Y is for Yankovic, “Weird Al” Yankovic

I was flipping through the channels on a Saturday morning – unusual, that – when I came across a BIOGRAPHY Channel piece on “Weird Al” Yankovic, which I was oddly compelled to watch. Then I came across this Bat Segundo interview, a very interesting listen.

Most novelty acts last a year or three. So how is it that Weird Al has managed to mine the music parody gig for nearly three decades? Not only that, he is more successful than ever, up for two Grammy awards in February 2012 and having a 2011 Top 10 album. Yankovic’s success comes in part from his effective use of music video to further parody popular culture, the song’s original artist, and the original music videos themselves, scene-for-scene in some cases. There’s a whole YouTube channel of Weird Al songs out there, so it’s difficult to narrow the list.

As a kid starting on the accordion, the instrument of non-relative Frank Yankovic, Al learned to play an unusual version of rock and roll. He got his parody tapes to radio personality Dr. Demento when Al was still a teenager and his career slowly took off.

Al usually has three basic types of songs on his albums, of which I have a half dozen: those that parody a particular song with new lyrics, generally with the express permission of the original artist; original songs, often in the style of a given group; and the polka medley, where a bunch of songs are strung together.

For instance, compare Al’s Eat It with Beat It by Michael Jackson. Or Al’s Smells Like Nirvana with Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit. Many of the same sets and/or actors are used in both the original videos and Al’s renditions.

Just a handful of the parodies:
*Ricky, a riff on the TV show I Love Lucy, taking the tune from Toni Basil’s Hey Mickey
*Amish Paradise which came, via Coolio’s Gangsta Paradise, from Stevie Wonder’s Pastime Paradise
*Gump, about the movie character Forrest Gump, based on the Presidents of the United States’ Lump
*Polkas on 45, the first of the polka medleys
*The Saga Begins, a Star Wars riff using Don McLean’s American Pie
And something I can really relate to:
*I Lost On Jeopardy, based on Jeopardy by Greg Kihn, who’s in the last shot of Al’s video.

A 2011 non-parody tune contains an important message: Stop Forwarding That Crap To Me

As the Wikipedia and the BIOGRAPHY special noted, Al tends to work clean. There are videos purporting to be Weird Al’s, usually “songs that are racist, sexually explicit, or otherwise offensive,” which often misspell his last name as Yankovich. So make sure you’re getting the real Weird Al Yankovic. This Funny or Die video isn’t really Al, but Al does appear in it in a small role.

From Correlated.org, a meaningless factoid: In general, 59 percent of people like Weird Al Yankovic. But among those whose primary home computer is not a laptop, 74 percent like Weird Al.
Based on a survey of 245 people whose primary home computer is not a laptop and 544 people in general.


ABC Wednesday – Round 9

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32 thoughts on “Y is for Yankovic, “Weird Al” Yankovic

  1. I’ve been a fan of ‘Weird Al’ for a long time without realising it, having liked many of the parodies you mention. My favourite is probably ‘Ricky’ but mainly because I was also a fan of Toni Basil.

  2. My favorite has always been that tape Weird Al sent to Dr. Dimento, “Another One Rides The Bus.” This recording features Weird Al playing the accordion and tapping his foot.

    Speaking of Weird Al, ever listen to Allen Sherman?

  3. Fascinating info. I hadn’t realized he had been around for 30 years either. I like his parody and especially that he can still keep it clean when everything else is so suggestive.
    Thanks for a fun read.

  4. Well, having been around as long as I have, and him having been around as long as HE has, I must have heard him, but I can’t remember, so I will go and google him now, – thanks for drawing attention to Weird Al, Roger.

  5. I’ve always appreciated him, without ever becoming a real ‘fan’…but I have a friend who is as big a fan of Weird Al’s as I am of “Star Wars”. He was thrilled to see him in concert a few months back.

  6. Weird Al also comes up with good stuff on Twitter (follow @alyankovic) on a regular basis.

    In the last chorus of “MacArthur Park,” under “someone left a cake out in the rain,” Hal Blaine came up with a distinctive drum fill; when Weird Al turned it into “Jurassic Park,” he made darn sure that his drummer duplicated that fill. It was at precisely that point that I decided Al was a genius, and not just in France.

  7. Did you do a post on Yankovic before, Roger? I only discovered him earlier this year but I can’t remember who twigged me on to him. Pretty funny and talented guy. I’ll be sending that video link to Stop Forwarding… to a few people I know. I have enough friends I can stand to lose a few… LOL!! All the best in the new year to you, Roger.

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