Day Thirty-One: "George Of The Jungle"
“George Of The Jungle” is a relative anomaly in Al’s oeuvre: a more or less completely straight-faced cover. That might seem a little strange, as Al’s career is rooted in riffing and appropriating and lampooning the music and melodies and ideas of others. With the exception of “Weird Al” Yankovic, UHF, Even Worse and In 3-D, every “Weird Al” album has featured a polka medley of recent hits but the whole point of the polka medleys is to musically reimagine the smashes of the day in ways that render them unrecognizable, or recognizable primarily as one of Al's goofs.
Polka medleys undercut the pretension and unearned solemnity of rock and pop music by transforming ponderous anthems into clamorous ditties. Because what could be less pretentious than polka? There isn't much less pretentious than polka, the music of the people, the Polish, drunken people, but the theme songs to old cartoons might just qualify.
So while “George Of The Jungle” may be an anomaly in some ways, in other ways it fits in perfectly with Al’s ever-evolving aesthetic. It is, for example, the second consecutive song on Dare To Be Stupid about a pop-culture figure beloved by children. And it’s one of many, many songs in Al’s oeuvre about television. Al had so many songs about television and so many songs about food that he was able to release entire compilations devoted to those particular topics.
George Of The Jungle enjoyed a second life thanks to the 1997 smash hit live-action adaptation starring Brendan Fraser as a dumb, blankly charming pile of muscles but when Al tackled the theme song back in 1985, it was the kind of oddball cult attraction Al has historically found himself attracted to alongside more ubiquitous cultural monoliths like Michael Jackson, Star Wars and Madonna. George Of The Jungle’s initial run lasted a mere three months and 17 episodes but because it was the brainchild of eminent animation super-brain Jay Ward, of The Adventures Of Rocky & Bullwinkle fame, it has a cult cachet disproportionate to its modest original 1960s run.
“George Of The Jungle” similarly fits into Al’s work at the time in the the extreme measures Al, producer Rick Derringer and his band took to ensure that these songs were as authentic as possible. For this particular song, that meant getting the voice of George of the Jungle, Bill Scott, to reprise his trademark yells, which are nearly as important to the song, if not more important, than Al’s unusually orthodox vocals.
Over irritatingly peppy percussion, Al sings gingerly of the titular bungling hero, a Jay Ward take on Tarzan lucky enough to be surrounded by people who are far more capable, or at least less staggeringly incompetent than himself. Scott roars repeatedly over the course of the 64 second novelty with an iconic warble that somehow manages to be defiant, proud, and, ultimately, overwhelmed and out of control.
Scott’s performance is so vivid that he manages to create the vivid, punchy image of the titular strongman swinging into a tree repeatedly exclusively through yodeling and sound effects.It’s like TV on the radio, or boombox, and a rare exercise in audio slapstick.
Bill Scott wasn’t the first accomplished voiceover artist to lend their talents to a “Weird Al” song and he would not be the last. Future The Simpsons staple Tress MacNeille, after all, inhabited the role of Lucy Ricardo on “Lucy.” Over a decade later fellow The Simpsons fixture Hank Azaria reprised his role as “Moe” on “Phony Calls.” “George Of The Jungle” is as throwaway and disposable as Al songs got during his mid-1980s golden age, but even his wispiest ditties were bona fide productions.
12 years after an unexpectedly straight cover of a semi-obscure 1960s cartoon became one of the more bewildering tracks on Dare To Be Stupid, Al’s version appeared in the Brendan Fraser movie that transformed George Of the Jungle from a minor cult figure to the unlikely star of a hit major motion picture.
Did “Weird Al” bring about the resurrection of George Of The Jungle like he did Jeopardy by reminding a fickle, forgetful world about something awesome that had passed far too soon and that far too people knew about? Yes, yes he did, so we can officially add Brendan Fraser and everyone involved with George Of The Jungle to the long list of people who should write Al generous monthly check in appreciation for all that he’s done for the world in general, and their careers in particular.
Support Nathan Rabin's Happy Place at https://www.patreon.com/nathanrabinshappyplace