Day Twenty-Eight: "I Want A New Duck"
Howdy, Al-caholics! My name is Nathan R and I am addicted to writing about “Weird Al” Yankovic and being incredibly self-indulgent. Today, however, I must finally address a dispiriting reality: they can’t all be winners. That is true of The Beatles. Think of that “Piggies” song: sure, it achieved its goal of getting Charles Manson to murder Sharon Tate through a series of brainwashed surrogates, but it’s just not that good of a song.
As with The Beatles, not all of Al’s songs have been masterpieces, a theme I will explore in great, dispiriting detail when I cover “Girls Just Want To Have Lunch” and while “I Want A New Duck” is far from an embarrassment, it seems like one of those cases where Al got locked into a comic construct based on a song title and had to struggle and strain to make that concept work.
The comic conceit of “I Want A New Duck”, as you might imagine, involves an eccentric man who has some very unrealistic ideas about what ducks are and are not capable of. For example, he wants his duck to show him out to swim, show him how to dance, wash his car, stay in shape and keep his room clean. But he’s just as expressive and exhaustive in detailing all the negative characteristics he doesn’t want from his new pet/soulmate.
As I write this, I am reading a book about pun competitions by Joe Berkowitz called Away With Words so I’m unusually attuned to puns, and wordplay, and other ways of making your fellow human beings groan and roll their eyes in irritation. So I couldn’t help but notice that “I Want A New Duck” is probably the most punny, if not funny song I’ve written about so far, and I’ve got to admit: not everything about it quacked me up.
The singer threatens to tie up his duck with “duct tape.” He expresses a desire for a duck that won’t “smell too fowl” and longs for one that will show him how to “get down.” He wants his pet to know that the “duck stops here.” After the “get down” line, Al even shouts, “Get it”, and I willingly concede that I only partially get the joke.
In addition to a plethora of eye-roll-worthy puns, “I Want A New Duck” features duck-like quacking for background vocals but the kitchen-sink approach to production and composition don’t really serve the song, which ends on a particularly dark note, with the protagonist threatening to murder and then devour his duck should he ever displease him. I think that’s harsh, and also that this fictional character from a thirty-two year old parody song should not be allowed to own a duck, or even associate with them.
Like a surprising amount of Al’s early work, “I Want A New Duck” has an astonishingly long tail. Decades after "I Want A New Duck" was unwisely released as a single, Al appeared in a Funny Or Die video alongside Huey Lewis. The short film was designed to promote the thirtieth anniversary release of Huey Lewis & The News’ Sports by spoofing the iconic scene in American Psycho where Christian Bale’s titular American-born madman discourses pretentiously about the early work of Huey Lewis & The News to a deeply bored colleague played by Jared Leto (who has done quite well for himself despite being the world’s worst actor) shortly before murdering him.
The Funny Or Die video slyly and subversively casts Huey Lewis and “Weird Al” Yankovic, wholesome heroes of countless dorks’ childhoods, as, respectively, a deranged mass murderer and a debauched libertine soon to be slaughtered. It’s an utterly out of character turn for the sober Yankovic and part of the video’s kick comes from seeing familiar faces in such an unfamiliar context.
For me, the video had additional resonance because the first two albums I owned as a child was Huey Lewis & The News’ Sports, followed by “Weird Al” In 3-D. Number 3, I believe, was Michael Jackson’s Thriller, which I vaguely recall Al spoofing as well. So it was surreal seeing two men who played a huge role in establishing my nascent musical sensibility cos-playing Bret Easton Ellis for Will Ferrell’s online comedy monolith. .
The video further establishes that Al is a good actor, even when playing a character that is his exact opposite. Al’s persona was firmly established when he recorded “I Want A New Duck” and it proved durable enough that Al could shed many of the visual trademarks—glasses, the mustache, Hawaiian shirts, the ever-present monocle, the furry woolen hat worn regardless of weather, the stoned Zubaz jeans and glittering gold tracksuits—and still remain distinctive and iconic.
Thirty years later, Al’s persona as a good guy was so firmly established that he could only ever play a drunken, dissolute, Bret Easton Ellis-style monster as a joke, one that is a whole lot darker and funnier than the waterfowl-based jokes found in one of the lesser singles from one of Al’s best albums.
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