Dr. Demento still plays demented music every week on the Internet. But a new project brings his unique sensibilities back to record this week.
Dr. Demento Covered In Punk — which comes out Friday (Jan. 12) and features new recordings by “Weird Al” Yankovic, the Misfits, the B-52’s Fred Schneider, William Shatner, the late Adam West, Los Straitjackets and more — is the brainchild of John Cafiero (of Osaka Popstar), a musician, producer, manager and longtime Demento fan. He pitched the idea to Demento (real name Barry Hansen) some three years ago, though the two connected prior when Demento played a German cover of an Osaka Popstar song. “I had this project in mind for years prior and never acted on it,” Cafiero tells Billboard. “There are so many similarities in classic punk and novelty music. A lot of Ramones songs’ lyrics themselves are very much novelty tracks, just played with a different approach.
“I think the two work well together, which is probably why Barry felt drawn to it.”
Demento acknowledges that he “wondered ‘What the heck is this?'” when Cafiero broached the idea of punk-styled covers of novelty favorites such as “Shaving Cream,” “Surfin’ Bird,” “The Monster Mash,” “Lydia, The Tattooed Lady,” “My Guitar Wants To Kill Your Mama” and Yankovic’s “Eat It.”
“But John was eloquent about it and got me convinced it was something worth doing,” recalls Demento, adding that embracing punk rock is hardly a stretch for him.
“I was on to punk rock pretty much from the beginning,” he says. “There was a store here in town (Santa Monica) that carried some of those British 45s when they first started coming out. I’m pretty sure I was the first one to play the Sex Pistols in Los Angeles — ‘Here’s something unusual, certainly something you’ve not heard before. You might enjoy this. It’s creating quite a stir in England…'”
Nearly all of the 19 tunes on Covered In Punk, as well as Demento’s between-song commentary, were recorded especially for the set; Only Joan Jett & the Blackhearts’ version of “Science Fiction/Double Feature” from The Rocky Horror Show already existed but had never been released. Cafiero — who contributes an Osaka Popstar version of “Fish Heads” to the set as well as a theme song — has warm memories of all the sessions, but recording West’s rendition of “The Thing” before his death was particularly special. “He was a real trouper about it,” Cafiero recalls. “He had such a great time and a positive attitude and a willingness to keep on going and get it right. In the beginning Adam and his manager, who’s also passed away, were skeptical about it, but by the end they thanked me for talking them into it ’cause they were so thrilled with the way it went.” Meanwhile, having Yankovic — whose career was launched by Demento’s support — on board with a cover of the Ramones’ “Beat On The Brat” was an important exclamation point.
“I always envisioned Al as being the grand finale, doing a demented spin on a punk classic,” Cafiero says. “We didn’t need to change the lyrics, even. It’s demented enough just as the Ramones wrote it.”
Cafiero and Demento agree that some of the Covered In Punk versions are better than the original recordings — “But we won’t say which ones,” Demento notes. He’ll be featuring the album on his program this weekend and playing more songs on future episodes, and both men say they’d be game for a sequel.
“I would be up for it, absolutely,” Cafiero says. “I’d like to get a little more help on the clearances. I did them all this time, and some of the attorneys I deal with said to me I was writing new law books along the way. I persevered, like anything you care about, but if we do it again I’d really like to get some help with that.”