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The Very Best of “Weird Al” Yankovic

Several "Weird Al" fans sort through more than 30 years of parodies, put-ons, and polkas

Weird Al Yankovic
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    Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in July 2014 as “Weird Al” Yankovic rolled out his 14th studio album, Mandatory Fun. As our favorite comedy jokester’s arguably best album, Bad Hair Day, celebrates 25 years of laughs this weekend, we thought we’d dust off this list (and the old accordion). While a lot can change over a quarter century, this list sure makes the claim that Bad Hair Day has aged better than that Coolio hairdo. So, enjoy the Very Best of “Weird Al” Yankovic … so far. And be sure to check out our exclusive Bad Hair Day roundtable featuring Portugal. The Man and parodied members from R.E.M., Soul Asylum, and The Presidents of the United States of America.

    I’ve written letters to three celebrities in my lifetime: TV personality Marc Summers, Ritchie Valens, and “Weird Al” Yankovic. The first letter was a request for my family to appear on Summers’ classic Nickelodeon game show Double Dare, during which a bucket of green slime inevitably doused just about every contestant. Pretty sure Mom and Dad “forgot” to mail that one. My second foray into letter writing was an informal how-are-you to Valens after watching Lou Diamond Phillips portray the pop sensation’s meteoric rise and tragic fall in La Bamba. Clearly the whole airplane scene didn’t register with me. No gripes with my folks for tucking that one away in a drawer somewhere. However, by the time I wrote to the official “Weird Al” Fan Club, I was old enough to check my grammar, apply a stamp, and walk across the street to bravely pop my letter into a mailbox. About six months later, long after I had forgotten having written him, I received a reply from Al. Standardized, sure. Stamped signature, you betcha. But clearly from Al or at least a valued employee of Al. Still beats a Twitter holla any day.

    I hadn’t thought about that letter — which I lost long ago — in a number of years before I set out on this project with my fellow Al-loving cohorts. That letter would be more than 20 years old today, and that’s when it really hits me that “Weird Al” has been goofing, lampooning, and geeking out for over three decades now. While parodies and joke songs are probably as old as songs themselves, he made a singular and zany art form out of it—to the point where it has become an honor and rite of passage for artists to have Yankovic parody or “polkafy” their most beloved work. Michael Jackson and Madonna rightly get credited for launching MTV into the stratosphere, but we shouldn’t forget that “Weird Al” wasn’t too far away from the launchpad either, dressed in a leather-clad fat suit or a surgeon’s scrubs or fake interviewing music’s biggest names for a segment of Al TV. He’s carved out an unlikely legacy and niche for himself that very few other jokers can rival.

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    Not much has really changed about “Weird Al” over the years. Sure, he may have jettisoned the clunky glasses and straightened the curly nerd fro, but the formula remains the same. The joke, not the craft or musicianship, is still the joke, and all of us, musicians and the public alike, are ripe for offering up the source material for Al’s next classic. If anything, it’s his audience who has changed. Catch a “Weird Al” show these days and you’ll find an audience spanning multiple generations — often parents and their children — who grew up on Yankovic’s food- and TV-fueled humor. I think that was the greatest challenge we faced when putting this feature together: two different generations of “Weird Al” fans butting heads over whose Al was better. Kind of a silly thing to quarrel over. Then again, being silly is really the whole point, isn’t it?

    Enjoy the Very Best of “Weird Al” Yankovic, and as always, let us know what we missed in the comments section below.

    –Matt Melis
    Editorial Manager


    Best Pop Parody – “Party in the C.I.A.”

    The best “Weird Al” parodies have the ability to overwrite the original’s lyrics in our heads – no matter how much we love the source material. Even Don McLean, after decades of singing “American Pie”, reportedly has to check himself lest he accidentally sing “The Saga Begins” in concert. However, some Al parodies are so well-crafted, so sharp in their lyrical wit, that they surpass the original track. In the case of “Party in the C.I.A.”, Al doesn’t just surpass the original, he validates its existence.

    “Party in the U.S.A” isn’t the worst song Al has parodied. It’s just another slab of pop music product catchy enough to infect your mind meat. There are many like it. “Party in the C.I.A.”, however, is a triumph. Miley Cyrus’s canvas of summertime fun is merely an under-painting to the masterpiece Al has created atop it. His lyrics have never been sharper; every verse paints a brutal and hilarious portrait of Archer-like, snarky spy antics. “I memorized all the enemy spies I gotta neutralize today/ Yeaaah, it’s a party in the C.I.A.” Nonchalant, government-sanctioned murder has never sounded so cool. –Cap Blackard


    Best Rock Parody – “Gump”

    The best kind of “Weird Al” parodies are ones that can combine both song and pop culture parody all in one. “Jurassic Park” and “The Saga Begins” are solid examples, but neither of these can beat out “Gump”, the rock tribute to one of the top songs of 1995 (The Presidents of the United States of America’s “Lump”) and the top movie of 1994 (Forrest Gump). The song itself is a perfectly deconstructed rundown of the Tom Hanks movie, hitting on the highlights of Gump’s tribulations, including the perfect line: “His buddy Bubba was a shrimp-loving man/ His friends with no legs he called Lieutenant Dan/ His girlfriend Jenny was kind of a slut/ Went to the White House showed LBJ his butt.” The video for the song mimics PUSA’s “Lump” video antics, just transplanted into Gump’s world. It’s an all-encompassing parody that easily beats out other rock parodies because it lampoons not only the music but the time. –Nick Freed


    Best Hip-Hop Parody – “Amish Paradise”

    Often, it seems like the scuffle behind “Amish Paradise” overshadows the song itself. That’s unfortunate, since it’s not just one of the best parodies in Al’s oeuvre but one of the most surprising; it’s one of his first full-on forays into hip-hop, and it has nothing to do with food, television, or Michael Jackson. Al flips Coolio’s gangster riff on its head, populating his rhymes with butter-churning Amishfolk named Jacob and Ezekiel and landing one of his most enduringly clever parody (and video) concepts to date. Maybe the best evidence of its staying power is the fact that even Coolio’s embarrassed by his averse reaction. “Amish Paradise”, frankly, has held up better than the track it’s skewering. –Zach Schonfeld


    Best Style Parody – “Dare to Be Stupid”

    One of Yankovic’s most consistently underrated skills is his remarkable ability to parrot artists’ styles, going beyond the surface persona and lyrical tweaks. And there are few times this has been more apparent than on the Devo send-up “Dare to Be Stupid”. By the time the album of same name came out in 1985, Devo had already worked through their most notable period, and if anything, this was almost a little outdated. But it’s not just the odd costumes and synthesizers that Al gets so right; it’s everything, from Mark Mothersbaugh’s halted, staccato vocal rhythms to the future-punk aesthetic. For a song celebrating idiocy, Al’s version ends up treading some of the same future-shock territory as actual Devo songs like “Jocko Homo” in its celebrations of pointless pop culture. The fact that something like that can even be written about a Yankovic song is telling enough, but tell me “It’s like spitting on a fish/ It’s like barking up a tree” would feel particularly out of place on a later-era Devo record. Like the best satire, “Dare to Be Stupid” can only send its subject up because it knows and understands it so fluently. That it’s among his catchiest tunes doesn’t hurt either. –Dominick Mayer


    Best Polka Medley – “The Alternative Polka”

    Ah, the polka – a true staple of an Al album. It’s like a mash-up of your favorite tunes remixed by way of accordion. Unlike polkas past, however, “The Alternative Polka” was the first genre-themed arrangement “Weird Al” did (something he’d repeat two albums later with “Angry White Boy Polka”). Rather than making a mockery of a smattering of popular radio staples, this medley pays reverence to early ’90s alternative rock by, well, making a mockery of it. There’s the vocal wobbling during Alanis Morissette’s “You Oughta Know”, the cartoon sound effects in place of cuss words in Nine Inch Nail’s “Closer”, and the absolutely perfect opening of “Loser” by Beck (I still always beckon, “Everybody!” during that chorus). But more than just being a time capsule, what makes this particular polka stand out is how harmoniously Al blends the songs. Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “My Friends” and Foo Fighters’ “I’ll Stick Around” play together like they’re one track, and somehow the unholy union between “Sex Type Thing” by Stone Temple Pilots and Sheryl Crow’s “All I Wanna Do” is flawless. With this outrageous conglomeration, “Weird Al” not only created a mixtape for the ages, but he perfected the power of his polka. –Ben Kaye


    Best Original Song – “Albuquerque”

    “Albuquerque” was the longest “Weird Al” song ever at the time of its release (11 minutes, 22 seconds), and Al has said he was surprised by its popularity, which only goes to show how much he underestimates the portion of his fanbase composed of nerdy 11-year-old boys looking to annoy their parents as efficiently as possible. Or maybe I’m biased. I was around that age when I landed a copy of Running with Scissors, and “Albuquerque” seemed like any other “Weird Al” song, except more: longer, weirder, more nonsensical, and more full of gratingly repeatable refrains (“Put your tray tables up…”) and gags.

    The rambling story of one man’s bizarre trip to New Mexico is ostensibly a style parody of The Rugburns or Mojo Nixon, though it’s a bit too strange and singular not to fall under the category of a “Weird Al” original. Plus, it ushered in a new era of lengthy epics for Al. Poodle Hat, Straight Outta Lynwood, and now Mandatory Fun have all concluded (or nearly concluded) with 8-plus-minute tracks, though none matches “Albuquerque”. –Zach Schonfeld


    Best Food Song – “Eat It”

    In 1984, only five years after his debut, Al had the stones to take on the Michael Jackson for the first time. “Eat It” was only the fifth single Al released in his young career, but it’s the single that put him on the mainstream radar. His send-up of the King of Pop reached number 12 on the Billboard charts and even did better than Jackson’s own single did in Australia (“Eat It” reached number one, while “Beat It” only hit number three). Until “White & Nerdy” was released in 2006, “Eat It” was Al’s highest-charting single in the US (#12) and helped send “Weird Al” Yankovic in 3-D to platinum status. It also gave him his first Grammy nomination and win.

    The single showcases not only Al’s stellar band, as guitarist Jim West takes on Eddie Van Halen’s signature guitar riffs from “Beat It”, but also Al’s genius ability at subtleness with the fart noise and burp fills in the backing track. Then there are the amazing opening lines of “How come you’re always such a fussy young man/ Don’t want no Cap’n Crunch don’t want no Raisin Bran/ Well don’t you know other kids are starving in Japan, so eat it!” It’s definitely early Al, but it is the classic Al song that anyone who has heard of him knows all the words to. –Nick Freed


    Best TV/Movie Song – “Jurassic Park”

    “MacArthur Park” had it coming. It’s one of the most lyrically incongruous and inexplicably popular songs in 20th century pop culture. In spite of being ranked among the worst songs of all time, it’s been covered repeatedly in every conceivable genre – as though each artist is chasing a dragon, trying to decode the cake-melting mystery. Twenty-five years later, “Weird Al” at long last brought the song to its logical conclusion. Anyone who grew up in the unlikely hit’s heyday was already singing joke verses over the song’s goofball lyrics (depending on who you ask, it’s either about the songwriter’s tragic breakup or the Kennedy administration as an allegory for Arthurian legend). All it took was one visionary filmmaker’s love of dinosaurs, $63 million in special effects, and a bespectacled weirdo to fulfill “MacArthur Park”‘s destiny as the most perfect parody fodder of all time. –Cap Blackard


    Best Music Video – “Fat”

    “Weird Al”’s career came of age right around the same time as MTV; being the biggest musical parody artist ever meant he had to address the videos of songs he toyed with. With “Fat”, he proved his talent was more than just lyrical. The nearly shot-for-shot remake (they even used the same set!) of the Martin Scorsese-directed clip for Michael Jackson’s “Bad” is rife with gags sending up both the filmmaker and the musician. From the brilliant mockery of the whip-crack sound effects to Jackson’s signature vocalizations (what’s better: the speech bubble or the mouse trap?), nothing’s off limits, and that’s what makes it so damn fun. Even when the humor feels dated, it’s at least still playful, like the pinwheel Fat Al whips out during the air vent scene. It’s Al’s commitment, his feigned badassery as he kicks and punches his way through the choreography, that really sells the package. And nobody bought in more than Al himself, who figured out a way to make the fat suit feasible on tour. The song and the image are inseparable; it’s just that good. What’s more, the clip opens with possibly the greatest quote about a Hostess treat outside of Ghostbusters, and that’s a hell of a feat. –Ben Kaye


    Best Album Cover – Off the Deep End

    off the deep end 5059d3d251bb1 The Very Best of Weird Al Yankovic

    “Weird Al” clearly grasped early on that you won’t get very far parodying artists and music that nobody cares about. You have to think big. King of Pop and Material Girl big, in fact. He also knew that the first joke he gets to crack—at least in the days when people bought CDs—comes via his album’s cover art. Hence, you get the Off the Deep End album cover, Al’s over-the-top reimagining of the cover art from the previous year’s best-selling record, Nirvana’s Nevermind. It’s almost as if Al asked himself, “How can I one-up a submerged, naked baby swimming after a greenback on a fishing line? Uh, me nude, genitals hidden, spread eagle and paddling after a doughnut lure. Duh.” In the end, the image, song (“Smells Like Nirvana”), and accompanying music video all had Kurt Cobain’s blessing, with the Nirvana frontman considering the “Weird Al” treatment as an indicator that his band had arrived. As subsequent generations continue to discover and latch onto Nevermind, they’ll undoubtedly keep running across Al’s Off the Deep End cover. And even if they have no idea who this “Weird Al” guy is, they’ll still get the joke. It’s a gag that will keep on giving. –Matt Melis


    Best Fake Interview – Eminem

    Al TV was a beautiful thing. Every so often, between 1984 and 2006 (barring any new installments, which would be quite welcome if you’re listening, sir), Yankovic would put together blocks of MTV programming that doubled as bizarre variety shows, offering everything from parody music videos to genuinely hilarious bits concerning the show’s status as a bootleg enterprise to, perhaps most importantly, fake celebrity interviews. An early adopter of the found footage medium for purposes of comedy, Yankovic would cobble together old interview footage of celebrities and pass it off as a new one. And by far the best is his take on Eminem in 2003, around the time that Marshall Mathers became an Oscar winner and Al put out Poodle Hat, featuring his “Lose Yourself” parody “Couch Potato”. Over 10 still-hilarious minutes, Yankovic asks Eminem when he was last deloused, pieces together a massive volley of rhymes, and stages a “Who’s on First?” bit involving Em’s inability to stop punctuating his sentences with “know what I’m sayin’?”

    Also, the fact that a hilarious comedy bit still exists that involves a Triumph the Insult Comic Dog shout-out is yet another testament to just how timeless Al’s stuff truly is. Somewhere, Carrot Top laments not being worked into one of Yankovic’s sketches. –Dominick Mayer


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