as I do other genres.  I bought Straight Outta Lynwood the year it came out, but it was several years later until I grabbed Dare To Be Stupid, and in recent weeks I’ve re-acquired Bad Hair Day (this time on CD).  This gives me a good opportunity to reflect on this one track-by-track.

“Amish Paradise” 

This is the most known song, but it’s probably among my least favourite on the album.  Part of that may be due to the over-exposure this song had at the time of release, and nowadays I tend to look out for music that flies a bit under the radar, avoiding the hit singles .  I liked it more when I was younger, but there are some stylistic choices that I can still appreciate.  Al opted to go with a more stiff rap style to keep in spirit with his caricaturing of an Amish man instead of imitating Coolio.  In case the original came out before your time, give it a listen here.

Favourite Lyric:

“Hitchin’ up the buggy, churnin’ lots of butter

Raised a barn on Monday, soon I’ll raise anutter”

I’m not sure when the term “humble brag” came into prominence, but this song has that spirit.  Most of what he’s talking about seem to be standard aspects of his daily life, which of course one of the chief sources of the humour.  The creative liberty taken in the misspelling of another is a nice touch, a technique that is often used and overused in hip-hop.

“Everything You Know Is Wrong”

Not a direct song parody, but one that was done in the style of They Might Be Giants. They aren’t a group I ever paid much attention to, but I remember really enjoying the “Particle Man” and their cover of novelty song “Istanbul (not Constantinople)” both of which featured on Tiny Toon Adventures.  They are perhaps most famous for performing the theme song to Malcolm In The Middle.  Perhaps if all of their songs had some sort of TV affiliation I’d know the band as well as I do Star Trek trivia.

This song is super catchy, more impressive considering the fast pace at which the words seem to fly from his mouth.  His voice seems to be pitched higher than normal, but I want to say that nasal tone is natural, and not something he tweaked for the recording.  Nonetheless, regardless of how he gets by in the studio, I hear the man really brings it live.

Favourite Lyric:

“And so I had them send me back to last Thursday night so I could pay my phone bill on time”

This request is very similar to the tired premise where you are granted three wishes from a genie, and you end up wasting them on frivolous, short-sighted things like a cold beer, dating a supermodel, or becoming Adolf Hitler.  I find extraterrestrial beings more fascinating than genies in a bottle, so that makes the score Weird Al: 1, Joke A Friend Of My Dad Would Tell Me: 0.

“Cavity Search” 

I’ve always liked the simple groove of this track, and Weird Al’s band do as good a job as always in nailing the sound of the band they are parodying.  That being said, I never really listened to U2 until relatively recently when I finally decided to grab a copy of The Joshua Tree.  The song “Cavity Search” is based on, “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me”, is slightly obscure, with U2’s version having been on the soundtrack for Batman Forever, a film I remember more as my introduction to Nicole Kidman than anything else.   Also, it was within this time frame that I actually made my first visit to the dentist, making all the references seem so fresh to me.  The added drill sounds work well, though Paul Gilbert may have beat them to it by a few years.

Favourite Lyric:

“Listenin’ to the Muzak

Hearin’ people scream

Sittin’ in the waiting room

Readin’ crappy magazines”

I don’t believe my dentist office ever pumped out any music, nor can I recall any screams of terror pumping down the halls.  All I know is that all the copies of Good Housekeeping in the world couldn’t make up for the lack of a single Sports Illustrated.

“Callin’ In Sick” 

I could relate at the time from a student perspective. The chorus I could envision myself screaming over the phone at my teachers. They’d then ask if they could talk to my parents because I was only a minor without the ability to pull myself out of school, thus effectively bursting my bubble.

This song is apparently done as a grunge sound alike, with the verse sounding reminiscent of the riff in Nirvana’s “Come As You Are” or “Lithium”.  I didn’t really identify this as a grunge/alternative song when I was younger, which likely had to do with Weird Al’s voice not quite fitting the sound.

The song didn’t even necessarily have to refer to having a sick day. I’d think the objective of a fake sick day would be to do something more interesting than your job. Nothing he mentions sounds more appetizing than any job I’ve ever had.

Favourite Lyric:

“I could spend all day in my underwear watching Ernest Goes To Camp

That is sadly the most appealing thing of all his potential plans.  I’ve seen that particular B-movie more than once, so I’d likely dig for something I haven’t watched.  There’s plenty to choose from on my Letterboxd watchlist, but if I truly am sick, my fatigued state would likely lead me to pick Ricky Oh – The Story Of Ricky off the shelf for the umpteenth time.  If watching an underdog vanquish baddies in an endless montage of power punches couldn’t motivate me to get back to health, what would?

“Alternative Polka”

The beauty of listen to one of Weird Al’s medleys is trying to play Name That Tune as quickly as the band makes the transition.  It differs significantly than if you are seeing a rock band perform a medley of their own tunes due to the different arrangement

I had a very small music collection back in 1996, and didn’t listen to the radio that often, so some of these artists flew over my head. They are so masterfully woven together anyway that it feels as if I’m listening to only one composition, with lyrics that coming off as stream of consciousness.

Favourite Lyric:

The portion from “Closer” by Nine Inch Nails. Leading into the section with an electronic beat, the slapstick censorship sound effects contrast magnificently with Trent Reznor blatantly lustful lyric.

“Since You’ve Been Gone” 

To keep it brief, this one is Weird Al’s barbershop / do-wop take on a love song.  This is a great “filler” track, and I’m not saying that based on the quality.  The vocals are nicely arranged, with no need to cram in any pesky musical instruments to overshadow them.  Al sings gross exaggerations of pain after what seems like a particularly rough breakup, but the end of the song reveals he still prefers how he feels to being in a bad relationship.

Favourite Lyric:

“Since you’ve been gone

It’s like I’ve got a great big mouthful of cod liver oil”

Cod liver oil is one of those things I hear of a lot, and get the general impression of what it is, but always forget exactly what it is.  Cod’s a fish, and fish tends to stink.  Liver sounds like something that should never be eaten by a civilized human being.  Oil, I’m neutral on, but when the three words are combined it seem that much more gross than each individual components.  The idea of it turns my stomach so much that I can’t even make my way through the brief Wikipedia page to know if my queasiness is justified.

“Gump” 

Yes!! I got right into this song at age 11, and it’s still a standout for me.  Forrest Gump was one of the first dramatic films I had the patience to sit through as I was still mostly into cartoons, comedy, and action movies.  The story was so compelling, and the scenes in Forrest’s life were so varied and adventurous in nature that they jumped right off the screen.  Perhaps Weird Al doesn’t share the most relevant details of the movie, but what fun would that be?  Think of it as trimming off the meat instead of trimming the fat.

Of further relevance to me was that The Presidents of The United States Of America’s debut (which featured “Lump”) was one of those albums in our family van’s tape deck rotation, so I’ll be sure to discuss that album in a future post.

Favourite Lyric:

“His girlfriend Jenny was kind of a slut

He went to the White House, showed LBJ his butt.”

Two naughty phrases rhyming with each other, but still two memorable parts of the story (at least as a kid they were).  I’m slightly disappointing he didn’t reference Forrest’s ping-pong career, but questioning Weird Al’s songwriting?  Shame on me!  That’s like thinking Al would be less weird if he shaved his moustache and ditched the dorky glasses.  HE’S JUST AS WEIRD AS EVER!!

Thank god for that 🙂

“I’m So Sick Of You”

I almost forgot entirely about this track.  I was running through the tape by memory at first, and I caught myself remembering this by thinking about the outro of the previous track.

The chorus is one that I sort of found annoying with all that “I Yi Yi Yi Yi!!!” stuff, which is my main lasting memory of this one.  I don’t mind Elvis Costello, whom this is based off of, but perhaps this explains why I never really got into his work.  I also found it a little odd that there were two songs on the album with “sick” in the title, and it’s the second relationship song as well.  Not a standout, but by no means a bad song.

Favourite Lyric:

“You’ve got inhuman body odour

You’ve got the hair of a boxing promoter”

That is one reference that didn’t need explaining to anybody.  Everybody knew he was referring to Don King’s famous hairdo, but a kid stumbling upon this song may not know that.  You may picture a man with frizzy mop-top, but you probably are just as likely to picture hair slicked back with globs of gel or some cringe-worthy comb-overs.  Certain people may not even picture a male boxing promoter.  I can’t argue that, though a woman would need to whip up quite the ensemble to outshine the King.  If you’re hard up for ideas, watch some old reruns, and go with whatever Carol Brady happens to be wearing.

And speaking of reruns…

“Syndicated Inc.” 

I actually found this one to be a bit bland in comparison to other tracks.  Most of the song is basically listing off TV shows.  Part of it may be that I never got into Soul Asylum, but still, if I want to point somebody in a direction of a boob tube – themed track, I’d be more likely to play them “TV Party” by Black Flag.

On the positive side, the accordion solo is rather memorable, and when matched up with the original guitar lead in “Misery”, is faithful. I actually prefer hearing it on the accordion, but that could be my bias talking.

Favourite Lyric:

“Think I’m losing my sanity

I’m addicted to Regis & Kathy Lee”

That’s a true sign of having a TV addiction.  Daytime TV is one of the hardest watching experiences there is.  I remember being stuck on rainy days during summer vacation with not much on but Regis & Kathy Lee or soap operas in the afternoons.  Suddenly, being sent outside to pull weeds out of the garden didn’t seem like a chore.

“I Remember Larry”

This was a definite highlight for me.  A fantastically upbeat song with lyrics that go against a rather sinister lyrical theme, a balance that he has featured on several other songs throughout his discography (and even others on this album).  And I love the fade-out, which makes great use of multiple vocal tracks.  I’ll call this my favourite song on Bad Hair Day in spite of my lackluster explanation.

I was not aware of the original source material for this track at the time, and didn’t even explore it until a few months ago.  It’s based of the style of Hilly Michaels, and shares plenty of melodic similarities to “Calling All Girls”.

Favourite Lyric:

“You know I couldn’t help but laugh

Even though he treated me like slime

Remember when he cut my car in half?

Well, he really got me good that time”

That prank would push me over the edge as well, even though I drive around in a decade old Pontiac G5.  When I was younger, I would picture a guy with a gigantic pair of scissors cutting the car like it was the grand opening of a shopping mall.  Compared to other means of vehicular destruction, that doesn’t seem all that intimidating.

“Phony Calls” 

“Waterfalls” was a massively huge song for TLC.  So huge, in fact, that I’m surprised that Weird Al didn’t make a video for this song.  “Waterfalls” may not continue to be a radio staples or be considered a universal classic, but that actually helps this song, and many others on the album age rather well.  You don’t even need to have heard the originals to enjoy them.  Just go with the flow, and let Al’s words take you on a strange journey.

I wasn’t one of those kids who instigated this particular brand of annoyance.  Furthermore, I’ve never even been that drawn to the telephone, even with all it’s technological advancements during my lifetime.  Still, the concept of the prank call always makes for easy entertainment.  When listening to this song, my ears would perk up during Bart Simpson’s call to Moe’s Tavern.  Most of my exposure to The Simpsons at the time was the Treehouse of Horror Halloween episodes, so this sample was fresh to my ears.

Favourite Lyric:

I have to choose the entire chorus. I know it follows the same melody, but I find this more singable than the original.  I guess “No Scrubs” was more in my wheelhouse.

“Don’t go makin’ phony calls

Please stick to the seven-digit numbers you’re used to

I know that you think it’s funny drivin’ folks right up the wall

But it’s really getting’ old fast”

There are a few variants of the chorus, but arbitrarily chose the first one.  I can actually remember being prank called a couple of times by some classmates who would pretend to be one of the girls in my class. Then one day, she actually did call, and I yelled at her assuming it was another prank. Good times.

“The Night Santa Went Crazy”

I’ve got a soft spot for Christmas songs, but there’s no need to tell you that if given the chance, Bing Crosby wouldn’t have touched this one with a ten-foot pole.  This track is strikingly similar to Ozzy Osbourne’s “Mama I’m Coming Home”, but who would have thought that the lyrics would be darker than those sung by The Prince of Darkness?  Perhaps this song could traumatize young children, but I was already aware that Santa was not real when I first obtained this album, so I was unscathed aside from my sides being split from laughter.

Favourite Lyric:

I’m spoiled for choice with this song, but I’ll go with

“And they say Mrs. Claus

she’s on the phone every night

With her lawyer negotiating the movie rights”

This may seem pretty heartless of the woman, but just consider the plethora of questionable or tasteless Christmas movies that had been released before and since.  Look towards Silent Night, Deadly Night, the needless Home Alone sequels,or any holiday film starring a wrestler as evidence.  I’d hate to see the pitches she would have rejected, but I hope she pours all that blood money back into the toy workshop in the North Pole, extending the elves’ work benefits beyond all the candy canes they can eat.

I definitely didn’t get a case of buyer’s remorse by grabbing this album for a second time.  It has even brought back some old memories of family vacations where this album served as a soundtrack towards our destination.  This has encouraged me to start compiling a master list of albums that my family had in our tape drawers, as I’d love to do this type of entry again.  Heck, maybe even my old Glo Friends tape had a song or two on it!

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