Day One hundred and eighty four: "Hey Hey We're the Monks" from Medium Rarities
The delightful doo-wop a cappella ditty “Hey Hey We’re the Monks”, from the musical fantasy comedy television series Galavant, boasts the curious distinction of having a title spoofing the chorus, but not the actual title of Al’s old pals The Monkees’ infectious introductory anthem “(Theme from) The Monkees” while representing an original composition from the great Alan Menken, of Little Shop of Horrors, Aladdin, Little Mermaid and The Beauty and The Beast fame, with eminently quotable lyrics from Menken’s writing partner Glenn Slater.
Al flew to England and donned the robes of the holy to play a Monk With Attitude alongside back-up singers/holy harmonizers Stephen Hill, Jeremy Budd, Stephen Weller, Michael Dore, James Spilling and Simon Grant, all of whom get a chance to shine despite “Hey Hey We’re the Monks” lasting a mere seventy six seconds.
Instead of the usual vow of silence, the Monks of The Order of Our Father the Perpetual Refrain have taken a vow of singing. They’re a boy band in sacred garb whose members include such staples as “The Smart One”, “The Cute One”, “The Shy One” and finally, “The Bad Boy”, albeit “not so bad cause I'm a monk!”, a line that made me laugh out loud more than once. You know a line is funny when you see it coming and laugh heartily all the same.
The incongruous juxtaposition of very old time religion and exceedingly contemporary sass favorably recalls “Amish Paradise”, like when the divine doo woppers end their snazzy musical spiel with a jazzy “Hey hey we’re finger popping, never stopping, humble with a cherry topping monks!” followed by vamping and a call for jazz hands.
These are a decidedly modern-seeming band of Medieval monks who offer weary travelers “31 flavors of sacramental wine” and pepper their pitch with slang like “Holy guacamole.”
The song’s instrument-free format and succinctness, meanwhile, recall “Since You’ve Been Gone” but “Hey Hey We’re the Monks” is somehow a good ten seconds shorter than Al’s earlier a cappella showcase, which never even makes it to the ninety second mark.
The wonderfully incongruous doo-wop angle, is redolent of one of Al’s best and most beloved ballads, “One More Minute”, which similarly fetishized and lampooned the cliches and conventions of this quintessential American art form.
“Hey Hey We’re the Monks” is almost too clever but would you expect from a Menken/Slater composition? That’s one of the joys of Medium Rarities: getting to hear Al sing other people’s songs outside of the context of a polka or a parody. On Medium Rarities, Al sings the compositions of Reggie Watts and Joey Ramone as well as Menken/Slater, a full spectrum to be sure.
“Hey Hey We’re the Monks” and the guest spot that spawned it afforded Al a juicy opportunity to act as well as sing, to perform an infectious number in character as a man of the Lord with an unlikely excess of musical-theater razzamatazz.
Galavant only lasted eighteen episodes but that’s not because it wasn’t smart or funny or original or good. If “Hey Hey We’re the Monks” is any indication, it was probably excessively smart and funny and original and good, and consequently unfit for the degraded likes of the American airwaves and primetime network television.
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