51 Shades of Geek

Weird Al Yankovic – In 3-D

Weird Al Yankovic - In 3-DMy first-ever exposure to Weird Al – actually the same goes for quite a few close, personal friends of Al – was sparked by my interest in “Eat It”, the spot-on parody of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It”. But time, while it hasn’t mellowed me one darn bit, has shown me that there are far, far finer spoofs of pop greatness to be found on Yankovic’s In 3-D.

The great thing about Weird Al’s earliest work was that he had the entire pantheon of rock ‘n’ roll to pick and choose from. Nothing was off-limits – nothing too new or too old. Polkas On 45 is a good example. I’m a sucker for Al’s polka-fied medleys of richly-deserving songs-of-the-moment, but to me, Polkas On 45 is the standard by which all other Weird Al polka medleys must be judged. (I know that’s a rather rarified genre, but stick with me here.) What makes Polkas On 45 all the funnier is that it plucks gems from many years before Al’s rise to the top – everything is fair game: Foreigner (“Hot Blooded”), Talking Heads (“Burning Down The House”), the Beatles Hey Jude, the Doors (“L.A. Woman”), Iron Butterfly (“In A Gadda Da Vida”), and even Deep Purple (“Smoke On The Water”). Some of these songs are well-loved anthems of rock ‘n’ roll, not disposible Spice Girls singles. To put it bluntly, it took some balls to line up some of the greats only to hurl musical meringue pies at them. This one track is worth the price of the whole album.

But aside from wacko Jacko’s finest, Yankovic also helped himself to full-length parodies of Survivor (turning “Eye Of The Tiger” into “The Theme From Rocky XIII” with a chorus of “It’s the rye or the kaiser…”), the Police (“King Of Pain” into “King Of Suede”), and “style parodies” spoofing an artist’s sound but no one specific song: the reggae satire “Gonna Buy Me A Condo” has always made me laugh, especially now that I am old enough to dream of paying rent on a better rental property. Long-time fans will also find the Greg Kihn 4 out of 4Band spoof “I Lost On Jeopardy” here, as well as a non-artist-specific new wave howler, “Mr. Popeil”. Man, to think that there was a time when I wondered who that song was about, back before late-night infomercials. I miss my youth.

But thanks to Weird Al Yankovic’s In 3-D, I can at least temporarily reclaim it.

Order this CD

  1. Eat It (3:19)
  2. Midnight Star (4:33)
  3. The Brady Bunch (2:39)
  4. Buy Me A Condo (3:52)
  5. I Lost On Jeopardy (3:26)
  6. Polkas On 45 (4:19)
  7. Mr. Popeil (4:41)
  8. King Of Suede (4:12)
  9. That Boy Could Dance (3:28)
  10. Theme From Rocky XIII (3:37)
  11. Nature Trail To Hell (5:49)

Released by: Scotti Bros.
Release date: 1984
Total running time: 43:50

Y Kant Tori Read

Y Kant Tori ReadTruly a legendary album, Y Kant Tori Read’s debut (and thankfully only) album appeared and disappeared from the Billboard charts in the summer of 1988 within the space of a month – and no one heard from the band again until one of its members, pianist/vocalist Tori Amos, resurfaced as a solo artist at the forefront of a whole new movement of female artists in 1991.

Before the life-altering events that inspired Little Earthquakes, Amos’ first solo project, happened, she was fronting Y Kant Tori Read, essentially a typical late-80s rock group with a very typical late-80s sound. Those expecting to hear Tori’s trademark melancholy, introspective sound…won’t. But thanks to its abysmal chart performance and its small pressing, Y Kant Tori Read sank into oblivion – until Tori Amos became a household name in the early 90s, which sent the value of any original LP, CD or cassettes of Y Kant Tori Read skyrocketing into the $100 range and beyond. (This has also made it one of the single most bootlegged music releases ever – and even the bootlegs fetch ridiculous prices on eBay.) Legend has it that Tori’s solo contract with Atlantic Records prevents the label from reissuing the album in any form.

And that’s a good thing. Despite the fact that I haven’t been enthralled with everything Tori’s unleashed, Y Kant Tori Read is not a testament to her talents that I’d want released again were I her.

Well, it’s a good thing with the exception of one song.

3 out of 4“Etienne Trilogy” is a linked cycle of two instrumentals sandwiching an absolutely beautiful vocal/piano number which lives up to anything Tori has ever done since. In fact, I’d put “Etienne” up there with “Winter”, “Cloud On My Tongue” and “Sugar”, some of the best stuff she has ever done. You will not be disappointed.

Order this CD

  1. The Big Picture (4:11)
  2. Cool On Your Island (4:50)
  3. Fayth (4:18)
  4. Fire On The Side (4:48)
  5. Pirates (4:15)
  6. Floating City (5:03)
  7. Heart Attack At 23 (5:10)
  8. On The Boundary (4:30)
  9. You Go To My Head (3:46)
  10. Etienne Trilogy (6:28)

    The Highlands / Etienne / Skyeboat Song

Released by: Atlantic
Release date: 1988
Total running time: 59:41

Pete Yorn – musicforthemorningafter

Pete Yorn - musicforthemorningafterPete Yorn is one of the best songwriters I have ever heard; the 14 songs on his debut album musicforthemorningafter are some of the best-constructed pieces of music you’ll ever have the pleasure of listening to. Yorn combines a number of guitars, synths, drums and other instruments to create layers of sound supported by catchy melodies that are full of energy and feeling. The opening track (and first single) “Life On A Chain” starts with a crackling, sounds-like-it’s-being-played-on-a-turntable acoustic guitar intro, kicks in with the drums and the electric guitars 30 seconds in, then ups the tempo again with some nice bass work after another 30 seconds. The song’s complexity and tempo keep it charging forward, kept on track by the crisp percussion. Whenever I hear the song, I wish I could play an instrument, because I want to get in on the fun – as it is I just settle for attracting stares on the bus with my not-quite-in-tune air guitar and air drum playing.

“Life On A Chain” is the best song on the album – hell, it might be the best song of the year, although R.E.M.’s “The Lifting” would give it a run for the money – but this album is not a one-hit wonder. “For Nancy (‘Cos It Already Is)”, “Murray” and “Closet” are very satisfying up-tempo rock/pop songs with many of the same strengths as “Life”. On slower tracks like “Just Another” and “Lose You” the music amplifies and echoes the pessimism and melancholy of Yorn’s lyrics. The guitars on “Sense” wrap around each other to create a palpable sense of yearning; Yorn’s downcast, almost-mumbling vocals are at their best on this song. “On Your Side” is a lush, serene song that uses strings, synths and acoustic guitar to create a dream-like effect; I may wake up before dawn some time soon because this is the kind of song that was made to be heard while watching a sunrise.

The lyrics on musicforthemorningafter are a bit incomprehensible – they’re fragments of meaning, the kind of poetry that would either occupy an advanced high school lit class for a week or have everyone throwing up their hands in frustration. Since the lyrics don’t convey a straightforward narrative or even a single clear emotional theme, the bits and pieces blend in with the music, which creates a satisfying listening experience that also lets the listener project specific meanings onto the songs. Yorn also constructs the lyrics in such a way that key phrases are repeated throughout the song, with a word or two changed at the end to suggest a shift in perspective or meaning. It’s an effective technique, and one that makes the lyric sheet 4 out of 4worth reading.

musicforthemorningafter ranks with R.E.M.’s Automatic For The People, dada’s Puzzle and Matthew Sweet’s Girlfriend as a top-notch modern rock album that’s well worth a listen, or five, or more…

Order this CD

  1. Life on a Chain (3:45)
  2. Strange Condition (3:57)
  3. Just Another (3:14)
  4. Black (4:11)
  5. Lose You (4:35)
  6. For Nancy (‘Cos It Already Is) (3:30)
  7. Murray (3:45)
  8. June (2:34)
  9. Sense (3:53)
  10. Closet (3:03)
  11. On Your Side (5:02)
  12. Sleep Better (4:28)
  13. EZ (4:41)
  14. Simonize (2:54)

Released by: Sony
Release date: 2001