Happy 35th Anniversary to “Weird Al” Yankovic’s second studio album In 3-D, originally released February 28, 1984.
There are only a handful of good things about growing up, but chief among them is being able to truly appreciate what “Weird Al” Yankovic is singing about. His second album In 3-D is not only the home of his biggest hit “Eat It” (he even refers to it in his Twitter bio, “You know…the “Eat It” guy”), but a space for a whole host of parody songs that get even funnier when you listen to them as an adult—especially because ‘80s kids like me are the last generation that might understand the references. Music is always an artifact of its time, whether it’s the style or the subject material (The ‘Mats “Answering Machine,” anyone?) but arguably none is as specific or delightful as “Weird Al”’s.
Let’s talk about “Midnight Star.” When was the last time you saw Batboy, once a staple of supermarket tabloids? Hell, when was the last time you saw a tabloid that wasn’t a front for hiding presidential sex scandals? I can’t even remember, but even now, I can remember the font and cover, even the texture of the paper. “Weird Al” lays out a year’s worth of bizarre-o world headlines—Use your ESP to learn to play guitar! Phone calls to the dead! Hitler’s brain in a jar!—in 4 minutes and 35 seconds, and all of it is delightful.
Similarly, “Mr. Popeil” will lead new listeners down a Wiki Wormhole of TV infomercials. A B-52’s style parody featuring his sister Lisa Popeil on backing vocals, this song, like “King of Suede” pays homage to a man made famous for his products and promise. But wait, there’s more! Ron Popeil, son of the song’s focus, Samuel, liked the song so much he used it in his commercials.
Hell, even “King of Suede,” a parody of The Police’s “King of Pain” seems like an antique as malls and shopping centers vanish in favor of online shopping. But there’s probably a good case to be made for www.KingOfSuede.com, if he wants to move into the digital realm. “Weird Al” paints a lovingly strange tribute to a fictional clothier salesman—we all probably picture him a little differently, but we can picture him as though he was related to us—in just a few minutes.
That being said, suede pajamas are a hard sell, and I don’t want to try on suede underwear.
TV is one of “Weird Al”’s staples and he’s got two songs on here that fit the bill. “The Brady Bunch” isn’t as good as his debut’s ode to classic TV, “Ricky” (about I Love Lucy), and “I Lost on Jeopardy” is an even better song, with a hysterical video, featuring host Art Fleming, voice announcer Don Pardo, “Weird Al”’s real parents, Mary Elizabeth and Nick, with Dr. Demento as the cherry on the sundae. Honestly, it’s a much better song than the original, The Greg Kihn Band’s gooey “Jeopardy” (Though Kihn makes a cameo at the end).
The less said about “Gonna Buy Me a Condo,” the better. It’s a funny take on suburban assimilation, but “Weird Al” trying out a Jamaican accent, singing about dreadlocks, field labor and “ganja” is basically musical blackface.
So many music nerds I know give credit to “Weird Al” for introducing them to styles and songs they’d later discover the “real” versions of. To this day, I’m still coming across songs I originally know from his polkas—this album introduces us to the “Weird Al” staple with “Polkas on 45” and contains The Beatles’ “Hey Jude” The Police’s “Every Breath You Take,” The Who’s “My Generation” and Talking Heads’ “Burning Down the House.” To this day, I have never heard Berlin’s “Sex (“I’m A…)” and based on the lyrics contained in the polka, I don’t want to.
“Weird Al” should have gotten partial screenwriting credit for Rocky Balboa because it is basically ripped right from “Theme From Rocky XIII (The Rye or the Kaiser).” They just changed it so that he runs an Italian restaurant so that he didn’t have to pay royalties. I call bullshit, Stallone. Pay up.
But while we’re on the subject of movies, how’s this for a Hollywood pitch: Jordan Peele’s Nature Trail To Hell. Slasher films were rising in popularity in 1984, with the release of Friday the 113th: The Final Chapter, Nightmare on Elm Street, Silent Night Deadly Night and Splatter University bringing grindhouse fare to the mainstream. It’s not the best song on the album, but it’s a good way to close it out.
There was a lot on the horizon for “Weird Al,” as his parodies would become more sophisticated and sound less like novelty songs. But In 3-D, even more than his self-titled debut LP a year before, is where it all fell into place.
I always feel sorry for people who don’t like “Weird Al.” It just always seems like there is something missing from their hearts. During his heyday, he was a better musician than his contemporaries; his own songs are immensely listenable and expertly crafted, even if they are about Made For TV products. And while the worst part of growing up is the silly feeling you get when you put on a “Weird Al” record, In 3-D still brings a lot of fun to your stereo.