Brow Beat

The Lonely Island’s New Visual Album Isn’t the First Time Someone Wrote a Novelty Song About Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco

Andy Samberg and Akiva Schaffer, in Oakland A's uniforms, sitting on director's chairs and looking at a drum.

On Thursday, comedy trio the Lonely Island—Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, and Jorma Taccone—released a surprise “visual poem,” in the tradition of Beyoncé’s Lemonade or Fergie’s Double Dutchess: Seeing Double: The Visual Experience. Lonely Island’s entry in the burgeoning genre, The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience, now streaming on Netflix, is about baseball players Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco, the so-called “Bash Brothers” mentioned in the title. The duo earned the nickname in the summer of 1988 because of both the home runs they were hitting for the Oakland A’s and their custom of bashing their forearms together instead of high-fiving. Their story is an epic tragedy: In 2005 Canseco blew Major League Baseball wide open with his memoir Juiced, in which he alleged that he and McGwire had been using steroids. McGwire angrily denied Canseco’s claims for five years before finally coming clean in 2010, and the former teammates have never reconciled. The Lonely Island’s take on this presents itself as a previously-unreleased rap album from the Bash Brothers recorded at the height of their fame, a framing that plays to their greatest strengths: roasting the Licensed to Ill-era Beastie Boys and making dick jokes. Consider this verse from “Uniform On,” ostensibly performed by Mark McGwire:

You know I’m not a hamburger but they call me Big Mac,

Got the one ton jimmy and the itty bitty sack.

My balls shrinky-dinky ’cause the ’roids so strong,

But it makes the aforementioned jimmy jam look long.

If there’s a better musical distillation of the complicated way professional baseball players of the late 1980s navigated the tension between their fans’ expectations, the grueling demands of their sport, and their own ideas of masculinity, I would be extremely surprised. Here’s the full video for that song:

But although the Lonely Island may be the first group to record songs about the effects of anabolic steroids on Mark McGwire’s testicles, they were not the first group to record a novelty song about the Bash Brothers. That honor goes to the marketing department of the Oakland A’s and the staff of San Jose television station KICU-TV, who beat them to the bash by 30 years with “The Monster Bash,” back in April of 1988.

The song, yet another spinoff of Bobby “Boris” Picket’s 1962 hit “Monster Mash,” was recorded and paired to a music video of baseball highlights in a two-week sprint at the start of the 1988 season, a few months before Canseco and McGwire posed for their famous Bash Brothers poster. It debuted on the Oakland Coliseum’s giant Mitsubishi DiamondVision scoreboard on Friday, April 15 of that year, at the top of the second inning of a game between the A’s and the Chicago White Sox, the first of a weekend series. The score was 0 to 0 when “The Monster Bash” played, but the White Sox went on to clobber the A’s, 11 to 3. That Saturday, “The Monster Bash” soundtracked another White Sox victory; Sunday was the same story, and the song was temporarily retired. But whatever “The Monster Bash” lacked in motivational power, it made up for in “sounding enough like ‘Monster Mash’ that people immediately got the joke,” and it bashed its way onto local radio station playlists that summer, eventually triumphantly returning to the DiamondVision.

Then it disappeared from the face of the earth. You won’t find the original video on YouTube or the song on a battered cassingle on eBay. It doesn’t seem to have ever gotten a commercial release—despite the success of “The Super Bowl Shuffle!”—and for whatever reason the Oakland A’s current stadium entertainment doesn’t spend a lot of time reminding fans about the team’s ’roided-out champions of the 1980s. But there’s one place “The Monster Bash” survives, at least in part: in the audio of a TV special called The 1988 Oakland Athletics: A Bashing Success. First aired in April of 1989 (on KICU, naturally), A Bashing Success eventually made its way to VHS and from there, to the internet. Here, then, are some of the last surviving traces of “The Monster Bash,” mankind’s first crude attempt to chronicle Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire’s athletic prowess through the power of novelty songs:

It’s clear that novelty song technology has advanced by leaps and bounds in the ensuing decades. But it’s also clear that the old saying, often attributed to Isaac Newton, is true: If the Lonely Island have seen a little further than others, it is only because they have stood on the shoulders of the marketing department of the 1988 Oakland Athletics, who were themselves standing on the shoulders of Bobby “Boris” Pickett, probably without his knowledge. Let’s bash!