Day Twenty-One: "King Of Suede" from In 3-D
Nothing makes someone more deserving of mockery than unearned self-importance and pretension. People who take themselves and what they do too seriously are irresistible targets for spoofing so it should not be surprising that on In 3-D alone, Al took on the music of The Police and its dour frontman Sting twice, and from different angles.
On “Polkas On .45”, the Police’s “Every Breath You Take” is among the Top 40 and classic-rock staples Al and his band stick smash together into an oompah-happy medley of seemingly half of the most popular songs of the past twenty years. The humor of the Polka medleys lie in the way Al giddily punctures the pretension of what he’s manically covering by presenting the most dour, self-important songs in rock history as silly ditties. As always, Al isn’t averse to using comical sound effects to further undermine the solemnity of what he’s spoofing. In the case of “Every Breath You Take” that means taking the title way too literally and delivering the chorus as the wacky wheezing of someone in the midst of an asthma attack.
Al returns to the hits of the man formerly known as Gordon Sumner on “King Of Suede”, a parody of The Police’s “King Of Pain.” Like so much of The Police’s music, the song takes itself very seriously, both musically and lyrically. It begins on an open and atmospheric note, with famously insistent spare piano notes joined by the drip-drip-drip of subtle percussion. It is, to be honest, exactly the kind of serious soundscape that the “Weird Al” of his debut would fill with the comforting, reassuring sounds of his early collaborator Mike Pfieffer’s patented fart noises. To be even more brutally honest, within this solemn context those fart noises would probably have been funny.
But by In 3-D Al was ready to let go of the crutch that was comical flatulent noises. “King Of Suede” is brilliant in no small part because it sounds almost exactly like the original, albeit with Sting’s angst-ridden delivery replaced by the forceful, vaguely accented determination of a man who has devoted his entire life to being the best at one thing, and approaches the song’s sales pitch with the same single-minded devotion he brings to his craft.
What I think fascinated me about “King Of Suede” as a “Weird Al”-crazy eight-year-old was that, like so many of my favorite songs, it told a story, although in this case it’s less a conventional story song than a character study that’s both winningly specific and somewhat universal. The song’s singer is a true craftsman who dropped out of school after second grade so he could channel his energy and focus on providing consumers with the finest quality garments, particularly of the suede variety, for low, low prices.
How is this man able to provide excellence on such a tight budget? As he concedes with unwise but refreshing candor, “My prices are low, my staff is underpaid.” I remember loving that line as a kid because it felt to me like a glitch in the matrix, one of those moments where the adult world’s mask slips and we see how the world really operates.
But I think I also love “My prices are low, my staff is underpaid” because it rhymes so well with “You can find me next door to Willy’s Fun Arcade” and together and separately, these words conjure up a vivid picture of the Darwinian struggle that was the Reagan-era tailoring world, a world that Al writes about authoritatively despite, and I cannot make this observation often enough, because it never ceases to surprise me, not being Jewish, or, presumably, actually involved in the menswear trade.
Incidentally, I’ve also spent time in Los Angeles with another pop icon whose family was prominently involved in the garment trade, before this Kid traded in making women’s pants for getting into women’s pants. Am I talking about Kid Dynamite himself, Robert Evans? You bet your sweet behind I am. Will I inevitably recycle anecdotes from that weekend in the hundreds of entries of this column ahead? You bet your behind I will!
If Al had delivered the phrase “Willy’s Fun Arcade” in the shriek-shout of Fred Schneider, it would not be funny. What makes the phrase amusing is the seriousness with which Al delivers it, as well as everything else, including a corny but appealing dad joke where the singer admonishes the customer/listener to enjoy his Suede Emporium and its various amenities but “Don’t step on my blue suede shoes.”
The single-minded focus of the singer of “King Of Suede” calls to mind that of “Theme From Rocky VIII (Rye Or The Kaiser)” and I think that these two simpatico parodies stick out is that they work so well as little vignettes, tiny little stories, and as music in addition to being genuinely funny.
To support Nathan Rabin's Happy Place visit https://www.patreon.com/nathanrabinshappyplace