Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The World Accordion To Weird Al

Time to salute one of my favorite music people ever, one young Alfred Matthew Yankovic, the greatest song parody-er on earth in this hemisphere.  Some people tend to blow him off as just a novelty act, but this guy is a freakin’ genius in my book, and if you need a good laugh or two, just throw on one of his CDs—or better still, his video collection on DVD—and you’ll find it quite difficult to remain in a pissy mood for long.

Al first came to fame via the legendary “Dr. Demento” radio show with “My Bologna”, his parody of The Knack’s “My Sharona”, which featured just Al on the accordion and drummer John "Bermuda" Schwartz banging out the beat on an empty suitcase.  They later even snagged an appearance with the late Tom Snyder on his “Tomorrow Show”, and before long, Al’s parodies were popping up on “Dr. Demento” with alarming regularity, like “Another One Rides The Bus”, “Eat It”, et al.  Al’s first album, produced by Rocker Rick Derringer, came out in 1983, and it featured not only parodies, but original material as well that was quite funny.  And on his 1984 release In 3D, Al introduced a regular feature on each album—a medley of cover songs done Polka-style, the first being “Polkas On 45”, which is a veritable classic comprised of Classic Rock tunes like “Smoke On The Water”, “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” and “My Generation”, et al.

As time wore on, it became a true sign of success if Weird Al did a parody of your song, and most artists have been pretty good sports about being lampooned by Al, apart from that pretentious pussy Prince, who won’t allow Al to touch his precious songs.  I called Weird Al a “genius” in my opening paragraph because it’s harder than it looks to do what he does and be so brilliant.  Hell, anyone can make fun of a line or two in any given song.  During my burger-flipping days in the early ’80s, my co-workers and I laid waste to many a line from popular ‘80s songs—Foreigner‘s “Juke Box Hero” became “She’s a”, Loverboy’s “Workin’ For The Weekend” became “Everybody’s jerkin’ off this weekend…”, Frida’s “I Know There’s Something Going On” morphed into “There’s something on my dong…”—sophomoric stuff like that.  Even Weird Al himself didn’t escape our efforts—we changed the “Ricky” lyric from “I want you too Lucy, too Lucy—let’s babaloo, Lucy” to “I want to screw Lucy, screw Lucy…”  A parody of a parody—what a concept!

That's nothing, however, compared with W.A. Yankovic's body of work.  To take an existing song and change its lyrics into something totally different, remaining within the parameters of the tune's arrangement, all the while maintaining a cohesive theme throughout is no mean feat, and Weird Al is the absolute master of this.  Prime examples are “Yoda” (borrowed from The Kinks’ “Lola”), Michael Jackson’s “Bad”, which became “Fat” and “Lump” by the Presidents of The United States of America, which became “Gump” (as in Forrest).  A few of his parodies did fall flat, like “Lasagna” (for “La Bamba”) and "Girls Just Wanna Have Lunch" ("Fun"), but for every clunker, there are numerous other gems like “Living With A Hernia” ("Living In America") and “I Want A New Duck” ("I Want A New Drug").  It just blows my mind how Al is able to consistently put these parodies together and make them work.  And as good as the parodies are, Al’s videos for them are often even funnier.  Check out “Gump” or “Bedrock Anthem” or “Amish Paradise”—I fucking dare you not to laugh!

I caught Weird Al live in concert with some friends a few years back, and his show is a total hoot.  He was just in town last night, in fact, but I didn’t have the cash (or anyone else) to attend the show with, but I’m sure it was good stuff.  He’s had the good fortune to work with an outstanding back-up band—guitarist Jim West, the aforementioned drummer John Schwartz and bassist Steve Jay—and these guys can literally play any style of music, from Hard Rock to Hip-Hop to Techno-Pop, and play it well.  In addition to the live music, Al augments his concerts with these hilarious video clips, many of which are those old instructional films from the 1950s “duck and cover” genre, and they are hysterical!  Sadly, due to licensing restrictions, Al isn’t able to include those in his concert video releases, but he also throws in his own little segments that are quite funny too.. While those clips play during the concert, the band retreats backstage to change into a different set of outfits that replicate Al’s music videos, like the Devo suits for “Dare To Be Stupid” or the Star Wars regalia for “The Saga Begins” or the flannels for “Smells Like Nirvana”, which was a high-point of the show I attended—anything that pokes fun at Kurt Cobain is okey-dokey in my book!

My All-Time Weird Al Yankovic Top 20:
20) “This Song’s Just Six Words Long” (1988)  Good-natured parody of George Harrison’s “I Got My Mind Set On You” (which George didn’t write).  “Couldn’t think of any lyrics/No, I didn’t write no lyrics/So, I’ll just sing any ol’ lyrics…”
19) “Headline News” (1994)  Parody of “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm” by the Crash Test Dummies (whoever they are/were).  The video for this one skewers the whole Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan thing, as well as the Lorena Babbitt “thing”, and some serious caning issues too.
18) “Buckingham Blues” (1983)  One of Al’s first originals, all about Prince Charles and Princess Diana.  It was a helluva lot funnier before she died, though—ten years ago this week, as we’re about to be reminded on TV.  Love the line about how they never had to have “a meal made by Chef Boy-Ar-Dee!”
17) “Hot Rocks Polka” (1989)  One of Al’s many polka compilations, this one takes on Mick and Keith and the boys quite succinctly.
16) “The Brady Bunch” (1984)  Dandy parody of Men Without Hats’ “Safety Dance” that begs one not to tune in to that vapid show about that man named Brady…
15) “Mr. Popeil” (1984)  Dead-on rip-off of The B-52’s (musically) that just makes you want to dial that toll-free number and order that damned Garden Weasel!
14) “Yoda” (1985)  There hadn’t been a Star Wars flick release for a couple years, but it didn’t seem to matter when Al dusted off The Kinks‘ classic "Lola" and re-tooled it to suit Dagobah's favorite 900-year-old, three-foot-nothing, sentence structure butchering citizen to a fucking tee!  A classic, it is...
13) “I Want A New Duck” (1985)  Huey Lewis never sounded better!  Al took this tune and showed the world how to “get down” (get it?).
12) “Another One Rides The Bus” (1981)  Queen classic re-tooled to even include the politically-incorrect line, “I haven’t been in a crowd like this since I went to see The Who…”
11) “Smells Like Nirvana” (1992)  Everything from the album cover to the video here just slays that little ol’ band from Seattle (rhymes with “cattle”).  Kurt Cobain was the so-called “spokesman for a generation”, but he didn’t have a damn thing to say, and I love how Weird Al cut him down to size here.
10) “Amish Paradise” (1994)  Parody of Coolio‘s “Gangsta’s Paradise”, which was (in its own warped way) a parody of Stevie Wonder’s 1976 tune “Pastime Paradise”, during which we “party like it‘s 1699.”  The video of “Amish” features a cameo appearance by Florence Henderson of “The Brady Bunch”, and as Al implores, “don’t be vain, and don’t be whiney—or I might have to get medieval on your hiney!”
9) “Living With A Hernia” (1986)  Video for which Al does James Brown even better than James Brown ever did!  It also includes a valuable anatomy lesson on the various types of hernias one can suffer.
8) “Eat It” (1984)  Rather ironic how Al recites all these rich foods one should eat when he’s a real-life Vegan.  This was Mr. Yankovic’s 2nd-best Michael Jackson parody….
7) “Fat” (1988)  A here’s his numero uno Jacko parody!  One must view the video for this to really get the “full Monty” of Al’s lampoonery.
6) “Bedrock Anthem” (1993)  “Yabba-dabba-yabba-dabba-DOO-now!”  F. Flintstone woulda loved this...
5) “I Lost On Jeopardy!” (1984)  Art Fleming, Don Pardo, Dr. Demento and Greg Kihn all participated in this classic video that parodied a classic game show and a pretty decent G. Kihn song to boot.
4) “Christmas At Ground Zero” (1986)  Quite possibly the funniest yuletide song ever.  I love the line “the radio just let us know that this is NOT a test…”
3) “Gump” (1994)  Not unlike with “Smells Like Nirvana”, Al takes a piece o' crap Alternative Rock song and makes it sound good!  The video for this one is just priceless (even though Tom Hanks didn’t participate in it).  Still, Gump's a household name...
2) “Polkas on 45” (1984)  Oh, mercy—Devo, Deep Purple, The Who and Jimi Hendrix all on the accordion in one classic song?  Only in America, folks…
1) “Dare To Be Stupid” (1985)  "Put down that chainsaw and listen to me..." kicks off this totally reverent tribute to Devo.  This is Weird Al’s finest original tune, featuring the classic line “You gotta squeeze all the Charmin you can, while Mr. Whipple’s not around.” Words I desperately try to live by…

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