Day Thirty-Three: "Girls Just Want To Have Lunch" from Dare To Be Stupid
Al has endured far longer than anyone could have imagined possible because he maintains an extraordinarily high level of quality control in everything that he does, with the exception of choosing coffee-table book collaborators. He’s like Second City in that respect. Not every Second City show is going to be transcendent. Not every performer is going to be the next Alan Arkin or Tina Fey but every show is going to be, at the very least, solidly good, and oftentimes much better than that.
It’s the same with Al. Not every song can be “Dare To Be Stupid” or “One More Minute” (to cite two recent examples) but Al has very few songs in his catalog that I would characterize as out and out bad. So I was astonished to discover that Dare To Be Stupid’s “Girls Just Want To Have Lunch” isn’t just subpar compared to the rest of Al’s work from the era: it is legitimately bad. It may be the worst song we’ve covered so far and that includes that misbegotten period in Al’s career when he’d release a polka cover of a Skrewdriver song as a secret track on all his early albums in a gesture that both confused and offended many of his longtime fans, particularly the soul brothers and the soul sisters.
I later discovered the reason “Girls Just Want To Have Lunch” feels forced: it was. Al’s record label that desperately wanted him to parody Cyndi Lauper. On one level, the record label’s request made sense. Lauper was at the height of her popularity, her songs were fun and goofy and silly and instantly recognizable the way Al’s most popular parodies are. Lauper was Madonna’s biggest rival in the mid-80s, and “Like A Surgeon” had done wonders for Al’s career.
But the spirit had not moved Al to spoof Lauper’s iconic, ubiquitous hits and he wrote a song that reflects his profound ambivalence and irritation at being forced to do something that he did not want to do. As a parody, “Girls Just Want To Have Lunch” is sorely lacking, but as a passive-aggressive gesture towards his record label for trying to dictate the nature of his art, there’s a certain snotty genius to it. “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” is best understood as a giant “Forget you, pal!” to his record label. It was his way of saying, “Nuts to you, ya big jerks!” to the suits who were trying to tell him what to do. Incidentally, I’ve vowed to make all 200,000 words of this column 100 percent profanity-free in deference to the wholesome nature of Al’s lyrics and image, and sometimes, I willingly concede, it’s a bit of a struggle.
What’s fascinating to me about “Girls Just Want To Have Lunch” is that it feels less like a proper parody of Cyndi Lauper than an extended and dispiriting exercise in self-parody. With the exception of “This Song Is Just Six Words Long” (which is more a parody of a particular song not written by George Harrison than a commentary on Harrison or the Beatles, or, I guess, The Traveling Wilbury’s), “Achy Breaky Song” and the unreleased early “Still Rock and Roll To Me” parody called “Still Billy Joel To Me”, Al’s parodies aren’t mean or hateful towards the artists being spoofed. “Still Billy Joel To Me” was nixed in part because Al understandably doubted that Billy Joel would give him permission to publicly release a song about how Joel was a soulless New Wave sell-out. But the song also ended up never being released, not even on the upcoming disc of rarities and b-sides, because it was such a sour anomaly in Al’s oeuvre. Even at the beginning of his career, Al knew who he was, and that wasn’t someone taking snotty shots at a contemporary for supposed artistic crimes.
But as self-parody, “Girls Just Want To Have Lunch” is strangely mean-spirited and off. The song begins promisingly enough, with familiar, ebullient synths but things take an unfortunate turn the moment Al’s vocals kick in. On “Girls Just Want To Have Lunch”, Al sings in a rasp that’s creepy for all the right and wrong reasons. It almost sounds like Al, in protest, decided to sing the first take in an intentionally grating, shrill, abrasive way to mock both the song and his label’s insistence on him recording it, and when the producer asked for a second take, he sneered, like only “Weird Al” can sneer, “Nah, those are the vocals. Accept it or leave the studio in a body bag.”
The song's title similarly reeks of self-parody. It’s almost like a “Weird Al” Madlibs equation: take the title of a hit song, include a reference to food or eating, and voila, the song writes itself. Now Al has recorded a lot of songs about food, so much so that there is an entire compilation devoted to them that somewhat conspicuously does not include “Girls Just Want To Have Lunch” for reasons that should be obvious here.
Al has similarly slipped into the sweaty skin of a rogues gallery of creeps, weirdoes, losers and self-identified groovy guys in his songs, particularly in the 1980s, but he can’t quite seem to get a handle on the creepiness of the narrator of “Girls Just Want To Have Lunch”, who has a weird obsession that women are perpetually hungry, but only for lunch, and not any other meal.
Yankovic’s work generally benefits from a clear-cut point of view but it’s hard to see what exactly the creep of “Girls Just Want To Have Lunch” is going on and on about. I’ve written earlier about how there are certain turns of phrase in Al’s work that are so perfect and elegant and succinct that they never leave your mind. “Girls Just Want To Have Lunch” has the opposite problem: certain lines and passages have lodged themselves in my brain precisely because they’re so weird and clunky and misguided, like when the narrator of the song begins by proclaiming, “Some girls like to buy new shoes/And others like drivin’ trucks and wearing tattoos.”
There’s something about the clunkiness of the phrase “wearing tattoos” that’s strangely hypnotic. The lyrics don’t get any less creepy as the song progresses, thanks to lyrics like, “She eats like she got a hole in her neck/And I'm the one that always gets stuck with the check/Can’t figure out how come they don't weigh a ton.”
Sonically, the song similarly reeks of desperation. The crunching-as-percussion feels like pointless busywork but the song does not hit its nadir until the synthesizer solo of the original is joined by the hand-flatulence of "Musical Mike" Kieffer, the gent whose uncanny mastery of fart noises distinguished many an early “Weird Al” song. Listening to the song, I’m overcome with the image of Musical Mike sadly making fart noises with his hands in an attempt to try to breathe a little life and energy into one of Al’s worst, if not his very worst, song.
Al’s record company wanted Al to release a Cyndi Lauper parody in the worst possible way. So perhaps it is appropriate that they got the worst possible version of Al.
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