Day Seventy-Nine: "Airline Amy" from Off the Deep End
On Off the Deep End, Al’s originals aren’t just clearly preferable to every parody other than “Smells Like Nirvana.” They’re also far more sophisticated, both lyrically and musically. Then again, considering that the album finds Al spoofing the low-wattage likes of MC Hammer, Gerardo, New Kids on the Block and Milli Vanilli, in addition to Nirvana, that’s not exactly high praise.
But Al’s sublime originals do merit high praise. “Airline Amy” is a typically terrific Al original but it’s an anomaly in other ways. Musically and lyrically, it’s surprisingly subtle and understated, with a refreshing power pop vibe complete with chiming, Byrds-by-way-of-R.E.M guitar and smart, quirky lyrics.
I’ve written extensively about the lousy Lothsarios in Al’s oeuvre and how his would-be womanizers often mistake their own mental illness for love. That’s true of the singer of “Airline Amy” as well but where Al’s cracked romantics frequently seem to pose both a danger to themselves and the women unlucky enough to end up their objects of desire, not to mention the world at large, the singer of “Airline Amy” seems fundamentally harmless, if also hopelessly deluded.
The song is sung by a true romantic who mistakes the titular waitress in the sky’s devotion to her job for romantic attraction. It’s a decidedly one-sided love affair. “Every one of our dates is at thirty thousand feet” the singer boasts without realizing that what he sees as the exquisite dance of l’amour fou is actually more a matter of a professional doing their job.
When the titular stewardess points out the exits, refills his coffee, gets him headphones and demonstrates how to use an oxygen mask in case of emergency, our adorably misguided singer is convinced she’s flirting up a storm, engaging in a little high-altitude foreplay. “Airline Amy” is agreeably deadpan: it sure sounds and feels like an infectious, upbeat power-pop love song. You have to really listen to the lyrics to get the song’s comic conceit, and even then it’s abstract and more than a little conceptual.
“Airline Amy” is strong enough that it doesn’t really need to be a comedy song, or even particularly funny. It would be a winner even without the comic hook of a deluded frequent flyer mistaking professionalism for affection and proximity for an actual relationship. If “Airline Amy” was just a catchy power pop love song about a pathologically optimistic and hopeful young man in love with a stewardess it would still be a good song, but it would not be a “Weird Al” Yankovic song.
Like “You Don’t Love Me Anymore”, with its rhyme about losing a little bit of self-esteem “that time that you made it with the whole hockey team”, “Airline Amy” contains one of Al’s most ribald-sounding lyrics in the singer’s vow to get the object of his deluded affection in an “upright locked position.” I’m not even sure what that means, but it sure sounds dirty yet incongruously innocent at the same time, not unlike the song itself.
The strange, deluded men of Al’s warped love songs comically misunderstand both the emotions of the people they’re in love with, and the way love and the world work. Oftentimes that has an aggressive, sinister element but that’s not the case here. The singer is a fool, all right, and a low-key lunatic but he’s also truly lovestruck, albeit misguided.
If “Airline Amy” isn’t hilarious, that’s at least partially by design. Al isn’t going for big laughs here, so much as he is knowing chuckles. “Airline Amy” doesn’t reach the comic heights of some of Al’s other work but little in his catalog can match it for sunny charm and warped innocence.
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