Sunday, July 20, 2014

Ranking the "Weird Al"-bums: the final results

Here it is: the summary of a week's worth of listening to, thinking about, ruminating on, and studying the influences, ramifications, and manifestations of Weird Al's 35-year career, a process that has likely taken as much as 10-12 hours in total. It's arguably a lot of time to spend thinking on any one piece of pop culture, but what I've learned in the past week is that I have barely scratched the surface of investigating Al's work. I've ranked the albums and included the rankings and my thoughts here, in addition to some of the other thoughts I've had along the way. On to the final rankings!

Click here for Ranking the "Weird Al"-bums: the 1980s
Click here for Ranking the "Weird Al"-bums: the 1990s
Click here for Ranking the "Weird Al"-bums: the 2000s (and on)

The final rankings and reflections therein

Let's start off with the final rankings, from worst to first, over the decades.

14. Polka Party! (1986) – 5.5/20
13. “Weird Al” Yankovic (1982) – 5.9/20
12. “Weird Al” Yankovic in 3-D (1984) – 13/20
11. UHF – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack and Other Stuff (1989) – 14/20
10. Even Worse (1988) – 15.3/20
9. Straight Outta Lynwood (2006) – 15.5/20
8. Poodle Hat (2003) – 16/20
7. Off the Deep End (1992) – 16/20
6. Dare to be Stupid (1985) – 17.5/20
5. Mandatory Fun (2014) – 18/20
4. Bad Hair Day (1996) – 18.5/20
3. Alapalooza (1993) – 19/20
2. Alpocalypse (2011) – 19.5/20
1. Running With Scissors (1999) – 20/20

And, for reference, the comparisons between each decade period:
The 1980s: (68/114 = 59.6%)
The 1990s: (73.5/80 = 92%)
The 2000s/2010s: (69/80 = 86%)

So, that answers my initial question of where Mandatory Fun falls in, which corroborates my initial theory of a top 5 standing (at least according to my admittedly somewhat personally skewed ratings). And the final rankings were not all that surprising at all; although I didn't pre-rank the albums before going through this exercise, I imagine my list would have been relatively similar. But still, there were a few surprises along the way and a few things I learned through the process.

Ten things I've learned about Weird Al

1. Weird Al is surprisingly consistent. Over the past 26 years, he has released no albums that ranked less than 70% in my scale, and his last eight albums have been even better. His worst five albums were all in his first decade, but even those were mostly really good (and even those issues might have been solved in not releasing Polka Party!). Just try and think of other artists who are as consistent for as long - there are not many.

2. Weird Al is not finished by any means. Every so often, there's someone who rolls his metaphorical eyes and makes some kind of overture that Weird Al is outdated. (Here's the latest from Steven Hyden from Grantland as an example.) He's not; in fact, he's as relevant as ever, as evidenced by his contention this week for his first #1 album, and he is still finding new topics to explore and ways to parody (aside from the admittedly somewhat "been-done-before" parody "Inactive" - but I can forgive him for that).

3. Al is arguably one of the most accomplished musicians of the last four decades. Consider, for a moment, the number of genres in which Al is fluent: rock, pop, R&B, alternative, hip-hop, rap, country, and, of course, polka. He has come a long way from having to slow down the BPM of "U Can't Touch This" to where he is at now, which is a surprisingly well-regarded rapper by the rap community. He's impressive when his range and scope are considered, both within each album and over the course of his career.

4. Al is occasionally unfortunately juvenile, puerile, scatological, and unnecessarily gory. I noticed it most on Poodle Hat, but there are a surprising number of songs that are actually not really suitable for kids. I know that seems like an obvious point, but I was surprised at the frequency at times. I don't know why he does this, when he also juxtaposes those unfortunate references with...

5. Al is one of the most accomplished satirists in and of pop culture. Some of what Al does is merely parody - making fun of something for the sake of it - but there are times at which Al is a sharp satirical voice. The most prominent example for me is in the juxtaposition between Al's identity and hip-hop, which he has purposefully cultivated since 1990, with "White & Nerdy" as the apex, but there are many other examples: Al's connection with Michael Jackson in the 1980s, the way in which he satirizes music videos, his AlTV (or AlMusic, for us Canadians) specials. There are also several examples of how he satirizes artists through using their music by turning the subject of the song on itself or its performer ("Six Words Long", "Smells Like Nirvana", "Achy Breaky Song", "Perform This Way"). In addition, he has also found ways to satirize most of the significant (and insignificant) movements and developments of the past thirty-five years.

6. The visual aspect of Al's career is almost as important as the musical aspect. No discussion of Al's work ever seems complete without reference to the visual aspects of his career, and there are few artists that can make a similar claim. Many artists can achieve success without a strongly directed visual identity, but few have it as crucial to who they are as Al does. In fact, I would argue that the short list for the top 6 in some order of confluence of visual and musical identities is Michael Jackson, Madonna, Prince, U2, Britney Spears, and Weird Al.

7. Weird Al is surprisingly creative. Considering that Al has released fourteen albums and around 170 songs, I expected to see more repetition between subjects. But despite his volume and the length of his career, there are few topics that Al has returned to between his parodies and his originals. Sure, he has had songs with similar themes - for example, TV ("I Can't Watch This" and "Couch Potato") and nerd culture ("It's All About the Pentiums" and "White & Nerdy") - but he has never seemed to repeat himself or do the same thing twice, which is no small feat.

8. Al is the consummate pop artist. I know some people call Michael Jackson "The King of Pop", but I think it's really Weird Al. His rise came at the perfect time for someone like him, just as music was diversifying, hip-hop was becoming mainstream, and pop music was emerging as one of the dominant forces in contemporary American pop culture. Al is the Andy Warhol of musical pop artistry, and I believe that his work and presence will stand as emblematic of many of the changes in the US (and arguably the world) from 1980 onward. Of course, I'm not convinced that Al will have lasting significance beyond the pop artistry of what he does, but I do think that there are more depths to be plumbed in the study of Weird Al beyond him being that weird parody guy - which brings me to the fact that...

9. There has been surprisingly little academic dialogue about Weird Al's career. Many of the articles I looked up focused on the pop aspects of each album and asking inane questions about "how do you come up with new ideas?" I found relatively few articles that attempted to go indepth at any length into Al's career and the ramifications thereof, aside from a few on the rise of musical parody in the early 1990s. I'm really interested in investigating this aspect more, and who knows, maybe even pursuing it someday. After all, someone other than Al himself needs to become an expert in Weird Al, right?

10. Al is better in moderation. After inundating myself with Al's work and listening to most of this albums this week, I remembered that he is better a little bit at a time. I'm not even sure that I really even enjoy listening to a whole album at a time - and certainly not almost exclusively for a week - but I have found that he is better when moderated and when the playlist is edited. I do enjoy, however, going on a blitz of videos on YouTube every so often, and I have enjoyed my journey into Al's psyche this week.

The future of Al

One of the questions that has come up in my research this week has been about the future of Weird Al's career. He is now finished his record career, and many of the questions he has been asked have focused on that development as well as how distribution has changed even in the past fifteen years. One commenter pointed out that Al has sold the same number of albums in the first week of release as he did in 2006 - around 70,000 - but that he was #10 then and is contending for #1 now. So, with some of those things in mind, what is the future of Weird Al?

As is evident from this past week, Al is as relevant - if not more so - than he ever has been. He partnered with eight different sites to deliver his new videos, and he continues to produce music and videos that appeal to and make an impact on pop culture. I think that Al will continue to parody songs, but that he will release those parodies as they are written and produced, so we will have material from Al more often. I think he will still release albums, but they will be more collections of the songs that have already been released with perhaps one or two new songs. I really don't think that there is any indication that Al is finished or done, and I think he will continue at his craft for sometime to come. And I'm glad for that, since it's clear that he still has more to offer us as fans.

Final reflections

So there you go - the results of a week of thinking about Weird Al, sifting through the ephemera and minutiae of one of the truly weirdest enduring pop culture phenomena of contemporary North American culture. It has been an entertaining thought experiment for me, as I was not certain of either the process or prospects of such an investigation when I started, but I am pleased with the results. And who knows - this might not be my last time spending time thinking about Al; I might end up being that scholar who writes a Ph.D thesis on Al's work someday. But for now, I think I'll have to settle for finding a way to see Al in concert, and I think that this tour might be the time to cross that experience off my bucket list. 

Ranking the "Weird Al"-bums: the 2000s (and on)

Al's albums in the last fifteen years have all been really good - almost as good as his 90s albums asa set; the only issue is that there are not enough of them. Of course, the changes in the way that music is produced and distributed have affected Al in this period significantly. With that in mind, here are my thoughts on the four albums released between 2003 and 2014.

Click here for Ranking the "Weird Al"-bums: the 1980s
Click here for Ranking the "Weird Al"-bums: the 1990s

The Aughts: an awfully quiet decade for Al (2000-2009)

Poodle Hat (2003): I didn't really listen much to Poodle Hat when it was released. Maybe it was because I was on the tail end of my "no secular music" kick, or just because I was much more removed from the pop music scene in general, but this one didn't catch me. In years since, it has gained a bit more with me, and I was surprised at how well it came out in the rankings.

Parodies: "Couch Potato", "Trash Day", "A Complicated Song", "Ode to a Superhero", "eBay". Not a bad selection of the times here, with Eminem, Nelly, and Avril Lavigne represented. "eBay" might be the best, but it seems like it would have fit better on his previous album, Running With Scissors. "Superhero" was a lot like "The Saga Begins", so it just kind of seemed like he was on repeat. Still, the parodies themselves are all solid, so 5/5.
Originals: "Wanna B Ur Lovr" is entertaining and "Hardware Store has its moments, but "Bob" is the best one on the album. 3/3
Polka: "Angry White Boy Polka", the second "thematic" polka (after "The Alternative Polka" on Bad Hair Day in 1996). Entertaining, timely, and amusing. 3/3
Visual: There was no official video for this album, thanks to Eminem's refusal to let Al film one for "Couch Potato". 0/3
Standout Track(s): "eBay", "Couch Potato", and maybe "Bob". 2.5/3
Pop Cultural Savvy/Timelessness: Seems like it hit all the right notes: Eminem and 8 Mile (and an Oscar-winning song), early 2000s TV, Spider-Man, Backstreet Boys, eBay, Bob Dylan, Billy Joel...but it still seemed to be a little out of step. 2.5/3
Total: 16/20

Straight Outta Lynwood (2006): Any discussion of this album essentially begins and ends with "White & Nerdy", Al's biggest hit and arguably his best video (which is saying something). I think the album is a little lacking otherwise, but that is somewhat due to factors outside of his control (kind of). I feel like this really is the first album that he missed out on some of the major musical acts, and three of the parodies seemed a little weak, especially when the possible songs for parodies are considered, as"SexyBack", "Hollaback Girl", "S.O.S.", "Bad Day", and Nickelback's "Photograph" were all possibilities. But we can't really evaluate it on what wasn't there, so let's consider what was included.

Parodies: "White & Nerdy", "Do I Creep You Out", "Canadian Idiot", "Confessions Part III", "Trapped in the Drive-Thru". "Nerdy" is among his best, "Canadian Idiot" is sublime (and perfect for Grade 11 Social Studies, especially paired with Five Iron Frenzy's "O Canada"), but the other three are less-than-exemplary. "You're Pitiful" kind of counts, so let's go for 3.5/5
Originals: "Don't Download This Song" felt a couple of years too late, but it's still great, along with a couple of other entertaining entries. 2/3
Polka: "Polkarama!", which features a lot of fun songs but adds up to less than his best. 2/3
Visual: After the goose egg on Poodle Hat, Al created 9 (!) videos for Lynwood, including the video for "Nerdy". 3/3
Standout Track(s): "White & Nerdy", "Don't Download", and "You're Pitiful" do give the edge here. 3/3
Pop Cultural Savvy/Timelessness: The references in "White & Nerdy" alone put this over the top. "Don't Download" is a great tribute to 80s charity ballads, and "Canadian Idiot" is especially satisfying for us Canucks. Still, most of the rest of the album doesn't resonate here, so 2/3.
Total: 15.5/20 

The 2010s (2010-present)

Alpocalypse (2011): The longest wait for an Al album since the gap between Running With Scissors and Poodle Hat (1999 to 2003) produced what was in and of itself a decent album with strong parodies and great originals. But just like Straight Outta Lynwood, it seems like this album is missing something, but it's not part of the album itself; I think the answer is actually that he didn't release an album in 2009. One parody and four originals were available in 2009 on an EP entitled Internet Leaks, all of which appeared here, and over half of the parodies were of songs that were at least two years old ("You Belong With Me", "Whatever You Like", "Party in the USA"). So what that means is that three of five parodies and four of six originals could have theoretically been available two years earlier, which seems like it would have been enough for that extra album. But, as before, we cannot evaluate the album based on what was not there, so let's look at what was included.

Parodies: "Perform This Way", "TMZ", "Party in the CIA", "Another Tattoo", "Whatever You Like". Aside from the aforementioned slightly dated nature of some of the songs, the parodies themselves are all high quality, though "Whatever You Like" is a little weak. 4.5/5
Originals: This might be Al's best bunch of "style parodies", with distinctive entries parodying The Doors, The White Stripes, Weezer, Queen, and Hanson. 3/3
Polka: "Polka Face" - the title says it all. 3/3
Visual: From the cover to the 10 videos (!) that were released with the album, this one has the visual element covered. 3/3
Standout Track(s): "Perform This Way", "Party in the CIA", "Craigslist", "Stop Forwarding That Crap to Me" 3/3
Pop Cultural Savvy/Timelessness: TMZ, Lady Gaga, Craigslist, ring tones, spam emails, CIA operations - it hits all the right spots. 3/3
Total: 19.5/20 (which really surprised me!)

Mandatory Fun (2014): Al's final album (it completes his 32-year record deal!) keeps his streak of great albums intact and has reminded everyone that he is not anywhere near finished. The Weird Al brand is still going strong, and this album is as good as his last 8. Pretty impressive for a 22-year span.

Parodies: "Handy", "Foil", "Word Crimes", "Inactive", and "Tacky". This collection is up there for the best collection of parodies yet, and they are all instant classics. 5/5
Originals: Only "Sports Song" really stands out, although "First World Problems" has its moments. 1.5/3
Polka: "NOW That's What I Call Polka!" is an almost perfect time capsule for the previous three years, except that it's missing the Harlem Shake. 3/3
Visual: 8 videos in 8 days and a great Communist propaganda theme make for a great visual presence. 3/3
Standout Track(s): "Word Crimes", "Handy", "Tacky", "Foil". 3/3
Pop Cultural Savvy/Timelessness: This is arguably one of Al's least "timely" albums in that most of the references are more timeless. The savvy comes in the songs he's parodying, all of which were among the most popular tracks of the previous year. 2.5/3
Total: 18/20

Overall thoughts on Al in the 2000-2010s

I was actually quite surprised by the results of this decade, as I had expected lower ratings. Maybe I just had not paid as much attention to Al, or maybe I was subconsciously evaluating him on what he did not do rather than what he did do, but it had seemed like Al was out of touch until I really paid attention to the details. Four albums, none under 75%, an overall score of 86%, and surprising cultural relevance. Al's not done yet, by any stretch of (even his weird) imagination, and this period was almost as good as his four 90s albums.\

Total: 69/80 (86%)

Next up: Summarizing and ev-"al"-uating the results

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Ranking the "Weird Al"-bums: the 1990s

The 1990s were Al's best decade, definitively and absolutely - and I'm not just saying that because I was a teenage boy at the time. He released only four albums, in addition to a couple of other singles, but they all rank among his best, and many of his best songs and videos came from this decade. The only shortcoming: no Collective Soul parody. (Seriously, there wasn't one to be found?) Anyway, here are my thoughts on Al's 1990s efforts.

The comeback (1992-1993)

Al had not had the best time in the late 80s. Two of his last three albums were commercial and critical disappointments, his movie UHF failed at the box office, and it seemed like he might have been done. Then came a little parody of a band called Nirvana and...

Off the Deep End (1992): Al went full Nirvana with this one with the cover, video, and meta-analysis of Nirvana's brief but influential career. He timed it perfectly, and created one of the best synergies he's had between himself and the artist being parodied. The rest of the album holds up, too, despite the fact that much of it had been recorded over a year earlier.

Parodies: "Smells Like Nirvana", "I Can't Watch This", "The White Stuff", "Taco Grande", "The Plumbing Song" - three all-timers, one good, and one "meh" (Taco). 4/5
Originals: "You Don't Love Me Anymore" is great, but the rest are just okay. 1/3
Polka: "Polka Your Eyes Out" includes pieces of "Love Shack", "The Humpty Dance", "Enter Sandman", and "Ice Ice Baby". One of his best for sure. 3/3
Visual: From the cover to the video, Al's tribute to Nirvana dominates. It's just too bad that he didn't come up with another visual trick. 2/3
Standout Track(s): "Nirvana", "Watch", "White Stuff", and "Polka" are still funny 20+ years later. 3/3
Pop Cultural Savvy/Timelessness: Nirvana, NKOTB, Milli Vanilli, Hammer, Oreos, bad TV, Vanilla Ice,'s all here. 3/3
Total: 16/20

Alapalooza (1993): Despite the quick turnaround from the previous album (his quickest since 1985-86), Al made the quintessential Al-bum here. Almost every song is classic, and I can still listen to the whole album twenty years later.

Parodies: "Jurassic Park", "Bedrock Anthem", "Achy Breaky Song" (meta again!), and "Livin' In The Fridge" - only four, but they are so incredibly good. 5/5
Originals: Some surprisingly good entries here, too: "Frank's 2000" TV", "Talk Soup", "Young, Dumb, & Ugly", and "Harvey the Wonder Hamster". 3/3
Polka: Let's just leave this here. 3/3

Visual: "Jurassic Park is a great video, the album cover is probably Al's best, and even though it's not official, that "Bohemian Polka" video is amazing. 2/3
Standout Track(s): Where to start here? 8 of the 12 tracks could all be on a Best-of compilation. 3/3
Pop Cultural Savvy/Timelessness: One of the biggest movies ever, The Flintstones, Al's first real country song, Wayne's World, and Queen. 3/3
Total: 19/20

And to finish up his incredible two years, Al recorded a version of the Crash Test Dummies' "Mmm mmm mmm mmm" entitled "Headline News" that immortalized three stories of 1993-1994 (Lorena Bobbitt, Tonya Harding, and the kid getting caned in Singapore). Wow.

The late 90s (1996-1999)

Bad Hair Day (1996): Al's best-selling album deserves the title. It's easily his most accessible, and it's one of his best, as well as one of my personal favourites. But in researching, I found out that there were several unused parodies, any of which would have put this album over the top and sealed the deal as Al's best: "Laundry Day" (The Offspring's "Come Out and Play"); "Gee, I'm A Nerd" (The Beatles' "Free As A Bird" - c'mon, Yoko, have a sense of humour); "I'll Repair for You" (The Rembrandts' "I'll Be There For You", vetoed by the producers of Friends); and "Green Eggs and Ham" (U2's "Numb", vetoed by the Dr. Seuss estate). I'll just leave this here for now, so you can see what might have been.

Parodies: "Amish Paradise", "Cavity Search", "Gump", "Syndicated Inc.", "Phony Calls" - only "Syndicated Inc." doesn't really hold up, but the other four are still classics. 4.5/5
Originals: The best collection of originals on any Al-bum, headlined by "The Night Santa Went Crazy" and "Since You've Been Gone". Also, bonus points for the b-side "Spy Hard" from the movie of the same name. 3/3
Polka: "The Alternative Polka" was Al's first thematic polka, and it's still delightful. Again, here's the clip from AlMusic. 3/3

Visual: The video for "Amish Paradise" is so iconic that it makes up for the rest, especially that last backwards scene. Well, almost. 2/3
Standout Track(s): "Amish Paradise", "Cavity Search", "Phony Calls", "The Night Santa Went Crazy"'s a solid collection. 3/3
Pop Cultural Savvy/Timelessness: Forrest Gump, TV (again), The Simpsons, Santa, U2, Batman, and the Amish. 3/3
Total: 18.5/20

Running With Scissors (1999): 

Parodies: "The Saga Begins", "It's All About the Pentiums", "Pretty Fly for a Rabbi", "Jerry Springer", and "Grapefruit Diet" - maybe the best collection of parodies yet. 5/5
Originals: "The Weird Al Show Theme", "Your Horoscope for Today", and the 11-minute epic "Albuquerque", which has since been visually immortalized here with scenes from Breaking Bad (spoiler alert!). 3/3

Polka: "Polka Power" might be my favourite of all of Al's polkas, but that's probably because it's all songs that I listened to in high school. Still, any polka that includes "Tubthumping" has to be good. 3/3
Visual: The videos for "The Saga Begins" and "It's All About the Pentiums" allowed Al's new look (sans glasses) to feature prominently, and they're among his best. 3/3
Standout Track(s): "Rabbi", "Saga", "Albuquerque", and "Pentiums". 3/3
Pop Cultural Savvy/Timelessness: Star Wars, Jerry Springer, 90s pop, Jewish culture, late 90s computer lingo, and the theme from his TV show. 3/3
Total: 20/20

Overall thoughts on Al in the 90s

The 90s were Al's best decade, hands down - the perfect combination of pop cultural awareness, commercial acceptance, and great parodic songwriting. One perfect album, two that barely missed by one more solid parody and/or video, and another fairly solid album. I do think that the widespread acceptance and embracing of music video and eventually the emergence of the internet really did help Al's career, and helped produce what is his best album. It also showed that Al is at his best when he juxtaposes opposing cultures - say, white nerdiness and hip-hop - and that he actually shines as a hip-hop artist. It's just too bad that the next phase of his career wasn't nearly as solid. 

Total: 73.5/80 or 92%. 

Coming up next: Al in the 2000s and on.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Ranking the "Weird Al"-bums: the 1980s

Weird Al's new album, Mandatory Fun, releases on Tuesday, July 15th, and from what I've heard already, it's a gooder. It has made me think about Al's 32-year career and how he has been a part of my life for over twenty years. I think there's something about his music that appeals to the ten-year-old in me and just makes me giggle, whether it's a clever wordplay, funny juxtaposition of pop cultural reference, or a scatological sound effect. I have been giggling as I have heard excerpts of the new album, and I think it has the potential to be one of his best.

But then I realized that I had to actually find a way to spend an unreasonable amount of time testing that theory, so here it is: a somewhat objective semi-scientific ranking of Weird Al's fourteen studio albums. Starting with this first album, I went through his discography and ranked each album on several criteria, trying to determine which albums actually do come out on top. I decided to break this discussion into several posts, and the easiest division was in the decades: the 1980s, the 1990s, and since 2000. But first, here's the criteria I used to evaluate each album.

The criteria

Parodies: The heart and soul of any Al album is the parodies. They should be snappy, witty, memorable, and ... To some extent, the success of the parody is dependent on how iconic the original song is, but you know it's a really good parody when you can't hear it without also hearing the Al version. /5

Originals: Al usually includes 5 or 6 originals on each album, but they're definitely not the main draw. His originals are often "style parodies" of different artists, so they're still parodic, but they also need to stand on their own. But really, the question is usually how long you wait before you skip to the next "real" parody. /3

Polka: For most of his career, Al has mashed a number of songs into a polka. How memorable are the songs, and how entertaining is the polka? /3

Visual: I doubt that we would still be listening to Al after 32 years if not for video, so the visual element is a big part of each album. That includes videos, album covers, and general iconography. /3

Standout Track(s): This is kind of an arbitrary category, but it's meant to accent the "parodies" category with the extra intangible marks that should go along with the best of the best. /3

Pop Cultural Savvy/Timelessness: Does Al capture the zeitgeist in the whole album, or is it a miss in terms of addressing the pop culture landscape? Are the references timeless, or have they faded over the years? /3

Add them all up to make for a total out of 20. Let's move on to the commentary on Al's 80s albums and see where we end up.

The first three albums (1982-1985)

"Weird Al" Yankovic (1982): Weird Al's debut album doesn't really stand out except as an indication of what would be to come. It has a couple of great songs, but it's mostly forgettable. Here's the breakdown.

Parodies: "Ricky", "I Love Rocky Road", "Stop Draggin' My Car Around", "My Bologna", "Another One Rides The Bus". Let's call it 3/5.
Originals: Nothing of note here. 0/3
Polka: Not present. N/A
Visual: Kind of pre-video, so not really present here. 0/3
Standout Track(s): "Another One Rides The Bus" is a classic. 1/3
Pop Cultural Savvy/Timelessness: "Ricky" is a reference to "I Love Lucy", but the rest seems pretty bland. 1/3
Total: 5/17 = 5.88/20

"Weird Al" Yankovic in 3-D (1984): Al's first "good" album, and the one that proved he was more than a one-trick pony. Its great moments are great.

Parodies: "Eat It", "The Brady Bunch", "I Lost on Jeopardy", "King of Suede", "Theme from Rocky XIII (The Rye or the Kaiser)". Three classics, one mediocre-to-good, and one forgettable. 3.5/5
Originals: Nothing of note here save for "That Boy Could Dance." 1/3
Polka: "Polkas on 45", a collection of classic rock tracks; decent, but not great. 2/3
Visual: "Eat It" is a shot-by-shot remake of "Beat It", and "I Lost on Jeopardy" is amusing. 1.5/3
Standout Track(s): "Eat It", "I Lost On Jeopardy". 2/3
Pop Cultural Savvy/Timelessness: "Eat It" parodies the biggest hit from the biggest album of all time, "I Lost on Jeopardy" is much more famous than the original, and "The Rye or the Kaiser" is great. 3/3
Total: 13/20

Dare to be Stupid (1985): Al's best album of the 80s and one of his best, period. I know "Yoda" was from earlier in his career, but it counts here for the album release.

Parodies: "Like a Surgeon", "I Want a New Duck", "Yoda", "Girls Just Want To Have Lunch". Even though there are only 4, they're so good that this deserves a perfect score. 5/5
Originals: The originals are almost as memorable as the parodies: "Dare to be Stupid", "One More Minute", "This Is The Life". 3/3
Polka: "Hooked on Polkas", a mix of mid-80s pop and rock. It ends with Frankie Goes to Hollywood's "Relax", so it gets points for that. 2.5/3
Visual: "Like a Surgeon" is classic, but not much for the rest. 1/3
Standout Track(s): "Like a Surgeon", "Yoda", "Girls...", "Dare to be Stupid" 3/3
Pop Cultural Savvy/Timelessness: Star Wars, Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, and even a later inclusion in the 1986 Transformers movie. 3/3
Total: 17.5/20

The next three albums (1986-1989)

Polka Party! (1986): Al's worst critically and commercially received album kind of deserves its reputation. It's just not very good, aside from one song, and it's his worst of the 80s.

Parodies: "Living with a Hernia", "Addicted to Spuds", "Here's Johnny", "Toothless People". Only two of those have had any staying power. 2/5
Originals: Non-memorable save for "Christmas at Ground Zero". 0.5/3
Polka: "Polka Party!", with the most memorable moment from "Rock Me Amadeus". 1/3
Visual: "Hernia" is one of the all-time best Al videos, but this was a mostly non-visual album. 1/3
Standout Track(s): "Living with a Hernia" gets some more points here. 1/3
Pop Cultural Savvy/Timelessness: "Hernia" connects vaguely to Rocky IV (the source of "Living in America"), but it's not really connected otherwise. 0/3
Total: 5.5/20

Even Worse (1988): From one of the worst to one of the best, including the first example of Al going "meta" with "Six Words Long". Reports were that Prince and George Michael turned Al down, so who knows what else might have been with this album.

Parodies: "Fat", "(This Song's Just) Six Words Long", "I Think I'm A Clone Now", "Lasagna", "Alimony". Five Greatest Hits, and arguably the strongest collection of parodies on any Al album. 5/5.
Originals: "Good Old Days" is kind of fun, but that's about it. 1/3
Polka: None?! N/A
Visual: "Fat" is one of the best Al videos, and it won a Grammy. That's worth 2/3 at least.
Standout Track(s): All of the parodes qualify, but "Fat", "Six Words", and "Clone" are classics. 3/3
Pop Cultural Savvy/Timelessness: This album is more timeless than others, as its pop culture targets are less timely. It's memorable for the songs themselves, not for the content. 2/3
Total: 13/17 = 15.29/20

UHF - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack and Other Stuff (1989): This is one of the forgotten albums of Al's career, but it shouldn't be. I'll admit it: UHF is one of my guilty pleasure movies. It's so stupid and ridiculous that it's hilarious, and the non-sequitur bits are amazing ("Gandhi II" and "Spatula City" in particular). Plus, pre-Seinfeld Michael Richards! Still, the album holds its own.

Parodies: "Money for Nothing/Beverly Hillbillies", "Isle Thing", "She Drives Like Crazy", "Spam". Two classics, one mediocre, and one "huh?" track. Let's go for 3.5/5 here.
Originals: There are only 4 here, but the theme song for "UHF" makes up for the others. 2/3
Polka: "The Hot Rocks Polka", featuring only songs by The Rolling Stones. One of his best. 3/3
Visual: Being associated with a movie helps, but the video for "Money for Nothing/Beverly Hillbillies" perfectly parodies the proto-CG featured in the original Dire Straits video. 2/3
Standout Track(s): "Spam", "Money.../Hillbillies". 2/3
Pop Cultural Savvy/Timelessness: It stands up, but it's not overly memorable beyond the movie. 1.5/3
Total: 14/20 (Which surprised me, too!)

Overall thoughts on Al in the 80s

We wouldn't have Al if not for his success in the 80s, and some of his best moments came in his first decade. There are at least a dozen very solid classic Al parodies and a few originals, along with some great polka mixes. But when you start to really comb through each album, it becomes a little more apparent that it's easy to just remember the best parts and not the less-than-exemplary ones.
Of the six albums, two were bad, three good, and one great - still a pretty solid record all things considered. Still, there's not much reason to own any of these albums, since most of the best songs were included on his first Greatest Hits album in 1988 (and the few that weren't - "Yoda", for example - were on Vol. II in 1994). But I will always have that special place in my heart and DVD player for UHF and the ad for "Gandhi II", as well as the video for "Living with a Hernia".

Overall total for the decade: 68/114 = 59.6%

Coming soon: The 1990s (Off the Deep End, Alapalooza, Bad Hair Day, and Running with Scissors)

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

King of Tabletop: 2nd Quarter Board Games Update

Well, it's time again to write that post that only me and about five of my board gaming friends actually care about: my summary of board gaming of the past three months. As always, I'll include little blurbs and a few lists in the different areas (games played, games to play, changes to my collection, and updates on my 2014 goals), so here goes.

Games played

After my expansion in the first quarter, I thought I might be a bit more repetitive in this quarter. I was to some extent, as I did play a greater number of games a greater number of times, but I was also surprised that I played 11 new games this quarter, and all but one of them only once each. Here are the games I played from April to June 2014.

Most played in the past three months: At the Gates of Loyang, King of Tokyo, Lords of Waterdeep, Ra (4 each); Galaxy Trucker: Anniversary Edition, Hanabi (3 each)

Most played in 2014 so far: Lords of Waterdeep (8); Flash Point: Fire Rescue (7); Hanabi (6); Fleet (5); King of Tokyo (5)

Update for most all time plays: 7 Wonders (40); Pandemic (27); Race for the Galaxy (22); Dominion (18); Agricola (16).

New games played this quarter: Anomia, Bora Bora, In the Year of the Dragon, Macao, Ora et Labora, Ra, Roma, Star Realms, Telestrations, Terra Mystica, Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar (11)

Additions to my repertoire this quarter: Ra, Lords of Waterdeep: Scoundrels of Skullport

Games to play and upcoming games

Well, with all of those new games played, I was only able to knock three of my list; I was, however, able to knock a couple off before they could even be put on the list. I have 13 left from the original list, and I have a few replacements to bring the full list to 20 (of the 121 listed as "Want to Play" on BGG). Here are some thoughts on those games.

Games left to play on my 2014 list: Belfort; Caverna: The Cave Farmers; Core Worlds; Coup; Firefly: The Game; Forbidden Desert; For Sale; Fresco; Hawaii; Jump Gate; Keyflower; Morels; Tigris & Euphrates (13)

New games added to Top 20 to Play in first quarter: Gravwell; Suburbia

New games on my Top 20 to Play list in second quarter: Bruges; Glen More (a return!); Impulse; Istanbul; Splendor; Star Realms (played!)

Kickstarters from this quarter that I want to try when they come out: Eggs and Empires; Gone Viking; Hollywood; New Dawn; Waggle Dance; Yardmaster

Five games of high interest slated for upcoming release: 7 Wonders: Babel; AquaSphere; King of New York; Pandemic: Contagion; Pandemic: The Cure.

Changes to my collection

After a huge shift in the first quarter, things quieted down a lot this quarter. I only picked up a few new games with that trade from March, but they are good ones. I'm still refining my collection, of course, so there's still more to go, but it's on its way.

New games acquired: Galaxy Trucker: Anniversary Edition; Jaipur; King of Tokyo: Power Up!; Lords of Waterdeep with Scoundrels of Skullport Expansion; Star Realms

Games liquidated: Barons; Last Will; Settlers of Catan

New mini-expansions I acquired: Among the Stars: Wiss; Among the Stars: Reprint promos (from Kickstarter); Star Realms: Promo Set One

Kickstarter update: The only new Kickstarter project I backed this quarter was the stretch goals for the Among the Stars reprint. I did miss out on Eggs and Empires and Yardmaster, though I might order them both later if they turn out to be good. In the meantime, I am eagerly anticipating the imminent arrival of a number of microgames in the next few weeks: Burgoo; Coin Age; Province; This Town Ain't Big Enough for the Two of Us. I'm also still waiting on a number of games I ordered between four and six months ago: RARRR!; Fresco Big Box; Alhambra Big Box; Kingdom Builder Big Box; Space Junk; and Scoville. The first three should be arriving in the next few weeks; the next two in the late summer; and Scoville will arrive sometime in November. I am currently a backer for Harbour, a new mini-Euro worker placement game from TMG, and it seems to be worth it even just for the stretch goals. (I am still very tempted by the Twilight Struggle: Digital Edition KS project, even if just to have the PC version and the physical copy of the limited "What If?" expansion; then again, how often will I get a three-hour-long highly strategic card game based on the Cold War to the table or even to the screen, even if it is the #1 game on BGG?)

Updates to my board game goals for 2014

1. 300 plays total: I was 21 under for the first quarter at 54, and I managed 56 this quarter - only 19 under my goal of 75. That was mostly due to a lackluster June (only 13 plays), but whatever the reason, it leaves me 40 plays behind of my goal halfway through the year. I would need to average just over 30 plays a month for the rest of the year to make it to my goal; I'm not sure that I'll be able to do it (that does mean a play a day on average), but I'm sure going to try.

2. Nickel and dime my collection: I had only played 17 of my 91 games, period, in the first quarter. After two quarters, I have managed to at least nickel (five or more plays) five games in my collection, with another three only one play away. It's still a small percentage, but I think the secret is that I am just eliminating games that I don't play, which allows me to play the games I do play more often (addition by subtraction). I'm making progress, but the best progress will be to just continue to eliminate games from my collection.

3. Clear out 10 games from my collection: I had already cleared out 30 in the first quarter, so I had easily made my goal already. I liquidated three more this quarter, and I'm going to clear out quite a few more in the next month or so through sales and trades, so I will have a much tighter collection by September.

4. Add a dozen quality games to my collection: I'm currently at 8 quality additions for the year with four incoming Kickstarters (plus the microgames). (I have a couple other additions so far, too, but their relative quality is still in question.) Considering that I am planning to make a few more sales and trades that will lead to more quality purchases, I am well on my way to my goal.

5. Add 15 to my repertoire: After adding five in the first quarter, I only added one - Ra - in this quarter, so I still have nine more to go. I played a number of games once, so it might be time to start replaying them to really add them to my line-up. Those KS games coming in should help, though.

6. Play all the games on my top 20 to play list: Four in the first quarter, three more this quarter - only 13 to go, and I should be able to get at least eight of those fairly easily.

7. Blog more about board games: I wrote two posts specifically about board games ("The art of complex games" and "The problem of ameritrash" and also heavily mentioned board games in two other posts. Still a little behind my revised goal of one per month, but I'm on track for improvement over the year.

8. Design a game: I have the rules for my game all drafted; I just need to finish the prototype and start testing it. I've just been so busy in June (physically, mentally, and emotionally) that it hasn't managed to make it through to the actual happening phase. This is my biggest goal for the next three months: to actually create and play my game (which I think is actually pretty good, by the way). Who knows - maybe I can Kickstart it by the end of the year!

So, there you have it. If you're one of those five aforementioned friends who cares about this stuff, I look forward to your feedback; if you're part of the rest of the world, I look forward to trying to get you hooked on board games sometime soon.


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