Day Forty-Eight: "(This Song's Just) Six Words Long" from Even Worse
Al tends to parody songs from the outside, to radically re-imagine Coolio’s intense, almost hymn-like “Gangsta’s Paradise” as a proud Luddite anthem on “Amish Paradise”, for example, or The Police’s dour “King of Pain” as a passionate tailor’s spiel. But at various points in his career, Al has attacked songs from the inside out.
In these instances, Al’s spoofs double as critical analysis and commentary in addition to crackerjack parody. “Smells Like Nirvana” for example, is about Kurt Cobain’s iconic, irresistible incomprehensibility and charismatic mumble while “(This Song’s Just) Six Words Long” uses George Harrison’s irritatingly infectious late-period hit “Got My Mind Set On You” to explore a popular theme of Al’s: the mind-numbingly, yet ingratiatingly repetitive nature of contemporary pop music.
The clattering, mindless repetition of pop hits is a central theme of Al’s polka parodies. Al takes songs that are already sadistic in their unrelenting repetitiveness like Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” and makes them even more psychotically intent on repeating the same earworm of a hook over and over and over and over and over again. Also, they mock unnecessary and gratuitous repetition, the kind that just takes up space and repeats previous points rather than adding anything new whatsoever.
There somewhat conspicuously is not a polka medley on Even Worse. Needless to say, no one wanted anyone to mistake the album for some manner of Polka Party. Yet polka die-hards jonesing for the staples of Al’s manic mash-ups of popular favorites could take comfort in knowing that “(This Song’s Just) Six Words Long” addressed the medleys’ enduring obsession with repetition while the throwback track “Lasagna” (a throwback to both Al’s past, as well as pop culture’s) afforded Al at least one showcase for the accordion.
“(This Song’s Just) Six Words Long” is not, of course, six words long. The chorus alone is six words but Harrison’s clamorous ditty repeated its six word chorus so relentlessly that it began to feel like the song consisted of just a few catchy words repeated to the point of madness. In deconstructing the song, Al assumes the perspective and persona of a pop singer who plum forgot to write a proper set of lyrics for a song and decides to wing it for three minutes in hopes that catchy music will distract listeners from its emptiness.
So why does the singer of “(This Song’s Just) Six Words Long” feel obligated to sing a song he gleefully admits, even brags has “got nothing to say?” As the song’s cheerfully arrogant singer gleefully brags, “Oh I make a lotta money/They pay me a ton of money/They’re payin' me plenty of money/To sing this song, child.”
As a twelve year old, I loved how often Al’s characters sang about money as the great motivator, whether they’re Luke Skywalker pondering unemployment if he kills Darth Vader or the singer here rubbing it in listeners' faces that even though he’s not willing to put in the work to write an actual song, he will happily accept the financial rewards.
This was more than a joke to the 12 year old me. It felt more like Al was exposing one of the open secrets of the adult world, namely that the primary reason people do things is because someone is willing to pay them money to do so.
The purpose of most pop songs is to fly by as quickly and breezily and painlessly as possible. “(This Song’s Just) Six Words Long” has an antithetical agenda. It wants listeners to feel the singer’s quiet quiet desperation as he attempts to fill what’s actually closer to three and a half minutes worth of time with absolutely nothing, with throat clearing and repetition and, for the sake of sonic diversity, a guitar solo. Al’s parody seems to last twice as long as the original because it’s continually calling attention to how threadbare it is lyrically.
It’s a silly ditty that doubles as a sly deconstruction of pop songwriting, particularly the original song’s maddening insistence on “rhyming” a word with itself instead of finding actual rhymes. So while the singer at one point insists “I know if I put my mind to it/I know I could find a good rhyme here” the best he can muster is, “Oh, you gotta have a music/You need really catchy music.”
“(This Song’s Just) Six Words Long” is about as meta as Al gets, and as a dude who has been taking pop culture apart and putting it back together in fascinating and revelatory ways for close to four decades, he’s a pretty meta fella. “(This Song’s Just) Six Words Long” is a song about a song that’s also a song about songwriting, particularly lazy songwriting. It’s not the weightiest song in Al’s oeuvre. In fact, it's aggressively featherweight, a meta-trifle as it were, but in its own irreverent way, it has something to say, unlike the annoyingly infectious song it’s both spoofing and deconstructing.
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