35 Albums in 35 Years: 1989

In an ongoing attempt to bleed my opinions all over your computer screen, I’m selecting one album from every year that I’ve been alive that has some sort of significance to me…and then writing about it.  Welcome back to 35 Albums in 35 Years.

 

weirdaluhf1989: Weird Al Yankovic’s UHF Original Soundtrack

In the summer of 1989, I went to a movie with a group of my friends.  This was the “summer of the bat,” Tim Burton’s Batman having been released a little less than a month earlier.  There were still lines to get in to see it.  Or to see Ghostbusters II, or to see Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade, or to see any number of other blockbusters that came out that summer (there were a lot).  So, our parents dropped us off, we bought our tickets, got our sodas and candy and popcorn, and walked into the dark theater.

There was no line for our movie.

It’s very possible that we were the only three people in the whole theater, but I didn’t notice.  I was too excited.  This was the movie I had been waiting all year for.  This was my reason for existence.  This was my Woodstock.  And for the next 97 minutes I watched UHF, the Weird Al movie in absolute delight.  It was the best and funniest movie I’d ever seen.

I was ten.

After the credits finished rolling, we went to the mall and each one of us immediately bought a cassette copy of the soundtrack.  It was the latest of a string of albums that captivated me in my pre-adolescence.  The newest opus from the man responsible for so much of my sense of humor (then and now).  Weird Al was my hero back then.  He was a hero to all of us.  We bought all of the albums.  We videotaped the episodes of Al TV when they would air on MTV.  I used to perform his songs with a couple of friends in front of my elementary music class on an almost weekly basis.  One of those friends even took accordion lessons.  We were obsessed.  If we could have grown mustaches back then, we certainly would have.  The adulation was that true and pure.  My friends and my brother and I were all devout acolytes in the temple of Yankovic, and a new album (and a movie too!) was a grand reason for excitement and exultation.  It did not disappoint.

UHF is kind of an oddity in Weird Al’s catalog.  The parody songs come from an interesting array of artists (Dire Straits, Tone Loc, Fine Young Cannibals, REM) that date the album a little more than others do.  There are also a couple of sound bites from the film that find their way onto the album (“Spatula City!”) that feel like short comedy skits, a device Yankovic never really experimented with before or since.  And while I’ve always been a fan of Weird Al’s own songs, his original material here is so much better than the parodies (although “Spam” is fantastic).  The title track is just massive in sound and scope for a novelty artist, transcending its own novel nature and blossoming into, for lack of a better phrase, a real song.  “UHF” was probably the first Weird Al song I remember feeling deserving of far more credit than it ever received.  Sure, it was funny, but it still felt like more than a joke.  It felt like it could have competed with and beaten any of the awful, by-the-numbers pop tunes that dominated the radio then (and now).  And maybe that was just a 10-year old fan’s unwavering devotion and opinion, but the song still holds up.

The other original songs on the record should be proud to puff up their collective chests as well.  “Generic Blues” is exactly what the title suggests, an aping of the blues that’s both hilarious and apt.  “Let Me Be Your Hog,” despite its 30-second run time (or maybe because of it) is still funny, and still makes me laugh every time I hear it.  Then round the whole thing out with a fun and bouncy instrumental (“Fun Zone”) and a Rolling Stones-themed polka.  Magic.  Finally we close with “The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota,” one of my favorite songs ever.  It’s a perfect representation and satirization of the country and western, Americana storytelling songs that were coming out during the 70’s and 80’s, blue collar and studio slick.  Years ago, when she was sad, I sang this song over the phone to my wife (then my girlfriend) to make her laugh and feel better.  And it worked.

My everlasting thanks to Weird Al Yankovic.  Now, go make yourself a Twinkie wiener sandwich and listen to this album.

- Favorite song: “The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota”

- Runner up: “UHF”

Some other albums I almost wrote about instead: Nirvana’s Bleach; Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique; Julee Cruise’s Floating into the Night; LL Cool J’s Walking with a Panther; Motley Crue’s Dr Feelgood; Faith No More’s The Real Thing; Nine Inch Nails’ Pretty Hate Machine.

 

Thomas H Williams

Thomas H Williams

From a bunker somewhere in Central Texas, Thomas H. Williams spends most of his time with his wife, his two sons, and his increasingly neurotic dog. He listens to a lot of music, drinks a lot of excellent beers, and gets out from time to time. For even more shenanigans, visit heavenisanincubator.blogspot.com.

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