Day Eighty-Two: "Jurassic Park" from Alapalooza
Well folks, we have officially reached the halfway point in the Weird Accordion to Al. I know this because a gentleman I follow on Twitter what goes by the handle @Alyankovic tweeted that I’d reached that milestone and Al Yankovic, or “Weird Al” Yankovic as he is professionally known, is one of the world’s preeminent experts on the life, career and recordings of American pop parodist “Weird Al” Yankovic. He’s right up there with Jon “Bermuda” Schwartz in that regard.
It was a real honor to have Al blast out news of this labor of love to his five million followers, and after the plug, the newest entry in the series, “You Don’t Love Me Anymore”, was read over a thousand times, which means that nearly half of Al’s five million followers are now following this column, and also that I am very bad at math.
“Jurassic Park”, the first single, parody, music video and song on Alapalooza, ushers us into the middle portion of Al’s career. In the first decade of his recording career, Al released eight albums. In the remaining twenty-four years, he’s released just six. Al has gotten less prolific but more strategic as he’s gotten older, and his nineties oeuvre doubled down on pop-culture mash-ups that combined a zeitgeist-capturing classic song with an equally zeitgeist-friendly hit movie.
Alapalooza piggy-backed on the public’s affection for, or at least, familiarity with such beloved pop-culture chestnuts as the aforementioned Jurassic Park (a smash in both literary and cinematic form), The Flintstones (subject of “Bedrock Anthem”) and Wayne’s World, which brought back Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” in the biggest, most iconic possible way, and inspired the album-closing “Bohemian Polka.” 1996’s Bad Hair Day gave the world “Gump” to the tune of Presidents of the United States’ “Lump” while 1999’s Running with Scissors tapped into Star Wars prequel mania for the kick-off single “The Saga Begins.”
So a lot of Al’s most high-profile singles from the Clinton era aligned themselves so closely with huge blockbusters that they almost seemed to be part of mammoth marketing campaigns. There’s the mega-production, then the ad blitz and junkets and stars on late night talk shows and morning shows and the timely “Weird Al” Yankovic parody.
I’ve written extensively about commercials and commercialism and consumerism in Al’s work. “Jurassic Park” sometimes sounds as much like a tongue-in-cheek commercial for Jurassic Park as a loving spoof. As with “Yoda”, “The Saga Begins” and the Spider-Man-themed, lesser-known “Piano Man” parody “Ode to a Superhero”, on "Jurassic Park", Al broke with tradition and parodied a classic rock staple as opposed to a recent hit.
The song in question is “MacArthur Park”, that inscrutable story song written by Jimmy Webb and given screamingly hyperbolic life by everyone from disco diva Donna Summer to moonlighting English thespian Richard Harris. Al only had to change one word to transform “MacArthur Park” into “Jurassic Park.” More importantly, the incoherent, self-parodic melodrama of Webb’s original song, and particularly Harris’ version, perfectly matches the song’s subject. The singer of “MacArthur” seems more overcome with emotion and feeling and intensity over a doomed love affair and a dumb cake melting in the dumb rain than the singer of “Jurassic Park” does over their likely impending death-by-dinosaur. “The chorus, “Jurassic Park is frightening after dark/All the dinosaurs are running wild” seems to write itself but what Al does is always much more difficult than it initially appears. “Jurassic Park” is yet another example of Al taking a premise that might seem a little hack on paper and making it work through a combination of solid song and joke craft and sweaty determination.
The song is sung from the perspective of a character inside the world of Jurassic Park who is understandably alarmed when things at the Jurassic Park theme park take an unfortunate turn. The science-fiction theme empowers Al to be his nerdiest, most scientific self. How many other pop songs could possibly begin, “I recall the time they found those fossilized mosquitos and before long they were cloning DNA?” Other than “I Think I’m a Clone Now”, of course?
The twenty dollar SAT words continue with the singer recounting being “chased by some irate velociraptor” which is both a phrase you don’t hear in music enough, and a great mental image that really drives home the peril at the song’s core. As we have explored extensively, Al is a big fan of comic understatement, so it’s not surprising that he undersells the danger he’s in when he assures listeners of his time being pursued by giant killing machines from prehistoric times, “Believe me, this has been one lousy day.” Later, he confides, “I cannot approve of this attraction/'Cause getting disemboweled always makes me kinda mad” which also seems like a pretty chill response to being torn limb from limb by a razor-teethed killing machine.
Sure, “Jurassic Park” has lawyer jokes and Barney the dinosaur jokes but it also has references to chaos theory and some of the most realistic dinosaur noises this side of, well, Jurassic Park. I certainly thought “Jurassic Park” was a hit when it came out but it turns out that it only charted in Canada, where it reached number five on the charts.
“Jurassic Park” is probably better known for its stop-motion animated music video, which was nominated for a Grammy but lost to the Rolling Stones’ “Love is Strong”, which we all remember so vividly. I think Mick Jagger was in it or something. Anyway, very memorable and ground-breaking. Clearly deserved it.
Alapalooza’s kick-off track is not Al’s finest work but twenty four years later it has aged a whole lot better than both the movie and the song that inspired it. Joining Michael Crichton and Steven Spielberg’s dinosaur-themed cinematic blockbuster to Jimmy Webb’s oldies radio staple might have been a wedding of convenience, but the song and the video have both endured. Heck, the only thing that would possibly get me interested in the upcoming sequel to Jurassic World would be if they hired Al to do the theme song, and what the heck, while we’re dreaming, also cast him as the new lead while they were at it. I think a bold move like that would really shake up the franchise.
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