Day Ninety-Six: "Cavity Search" from Bad Hair Day
Welcome back, Al fans! We took a brief break for Thanksgiving but now we are back in action not unlike the Looney Tunes in their film vehicle Space Jam. Speaking of motion pictures, I have written exhaustively about the central role television, and by extension, television advertising plays in Al’s oeuvre.
But movies play a sizable role in Al’s career as well. Time and time again, he’s chosen hit songs from soundtracks to parody, when he’s not making a smash movie the explicit focus of his trademark goofs,as in “Yoda”, “The Search Begins”, “Ode to a Superhero and “Gump”, which we’ll be getting to shortly.
That’s right. Seven months and ninety six entries into this column I’m inexplicably going to start referring to Al’s parodies as goofs. You gotta switch things up a little sometimes to keep yourself from going mad. It’s easy to see why Al has disproportionately chosen soundtrack hits for his trademark goofs:
When choosing which song to goof on, Al doesn’t just go for obvious hits. No, he goes for songs that are popular, sure, but also stand a good chance of enduring. Al’s been recording goof-em-ups for nearly forty years and with the possible exception of “Toothless People”, I’m not sure I’ve ever found myself thinking, “Huh, I’m not familiar with the song Al is parodying.”
Songs like “Amish Paradise”, a parody of Coolio’s smash hit from the Dangerous Minds soundtrack and “Cavity Search”, a parody of U2’s “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me” from the awful but very successful Batman Forever soundtrack benefitted from a multi-media assault; they were ever-present on radio and MTV but also figured prominently in huge hit movies.
“Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me” is a relic of that curious time in U2’s career when they decided to eschew the somber earnestness of their early work for trendy irony without really understanding irony. Bono was eager to advertise that he was most assuredly in on the joke, but it’s not entirely sure what the joke was.
“Cavity Search” finds Al returning to the seemingly shallow well of dental humor that he first mined in “Toothless People”, one of the few out and out duds in his discography. “Cavity Search” is a big improvement over “Toothless People” but it suffers from parodying one of U2’s most forgettable and mediocre singles.
Still, even undistinguished U2 is U2 and Al and his band do a masterful job of capturing the sly atmospherics of the original. “Cavity Search” hijacks Bono’s stylized, ironic, half-sarcastic croon and the song’s electronic atmospherics to capture the alternating feelings of horror, disorientation and loopy joy endemic to being pumped full of novocaine and nitrous oxide so a professional sadist can start sticking sharp objects in your poor bleeding mouth for your own good.
In the pantheon of dental comedy songs, “Cavity Search” ranks below Little Shop of Horrors’ hilarious and wonderfully sadistic “Dentist!”, the Citizen Kane of songs about dental pain and above Al’s own “Toothless People.”
As a Jew, I was amused to hear Al swoon “Oy vey” for the first, but not last time. The yiddishism is a little incongruous here but that is definitely not the case when Al used the phrase repeatedly in “Pretty Fly for a Rabbi.”
“Cavity Search” is sometimes a little too evocative. When the unmistakable sound of a dental drill enters the sonic mix, I experienced a weird Pavlovian jab of pain in my mouth. Just hearing that awful, awful, useful instrument of high-minded torture brought back agonizing memories of trips to the dentist.. The song might not be painfully funny, but it most assuredly is painfully amusing.
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