Any music parody fan will tell you that a staple of the genre, indisputably, are melodies, specifically the form popularized by “Weird” Al Yankovic and his pop-chart polkas. This writer distinctly remembers bursting out laughing in a Wal-Mart while listening to one such song on a CD sampler; never mind that my young self didn’t even have any prior knowledge of all the songs referenced. There’s just something about the imposition of unbridled exuberance on an otherwise straightforward artistic endeavor that brings down a listener’s defenses and invites laughter. It’s a testament to Mr. Yankovic’s musical prowess, all the same, that his melodies happen to be expertly composed and performed while still being entertaining.
But “Weird Al” will have to wait a while for his day in the” MWSU” sun. For now, I bring your attention to the folk-music comedy duo, Hard ‘n Phirm, and their ambitious tribute to the music of Radiohead. On the surface, Radiohead would seem ripe for satire: the self-serious attitude of Thom Yorke & co. has always been at the forefront of their music, and indeed is part of their allure. All this would seemingly make them ideal candidates for a well-warranted lampooning, if not for the fact that the intricacy and idiosyncrasies of any one of their songs would make it a monumental challenge to replicate, let alone deconstruct and poke fun at.
This make’s Hard ‘n Phirm’s “Rodeohead” an even more impressive feat. Guitarist Mike Phirman and singer Chris Hardwick (of Nerdist fame, yes) were otherwise more known for tongue-in-cheek acoustic ballads like “American Dinosaurs” and “Anything.” With “Rodeohead,” they pulled out all the stops and opted not for the easy route, kicking things off with a banjo recreation of “Everything in its Right Place,” the first track off Radiohead’s most challenging album, ‘Kid A.’ What follows is a ballistic, down-home spree all across Radiohead’s catalog, ranging from classic standards like “Paranoid Android” and “Karma Police,” (the latter sung with the affectation of an old prospector, tooth-whistle and all), to more esoteric cuts. It pretty much sums up the success of this song that H&P can make the transition between “Knives Out” (“So knives out / Catch the mouse / Squash his head / Put him in the pot”) and “Creep’s” triumphant bridge utterly seamless.
Like all great spoofs, part of the key to “Rodeohead’s” power is the obvious affection it’s creators have for their target. Radiohead remain one of the most important bands of the last 20 years, and Hard ‘n Phirm’s take on their music acknowledges this, functioning as both a tribute and a roast.