Day Sixty-One: "Isle Thing" from UHF– Original Motion Picture Soundtrack and Other Stuff
“Isle Thing” has the distinction of being only Al’s second rap song, and his first parody following the succinct, delightful Beastie Boys pastiche “Twister.” But on the UHF soundtrack, it’s the second song about a cheeseball 1960s sitcom that single-handedly helped degrade the culture and make humanity stupider in a mere four tracks, including a skit.
On "Isle Thing" we have another case of Al employing not just a template that had proven successful before, in the TV song, but a whole bunch of tropes that had proven winners for Al. For starters, we have the song that describes the premise of a beloved pop culture touchstones while cheekily poking fun at it at the same time. In this case, the trash landmark is Gilligan’s Island, a show Brady Bunch creator Sherwood Schwartz (who shares a songwriting credit with Al thanks to “The Brady Bunch” using his lyrics to the theme song) created to test the stupidity and gullibility of the American public, particularly the viewing public.
“Isle Thing” also belongs to the subset of Al songs about easily impressed weirdoes whose lives are magically transformed by something ridiculous. In this case the singer, one of Al’s lousy Lothsarios, tries to get a little something going with a sexy young thing, only to discover that all she’s interested in is watching reruns of Gilligan’s Island.
The singer is skeptical, and pokes a number of holes in the show’s premise, pointing out things that have only been addressed comedically dozens, or hundreds of times, but it’s not long before this man is addicted to Gilligan’s Island and its chintzy collection of broad archetypes.
If nothing else, Al and his band go to extraordinary lengths to replicate the sounds and styles of the songs they’re parodying on the UHF soundtrack. Two actual members of Dire Straits, including guitar hero Mark Knopfler, lend a hand on “Money For Nothing/Beverly Hillbillies” and a characteristically meticulous Al mastered Knopfler's Bob Dylan-lite vocals for the spoof. The genius of spoofery sounds like he was voluntarily castrated solely so that he could replicate Roland Gift’s angelic falsetto on the “She Drives Me Crazy” parody “She Drives Like Crazy.”
Al goes in a much different direction on “Isle Thing.” The attention to detail is the same, but the register is much lower: Al sounds like he swallowed several plates of cigarette ashes in order to get his voice to a Tone Loc level of gravelly raspiness.
“Isle Thing” is the closest Al comes to doing stand-up in a parody. Some of the singer’s observations about Gilligan’s Island wouldn’t feel out of place coming from a stand-up comedian, brick-wall warrior’s set in the 1980s at a club called Señor Ha Ha or the Chuckle Monastery.
Heck, I would be shocked if comedians in the 1980s (and 1970s, and 90s, and aughts and teens) didn’t crack jokes about the apparent contradiction between the Professor being, on one hand, a technological and scientific genius capable of creating complex electronic devices out of primitive tools, but on the other hand, somehow not enough of a genius to help them build a primitive raft that might allow them to finally escape their laugh-track-addled island purgatory.
Al might as well begin some of his verses, “What is the deal with Gilligan’s Island?”, like the one about the castaways being suspiciously over prepared for what was supposed to be only a three hour tour, and consequently probably didn’t require even a single change of clothes, let alone the seemingly limitless wardrobe Mrs. Howell seems to have brought onboard. I mean what is the deal with that? Some sunscreen I get. Fifty dresses? Not so much.
Al is a comic genius but that doesn’t mean that his work is entirely devoid of street jokes and open mic night-level riffs but the grand gestalt of “Isle Thing”—the attention and care Al brings to rapping like a human slab of concrete, the minimalist perfection of The Dust Brothers’ production on the original song and the overall air of goofy amiability—helps elevate some fairly dodgy jokes.
Al does right by one of rap’s most irresistible guilty pleasures but it seems safe to assume that he wasn’t overly concerned with either honoring Tone Loc’s legacy as an artist, nor with paying sufficiently reverent homage to a show as iconically awful as Gilligan’s Island. But he took these disparate elements and made something more than the sum of its parts, something equal parts boob tube and boom bap.
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