Day Sixty-Eight: "Fun Zone" from UHF: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack and Other Stuff
The full title of the soundtrack to UHF slyly subverts the slightly stilted formality and pretension of “Original Motion Picture Soundtrack” by following it with the decidedly casual, aggressively non-formal “And Stuff.” But if the subtitle is a typically self-deprecating joke from a self-deprecating joker, it’s also accurate. More than any of Al’s previous albums, even his self-titled 1983 debut, which was cobbled together from a previously released single and EP and a few new tracks, UHF feels like a collection of songs more than a cohesive album.
There’s an unmistakably random element to the soundtrack that’s particularly pronounced on “Fun Zone.” The song was originally recorded as “Stanley Spadowsky’s Theme” during the sessions that yielded the UHF soundtrack after the iconically obnoxious janitor character Michael Richards plays in the film, but the track began life as the theme for Welcome to the Fun Zone, a sketch comedy pilot from 1984 Al's manager Jay Levey wrote on.
Al would seemingly be a natural choice to compose and perform the theme song for a comedy show in the mid 1980s. He was the first name in musical comedy, but when he recorded the Welcome to the Fun Zone theme he was known primarily for writing and singing funny parody lyrics to ubiquitous pop songs.
So there’s something willfully perverse about hiring a man famous for writing and singing funny lyrics to compose a tune with no lyrics and no real singing, just some enthusiastic cries of “Hey, hey, hey!” as the song cruises to a close. Al’s movie soundtrack is monomaniacally obsessed with television even in the songs that aren’t overtly about the boob tube.
“Fun Zone” is a theme song to a television show that never really happened, that was cursed to live and die as a one-off, a failed experiment, a mistake. When Al parodied R.E.M’s “Stand” as “Spam” on the very next track on UHF, it was known primarily as one of the Athens’ band’s most popular and annoying songs. It would not realize its destiny as the theme song for Get A Life until a little later.
It’s oddly perfect that Al parodied what would become the Get A Life theme song before it even was the Get A Life theme song because I see Al and Chris Elliott as being complementary figures. Al’s music is all about deconstructing music and pop culture and television, about taking it apart and putting it back together.
Get a Life did the same thing for television. It was a television show about television, and consequently perfectly in sync with Al’s aesthetic. Get a Life did for the sitcom what Comedy Bang Bang did for the talk show, so it’s also fitting that the show ended its distinguished run with Al as its band-leader.
Al and TV are a natural combination, even when Al’s working in a format that plays against his biggest gifts, like the breezy instrumental. Thankfully, “Fun Zone” lives up to its title, both ironically and non-ironically. I’ve been reading a biography of David Letterman and the author talked about Letterman’s love of words and concepts like “fun.”
I’m not sure Letterman is capable of experiencing fun as a human being, so he gravitated towards the word and the idea as the three letter embodiment of the poisonous fake promise of show-business. For Letterman, there’s no such thing as genuine fun, only “fun.” Al isn’t quite as barbed in its portrayal of “fun” but there’s also a bitterly ironic element to the word’s use in later albums like Mandatory Fun.
An upbeat, hard-driving instrumental powered by synthesizers, horns and insistent drums, “Fun Zone” has a kinetic, propulsive quality. It’s a musical roller coaster that is continually shifting and contorting, a propulsive and infectious little bit of music that takes listeners on a journey in just under two minutes.
In an alternate universe, Al’s peppy mid-1980s instrumental would have accompanied the opening credits on a worthy rival to Saturday Night Live. In this world, it was destined for an even more auspicious destiny: the catchy little ditty played at the opening of live “Weird Al” Yankovic shows for many years.
Needless to say, for Al fans at his concerts, there’s nothing remotely ironic about the title of “Fun Zone.” If anything, it’s under-selling the enjoyment of watching Al and his band work their curious magic in front of an ecstatic, invariably satisfied crowd.
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