Weird Al – Trapped in the Drive Thru: Perfect Parody

What can I say? This is brilliant. It’s a bit long (11 minutes), so block out some time to watch the whole thing.

It also helps to be familiar with Trapped in the Closet, R. Kelly’s hip-hop opera in multiple parts which tells a complex story (with several interwoven plots) of increasingly bizarre cases of infidelity and sexual hang-ups. Here’s a Google Video if you need to brush up. Sometimes referred to as the “Plan 9” of music videos, the series has obtained a bit of a cult following and it has been a ripe target for parody since its 2005 release.

So it should be no surprise that Weird Al decided to tackle it. But the caliber of the results, now that is a bit surprising. Mr. Yankovic has done some amazingly clever and funny work in the past (his Star Wars Episode I song comes to mind), but the source material for this is just so ridiculously over-the-top that its quite the feat that he was able to top it. And of course, it’s all the more astonishing that he does it by transposing the excessive and strained drama of the original to a topic most mundane: the search for dinner.

Trapped in the Drive-Thru – "Weird Al" Yankovic (Doogtoons)

trapped in the drive thru at itunes

A Big Fat Drunk Disgruntled Yuletide Rambo

yuletide rambo

Tis the season and all. Yep, Xmas is around the corner and its related tunes can be heard, sometimes whispering sometimes shouting, from computers and stereos and iPods and speakers in the ceiling at the mall. Old chestnuts, classical interpretations and indie versions all will make their appearances during the next couple weeks, probably to the point of nausea.

They are songs that celebrate the season, reminding us of the wonder and good times of family togetherness or heralding the birth of a certain religious deity. Still others focus on the practices of gift-giving and gift-receiving while encouraging little ones to behave in order to partake in said gifts. Then there’s the jolly fat man in red suit and funny hat; he’s the stern but gentle patriarch who does everything right, is generous with material things and never wants anything in return except maybe some cookies.

But all that unrequited altruism would take its toll on even the most selfless person… or so this one particular Xmas song surmises.

The Night Santa Went Crazy from Weird Al’s 1996 Bad Hair Day tells the narrative, in borderline morbidly graphic detail, of a certain evening in Santa’s Workshop, when the big guy finally loses his cool, going on a rampage from which Xmas will never recover.

This song is perhaps the pinnacle of Weird Al’s songwriting. It is musically exceptional, with astute holiday underpinnings and some of Al’s most remarkably clever lyrics to date. He manages to incorporate and reference the unique culture of the North Pole, successfully transposing it into a scenario that’s half Die Hard, half Headline News.

So I present what is perhaps the best song to queue up when you’re about to overdose on holiday cheer and the thought of good will toward men makes you want to slug someone.

The Night Santa Went Crazy:

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"Weird Al" Yankovic - Bad Hair Day - The Night Santa Went Crazy

Here are the lyrics if you want to sing along:

Down in the workshop all the elves were makin’ toys
For the good Gentile girls and the good Gentile boys
When the boss busted in, nearly scared ’em half to death
Had a rifle in his hands and cheap whiskey on his breath
From his beard to his boots he was covered with ammo
Like a big fat drunk disgruntled Yuletide Rambo
And he smiled as he said with a twinkle in his eye,
“Merry Christmas to all… now you’re all gonna die!”

The night Santa went crazy
The night St. Nick went insane
Realized he’d been gettin’ a raw deal
Something finally must have snapped in his brain

Well, the workshop is gone now he decided to bomb it
Everywhere you’ll find pieces of Cupid and Comet
And he tied up his helpers and he held the elves hostage
And he ground up poor Rudolph into reindeer sausage
He got Dancer and Prancer with an old German Luger
And he slashed up Dasher just like Freddie Krueger
And he picked up a flamethrower and he barbequed Blitzen
And he took a big bite and said, “It tastes just like chicken!”

The night Santa went crazy
The night Kris Kringle went nuts
Now you can hardly walk around the North Pole
Without steppin’ in reindeer guts

There’s the National Guard and the F.B.I.
There’s a van from the Eyewitness News and helicopters circlin’ ’round in the sky
And the bullets are flyin’, the body count’s risin’ and everyone’s dyin’ to know, oh Santa, why?
My my my my my my
You used to be such a jolly guy

Yes, Virginia, now Santa’s doing time
In a federal prison for his infamous crime
Hey, little friend, now don’t you cry no more tears
He’ll be out with good behavior in 700 more years
But now Vixen’s in therapy and Donner’s still nervous
And the elves all got jobs working for the postal service
And they say Mrs. Claus, she’s on the phone every night
With her lawyer negotiating the movie rights

They’re talkin’ ’bout – the night Santa went crazy
The night St. Nicholas flipped
Broke his back for some milk and cookies
Sounds to me like he was tired of gettin’ gypped

Wo, the night Santa went crazy
The night St. Nick went insane
Realized he’d been gettin’ a raw deal
Something finally must have snapped in his brain
Wo, something finally must have snapped in his brain
Tell ya, something finally must have snapped… in his brain

The Weird Al Paradox

Simpsons Weird Al Yankovic

So the news recently hit that Weird Al finally has a Top 10 record after all these years. According to Billboard, that’s 73,000 copies of Straight Outta Lynwood sold. Congrats to Al; he deserves it.

It’s worth noting, though, that album sales are down overall and that nearly equal sales of 72,310 only ranked a 16 on the Billboard 200 for 1999’s Running with Scissors.

But really, that news has got me thinking. 1) about Weird Al’s sustainability, and 2) About what his sustainability says about the state of the music industry.

Weird Al’s longevity over the years is based on the simple premise that he continues to draw his inspiration from current music trends and hits. Sandwiched between his original songs about food, dysfunctional relationships and extreme bodily injuries (as well as the ever-awesome polka medleys), one is always sure to find several tracks based on the trends and ideas that define the moments his records are released.

It’s his thing; that’s what he does.

The effect of this approach is that Weird Al tends to remain relevant in the here and now, ages after his older parodies (and the songs that inspired them) have become well-worn. Frankly, it’s quite amazing that he’s been able to adapt so successfully as musical culture has changed. White and Nerdy is a far cry from My Bologna.

Underlying that ability to remain relevant, however, is ubiquity. A large portion of Weird Al’s success is wholly dependent on his audience’s familiarity with the songs and artists he parodies. In other words, Weird Al’s appeal is strongly rooted in the appeal of his sources of inspiration .

I say this as a person who has paid little attention to radio hits and the comings and goings of would-be superstars in recent years. As a result, I’ve largely not been “hip” to the so-called mainstream. But don’t construe that as being out-of-touch; there’s plenty of culture going around that doesn’t make a blip on the big corporate media radar. It’s just that Eminem and Chamillionaire mean so little to me as a connoisseur of music that Al’s recent works have fallen a little flat.*

It illustrates the nature of the music market specifically and American consumerism in general. The truth is that the market for music is fractured, and increasingly so. More and more often, people aren’t relying on a single source for their purchasing recommendations.

Audiences for different styles of music are becoming progressively more mutually exclusive. The top of the music charts has become a battle to see which fan base niche market will turn out and buy the most records in a given week. But that fan base is only a relatively small portion of all music sales (think the long tail). That’s markedly different from twenty years ago when Michael Jackson could generate massive audience appeal in a more solidified market.

That’s the line Weird Al is going to have to walk in the future. In that regard, his latest album already has one casualty from my perspective: Before researching this, I had absolutely no idea who Taylor Hicks was, and still don’t understand why he’s inspired a Weird Al parody.

I imagine many people would have a similar reaction if Al released a parody of LCD Soundsystem’s Daft Punk is Playing at My House, a song that took the indie scene by storm last year (Though that song has 41,090 listeners on vs Hicks’ 1492).

He’s still a clever and funny guy, but to me, there’s a connection that’s missing from his lastest offerings and it’s likely to remain that way in the future. That’s ok I suppose; I’ve still got Smells Like Nirvana.

*That said, his parody of R. Kelly’s Trapped in the Closet (Trapped in the Drive-Thru) is freakin’ spot-on.

Straight Outta Lynwood
"Weird Al" Yankovic - Straight Outta Lynwood - White & Nerdy (Parody of "Ridin'" By Chamillionaire featuring Krayzie Bone).