REVIEW: Dr. Demento: Covered in Punk

Dr. Demento: Covered in Punk album cover

Listening to Dr. Demento: Covered in Punk, the legend’s latest and greatest compilation, is a delight of epic proportions. And I do mean epic. Produced by John Cafiero, the more than two hour album (comprised of over 60 tracks!) boasts a demented cast of punk pioneers, classic comedy creatives, and even a musical interlude from Brak of Space Ghost and the later Space Ghost Coast to Coast. There are punks covering old timers and old timers covering punks in a rich menagerie of hilarity and fun. One can’t-miss track is Star Trek star William Shatner’s incredible talk-singing rendition of The Cramps’ classic “Garbage Man.” (It tickled me to hear dear Dr. Demento comment that The Cramps are one of his favorite bands!). There is so much to love on the album that there isn’t a bad song in the bunch. It truly has a little something for everyone who loves to laugh.

Weird Al Yankovic Photographed by Kyle CassidyKyle Cassidy, Wikipedia

Dr. Demento alum, “Weird Al” Yankovic

For the uninitiated, Dr. Demento has been a radio personality since his debut in 1970 on KPPC-FM in Pasadena. His animated voice and flair for popularizing musical novelties has made him a household name for decades. What’s more, Dr. Demento has been credited as giving famed parody artist “Weird Al” Yankovic his big break in the late 1970’s. It’s a pleasure to hear Weird Al pay tribute to Dr. Demento on the album with a wonderfully wacky cover of The Ramones’ “Beat on the Brat.” Given Weird Al’s more gentle sense of humor, pairing him with that Ramones song seems like an odd fit, but the unlikely juxtaposition ends up working perfectly. Other notable demented favorites include Tom Lehrer, Allan Sherman, and the inimitable Stan Freberg, all of whom are covered in this crazy compilation.

The structure of the album is such that it resembles a classic Dr. Demento radio show, with short talking segments interjected in between songs to give some background about each song and the artists covering it. Dr. Demento provides listeners with unique and detailed insight into some of his favorite music, delivering the information in his classic silly style. I’m quite fond of his retelling of the radio show’s history as well, noting which songs were highly requested and popular for their time. The “interruption” by Brak of Space Ghost that precedes a brilliant cover of Weird Al’s “Eat It” by female punk band Shonen Knife is as adorable as it is amusing. He insists on covering Suicidal Tendencies’ punk classic “Institutionalized” – to which Dr. Demento begrudgingly acquiesces – and does so while accompanied by what sounds like toy instruments (reminiscent of Jimmy Fallon’s musical segments). Many other significant artists are featured on the album, including Rasputina, Adam West (yes, Batman himself), Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, and Missing Persons. It’s a never-ending cavalcade of comedy and “hey, I didn’t know that!” moments.

Brak from Space GhostWikipedia

Brak of Space Ghost

The “covered in punk” tagline for this album – each mention of which is followed by an onomatopoetic “splat” noise on the album – really does encompass the spirit of this tribute compilation. It’s fun and funny, and it turns novelty musical classics even more on their head than ever before. For example, a wonderful pair of back-to-back tracks on the album are Philly Boy Roy’s cover of The Dead Milkmen’s “Punk Rock Girl” followed by The Dead Milkmen’s cover of “Lydia, the Tattooed Lady” by Groucho Marx. Cameos by personalities such as Elvira, Mistress of the Dark and even a brief clip from the relatively reclusive musical satirist Tom Lehrer make this album a long, strange, and nostalgic trip. For listeners old, new, and anywhere in between, Dr. Demento: Covered in Punk is a lovely and laughable listen. Get your copy of Dr. Demento: Covered in Punk here.