Day Sixty-Two: "Hot Rocks Polka" from UHF: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack and Other Stuff
“Weird Al” Yankovic gets some of the artists he honors with parodies or pastiches so right that his legacy is forever intertwined with theirs and vice versa. I know that I personally can’t listen to iconic artists like Michael Jackson, Madonna, Devo and Nirvana without thinking about the songs Yankovic created out of their art and their essence. And when I’m bumping the latest Chamilionaire mix-tape or Coolio freestyle, you better believe I’m reminded of “White and Nerdy” and “Amish Paradise” and wondering why on Earth I’m listening to new material from either of these artists at this stage in my life.
Al obviously loves The Beatles because everyone loves the Beatles or should. As far as I’m considered they're right up there with Al in the all-time pantheon of great artists, but Al never quite cracked the code with the Fab Four. Paul McCartney turned down Al’s request to parody “Live and Let Die”, first as “Chicken Pot Pie” and then as “The Holocaust Didn’t Happen (The Big Jew Lie).” He turned down the first parody idea because McCartney, like Al, is a vegetarian, and the second one because he didn’t want to be linked to Al’s weird Holocaust denial phase. To be honest, I’m glad McCartney acted the way he did.
True, Al will eventually get to officially release a Beatles parody when his “Tax Man” parody “Pac-Man” is included in the albums of obscurities and rarities coming out later this year that this project is theoretically tied to. Technology is cyclical and I suspect that once that rarities album comes out we’ll be in the throes of a little cultural contamination known as “Pac-Man Fever” all over again! And who stands to benefit most? Why “Pac-Man Fever” hit-makers Buckner & Garcia of course. And then Atari but also Al at some point.
Al similarly never quite cracked the Rolling Stones. Parodying a solo Mick Jagger soundtrack cut led to one of the worst, and most misconceived parodies of Al’s career in “Toothless People.” He’s had more success on polka medleys, where the stakes are much lower. Al has included the compositions of Jagger and Richards in polka medleys before but on UHF’s “Hot Rocks Polka” he devotes an entire polka medley to a single artist for the first time in his career.
This single-artist twist brings the series back to its initial inspiration, the soul-sucking but extremely lucrative “Stars on 45” series of hit medleys for the undiscriminating. “Stars on 45” frequently devoted discs to a single artist, so if you really wanted to hear a bunch of Beatles songs on one 45 and it didn’t matter how bland and forgettable the versions might be, they had you covered, no pun intended.
“Hot Rocks Polka” is named after one of several million Rolling Stones greatest hits compilation, so it’s essentially “Rolling Stones on 45” with the sleazy, salacious swagger and sexuality of snake-hipped, girlfriend-stealing Mick Jagger replaced by the mindless cheerfulness of Alpine Al at his oompah-band sassiest.
Costumes are important to Al’s aesthetic, both literally and figuratively. Al’s concerts give his wardrobe as much of a workout as his body and vocal chords but he frequently tries on musical costumes as well. Al doesn’t just study the artists he honors with parodies and pastiches. No, he gets inside their minds and inside their skins to parody them from the inside out.
So the humor in “Hot Rocks Polka” comes in part from the comic incongruity of the musical costume Al and his band have chosen for this polka medley. Mick Jagger exudes raw, overpowering sexuality and sneering attitude. So does Al, in private. But Al’s public persona is white and nerdy so there’s a bit of a transgressive thrill in hearing “Wholesome Al” Yankovic once again sing the kind of lyrics that would be unimaginable in his own work.
This is most glaring during the medley’s snippet of “Brown Sugar”, a song that is either about heroin addiction, the sexuality of black women or the deliciousness of Pepsi. Pretty much everything Al sings in the segment of the medley devoted to “Brown Sugar” (that would be “Gold coast slave ship bound for cotton fields/Sold in a market down in New Orleans/Scarred old slaver knows he's doin' all right/Hear they whip the women just around midnight/Brown sugar/
How come you taste so good/Brown sugar/Just like a young girl should”) is intensely sexually suggestive in a racially charged kind of way.
Needless to say, when Al was not channeling Mick Jagger, he did not devote too much of his oeuvre to delineating how good a young girl should taste. And that, of course, is the less racially problematic version of the song. Jagger is a bad boy, and an icon of androgyny and sexuality but the reasons we’re talking about him now is because he wrote a lot of great pop songs.
“Hot Rocks Polka” is a tribute to the impeccable song craft and irresistible melodies of Jagger and Richards, but it also highlights how their big, sing-along choruses are a whole lot more memorable and iconic than than the verses. The novelty of “Hot Rocks Polka” comes from the contrast between the geek goofily crooning and the stud whose words he’s giving manic, impish life, but it’s really one great pop artist/songwriter’s tribute to another.
Support Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place, the Weird Accordion to Al and maybe Nathan someday having enough money that he can actually see the Rolling Stones for once in his life before they die is that really asking for so much? at https://www.patreon.com/nathanrabinshappyplace