Day Sixteen: "The Brady Bunch" from In 3-D

The songwriting credits for “The Brady Bunch”, Al’s parody of Men Without Hat’s “Safety Dance” contains the expected names of Yankovic and Men Without Hat’s Ivan Doroschuk. But they also contain a name you wouldn’t necessarily expect on a pop song: Sherwood Schwartz, the canny hack who created a timeless and super-tacky empire largely out of Gilligan’s Island and The Brady Bunch, those towering twin testaments to the terrible taste of the TV-watching public. 

Schwartz’s name is all up in In 3-D’s songwriting credits (and publishing) because he didn’t just create The Brady Bunch, he also wrote (with Frank DeVol, who is also credited as a co-songwriter) a theme song for it that, in classic sitcom form, doubles as an elevator pitch for the show it’s pimping. It seems safe to assume that if you were a television executive and Sherwood Schwartz were to sing you the Brady Bunch theme song as a pitch you’d have him ejected from the building and possibly committed, but you’d probably also buy the show. Because, you know, Americans love things that are terrible. 

Sherwood Schwartz is credited as a co-writer of “The Brady Bunch” because the song manages the impressive feat of simultaneously being a parody (of “Safety Dance”), a sneaky semi-cover (of The Brady Bunch theme song) and something of an early mash-up that combines two disparate but insanely catchy pieces of pop culture detritus to create something at once radically different and soothingly familiar. 

Al  with a lovely lady a little later

Al  with a lovely lady a little later

In that respect what Al was doing on songs like “The Brady Bunch” is analogous on some level to what early culture-mashing DJ/cut-up artists like Steinski were doing around the time. They were both taking sounds and songs and music ideas apart so that they can put them back together in ways that commented irreverently on the songs themselves as well as the artists, cultures and times that created them. 

“The Brady Bunch” opens with its singer imploring the listener to avail him or herself of television’s infinite wonders. They’re encouraged to watch Mr. Rogers, they’re encouraged to watch Three’s Company, as well as Fame and the Newlywed Game and the Addams Family. An appreciative Al even includes a shoutout to MTV, the engine behind so much of his early fame. And in a preview of forgettable album filler to come, The Tonight Show, whose sidekick would inspire “Here’s Johnny”, is listed among the viewing options the singer would prefer to the one thing on television that he absolutely cannot tolerate: The Brady Bunch. 

Al’s obsessives generally love something with an intensity and ferocity that is pathological and unhinged. The singer of “The Brady Bunch” is equally unhinged in his hatred of the titular trash. Yet in the second half of the song, the singer goes from begging the listener to watch anything but The Brady Bunch to lovingly and faithfully recounting the premise of The Brady Bunch via its theme song. 

The cloying, treacly, weirdly polite lyrics to The Brady Bunch feel particularly bizarre in this radical new context, with Al’s uncanny approximation of Men Without Hats' song's hiccuping, heavily stylized delivery replacing the amateur group sing-along dynamic of the original theme song. The singer despises The Brady Bunch but that does not keep him from knowing everything about it. 

In its own unpretentious way, “The Brady Bunch” captures how some pop culture can be so ubiquitous and overwhelming that even people who despise it end up knowing a disturbing amount about it. It reminds me of the part in Chuck Klosterman’s Sex, Drugs And Cocoa Puffs where he writes about people of his generation ended up mindlessly consuming shows like Saved By The Bell regardless of whether they liked it or not. 

There's a story here, but how does it go?

There's a story here, but how does it go?

I didn’t watch shows like The Brady Bunch and Saved By The Bell because they were good. They weren’t. They were terrible. And I didn’t watch them because I enjoyed them. I didn’t. I am on record as thinking they’re terrible. No, I watched them, and plenty of other crap referenced in “Weird Al” songs because they were on TV and when I was a child, that was my strict criteria for watching something: if it was on TV, I would watch, no matter how terrible. 

That seems to be the case with the singer of “The Brady Bunch” as well. Television and the white noise of clattering consumer culture have colonized his mind and his imagination to the extent that he knows the details of what he despises intimately. He hates The Brady Bunch but he cannot escape it or its tentacles without moving into the woods and becoming a hermit. 

Al “honored” Schwartz’s other great contribution to the dumbing down of American life when he paid irreverent homage to Gilligan’s Island with the Tone Loc parody “Isle Thing” later in the decade. I suspect that isn’t because Al has any special love for Schwartz’s inescapable creations but rather because these shows cast such a long shadow over pop culture that a man who embodies pop culture the way “Weird Al” does would almost have to write about them in some context, just as we’re all forced to know and watch The Brady Bunch and Gilligan’s Island (and Saved By The Bell) no matter how much we hate them.

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