The Weird Al Chronicles Part VI: UHF

  |   Comments

When I began this project of going through the entire Weird Al Yankovic discography, it did not occur to me that the soundtrack to UHF would show up. However, the album is listed within his discography, and it is indeed a full album of Weird Al songs. Well, it's an album of Weird Al songs and a couple of bits from the movie of the same name. So, it shall be covered. Plus, this way I get to talk about the movie UHF, which is even more up my alley.

While my writing on music has been largely limited to Blinded By Sound, I have spent quite a bit of time writing about movies. For you see, I got my Bachelor's Degree in Film Studies. Sure, it's not the most utile degree, but I made up for that fact by moving to Los Angeles to try and get a job in television writing on account of the fact all the windmill tilting jobs were taken. Anyway, I've done a lot of writing about film, and I am a big time movie guy. Also, I've seen UHF twice, which for me is a rarity. I usually only watch a movie once, and even if it's good that is enough.

It may seem kind of strange that Weird Al Yankovic, a comedy/parody musician, was allowed to co-write and star in a 1989 movie. However, it actually isn't all that odd. A lot of non-actors have been given big time movie roles. I mean, some woman from Survivor was the love interest in The Animal. Plus, more aptly, think of how many standup comedians were given movie roles, particularly in the heyday of the standup boon. Jay Leno starred in a movie with Pat Morita! Al may be a musician, but music videos and live performances were a big part of his success. He was coming off Even Worse and the "Fat" music video. He had an established fanbase and had shown performing skills. Why not let him have a movie?

Unfortunately for Weird Al, it didn't really pan out. Sure, UHF is now regarded as a "cult classic" a phrase that is probably thrown out too often these days, but you don't become a cult classic unless you struggle in the box office. UHF was a bit of a bomb for Orion Pictures, and they could not afford a bomb at the time. Have you heard from Orion Pictures in a while? No you haven't, because they don't exist anymore. The film made just over $6 million in the box office, and it pretty much doomed Weird Al to not have another chance at a movie. He had a chance at a TV show, and that didn't work out much better, but no more movies for one Alfred "Al" Yankovic. Apparently his built in fanbase were pretty much the only people who showed up to the theatres.

However, the financial success of a movie is not relevant in terms of the quality of the movie itself. How does UHF hold up as a film everything else aside? The concept of the movie plays well in Al's passions and strong suits. Yankovic plays George Newman, a wayward dreamer without a sense of purpose in life. Then, one day he is given a UHF station that his uncle won in a poker game. Of course, in this modern era a "UHF station" means nothing. The present equivalent would be one of those cable stations way up the dial that seemingly nobody watches, only with even less budget.

So, basically, George and his friend Bob are running a decrepit TV station. They are outcasts operating on the edges of society. Weird Al running a TV channel. You can see where that goes, right? It allows him to do a ton of pop culture parodies  and to create weird, bizarre TV programs. It's basically Weird Al's music transported to the world of television, through a movie. More than that, they also let George daydream (and regular dream) sometimes, and the movies begins with an elaborate parody of the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

The movie then becomes a slobs vs. snobs comedy. Al and his ragtag crew are targeted by a smarmy big time executive. Guess who wins? The big success on George's station is Stanley Spadowski, a seemingly mentally challenged janitor played by Michael Richards. You know, Kramer from Seinfeld. Richards brings the same physical comedy skills to the roll of Stanley that he did to Kramer. Of course, his name has been sullied by his racist bullshit. Hey, guess who else is in this cast, playing George's girlfriend? Victoria Jackson. You may recall her from her batshit proclamations about Barack Obama and the Democratic Party. Also in this movie are Fran Drescher, television's The Nanny, and Billy Barty, who gave Busby Berkeley musical numbers their nightmarish quality.

UHF is a bit hit-or-miss, which may not be surprising. There are a lot of bits and parodies and stuff that has nothing to do with the plot, which is fairly formulaic. However, formula does not necessarily mean failure. Within the parameters of said formula, the movie works pretty well. The good guys, as it were, are fairly likable. They are the "slobs" but they are still fun to watch and you are happy when they success. Can I take a moment to air some grievances of mine in regards to most slobs vs. snobs movies? They don't work for me, because I can't stand either side. Usually the slobs are repulsive people. The height of this is Animal House a movie I hate. In my mind, that movie is the tragic tale of Dean Wormer. He's trying to run a college institution! He has a job to do, and he has students to protect and serve. He has to deal with obnoxious fratty guys, sure, but he also has to deal with Delta House, a group of scumbags and sex criminals, many of which should be in prison, and certainly don't belong on campus. In the end, they ruin Wormer's career, and we find out that he's left senile in an old folk's home. That's a bummer. However, this has little if anything to do with Weird Al Yankovic or music.

UHF is a really good movie. It's fairly slight, sure, but that's fine for a comedy. The joke saturation is high, and it can be spotty. A lot of the jokes are quite silly, and occasionally they fall flat, but through the simple deluge of jokes you will get some laughs. The acting isn't anything special, Weird Al is no Bob Balaban, but he holds his own. If you like Weird Al's music, you probably would like UHF. It won't answer any great truths about life, but it does have Conan the Librarian and the trailer for Gandhi II.

Speaking of Gandhi II, this serves as a nice segway to UHF: The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack and Other Stuff, because the audio of the trailer is featured on the album. It's one of two non-songs on the album, the other being a commercial for Spatula City Fittingly, they are two of the funnier bits in the movie, with the Gandhi II trailer making me laugh as much as anything. It doesn't work as well without the site of Gandhi beating people up, but oh well.

There's some other stuff from the movie on the album. Admittedly, one of them is a 0:16 second song called "Let Me Be Your Hog" in the style of Iggy Pop's "Let Me Be Your Dog." In the movie, it just exists as background music and is a toss off. There's also an instrumental that's the theme song to "Stanley Spadowski's Clubhouse," the popular kids show in the movie. Lastly, there's "UHF," which is the theme song to the movie, and also a mediocre song that goes on for too long and doesn't really have much to it.

The other song on the album from the movie, the one that doesn't fit in the category of "Other Stuff" is "Money for Nothing/Beverly Hillbillies." It is one of the more unusual Weird Al songs. Not because the subject matter is odd or what have you. That's actually quite common for Weird Al. It's unusual because it's basically just a mashup. It's, in essence, merely the music of Dire Straits' "Money for Nothing" with the lyrics of the Beverly Hillbillies' theme song, only with the works tweaked ever so slightly. That's quite straightforward. Granted, it thematically makes sense in terms of the story of Beverly Hillbillies, but still, Weird Al isn't Girl Talk, you know?

Now, for the stuff not from UHF. Say, why don't I start with the parody song about food? On this album, that would be "Spam," which is to the tune of R.E.M.'s "Stand." Spam is an oft hit comedic target, as any Monty Python fan can tell you. Al is just singing about Spam, that strange salty ham-like product, but the lyrics are fairly funny and well done, and "Stand" gives him a nice tune to put the song to. "Isle Thing" is a parody of Tone Loc's "Wild Thing," which is Weird Al's first rap song parody. It's about watching Gilligan's Island. A Tone Loc send up may not have been the best option for Al's first rap parody. Or it may have been, because Loc isn't a terribly strong rapper. Also, he's another musician who has been in movies. Remember Surf Ninjas? Anyway, Al's rapping to this particular beat doesn't really work, and the song isn't all that funny either. It's a bit of a miss.

The only other song parody is "She Drives Like Crazy," obviously a parody of Fine Young Cannibals "She Drives Me Crazy." Musically, this is the most successful parody. Also, the lyrics are kind of funny, and it's an original concept for Weird Al, as it is a song about a woman who drives awfully and dangerously. The lyrics I could gather were fairly funny, but some of the words were a little hard to hear, which was a sound mixing issue it would seem. Overall, not the strongest collection of parody songs on this album. However, having said that, this was just a soundtrack to a movie. Maybe more of the effort went to making UHF. Maybe they just needed to pad out the album so they could release it. I don't know.

There's a polka medley on this album, and it's the best polka medley he's done thus far. Perhaps it is because it has a unified theme. "The Hot Rocks Polka" is all Rolling Stones songs. I'm not a big Rolling Stones fan, but I still enjoyed this medley. Perhaps Weird Al and his band were really firing on all cylinders in terms of turning these songs into polkas. Perhaps the Stones make music that translates to polka easily. Also, this polka medley continues the tradition of Weird Al singing lyrics you don't find in his own songs. I mean, he straight up sings about having sex in this medley. Look, I know Weird Al is not some asexual being. He's an adult man who is aware of sex, and he has a child so my guess is he has some knowledge of the reproductive act. I'm just saying that it still feels odd to hear him singing about sexual matters.

There are three other originals. "Generic Blues" is fairly mediocre. It's just an over the top blues songs. However, I really enjoyed the other two. The album ends with "The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota" a rambling, nearly seven minute folk story song. It's really good, and it doesn't drag on. Al takes on the guise of a man taking his family on a vacation to see the titular ball of twine. It's your typical Weird Al oddness, but done in his specific, details orientated way I like.

Lastly, there's "Attack of the Radioactive Hamsters from a Planet Near Mars." It's a rollicking song about exactly what you think. I didn't realize until I started this project how many songs Weird Al has that are basically audio b-movies. This song could be the theme song to a low budget sci-fi horror film. I mean, it makes sense Al would like this sort of stuff. It fits in with what I know of his personality. I wonder if he's a big fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000. It also makes me think about what Yankovic could have done if he had gotten a chance to make another movie. I bet he could have made a great home to movies in the vein of "Attack of the Radioactive Hamsters from a Planet Near Mars." Basically, the Black Dynamite equivalent of cheap sci-fi films. It could have been a musical too! It could have been Rocky Horror Picture Show but actually good! (Sorry fans of that movie. Honorable men can differ.) I guess what I'm trying to say is that if Weird Al is looking for somebody to co-write a movie like this, I know somebody living in Los Angeles who is looking for work.

UHF the movie is more successful than UHF the soundtrack. The album I can take or leave. The parodies aren't that strong, although "Spam" is worthwhile, but I do really like two of the originals. The stuff actually from the movie is alright, but I'd suggest taking those in within the context of the movie. I know UHF used to be available to stream instantly on Netflix. If you've been reading these, and you haven't already seen the movie, I'd definitely recommend it. Complete the Weird Al Yankovic puzzle!