Day Fifty-Three: "Alimony" from Even Worse
The fun with so many “Weird Al” Yankovic spoofs begins, appropriately enough, with the fizzy pop enjoyment of the smashes Yankovic is having his merry way with. Al has such an unerring ear that we’re nearly done chronicling the fifth album of Al’s remarkable career and I can literally only point to a single instance when Al spoofed a song that wasn’t a big hit, or the kind of song people recognize almost instantly, even if they don’t like it. That song was, of course, Mick Jagger’s “Ruthless People” and the Rolling Stones’ frontman will have to answer to God herself for ruining Al’s hit streak.
That’s certainly true of Tommy James and the Shondells classic garage rock smash “Mony Mony” as well. The garage-meets-bubblegum standard doesn’t just rock: in a very real way, it is rock. The song is so irresistible and undeniable that it’s been covered by everyone from Bruce Springsteen to Alvin & The Chipmunks.
Billy Idol loved the song so much he not only covered it twice, but he released it as a single twice, first in 1981 with a studio version, and then later in 1987 with a raucous, sneering live version. Idol’s amped-up live version is the one Al is directly spoofing on “Alimony” rather than James’ iconically incomprehensible, slurry roar of unadulterated, even sub-verbal lust.
In its original incarnation, “Mony Mony”, like all good rock songs, is about sex and the intense disorientation of lust and infatuation. Like “Addicted to Love”, another song Al spoofed, “Mony Mony” doesn’t just have suggestive lyrics. On a sonic level, it just feels dirty. But the give-and-take, call-and-response between Al and his back-up singers when their demands for “Alimo-mo-mony” are met with a playful yet concerned Al answering, respectively, “Oh you do?”, then “Is it due?” and finally, “Or you’ll sue?” give the song a gospel type of feel, like Al isn’t just singing, he’s testifying, and asking the audience to feel his pain.
And that’s what “Alimony” is all about: pain. It’s about the woeful economic cost a divorce enacts in addition to all of the psychological and social ones. Of course, by this point, Al was a veteran whose songbook touched upon many of the biggest and most fruitful themes in pop culture and American society, from food to television, to advertising, to advertisements for food on the television, in addition to nuclear oblivion and, of course, the comic possibilities of various forms of painful and dangerous surgeries, from epigastric, to Lumbar hernias.
It’s not surprising that Al, the last vaudevillian, did a divorce song. What’s surprising is that it took him five albums to get around to this perennial staple of humor the world over. So while the hard-working, unlucky-in-love fool “working three jobs just to stay in debt” might be in a state of romantic and financial agony, Al, his band and particularly his back-up singers, sound like they’re having an absolute blast on this standout album track.
In the best “Weird Al” Yankovic tradition, “Alimony” alchemizes the pain and rejection of divorce into good-natured, high-spirited comedy. Al has fun twisting and contorting words until they’re nearly as difficult to make out as James’ original, with Al adding a “y” to words willy nilly until he’s crooning about his ex-wife’s lawyers calling him on the “telephoney” and “trying to draw blood from a stony stony.”
Lyrically, this isn’t the most sublime number in Al’s archive. Some of the sentiments would not seem out of place on a novelty tee-shirt on the Jersey boardwalk, like “First she took the nest egg, then she took the nest” but once again, Al and his supremely overqualified band make the song work, and work spectacularly well, through energy and enthusiasm and their spirited playing, along with neat, thematically appropriate production flourishes like a cash register ringing at an opportune moment.
While many, if not most rock stars would be able to relate all too directly to the subject of “Alimony” this is another area where Al broke the mold. In managing his heart and his finances, he has been incongruously wise and restrained for a rock star. He’s only been married once and he hasn’t declared bankruptcy after foolishly buying a series of castles in Europe even a single time.
So for Al, “Alimony” must be a strange glimpse into a road not traveled, and the kinds of mistakes that rock stars in particular seem prone to making, and then paying a terrible price for, one they never stop paying, one way or another.
Support Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place, the Weird Accordion to Al and help Nathan pay his alimony payments for his fictional ex-wife, who is a real doozy, let me tell you at https://www.patreon.com/nathanrabinshappyplace