Day Twenty-Four: "Nature Trail To Hell" from In 3-D

This may be the best of the fake Criterions

This may be the best of the fake Criterions

Well, Al-coholics (a funny name I just made up for “Weird Al” fans that has no unfortunate other connotations), we have officially made it to the final track of In 3-D. The album was Al’s follow-up to his debut but I don’t think it takes anything away from “Weird Al” Yankovic to argue that in some ways, In 3-D is his first real album. For all of “Weird Al” Yankovic’s strengths, it still has the feeling of an odds and sods compilation bringing together a series of songs recorded over a series of years in a series of different contexts for different labels. There’s “Another One Rides The Bus” of course, which Capitol not so generously agreed to let “Weird Al” Yankovic include on his full-length debut, just as long as he paid more for the rights to the songs than they paid him in the first place. 

In a somewhat Kafkaesque development, Al might have actually lost money on his first official recording. Welcome to the record industry, eh? Then there were the four tracks (including the title single of course) from the Another One Rides The Bus EP, a spunky, DIY endeavor finance with money borrowed from Dr. Demento that led to “Another One Rides The Bus” being released as a single. 

The DIY, “by any means necessary” aesthetic of “Weird Al” Yankovic is a big part of its scrappy charm but In 3-D is the first “Weird Al” album that feels like it was conceived and executed as a proper long-playing record, and not just a collection of silly songs recorded over a period of years in a variety of locations, and with wildly varying degrees of professionalism and polish. 

“Weird Al” Yankovic made Al a recording artist but In 3-D made him an unlikely but inspired pop star, the curly-haired, Hawaiian-shirt wearing, accordion-playing clown prince of MTV at a time when the young network was both an exhilarating Wild West making up the rules as it went along and the epicenter of the pop-music world. 

In 3-D hit the MTV bullseye with “Eat It” but what makes In 3-D so strangely enduring are the components that had nothing to do with the pop charts. Al’s legacy is built upon the hits but also on the deep album cuts, the oddball songs casual fans have never heard but that hardcore fans are ready to tattoo on their body. 

“Nature Trail To Hell” is, along with “Albuquerque”, maybe the ultimate deep, crazy album track. “Nature Trail To Hell” is the perfect way to end the giddy carnival ride that is In 3-D but it's also a universe onto itself, a horror-comedy for the ears that doubles as an audio trailer/old school come-on for a 3-D horror movie that does not exist and, for good measure, should never exist. 

It’s a song that’s as ambitious sonically as it is lyrically. Al’s spooky vocals don’t even kick in until after a minute of sinister haunted house organ and creepy-crawly sound effects. “Nature Trail To Hell" is no mere song: it's a bona fide epic. In its unabashed theatricality and goofy, giddy love for the tacky pop culture of the past, “Nature Trail To Hell” is actually a better homage to the B-52s (particularly in “Rock Lobster” mode) than “Mr. Popeil.”

“Nature Trail To Hell” delights in bloody, bleary, blood-splattered excess, taking great joy in mapping out the myriad horrors of the titular fright flick, a demented slasher film beyond the imagination of even the demented Trent L. Strauss about a “homicidal maniac” who finds “a Cub-Scout troop and he hacks up two or three in every scene.”

I’m not sure how many scenes there are in Nature Trail To Hell, or how many Cub Scouts are in the pack unfortunate enough to encounter the homicidal maniac but a whole lot of people are clearly slaughtered in the film in ways designed to highlight its 3-D.    “Nature Trail To Hell” gives In 3-D its title. For it’s not just “Nature Trail To Hell” that the singer can’t stop kvetching about: it’s Nature Trail To Hell in 3-D. “Nature Trail To Hell” is consequently partially an extended riff on the gimmicky, stomach-churning nature of 3-D, especially when applied to horror films. 

Incidentally, Paul Scheer has a semi-famous anecdote he shared on WTF about his mother finding out about “Nature Trail to Hell” and destroying In 3-D out of a fierce conviction that the song was the work of the devil. Decades later, Paul Scheer went from having his mother freak out about a fake 3-D horror film she was convinced was Satan-inspired to starring in not just a 3-D horror film, but a movie we can all agree is essentially the 3-D horror film: Piranha 3-D. 

Paul Scheer In 3-D!

Paul Scheer In 3-D!

Coincidence? I don’t think so. Like an accordion-toting Crypt Keeper, Al set out to scare children as well as entertain and amuse them, and with “Nature Trail From Hell” he seems to have succeeded in scaring at least one mother unnecessarily. “Nature Trail From Hell” is unusually child-centered for an over-the-top bloodbath. The singer even ghoulishly booms, “bring the kids along, it’s good clean family fun” assuming the family in question is the Manson family. 

Scheer’s mother may have been on to something, in that, like all Satanic records from the 1980s, “Nature Trail To Hell” contains a backwards message, which we all know is the most evil way to convey a message, outside of infomercials. The message, in this case, is as sinister as it is enigmatic: Satan loves cheese whiz. 

"Nature Trail To Hell" joyfully explores what would seem to be a pop-culture paradox: horror buff's intense desire to experience things that are generally considered to be terrible. Then again In 3-D as a whole is rapturously in love with the tacky, the ephemeral, the dated and the televised. Al isn’t content to end the album riffing on pop-culture of the past and the present. No, Al ends his second album and first masterpiece by inventing fictional pop-culture too bloody and ridiculous and over-the-top to really exist, yet weirdly plausible all the same. After all, as Al alludes here, “Nature Trail From Hell” contains horrors beyond our wildest imagination, yet pale in comparison to the average atrocity on the 6 o’clock news, which Al here suggests may just be the scariest show on TV because it’s all real.

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