Day Sixty-Five: "She Drives Like Crazy" from UHF: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack and Other Stuff
There are some things “Weird Al” Yankovic does better than anyone else on earth. Heck, there are some things that Al does better than anyone else, dead or alive. No one in American history has done a better job of writing and recording parodies of hit pop songs. No one has done a better job of making music videos parodying other smash music videos. No one has done a better job of performing comedy music, particularly parodies, in concert for a period of decades now. As UHF proved, Al was no slouch when it came to co-writing a major motion picture, or starring in it despite precious little experience in front of movie cameras.
There are, alas, some things that not even a man as accomplished and driven as Al can do. As “Toothless People” proved, not even Al could make painful gum diseases hilarious. “She Drives Like Crazy”, meanwhile, illustrates that while Al possesses an extraordinary, unique skill set, singing confidently in an otherworldly, Roland Gift-like falsetto is not part of it.
That wouldn’t be a problem except that Al’s fierce devotion to recreating the songs he’s parodying as closely and meticulously as possible means that when he’s parodying Fine Young Cannibals he needs to replicate Gift’s falsetto. That is a very tall order, because if you do not have a natural falsetto, singing that high can be incredibly challenging, if not downright impossible.
UHF may be Al’s weakest album up to date, but it’s also the one that gave his vocal chords the biggest workout. He spends many of the parodies here in a gruff, low register as he channels the Dylanesque rasp of Mark Knopfler on “Money for Nothing/Beverly Hillbillies” and Tone Loc’s gravelly delivery on “Isle Thing” but he goes in the opposite direction here.
How high is Al’s falsetto on “She Drives Like Crazy?” They used to allow dogs into Al’s concerts in the late 1980s because they were the only ones who could hear Al’s voice at its highest. On “Isle Thing”, Al sounds like a sentient cigarette. Here, he sounds more like a balloon that keeps floating out of distance, or a man unsteadily trying to navigate a tricky vocal tightrope.
As the title none too subtly conveys, “She Drives Like Crazy” is a car song, a follow up to “Stop Dragging My Car Around” of sorts, about a man in a near constant state of fear and panic over a woman’s terrible driving. Many of the lyrics are directly addressed to the offending driver, like the opening gambit, “Where’d you lean how to steer?”
When Al moves from the angelic, if horribly strained falsetto of the verses to a chorus that takes place in a lower register, he sounds disconcertingly like Pee-Wee Herman. Now Herman is a wonderful entertainer beloved by millions (including Al, of course), but he’s generally not somebody you want to sound like in a pop song, especially when you’re emulating a voice as singular and extreme as Gift’s.
A good rule of thumb for an Al's parodies is that the more confident Al is in a song’s central conceit, the less he needs to rely upon sweeteners like comical sound effects. So it’s not an encouraging sign that “She Drives Like Crazy” features automotive sound effects throughout. It’s an even less encouraging sign that the sound effects, most notably the sound of screaming and crashing, constitutes its funniest and most inspired moments.
What’s most fascinating to me about “She Drives Like Crazy” is how far out of Al’s comfort zone it finds the popular pop parodist. Al took a big chance in parodying a song sung in such a tricky, difficult register and while it didn’t necessarily pay off, creatively or commercially, and he’s not really able to pull it off, the effort and the ambition required to even attempt this kind of vocal is exceedingly admirable, even if the result is notable primarily for its overreaching.
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