Tribute to Weird Al

An article dedicated to the musician who defines comedy!
August 31, 2009
What kind of music do you listen to? Well, it depends on what genre best suits your needs. Maybe you enjoy rock, rap, country, Latin, heavy metal, alternative, reggae, funk, pop, R&B, or maybe you enjoy the genre known as...comedy!

Whenever anybody hears the term "funny music", the first person that automatically comes into everybody's head is "Weird Al"! "Weird Al" Yankovic is the most popular humorous musician on the planet. This famous accordion-playing parody artist has sold more comedy albums than anybody else on the planet. On October 23 of this year, he will be turning 50 years old, so I have decided as a tribute to him to write an article about him.

Al's life began in Lynwood, California. His father, Nick Yankovic, gave him the philosophy that the key to success was doing for a living whatever makes you happy. Al began his career in music just a day before his seventh birthday when he started taking accordion lessons.

In the 70's, Al started listening to artists like Elton John, which inspired him to learn how to play rock and roll on the accordion. He was inspired by comedic artists like Alan Sherman, Spike Jones and Frank Zappa to create comedic and parody music, which he had been listening to on the Dr. Demento Show.
In 1976, Al graduated high school, and he sent a homemade tape to Dr. Demento with a song he had written called "Belvedere Cruisin'", which was a song about his family's Plymouth Belvedere.
During the late 70's, Al took architecture classes at CPSLO. He soon became the disc jockey at the college's radio station where he got his nickname, "Weird Al".

In 1979, The Knack's one-hit-wonder, "My Sharona", hit the Billboard charts. This inspired Al to write a parody on the song, and he named it the first thing that came into his head: "My Bologna". At the time, he couldn't afford to hire studio musicians to perform the song with him, so he recorded the song in the restroom across from the studio with his accordion.

In 1980, Al was scheduled to perform a new parody live on the Dr. Demento Show. This time, he turned Queen's latest hit, "Another One Bites the Dust" into "Another One Rides the Bus". Before coming into the studio, he met a drummer named Jon "Bermuda" Schwartz. Bermuda agreed to assist Al with his performance by banging on his accordion case and providing some comical sound effects. They performed the song again on "The Tomorrow Show" in April of 1981. This was the first time Al and Bermuda were ever shown on national TV.

Later on, Al decided to put together a full band. Along with drummer, Bermuda Schwartz, he also wound up getting guitarist, Jim West, and bassist, Steve Jay.

In 1982, Al turned Joan Jett's "I Love Rock N Roll" into "I Love Rocky Road", which became a Top 40 hit lead Al to signing a contract with Scotti Bros. Records.

In the spring of 1983, Al's self-titled debut album was released. The album consisted of five parodies and seven original songs. There were two brand new parodies: "Ricky" ("Mickey by Toni Basil) and "Stop Draggin' My Car Around" ("Stop Draggin' My Heart Around" by Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty), and the other three were "I Love Rocky Road", "Another One Rides the Bus", and a new re-recording of "My Bologna". The original songs on this album are kind of week and lack a lot of humor, but Al was still pretty young at the time, so I'll cut him some slack. To write a parody, you don't have to ask the original artist for permission, but Weird Al always asked permission from the artists because he's nice. One of the original songs on this album, "Buckingham Blues", was originally going to be a parody on John Mellencamp's "Jack and Dianne". However, being a serious songwriter, Mellencamp denied Al permission, so the song was transformed into an original. The album was produced by rock guitarist, Rick Derringer, who would produce all of Al's albums for the remainder of the decade.

Al's second album, "In 3-D", was released in early 1984. This album turned out to be a vast improvement over the first one with stronger songs and more popular parodies. The most notable parody on this album is "Eat It", which is a parody on Michael Jackson's blockbuster hit, "Beat It". The other parodies are "I Lost on Jeopardy" ("Jeopardy" by Greg Kihn), "King of Suede" ("King of Pain" by the Police), "The Brady Bunch" ("The Safety Dance" by Men Without Hats) and "The Rye or the Kaiser" ("Eye of the Tiger" by Survivor). "Weird Al" has three types of songs. We already know about his originals and parodies, but this album introduced his third type of song: polkas. These songs are basically medleys of recently-released songs done with a full-fledged polka band. The polka on this album, "Polkas on 45" consists mostly of classic rock songs from the 60's and 70's, but it has some recent songs too. The album's closing song, "Nature Trail to Hell", contains Al's first hidden Satanic message: somewhere in the song is a message that if played backwards would reveal the message: "Satan eats Cheez Whiz."

Al's third album, "Dare to Be Stupid", was released in the summer of 1985. This album contained some mildly popular parodies like "Yoda" ("Lola" by the Kinks), "Girls Just Wanna Have Lunch" ("Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" by Cyndi Lauper) and "I Want a New Duck" ("I Want a New Drug" by Huey Lewis); the latter was the theme song for the 1987 Disney Channel special, "Down and Out with Donald Duck". The album's biggest hit parody, "Like a Surgeon", has an interesting back story to it. Al once overheard Madonna talking about him possibly doing a parody on her hit, "Like a Virgin", and he did. The most popular originals on this album are the Devo-styled title track, "One More Minute" (Al's first love song), and "This is the Life" (which was originally part of the soundtrack to the 1984 film, "Johnny Dangerously"). Al's record company insisted that Al should do a cover song on this album, so he did the theme song to "George of the Jungle". The album was going to have a parody on Prince's "When Doves Cry", but Prince had refused to grant Al permission to parody any of his songs. Originally, this album had 11 tracks, but according to Wikipedia, there's a remastered version of this album that has an instrumental bonus track at the end called "The Weird Al National Anthem". The album's title track would also make a surprise appearance in the animated "Transformers" movie.

In the fall of 1986, Al released his fourth album, "Polka Party!". This album only had 10 tracks. Four of these tracks were parodies: "Living With a Hernia" ("Living in America" by James Brown), "Addicted to Spuds" ("Addicted to Love" by Robert Palmer), "Here's Johnny" ("Who's Johnny" by El DeBarge) and "Toothless People" ("Ruthless People" by Mick Jagger). The title track was the album's polka, and the rest of the songs were original. This album turned out to be a commercial disappointment and turned out to be Al's worst-selling album to date. The original songs are poorly-made and uninspiring, especially the abhorred "Christmas at Ground Zero".

Al made a comeback in the spring of 1988 with his fifth album: "Even Worse". For this album, Al makes fun of Michael Jackson once again by turning the song, "Bad", into "Fat". "Fat" received a Grammy for best concept music and became Al's biggest hit to date, and today, it stands as the song that he's most known for. As for the remainder of the album, this is the second of Al's two albums that doesn't contain a polka. The originals are catchy but forgettable. The remainder of the parodies happen to be parodies on cover songs: "Lasagna" (Los Lobos' cover of "La Bamba"), "I Think I'm a Clone Now" (Tiffany's cover of "I Think We're Alone Now"), "Alimony" (Billy Idol's cover of "Mony Mony"), and "This Song's Just Six Words Long" (George Harrison's cover of "Got My Mind Set On You"). The cover of the album is a direct parody on the cover of Michael Jackson's "Bad" album.

After the release of "Even Worse", Al started putting together a movie starring himself, Victoria Jackson, Michael Richards and Kevin McCarthy. The movie was entitled "UHF", and it was released in the summer of 1989. Although the movie was a big flop, it still has a cult following to this very day. The soundtrack to the movie contained a couple songs (the title song, and the Dire Straits parody, which Mark Knoffler said had to be titled "Money for Nothing/Beverly Hillbillies") and commercials ("Gandhi II" and "Spatula City") from the movie, as well as some new Al material. The other three parodies on this album were "Isle Thing" (Tone Loc's "Wild Thing"), "She Drives Like Crazy" (Fine Young Cannibal's "She Drives Me Crazy") and "Spam" (R.E.M.'s "Stand"). It also includes Al's most unusual polka, "The Hot Rocks Polka", which consists entirely of songs by the Rolling Stones. At another time, Al wanted to make a polka consisting of Led Zeppelin songs, but he was denied permission. Aside from the title track, I think the album's best original song is the closing folk song, "The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota". This was Al's last album to be produced by Rick Derringer.

According to some sources, Weird Al released an album sometime in the late 80's/early 90's called "Peter and the Wolf". This album is supposed to be of Al telling his own version of Prokofiev's story along with Wendy Carlos re-recording the music. I guess since other artists like David Bowie and Sting did their own retelling of the tale, Al wanted to have his go at it. The second half of the album is a song called "Carnival of the Animals - Part Two", which is a parody on "Carnival of the Animals". This album is extremely rare, and it can't be found anywhere except for maybe eBay or Amazon. It's considered to be the "missing link" of Weird Al's catalog.

In the early 90's, Al went on a hiatus from making any new records because he was waiting for the next "big thing" to come up. He had written quite a few originals and parodies, but he wanted to do something really special for his next album's lead-off track. He was considering turning Michael Jackson's "Black or White" into "Snack All Nite"; while Michael Jackson was a fan and supporter of Al, he didn't grant Al permission to parody that song because the song had a very important message; Al reconsidered anyway, because if he continued to turn Michael Jackson's songs into food parodies, it would make him a very predictable artist. Al was also considering turning Guns N Roses' cover of "Live and Let Die" into "Chicken Pot Pie"; he had to ask Paul McCartney for permission since he was the original author of that song, but McCartney turned down the idea since he was a vegetarian. In the fall of 1991, Nirvana released their masterpiece album, "Nevermind", and after seeing the band make a performance on Saturday Night Live, this opened the door for Al.

"Off the Deep End" was released in the spring of 1992. For this album, Al was granted to turn Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" into "Smells Like Nirvana", which is also one of Al's biggest and most recognized hits to date. Other parodies on this album include "I Can't Watch This" ("U Can't Touch This" by MC Hammer), "The White Stuff" ("You Got It" by New Kids On the Block) and "Taco Grande" ("Rico Suave" by Gerardo). The other parody on this album is the first parody that Al did which parodied two different songs: "The Plumbing Song" is a parody on Milli Vanilli's "Baby, Don't Forget My Number" and "Blame It On the Rain". The album's polka, "Polka Your Eyes Out" is debatably one of Al's best polkas. The album closes with an acoustic love song called "You Don't Love Me Anymore", one of his most popular originals, and it originally ended with a hidden track that was inspired by the hidden track at the end of Nirvana's "Nevermind" album; however, this hidden track was removed from later releases of this album.

Due to the success of "Off the Deep End", Al went back into the studio to start working on another album right away. "Alapalooza" was released in the fall of 1993, and some of the songs on this album were intended for "Off the Deep End" but rejected. This album's biggest hit was "Bedrock Anthem", a parody on two Red Hot Chili Peppers hits: the intro is a parody on "Under the Bridge" while the remainder of the song is a parody on "Give It Away". There are only three other parodies on this album: "Achy Breaky Song", a parody on Billy Ray Cyrus' "Achy Breaky Heart", "Livin' in the Fridge", a parody on "Livin' on the Edge" by Aerosmith, and my personal favorite, "Jurassic Park", a parody on the god-awful "MacArthur Park" by Jimmy Webb. With the exception of one other track, the remainder of the album consists of original songs that left most Weird Al fans cold. The album closes with "Bohemian Polka", which is basically a cover of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" done in the style of Weird Al's polkas. Most people speculate that he did this due to the success of the movie, "Wayne's World" (which helped make that song become so popular), while others believe he did it as a tribute to Freddie Mercury (who died two years prior to the release of this album).

In September of 1994, Al released a compilation box set called "Permanent Record: Al in the Box". This four-disc set contained songs from Al's first eight studio albums hand-picked by him as well as a brand new single, "Headline News" (a parody on the Crash Test Dummies' "Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm"). As of March 2006, this box set is out of print due to the loss of the artwork.

Weird Al has been pretty well known for making songs about food and songs about TV, so in the early-mid 90's, he was told by his record company to make two compilation albums: "The Food Album" in 1993 and "The TV Album" in 1995. Al was not pleased with either compilation, especially since they were made against his will. Since the release of these CD's, Al has written other TV and food songs, and there are rumors out there saying that he's going to re-release these albums with those said tracks mixed in.

In early 1996, Al released his ninth album, "Bad Hair Day". Al had numerous ideas for a leadoff track to this album, but each one was refused. One idea he had was to turn the Offspring's "Come Out and Play" into "Laundry Day", but the band members felt the song was too silly. Another was the Beatles' "Free As a Bird" turned into "Gee, I'm a Nerd", which Yoko Ono turned down. Another was to turn the Rembrandts' "I'll Be There For You" (the theme song to "Friends") into "I'll Repair for You" (a song about "Home Improvement"), but the producers of "Friends" didn't want their show to be overexposed. He also wanted to turn U2's "Numb" into "Green Eggs and Ham", but Bono didn't like how it was lyrically-written. The lead-off track of the album wound up being "Amish Paradise", a parody on Coolio's "Gangsta's Paradise". Coolio's record company gave Al permission to do the parody, but Coolio himself stated that he never granted permission thinking his song was too serious to be parodied, and as a result, he got infuriated. Al apologized to Coolio for the misunderstanding, and from that point on, Al always made sure he talked face to face with the artist when granting permission to make his parodies. As for the other parodies, there was "Gump" ("Lump by the Presidents of the U.S.A.), "Phony Calls" ("Waterfalls" by TLC), "Syndicated, Inc." ("Misery" by Soul Asylum) and "Cavity Search" ("Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me" by U2). The originals on this album are forgettable making this another weak album for Yankovic.

In the fall of 1997, Weird Al got his own Saturday morning TV show on CBS called "The Weird Al Show", which sadly had a short run and was quickly-forgotten.

In 1998, Weird Al was granted a new look. In January of that year, he had eye surgery, and after which, he no longer needed his glasses. Along with that, Al shaved off his moustache and grew out his hair in place of his traditional mop-top.

In the summer of 1999, Al released his tenth studio album, "Running With Scissors". This turned out to be a much more enjoyable album with awesome parodies and clever originals. The album's lead-off hit is "The Saga Begins" a song about "Star Wars: Episode 1" done in the melody of Don McLean's classic, "American Pie". An interesting fact about that song is that Al started writing it before the movie was even released; he went onto the Internet to look up spoilers from the movie to know exactly what he was writing! The album's other parodies are "Pretty Fly for a Rabbi" ("Pretty Fly for a White Guy" by the Offspring), "Jerry Springer" ("One Week" by the Barenaked Ladies), "It's All About the Pentiums" ("It's All About the Benjamins" by Puff Daddy) and "Grapefruit Diet" ("Zoot Suit Riot" by the Cherry Poppin' Daddies). It also included the theme song to "The Weird Al Show" and another one of his best polkas: "Polka Power!" The album closes with a story-telling song called "Albuquerque", which to this day (excluding the "Peter and the Wolf" tracks) is Al's longest song clocking in at 11:23.

Al's Running With Scissors tour turned out to be one of his most successful tours, and it helped him become more popular. The success of the tour led Al to releasing a live concert DVD, although Al claims that he's never going to release a live album.

In the summer of 2000, Weird Al wrote his own song for "Pokemon the Movie 2000". The song was called "Polkamon", and I'm willing to bet that a lot of kids bought the soundtrack to that movie just because of Weird Al's song.

On February 10, 2001, Weird Al got married to Suzanne Krajewski. Suzanne gave birth to their daughter Nina just a day after their 2 year anniversary.

We had a long wait for Al's next album. The much-anticipated "Poodle Hat" was released in the spring of 2003 and it won a Grammy for best comedy album. However, the album does fall into somewhat of a disappointment. The album's main hit was "Couch Potato", a parody on Eminem's "Lose Yourself". The song was supposed to have a music video to help promote the album, but Eminem denied Al permission to shoot it leaving Al with no music video to promote the album. In fact, none of the songs on this album had music videos to them, with the exception of "Bob", which was used to open the 2003 edition of "Al TV". I, myself, was disappointed with the album as well. Most of the parodies are good. The other parodies on the album are "A Complicated Song" ("Complicated" by Avril Lavigne), "eBay" ("I Want it That Way" by the Backstreet Boys), "Ode to a Superhero" ("Piano Man" by Billy Joel) and "Trash Day" ("Hot in Herre" by Nelly). The album's polka, "Angry White Boy Polka", is probably the biggest let down because this polka consisted of songs that I wanted Al to make parodies on! Another let down is that the album does not contain any food-related songs. The album is not bad at all; in fact, it's actually quite good. I just think that Al could have done a better job on it.

A few weeks before "Poodle Hat"'s release, "Weird Al" made a cameo on an episode of The Simpsons to promote the release of his album. On the episode, he performed a parody called "Homer and Marge", which was interestingly a parody on "Jack and Dianne", which John Mellencamp had refused to let him parody 20 years ago! Al happens to be a huge fan of The Simpsons, so I felt his cameo on the show to be very appropriate.

In 2004, Al's parents died in a house fire. This was a shocking moment to Al and all of his fans. Al thanked his fans for their generosity and support after the incident, and he promised to continue his career.

Weird Al's twelfth studio album, "Straight Outta Lynwood", was released in the fall of 2006. This album surprisingly resulted in being the best album he had ever done in a long time. The album's main song, "White & Nerdy" (parody on Chamillionaire's "Ridin'"), became Al's very first single to hit the Top 10 on the Billboard 200. Another parody on this album is "Canadian Idiot", which, correct me if I'm wrong, I think Al made just because his fans (both fans and haters of Green Day alike) really wanted him to parody Green Day's "American Idiot" due to the album's success. Another parody is a parody on Usher's "Confessions, Pt. II", which is cleverly-titled "Confessions, Pt. III". Originally, Al was going to have a parody on this album called "You're Pitiful", a parody on "You're Beautiful", which James Blunt granted permission to make, but Blunt's record company turned it down at the last minute causing a delay in the album's release. The song was at one time available for download on Al's MySpace page, but in the end, it didn't make it to the album. The song was replaced with "Do I Creep You Out", a parody on "Do I Make You Proud" by American Idol winner, Taylor Hicks. My favorite parody (in fact, song) on the album is "Trapped in the Drive-Thru", a 10+ minute song that parodies R. Kelly's "Trapped in the Closet" chapters. The album's most successful original was the closing song, "Don't Download This Song", which was also available for download on Al's MySpace page before the album's release. Just about every song on this album has a music video to it, which I think was done as a way to make up for "Poodle Hat" having almost none.

In the fall of 2008, Al released a new single on iTunes called "Whatever You Like", which is a parody on a T.I. song of the same title. During the summer of 2009, Al released four more singles on iTunes, all of which were original songs. The first was "Craigslist", which was a style parody of the Doors. The second was "Skipper Dan", an alternative rock song about being a Skipper on Disneyland's Jungle Cruise ride (which reminds me a lot of Al's 90's stuff). The third was "CNR", a tribute song to Charles Nelson Riley done in the style of the White Stripes. The final one was "Ringtone", which was a style parody of Queen. All five of these songs were released on an EP called "Internet Leaks" in August of 2009, and they are planned to be released on Al's next album, which is set to come out sometime in 2010.

This concludes my Tribute article to "Weird Al" Yankovic. Hopefully, all you fans enjoyed this article. This is also my way of wishing him an early Happy 50th Birthday!
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