Weird Al Rules

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This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 19th July 2011.

It’s hard to believe but pop satirist and accordion player, “Weird Al” Yankovic, released his 13th album, Alpocalypse, this year. With more than 12 million records sold over a career spanning 35 years, Yankovic has mostly outlasted and in some cases, outsold, the pop music artists that were the basis for his amusing parodies.

Born Alfred Matthew Yankovic in 1959 (he turns 52 this year), “Weird Al’ released his first official single on Capitol Records in 1976. It was a parody of The Knack’s My Sharona, reworked as My Balogna. This was followed by Another One Rides the Bus, a send up of Queen’s Another One Bites the Dust. From there, as they say, the rest is history.

Yankovic’s career particularly benefitted from the emergence of MTV in the early eighties. His hilarious music video for Eat It, a parody of Beat It by one hit wonder Michael Jackson, was virtually a shot-for shot remake of the original clip and was placed on high rotation, becoming one of Al’s biggest selling singles.

No-one seemingly was safe from Weird Al’s focus. Major acts such as Madonna (Like a Surgeon), Nirvana (Smells Like Nirvana), Green Day (Canadian Idiot), Red Hot Chilli Peppers (Bedrock Anthem) and Michael Jackson (a second parody, Fat) were satirised alongside flash in the pan acts such as Coolio (Amish Paradise), The Presidents of the United States of America (Gump), Billy Ray Cyrus (Achy Breaky Song) and The Offspring (Pretty Fly for a Rabbi).

In the USA, permission is not required to record a parody of a song, however, Yankovic generally seeks permission from the original artist before working his magic. Many recording acts consider it an honour to be satirised by Al. His latest single, a spin on Lady Gaga’s Born This Way, entitled Perform This Way (the video is fantastic, check it out on YouTube) was initially refused permission by her management. When Gaga, reportedly a huge fan, found out that a decision had been made without consulting her, Weird Al was given the go ahead.

Not everyone wants the Yankovic treatment though. Vegetarian Paul McCartney did not want Live and Let Die to become Chicken Pot Pie. James Blunt’s management didn’t like the idea of You’re Beautiful being made into You’re Pitiful.

My favourite song on every Weird Al album is his polka medley. This is where he takes a dozen or so chart hits at the time of recording and recreates them as a thigh slapping, lederhosen friendly polka, complete with tubas and piano accordions. As my high school’s resident DJ in the early 90’s, I’d quite often turn school dances into Octoberfest by playing Yankovic’s Polka Your Eyes Out.

I had the pleasure of catching Weird Al’s live show earlier this year from the front row of the Enmore Theatre. More of a live theatrical performance than a concert, Al changed costume between almost every song. This meant that there were long gaps between tunes, which were filled with amusing videos, but after a while it became clear that the show was far from spontaneous. His band was amazing, with some members being with Al from the beginning of his career. Their ability to reproduce almost any style of music was uncanny.

With a career almost as long as my life so far, “Weird Al” Yankovic will hopefully be around to poke fun at the ultra serious music industry for many years to come. When the funniest thing in music these days is Justin Bieber, it is good to know that the Clown Prince of Pop is around.

Published in: on August 14, 2011 at 08:53  Leave a Comment  
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