Day One hundred and eighty-seven: "Beat on the Bat" from Medium Rarities
The editing process for Weird Al: The Book went smoothly but I will always remember an editor at Abrams Image, the book’s publisher, complaining about a passage where I wrote that we as a society can all agree that the famously primitive recording of “Another One Rides the Bus” and Al’s hastily recorded debut album “Weird Al” Yankovic were as punk rock as anything Sid Vicious or Johnny Rotten ever did.
The editor stated that it would be inaccurate to describe Al’s scruffy first album as more punk rock than the entire existence of the Sex Pistols but it would be okay to describe “Weird Al” Yankovic as being as punk rock as anything Malcolm McLaren ever created. I was, of course, engaging in my trademark breathless hyperbole when I compared Al’s introduction to the record-buying public to the savage transgressions of the punk movement at home and abroad.
When it comes to embodying the essence of punk Al isn’t exactly GG Allin but I do think “Weird Al” Yankovic is only semi-secretly a sneering punk rock/New Wave provocation masquerading as a musical comedy album. Al had a real affinity for New Wave; they were his weirdoes, oddballs and outcasts with synthesizers, keyboards, questionable hairstyles, regrettable fashion and attitude.
Al’s early output falls unmistakably on the New Wave side of the New Wave/Punk divide but having him cover The Ramones for a Dr. Demento punk tribute album is inspired. After all, The Ramones were essentially a Mad magazine conception of a punk band, a gang of goofy-looking TV and comic book-addicted Neanderthal degenerates singing about being bored, sniffing glue and just wanting to have something to do.
The Ramones weren’t just funny; they were hilarious. Dr. Demento understood The Ramones immediately and played songs from their groundbreaking debut album on his show, including “Beat on the Brat.” If the Ramones were not clearly human cartoons trafficking in rebellion, shock and transgression than the subject matter of “Beat on the Brat” would be nothing short of horrifying.
“Beat on the Brat” is singularly terrible parenting advice/counsel to anyone dealing with children but a terrific punk song. Al’s contribution to Dr. Demento: Covered in Punk is consequently an exceedingly reverent cover of a notoriously irreverent song. Osaka Popstar, whose frontman John Cafiero put together Covered in Punk, faithfully replicate the punishing groove of the original while Al’s delivery is every bit as weirdly stylized as Joey Ramone’s.
The lyrics for “Beat on the Brat” are as hypnotically repetitive as anything Al has lampooned for a polka parody, the same iconically sneering words repeated over and over before Al closes things out with the one thing desperately missing from The Ramones’ original: the accordion.
When Al covered “Beat on the Brat” for the Dr. Demento compilation there was an unmistakable element of novelty in Al performing a straight-forward cover of a classic rock staple rather than a parody or polka. The same was true when I saw Al perform the song in concert in Chicago after being introduced by the good doctor himself. But by the time The Ridiculously Self-Indulgent, Ill-Advised Vanity Tour ended, Al and his crack band had performed no less than 77 covers, one per concert.
I wish my Abrams Image editor had been with me to see Al perform “Beat on the Brat” live, as I’m pretty sure it would have convinced him that Al is not only as punk as Dee Dee Ramone prostituting himself to score money for heroin; he’s considerably more punk than the Ramones, GG Allin and the Sex Pistols put together. That’s no small feat for a man who does not swear or use drugs or drink, or start fights, or do pretty much any of the things we associate with punk.
Support independent media and help ensure a robust present and future for the Happy Place by pledging over at https://patreon.com/nathanrabinshappyplace
OR more pressingly, get in on the Weird Accordion to Al book crowd-funding campaign. Lots of awesome prizes still available at https://make-the-weird-accordion-to-al-book-a-ridiculous-r.backerkit.com/hosted_preorders