Day Forty-One: "Here's Johnny" from Polka Party!
If you were to judge only by the originals, Polka Party! would rank right up there with In 3-D and Dare To Be Stupid. Unfortunately, the first sizable flop of Al’s career was hampered by some of his weakest parodies. “Toothless People” marked one of the only times in “Weird Al” Yankovic’s career that his gift for picking out monster, enduring hits deserted him.
You know how you can tell that “Toothless People” was not a hit song that people remember or cared about? Because it’s a Mick Jagger solo song, that’s why. And nobody other than Jann Wenner likes those, and he only pretends to like them to remain on Jagger’s good side.
“Toothless People” was the first time Al was parodying a song that didn’t seem to be much of a hit at all, and certainly hasn’t endured the way a shocking amount of the songs Al has parodied have. “Here’s Johnny”, another of Al’s weaker tracks from the era, at least had the benefit of being a parody of a ubiquitous smash the radio-listening audience of the era undoubtedly knew, and probably memorized, whether they wanted to or not. It was that huge.
The song in question is El Debarge’s fiendishly catchy earwig “Who’s Johnny?” from the Short Circuit soundtrack. Despite being the hit theme to a blockbuster science-fiction comedy, “Who’s Johnny?” has one of the weirdest, most threadbare music videos for a hit soundtrack song I’ve ever seen.
The idea is to be Short Circuit-themed and follow the movie’s narrative in some way. While Ally Sheedy, ever the trooper, forgot enough of her dignity to star in the video, the best they can muster otherwise is a cardboard standee of Steve Guttenberg and a mischief-causing generic robot arm that is supposed to represent at least part of Johnny Five, the movie’s ostensibly lovable, child-like sentient robot. It’s a lighthearted video for an instantly disposable wad of bubblegum R&B that I’ve compulsively re-watched several times and it seems to somehow make less sense with each viewing.
“Here’s Johnny” finds Al once again wading into the warm, comforting waters of television and obsession with a tongue-in-cheek tribute to a semi-forgotten figure who, like Vanna White, the subject of another Al song that has not exactly aged like fine wine, became famous for doing not much of anything at all.
Ed McMahon and Vanna White weren’t Warholian celebrities necessarily. Instead, they were unusually pure creatures of television who lucked into a dream gig early in their careers that paid them insane amounts of money for sitting and laughing, and turning letters on a giant board, respectively.
“Here’s Johnny” is consequently a silly, upbeat-sounding bubblegum pop song about something equally silly, if not sillier: the sedentary yet richly compensated career of America’s favorite talk- show sidekick.
On “Here’s Johnny” Al assumes the perspective of another one of his demented, monomaniacal obsessives. Throughout his career, Al has gotten inside the skin and warped psyches of people whose lives are magically transformed by the silliest and most ephemeral things. “Here’s Johnny” is no different. The singer is not just a fan. Unique among television viewers at the time, the singer worships the stocky personification of beefy mediocrity as “such a cool dude” whose mere existence makes his “life worth living.”
“Watch him selling beer and dog food” Al sings later in the song, returning yet again to the field of television advertising, where McMahon was able to leverage a lifetime of sitting on a couch and laughing excessively at Johnny Carson’s jokes into a similarly lucrative, similarly cushy gig reading cue cards in commercials.
The problem with “Here’s Johnny” is that Ed McMahon is just too fat and easy a target, and I don’t mean that as a comment on his appearance. So perhaps there's a strange, pleasing synchronicity in an irritatingly tacky, inescapable pop song that's too sadistically catchy for its own good being used to ever so gently spoof a tacky, inescapable TV treasure who was endearing and oddly memorable not despite his cheesiness, but because of it.
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