The Weird Al Chronicles Part IV: Polka Party!

A footnote in the Weird Al discography...
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Polka Party!, Weird Al Yankovic's fourth album, sort of has disappeared into the muck and the mire of Al's long, storied musical career. When VH1 decided to do a Behind the Music on Weird Al, and as far as I can recall it is the only episode of that show I have ever seen (I did watch The Simpsons episode "Behind the Laughter," but that is neither here nor there), one of the down moments of his story was the relative failure of this album. That's what happens when you have somebody on your show that hasn't had torrid love affairs or injected black tar heroin directly into their gallbladder.

Indeed, Polka Party! only reached 177 on the Billboard Top 200 albums, and it's critical assessment was mixed back in 1986 when it was released. That's not good, but I reckon that would be the high point for most parody and joke based musicians. Having said that, this album is, upon initial inspection, pretty unremarkable. I had not heard of a single one of the parody songs on the album before this project, and had only heard one song of the 10 included. Perhaps Weird Al and company had been spreading themselves too thin. This was their fourth album in as many years, and when you need other songs to generate some of your own music, that can be tricky.

I also wonder, in terms of the albums success, did the layperson think it was an actual polka album? Then again, what did the layperson think the prior Weird Al albums were when they stumbled upon them with no knowledge going in? One this that Polka Party! has going for it? The cover art is funny. It's a picture of the man himself decked out in Bavarian gear with his accordion whilst a bunch of no good punks thrash and party around him. Weird Al does succeed in the visual medium when it comes to comedy, as I mentioned when discussing his music videos in the Dare to Be Stupid article.

With all due respect to Mr. Yankovic, perhaps it is for the best this album was overlooked. Not that I want to discourage people from putting cash into his pocket, but this is a fairly weak album, perhaps his worst of his first four. It is certainly a step down from Dare to Be Stupid. None of the parodies are good. The best is probably "Addicted to Spuds" a parody of Robert Palmer's "Addicted to Love" but about, of all things, potatoes. Is that silly? Yes, perhaps too silly. I mean, it's straight up absurd. That's not necessarily a bad thing, to be fair. Weird Al often excels when he can just be absurd, but this sort of fell flat. So, when I say it is the best parody song on this album, I'm damning it with faint praise.

"Living with a Hernia" a parody of James Brown's "Living in America" is alright, but nothing special, and it opens the album. The prior two album openers? "Eat It" and "Like a Surgeon." Yeah, this isn't quite living up to its predecessors. The other two parodies I do not enjoy. "Here's Johnny" is the parody of some song called "Who's Johnny?" by somebody, or something, called El DeBarge. Apparently the original is the theme song from Short Circuit, so there's that. Johnny 5 is alive! I know that's a thing. Weird Al's song is about Ed McMahon. It's a bit annoying, to be honest. The chorus is said too many times. "Toothless People" is a parody of "Ruthless People" by Mick Jagger. I don't know that song. If I didn't know "Toothless People," I wouldn't be missing anything. This is also one of Al's weaker polka efforts. And on an album called Polka Party! too.

It's not all bad, however. There are actually a few strong originals. There is one I did not like, "Don't Wear Those Shoes" which felt odd for a Weird Al song. "Dog Eat Dog," a song in the style of Talking Heads (remember, the name of the band is Talking Heads), is decent. The other three songs that sprung from Weird Al's head as fresh ideas are quite good. The one I had heard before is "Christmas at Ground Zero," which modern history has not been kind to, what with the connotations of "Ground Zero" in recent years. However, this song has nothing to do with those tragedies, obviously. Instead, it is basically a Christmas carol version of Dr. Strangelove. It is one of those Weird Al ditties where the tone of song does not matchup with the content of the lyrics. Sure, this is a fairly common comedy practice, but just because something has been done before doesn't mean it can't be enjoyable if it is does well, and Weird Al manages to do stuff like this well often. "Christmas at Ground Zero" is a cheery song about a nuclear apocalypse. A bit dark, but not too dark to keep it from being accessible to a widespread audience. It's a funny concept, it's well-executed, and it is humorous. It's one of my favorite Weird Al originals.

"One of Those Days" is somewhat similar to "Christmas at Ground Zero" as it is fairly upbeat in terms of the music, but it also pretty much features an apocalypse. Weird Al is just having "one of those days" where things are going wrong, but the things that are happening are quite severe and often utterly bizarre. It's the fact that Weird Al is sort of shrugging this stuff off that is the heart of the humor, and while that is kind of funny, what makes it better are the events that transpire upon Weird Al. However, while "Christmas at Ground Zero" was already one of my favorite Al originals (or Al-riginals if you will (but please don't)) before I heard this album, "Good Enough for Now" was new to me, and is now one of my favorite originals as well. Again, there is a central conceit to this song that is the crux of the humor. In this case, we have a country song, the only Weird Al country song I can think of, but instead of espousing how great his lady is, he discusses how she is, as the title suggests, "good enough for now." Pretty much every line is a joke in that vein. As opposed to espousing how great his woman is, as is the case in many a love song, Al's gal is merely adequate. Again, it's been done, but Yankovic does it quite well. It's rather funny, and it is also one of the best sounding originals I've heard from Weird Al. I'm not necessarily a country fan, but this song sounds good, with its old school country vibe and Weird Al's affected twang.

That's the last thing I want to mention regarding this album. It features Al doing a bunch of different singing voices. He does his James Brown, his David Byrne, and just takes on other vocal tics for other songs. It's a bold choice, at the very least, and it usually succeeds.

Yes, Polka Party! has it's issues. It's a lesser album, decent at best, and most of these songs I have no desire to hear again. However, it's not a complete wash. The last two songs of the album are "Good Enough for Now" and "Christmas at Ground Zero." So, maybe just check out the last couple of songs. Fortunately in this modern era, you can do that without having to acquire the entire album. I know Weird Al's career goes up from here, and this was just a speed bump en route to a long and glorious career. At the time it may have been slightly concerning, but now Polka Party! is just a footnote.