MTV (Music television) debuted in 1981. With it came creative videos to accompany the songs that were being played on the radio. The first videos included The Buggles, Pat Benatar, Rod Stewart, .38 Special, The Pretenders, Robert Palmer, and REO Speedwagon. Growing up as an MTV child, I remember some of the videos were what actually got the songs radio play. Who doesn’t remember the videos for “Addicted to Love” by Robert Palmer or “Sledgehammer” by Peter Gabriel?
I always loved comedy music! I had the 45 of Benny Bell’s Shaving Cream, comedy albums from Stan Freberg and Allen Sherman, as well as albums that were compilations of novelty songs. In 1983, a comedy video appeared on MTV that introduced me to the man who would become the ultimate comedy parodist. He is the parody king, who many try to imitate, but none have come close to copying – Weird Al Yankovic. That video was a parody of Toni Basil’s “Mickey” and was all about the classic TV show I Love Lucy. It was appropriately titled “Ricky”, was shot in black and white, and funny! I didn’t know who this Weird Al was, but I knew that I was going to be a fan for a long time.
I have often called Weird Al a musical genius, and I firmly believe that to be true. Not only are Al’s parodies spot on musically, but lyrically they come together perfectly. Weird Al is more than just a funny guy who writes and sings parodies, he is a creative songwriter who has also recorded some of the best original comedy material! The original material is just as entertaining as his parodies. He is to music what Robin Williams was to movies. Robin is often thought of as a comedic actor, but he was just as convincing in serious roles. Weird Al is often thought of the guy who parodies current songs, but he is just as talented in writing and performing originals!
Weird Al turned 59 years old yesterday, and this blog is in honor of his birthday. Come with me now as I select some of my favorite “Al Originals” from his albums throughout the years…..
Weird Al Yankovic (The Debut Album – 1983)
What makes this album unique is that it is “accordion heavy”. This is early Al. He had gotten a break from the Dr. Demento Radio Show, who played his early version of My Bologna (a parody of The Knack’s My Sharona), and had landed a record deal. This first album is primitive Al. When I hear cuts from it, I am reminded just how far he has come and just how much he has evolved into the musician he is today.
Like most of his albums, this has a mix of parodies and originals. Of the originals, two of my favorites are Happy Birthday and Buckingham Blues. Happy Birthday primarily because it is so “in your face”. The traditional Happy Birthday song is so simple and sweet, whereas, Al’s salute to getting older is just so brash and forceful! It’s the polar opposite of the song everyone sings at birthday parties!
Buckingham Blues is obviously dated now, but as a fan of blues music, I remember the first time I heard this. First of all, it’s a blues song – played on an accordion! Second of all, it’s about the royal family – specifically, Prince Charles and Princess Diana. While John Mellencamp tells us a ditty about Jack and Diane, Al tells us the story of “Chuck and Diane” and what a “royal pain it is to have the Buckingham blues”. Still love that song today.
In 3-D (1984)
On his second album, Al begins to emerge as a true master of parody. His spot on instrumentation for Eat It and I Lost on Jeopardy is just as glimpse as to what is to come in the future. The videos for these two songs also show us how Al will not only parody the song, but the videos themselves.
The one original on this album that I love is not really an original per se. Polkas on 45 is a play on Stars on 45, which was a medley of songs done in a disco style. Polkas on 45 is simply a medley of songs (current and oldies) sung in a Polka style. This was to become an anticipated highlight of his albums. This one included Jocko Homo from Devo, Hey Jude by the Beatles, Smoke on the Water by Deep Purple, and My Generation by the Who (just to name a few). I remember hearing this for the first time wondering just what the hell it was…and loving every minute of it!!
Dare To Be Stupid (1985)
There are plenty of parodies to entertain you on this album including I Want a New Duck, Like a Surgeon, and Yoda, but there are some originals that still sound as fresh today as they did in 1985. The first one is This is the Life. This song is sung in a 1920’s style and was used as the theme song for the Michael Keaton film Johnny Dangerously. The video for this one is also worth a watch!
One of my all time favorite originals from Al is One More Minute. The radio is full of love songs and break up songs, but no break up song is more honest than this one. Sung in a 1950’s style, Al sings about all the things he’d rather do than spend another minute with “her”. There are some dated references in the song – like the Rolodex and the malt shop, but the hurt is there and you feel it! I have often wondered how many guys have sent this song – or the lyrics – to an ex-girlfriend! This is one I’d love to hear with a huge orchestral background.
Polka Party (1986)
Living With a Hernia remains one of my favorite Weird Al videos. Al as James Brown … what more can I say? That’s just one of the great parodies on this album (Addicted to Spuds and Toothless People are others).
This album came out when I was a sophomore in high school. I was an officer in our band and each year the officers did a “skit” for band camp. We decided to do a lip synch show. It featured various songs and one to two of the 12 officers appeared in snippets of songs. For the finale, we used Polka Party from this album. It was perfect! There were 12 songs in it and each one got a solo in the spotlight. It remains one of my favorite memories from school.
There are two originals on this album that stand out for me: Good Enough For Now and Christmas at Ground Zero. Good Enough for Now is a country song where the guy is singing about how his woman is ok, but not exactly perfect. “You’re sort of everything I’ve ever wanted” is a line that still cracks me up. Can you imagine telling your woman this? The premise of this song is perfect and the fact that it is country makes it even better. It could have been a country hit, in my opinion!
Christmas At Ground Zero is funny and scary at the same time. It’s a song about one of the happiest times of the year, yet the bomb is dropping and the end of the world is fast approaching. To be honest, this song is scary because it could really happen. I mean, think about it! Kudos to Al for recording it in a key that matches up with the air raid sirens.
Even Worse (1988)
If I had to pick my favorite Weird Al album this would be in the top 3. It has some of his best parody songs Fat (Bad), Alimony (Mony Mony), This Song is Just Six Words Long (Got My Mind Set on You), and I Think I’m a Clone Now (I Think We’re Alone Now). Instead of a Polka Medley, the accordion is featured prominently on Lasagna, a parody of La Bamba. It also has some cool originals.
The title alone tells you that Stuck in a Closet with Vanna White is gonna be a something like you’ve never heard before! I never did know what Vanna thought of it. Good Old Days is a great song because Al’s voice mixing with the simple guitar is just amazing. The other original is Melanie. It’s the ultimate stalker song, but the harmonies in this one get me every time!
While this album is more of a soundtrack to Al’s movie and includes some clips from the film, there are plenty of great songs on here. The parodies include Beverly Hillbillies/Money For Nothing, Isle Thing, Spam, and She Drives Like Crazy. A Polka Medley of Rolling Stones songs appears on this album called The Hot Rocks Polka.
One of my favorite Al originals is the title track to the film – UHF. The opening guitar lick always stands out for me. This sounds like a radio hit from the late 80’s to me! Love the sound of this track.
The other is the Generic Blues. As I stated early on, I love the blues. The title says it all – it is literally a blues song about nothing in particular – it’s generic. One of my favorite parts of this song is Al telling the guitar player to “make it talk” followed by an annoying solo and Al saying “Ok, now make it shut up”! I read somewhere that blues legend BB King called this one of his favorite blues songs!
Off the Deep End (1992)
This would also be in my top 3 Weird Al albums. The cover is a parody of the Nirvana cover for Nevermind. The album also includes the amazing parody of Smells Like Teen Spirit – Smells Like Nirvana. Other parodies include I Can’t Watch This, Taco Grande, and The White Stuff (all of which are something right out of a 90’s time capsule). The Polka medley on this album is called Polka Your Eyes Out, which is my favorite Polka title!
Some originals on this album include When I Was Your Age – a song that both parents and kids can relate to. What kid hasn’t heard their folks start off a conversation with those five words? You Don’t Love Me Anymore is much like Good Old Days from Even Worse in that it is Al and a beautiful guitar melody. The track times out at over 14 minutes – even though the music is only about 4 minutes long (yes, there’s a surprise at the end of 14 minutes). The video for this is a take off of the group Extreme’s More Than Words.
Trigger Happy is a song that sounds very 1960’s, almost Beach Boys-ish. In recent years, we’ve seen gun violence soar in public places, at concerts, in schools, and other scenarios. With that in mind, the song takes on a whole new meaning and is almost scary. At the time of the album came out, those violent acts were not so up front and in our face as today.
One of my favorite originals on this album is I Was Only Kidding. It starts off as this tender sounding sweet song, and immediately changes with the screaming guitar and title. Typical Al! Just love how you get hooked into thinking it is one thing and then “bam” – take this!
One thing stands out to me on this album – the polka! Bohemian Rhapsody is a classic song by Queen. Al takes this masterpiece and does it in polka style with Bohemian Polka! Along with Achy Breaky Song, it’s worth the price of the album!
Bad Hair Day (1996)
Lots was said about the “Coolio Feud”. No matter how Coolio felt, Amish Paradise was a monster hit for Al. Al as Coolio on the cover is priceless! Other parodies on the album include Gump and Phoney Calls. The Alternative Polka starts with the distinctive intro from Beck’s “Loser” and is one of my favorite polkas.
One original that stands out here is Since You’ve Been Gone. It is certainly one of Al’s shorter songs, but what makes this so cool is that it is acapella. Al harmonizing with himself is reminiscent of Neil Sedaka’s songs, but Al is so much better! Not every song talks about chewing on tin foil, cod liver oil, and a red hot cactus! Somewhere there is a version without the lead vocal – Weird Al karaoke!!
Running With Scissors (1999)
Some good parodies on this one including Pretty Fly for a Rabbi, The Saga Begins (a Star Wars parody to the tune of American Pie), Jerry Springer, and Grapefruit Diet. This album came out at the tail end of the Swing Music resurgence and Grapefruit Diet is a parody of the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies “Zoot Suit Riot”.
One original is a sort of ode to Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder – the zydeco style song My Baby’s in Love with Eddie Vedder is definitely a fun one. While Al doesn’t tend to parody country songs (Achy Breaky Song being the exception), occasionally we get a country song from him. Let’s face it, if you are going to do a song about driving a truck – it’s probably gotta be country, right? The Truck Drivin’ Song is a fun one – especially when you picture shifting gears in high heels.
Poodle Hat (2003)
Around this time, Eminem was making quite a name for himself on the charts and in the news. He was sometimes referred to as an “angry white boy”. His Lose Yourself is parodied by Al in the song Couch Potato. Ode To A Superhero is a parody of Piano Man, Ebay parodies the Backstreet Boys, and A Complicated Song pokes fun at Avril Lavigne.
In keeping with the theme of Eminem – the polka medley for this album is The Angry White Boy Polka! Bob is Al’s nod to Bob Dylan – both the song and video are a must listen and much watch!
Straight Outta Lynwood (2006)
Al had been around for many years by this time, however, his song White and Nerdy introduced him to an entire new set of fans. Chamillionaire had said that Weird Al isn’t going to do a parody unless you’re doing it big. Some other parodies were Canadian Idiot, and Do I Creep You Out.
Need a holiday? Enjoy Al’s original Weasel Stomping Day can help! One of my favorite originals on this album is again because of the great harmonies. Maybe it was because I was taking an anatomy class in college, but Al’s ode to the Pancreas is pretty awesome.
Many fans were happy for new music from Al – it had been 5 years. Al comes out swinging with great parodies – Perform This Way, Party in the CIA, and TMZ – parodies of songs from Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus, and Taylor Swift. We are blessed to have another Polka medley with Polka-face.
Craigslist is an original which sounds like something of an old Doors album, but the best original on this album is CNR. This salute to the great Charles Nelson Reilly is a real rocker. Who knew that CNR was so loved? Makes me want to watch Match Game reruns.
Mandatory Fun (2014)
Some great parodies from this one include Handy (Fancy), Foil (Royals), Tacky (Happy), and Word Crimes (Blurred Lines) all continue to prove that Al can still nail a parody and keep it fresh!
All good schools need a great fight song – and Al’s original Sport’s Song is it! What school doesn’t want to yell “We’re Great and You Suck”?!?!? The other original worth a listen is so fun! Today, we see all these people who are famous, but for what? This song is the ultimate picture of people who have a Lame Claim to Fame.
This is the final album that Al released. With this album, he fulfilled his commitment to his record label. The freedom of not having a label will allow him to do things a bit differently. We’ll see digital downloads, and songs almost as soon as he is done recording them. It’s always fun to hear new stuff from Al and I can’t wait for his next set of songs. He will continue to be the greatest parody singer EVER – but we certainly cannot downplay his talent as a songwriter and come to love his original works as well.
Happy Birthday, Al!