Day Four: "Gotta Boogie"
Our path in life is frequently determined at an early age. That was certainly the case with Al. He felt the call to devote his life to making ephemeral pop culture parody and commentary so funny and inspired it would stand the test of time so strongly as an accordion-toting teenager that he began to pursue a sustainable career in pop parody at a time when a sustainable career in pop music parody wasn’t a thing that actually existed. Hell, nearly a half century later, “a sustainable career in pop music parody” still remains something that exists largely for “Weird Al” and some lesser goofballs living in his outsized shadow, and for nobody else.
When Yankovic began his music career with silly songs about less-than-ideal public transportation, unhealthily obsessive processed meat consumption and inconvenient mucus early in his career, he had no idea that nearly four decades later, he would be a multi-Grammy-winning musical legend looking back on a career full of milestone later songs about eating excessively, weighing an excessive amount and Luddite customs.
Like the much brainier “School Cafeteria”, “Gotta Boogie” is an unabashed piece of juvenilia from the Dr. Demento Show period of Yankovic’s career as well as the most, and perhaps only, truly disco number of Al’s career. The accordion still takes center stage here but the sound is fuller and busier, if also more irritatingly repetitive.
“Gotta Boogie” is partially commentary on the beyond-basic musical structure of disco. Al begins the song by repeating the title over and over, in an affected parody of a swinger’s confident tone that recalls the stylized delivery of fellow Dr. Demento Show favorite Frank Zappa on his single “Dancin’ Fool”, which was released around the same time and I imagine had to be an influence on Al’s song. The repetition is so over-the-top that it has to be intentional, just as it is on many of his polka medleys.
Al only stops repeating the chorus to deliver the song’s punchline: “I gotta boogie on my finger and I can’t get it off.” Now Al’s wordplay was generally very clever but I will concede here that basing an entire song on the fact that “I’ve got to boogie”, when condensed, sounds an awful lot like “I have a booger” is a fairly threadbare comic conceit.
When I interviewed Al about it, many, many years ago, before life lost its luster and I settled into a life of complete failure, I got the sense that Al agreed with my estimation of the song and that, all things considered, he would not want this particular song to be mentioned too high in his obituary. Still, within the context of Al’s emerging art and career “Gotta Boogie” has distinctions beyond having maybe the silliest title and conceit in Al’s entire discography.
“Gotta Boogie” is the first song Al released to address romance, or sex, even indirectly. Even in this embryonic stage, Al’s vision of sex and romance was that both were gross, and kind of a waste of everyone’s time. In this case, the song’s narrator prides himself on being a disco maniac, a real Reagan-era swinger but when his woman asks him why he dances with a finger behind his back, he reveals that it’s because he’s got an inconvenient globule of mucus (colloquially known as a “booger”) stuck on his finger and he can’t get it off.
So even when a “Weird Al” character is being social and romantic he’s still hiding something gross while also singing very specifically about that very grossness. Yes, he’s getting into all matter of homophone trouble when he asks women, “Wanna boogie?” and, judging from their disgusted replies, they clearly imagine that he’s offering them the mucus on his finger and not an opportunity to dance with him, although both seem like extremely unappealing options, to be brutally frank.
Incidentally, and this is the kind of top-secret, utterly revelatory, and yes, I’m just going to flat out say it, life-changing information you only get from writing a book with national treasure and future Nobel Prize winner “Weird Al” Yankovic, when I was interviewing Al he mentioned that Lisa Loeb once mentioned to him that “My Boogie” was one of her favorite “Weird Al” songs.
Loeb may even have said that “Gotta Boogie” was her favorite “Weird Al” song but I know how sensitive celebrities can be and I don’t want to start some manner of online war with the bespectacled 90s songstress that could only end in death. I sure don’t want to do anything that might engender headlines like “Lisa Loeb and failed minor pop culture writer both dead in bizarre honor double murder. Horrific crime motivated by off-handed comment “Weird Al” Yankovic made about Loeb during an interview.”
I do not want a mischaracterization of Loeb’s feelings about “Gotta Boogie” to lead to my own death, nor Loeb’s death. But I do think that it would be funny if your dying words alluded to “Gotta Boogie” being one of Lisa Loeb’s favorite “Weird Al” song. I’d say most favorite “Weird Al” song, incidentally, but I don’t want to get sued, nor do I want to get killed. Just imagine how shocked your loved ones would be if, as you lay dying of consumption, you sputter out, with great effort and determination, the words, “Funnily enough, the little-remembered, mucus-themed early b-side “Gotta Boogie” is one of adorable 1990s alterna-waif Lisa Loeb’s favorite “Weird Al” Yankovic songs” before your heart rate flatlines mere seconds later!
So what I’m asking you, dear reader, is to make me one simple promise. First, that you donate generously to my Patreon page, which is at https://www.patreon.com/nathanrabinshappyplace. Secondly, I want you all to promise to make this Lisa Loeb factoid your dying words. It’s gonna be a whole thing. It’s gonna be hilarious. I mean, it’ll be sad because you’ll be perishing, but it will also be funny and triumphant because your final words will be so utterly unexpected. You'll be killing, even as you lay dying.