A Second Glance: ‘Polka Party’ (1986)

Ryan Covey

Popular Culture is an impossibly large and ever-growing thing.  It’s impossible to see everything and as a result, some things fall through the cracks.  Maybe a book or movie or game was critically panned, maybe it was a commercial flop, maybe it just didn’t make a lasting connection at the time.  Whatever the case, these bits of pop cultural refuse are forgotten and overdue for A Second Glance.

Last Time on A Second Glance: Grey Knight (1993)

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Polka Party isn’t likely to make anyone’s list of favorite albums by comedian/musician Weird Al Yankovic.  The album flopped completely and remains his lowest seller to date.  While Polka Party doesn’t feature any marquee parodies, it features volumes of Yankovic’s wicked sense of humor and musical prowess.

Living With a Hernia

Polka Party starts strong with the Living in America parody, Living With a Hernia.  The concept, a bombastic funk singer suffering from a painful hernia, is a bit lame on its face but Yankovic elevates the material with style.  Yankovic does an uncanny impersonation of singer James Brown’s raspy voice, enthused grunting, and bombastic persona.  He plays off the various James Brown-isms as results of the pain he’s experiencing from his titular malady.  The most brilliant riff on the original song is when he lists off the various types of hernias during the section where Brown listed off U.S. cities.

Dog Eat Dog

Dog Eat Dog is Polka Party’s second track and is an excellent follow-up to Living With a HerniaDog Eat Dog is a style parody; a song which mimics the style and sound of another band or artist.  Dog Eat Dog is a nearly pitch-perfect imitation of The Talking Heads.  The song depicts the musings of a seemingly worthless office worker with an inflated sense of self-importance.  The protagonist talks about all the unproductive things he does all day only to spend the chorus addressing the competitive and challenging nature of corporate work.

Addicted To Spuds

Addicted To Spuds is a parody of Robert Palmer’s Addicted to LoveAddicted to Spuds is even more of a hokey concept than Living With a Hernia.  The song is mostly Yankovic listing off different potato preparations, dishes, and puns.  The song works because Yankovic embraces the concept with zeal.  His serious dedication to selling the silly words alongside Addicted to Love’s catchy guitar riff is charming and catchy.

One of Those Days

One of Those Days is a concept Weird Al returns to often.  The protagonist is seemingly incapable of distinguishing major crises from minor inconveniences.  The song lists a worsening sequence of events leading to the apocalypse, but the protagonist shrugs them off as garden variety bad luck.  The song is done in a poppy rockabilly style and is rather catchy if not as good as the ones before.

Polka Party!

The titular song on the album is one of Yankovic’s famous polka medleys.  The song features snippets of famous songs adapted to polka music.  The track features Sussudio, Rock Me Amadeus, Eddie Murphy’s Party All the Time, and Bananarama’s Venus among others.

Here’s Johnny

Here’s Johnny is a song that people remember more than the song it parodies.  Who’s Johnny by El Debarge is mostly only remembered for its connection to Short Circuit and this parody.  Once again it’s Yankovic’s dedication to the concept that sells the song.  An 80s R&B tribute to Late Night co-host Ed McMahon is such a bizarre combination, but it works.

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Don’t Wear Those Shoes

Don’t Wear Those Shoes is a style parody of The Kinks.  The song replicates the sound it’s going for but it just isn’t funny.  The concept is that a man is begging his partner not to wear a particular pair of shoes.  So dedicated is he to this that he offers to let her do various outlandish and annoying things instead.  Yankovic later recycles the joke to better effect on his Billy Ray Cyrus parody Achy Breaky Song.

Toothless People

Toothless People is Polka Party’s biggest dud.  It’s a song about people with no teeth set to Mick Jagger’s Ruthless People.  The thin premise, the one-note joke, and Yankovic’s overly dramatic voice just fail to make the song pop.  Ruthless People isn’t really a good enough song to lend itself to parody anyway.

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Good Enough for Now

After two mediocre songs, Polka Party regains its footing with Good Enough For Now.  The song is a style parody of various country-western songs from the 70s and 80s.  The influences are numerous but the song is most similar to something by Kenny Rogers or Eddie Rabbit.  The protagonist is singing a brutally honest declaration of love.  Every time he praises one of his lover’s traits he immediately adds a caveat that undermines it.  Each verse concludes with the singer deciding that she’s not perfect but good enough for now.  It’s a brilliant subversion of love songs and is actually kind of sweet after a fashion.  Good Enough for Now is Polka Party’s most underrated song.

Christmas at Ground Zero

Polka Party finishes with one of the strongest songs of Weird Al Yankovic’s entire career.  Christmas at Ground Zero is a saccharine song about celebrating the holidays in a post-nuclear wasteland.  The song was Yankovic’s response to his label making repeated requests for a Christmas album.  The song is extremely dark yet offset with a gleeful yuletide spirit that makes it wonderfully subversive.

Polka Party isn’t Weird Al Yankovic’s best but it’s a solid album.  With only two weak tracks, Polka Party is doing better than Alapalooza or Poodle hat.  It represents a lot of chances he took at that point in his career that sadly didn’t pay off.  The experimental nature of Polka Party is commendable and it shows the wit Yankovic honed later on.

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