The episode: “Appreciating Your Parents,” the second short in front of “The Unearthly,” ep. 320
The riff: Addressed to the screen by Servo as the name of “educational collaborator” Reuben Hill is shown.
The explanation: Tom is referring to a song from the early career of country icon Kenny Rogers, back when he was leading a band called The First Edition. The song, “Reuben James,” is about a black sharecropper who is unfairly targeted for abuse in his small town, and was a modest hit in 1969. Tom actually misquotes the lyrics though, because as written, it’s “walk the furrowed fields of my mind.”
Novelty factor: I’ve never heard the song before now.
The episode: “Posture Pals,” one of two shorts in front of “The Unearthly,” ep. 320
The riff: Exlaimed by Joel as a boy with particularly bad posture stands behind a sheet and exposes his S-shaped spine in shadow form to the assembled class.
The explanation: “Pudd’nhead Wilson” was the name of an 1894 novel by Mark Twain, not one of his more remembered works today. It was about young lawyer named David Wilson who moves to a small Missouri frontier town (likely based on the towns of Twain’s youth) and is dubbed “Pudd’nhead” by the townspeople when a remark he makes is misunderstood. If it’s not clear from the context, it’s meant to mean “dumb.” Eventually, Pudd’nhead turns the tables by solving a murder with the help of his odd hobby, which involves collecting people’s fingerprints.
Novelty factor: I must admit I’d never heard of this Twain novel before, although I’ve heard the term “pudd’nhead” to refer to a nitwit.
His head isn’t composed of pudding at all. I feel misled.
The episode: “The Unearthly,” ep. 320
The riff: Testily spoken by Tom after John Carradine’s mad scientist character demands that a guy sits down after saying “you seem to be a bit wobbly.”
The explanation: They’re referring to a line of commercials for a series of children’s toys called Weebles, popular during the 1970s. Joel mentions the name a line earlier. Tom, meanwhile, is citing the product tagline, “Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down.” The toys were sort of like a cross between a Russian nesting down (without the interior) and a weighted top, so they would wobble and swing from side to side but not fall over. There were all sorts of products and vehicles for the Weebles, which somehow claimed to “help your kids learn about the world we live in,” according to this commercial. Not sure how exactly that was supposed to occur.
Novelty factor: I have heard the phrase “Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down” on a handful of occasions but never knew quite what it meant. It was fresh enough in my head for me to immediately recognize this reference, though.
The episode: “The Unearthly,” ep. 320
The riff: Delivered enthusiastically by Joel as two proper gentlemen toast to their youths with glasses of wine.
The explanation: This joke is a reference to a famous ad campaign for notoriously noxious “bum wine” Thunderbird, which is known as “The American Classic.” In the famous radio jingle, played in the inner city and targeted toward low-income African American neighborhoods, the lyrics go “What’s the word? Thunderbird. How’s it sold? Good and cold. What’s the jive? Bird’s alive. What’s the price? Thirty twice.” This, I presume, meant Thunderbird cost 60 cents at the time. Joel is either referring to a price increase on Thunderbird, or is more likely just misremembering the jingle.
Novelty factor: This one jumped out at me and made me laugh because I was familiar with this slogan already. This hilarious website devoted to bum wines taught it to me. Thunderbird is rumored to possess an especially foul flavor, even in the world of bum wine. Even the TV ads for the product practically admitted this, with James Mason saying “Thunderbird wine has an unusual flavor all its own.” This was apparently the best they could do. Note the YouTube comments: “Thunderbird has an unusual flavor reminiscent of wood alcohol, radiator coolant and Kool Aid,” and my personal favorite “Thunderbird goes especially well with being face-down in the gutter.”
The episode: “Posture Pals,” a short before “The Unearthly,” ep. 320
The riff: Inserted by Joel as a teacher informs her students about the basics of proper posture. She tells them that “arms are easy at the sides, eyes straight ahead, shoulders relaxed…”, at which point Joel adds “…and you truck like the doodah man.”
The explanation: This is apparently a direct reference to the 1970 Grateful Dead song “Truckin’,” which goes “Truckin’–got my chips cashed in. Truckin’–like the doodah man.” Servo confirms the riff by muttering “Ooh…got your chips cashed in?” under his breath right after Joel delivers the line. The original lyric is apparently a reference to a group called the “Bonzo Dog Doodah Band” that the Dead were fond of.
Novelty factor: I had no idea, nor do I truly understand the riff even now. I think he’s basically trying to compare the teacher’s lesson to dance move instructions, but overall I may have to chalk this one up to Joel’s oddball sense of humor. Moreover, I think the way Tom Servo adds a little snippet of the lyrics himself shows the writers of the show almost poking a little bit of fun at the obscurity of their own reference here. They’re practically daring you to know what they’re talking about.