Monday, August 24, 2009

Weird Al Yankovic

It's pretty remarkable to think that Weird Al is still out there day after day, album after album, doing his thing and entertaining people through the mere skill of wittily* reworking the lyrics of popular songs into mildly humorous reformulations. That's a career path. Astounding, isn't it? Not just a feasible, existing career path, but a relatively lucrative and fame-garnering one. Sign me up. I'm punny. I'll do it. Really, I would. Shame hath no boundaries like a parody songwriter.

Though Weird Al continues to churn out moderately amusing song take-offs, he was was arguably most enormously successful throughout the 80s and 90s. Kids everywhere went crazy for his albums, for no reason other than that it was kind-of sort-of funny to hear our favorite songs dessicated and reserved to us on a platter of unpretentious geekdom.

I'm not too proud to admit I was a huge Weird Al fan in my playground years. His songs spoke to kids in a way that traditionally popular songs usually did not. Kids can relate far better to a silly re-write of a song than to any actual song detailing adult behavior and practices. I don't know about you guys, but my school found Amish Paradise a hell of a lot funnier than Gangsta's Paradise. Probably mainly because we didn't know any gangsters, but also because the Amish were easier targets** who were thus less likely to shoot us for enjoying songs about their lifestyle***.

Weird Al typically had a few different types of songs that fell into his general genre of musical parody. Some songs, and arguably some of the most popular on recognizability alone, were pretty much reconstructed chord-for-chord from the original song. Others were more "in the style of" and made fun of multiple songs and artists in a single swoop. Sure, it shows cleverness to be able to incorporate all sorts of musical targets in your satirical albums, but people usually prefer a slightly modified version of what they already know.

I mean, it's a lot easier to learn the words if you already know the tune. People are pretty lazy by nature, though the true nerds among us would no doubt comb the more nuanced song for every potential musical reference.

Eat It/Fat

Alright, so maybe these songs were released four years apart, but they certainly lend themselves to being grouped together. They're direct Michael Jackson spinoff songs that parody his video schematics and have to do with ingesting food. How's that for thematic? I suppose once you find your niche, you might as well stick to it.

You've really got to give this guy some credit. He does not do things halfway. While most of us will feel justifiably silly singing our hearts out to songs that reference Cap'n Crunch, Weird Al really goes for it. He's got a flair for both the dramatic and the reassemblage of popular music video scenery.

In Fat, Weird Al spares no feelings with his depiction of the overweight. In the glorious days before the all-consuming backlash of alleged political correctness, we could all just think it's fun to see a guy dancing around in a fat suit singing, "I'm fat! I'm fat! Shamu!" or "Don't you call me pudgy, portly, or stout, just tell me once again, who's fat!" Now that's good songwriting.

Like a Surgeon

Talk about a song idea writing itself. Madonna actually asked how long it was going to be until Weird Al parodied her song "Like a Virgin" as "Like a Surgeon". You just don't get more straightforward than that. He didn't even have to come up with an original concept for his unoriginal song. And who says Madonna isn't thoughtful?

Smells Like Nirvana

Smells Like Teen Spirit lent itself well to a parody version not only in content and style but also because it seemed people had no idea what Kurt Cobain was saying in the original song, anyway. Hey, if you like the music, why not just sit back and enjoy the more easily decipherable Weird Al version? The video even includes many of the same actors and set pieces.

Weird Al even starts the song, "What is this song/all about/can't figure any/lyrics out". That's right, the entire premise of the parody is that we have no idea what the actual song is about or what any of the lyrics may be. He does manage to capture the grunge essence, at the very least, and you must admit it's a little funny to see him sing with that disaffected expression with these words.

Amish Paradise

Amish Paradise was a single from the album Bad Hair Day, the cover of which features Weird Al with a decidedly Coolio-esque 'do. Amish Paradise is all about contrast; the original Gansta's Paradise talks about the hardships of urban life, whereas the parody single talks about, well, I'll let you look for yourself:

As I walk through the valley where I harvest my grain
I take a look at my wife and realize shes very plain
But that's just perfect for an Amish like me
You know I shun fancy things like electricity
At 4:30 in the morning Im milkin' cows
Jebediah feeds the chickens and Jacob plows... fool
And Ive been milkin' and plowin' so long that
Even Ezekiel thinks that my mind is gone
Im a man of the land, I'm into discipline
Got a Bible in my hand and a beard on my chin
But if I finish all of my chores and you finish thine
Then tonight were gonna party like its 1699

Get it? 1699? Instead of 1999? Oh Weird Al. You are just too clever. Harvesting his grain? His wife is plain? Where do you come up with this stuff?

"Weird Al" Yankovic - Amish Paradise

Pretty Fly for a Rabbi

The Offspring were at the height of their popularity in the late 90s, particularly with their hit "Pretty Fly for a White Guy". As you can clearly see, Weird Al is all about easily mockable targets--he doesn't make you think too hard. He takes groups or people who are inherently humorous on stereotype alone and lets us all laugh at them. I mean, how can you not crack just a little smile at his turning "Give it to me baby! Uh huh! Uh huh!" into "How you doing Bernie? Oy Vey! Oy Vey!" ? It's funny.

I suppose it's entirely possible that many of you out there do not have as many Jewish relatives as I do, but let me tell you, this is funny stuff. The Yiddish! Oy, the Yiddish. The cheap jokes. The bagel references. He even does off-color stuff:

When hes doing a bar mitzvah, now that you shouldn't miss
Hell always schlep on down for a wedding or a bris
They say hes got a lot of chutzpah, hes really quite hip
The parents pay the moyel and he gets to keep the tip.

If the sprinkling of Yiddish is too subtle for you, he's talking about a circumcision here. The tip. Oh, Weird Al? Is there no limit to your groan-inducing punnery?

Okay, so maybe writing parody songs is not quite on par with rocket science, but you may just have to admit that his lyrics have a nice ring to them. Especially in his song Phony Calls. Get it? Ring...calls? I'm halfway to parody songwriter myself.

*I know, this depends on your definition of wittily. **Especially on the internet! Sorry, Amish, but you'll never find it here. ***I'm not saying all gangsters would kill me for singing Gangstas' Paradise, but hey, I saw Dangerous Minds. I doubt those kids would even appreciate me dropping the e-r in gangster. Just sayin'.


Nic said...

I don't know much about Weird Al as he was never that famous over here. I do remember him doing a fake interview with Eminem though, which was quite entertaining but was probably in the early 2000s, not the 90s. So I'll just shut up now!

Sunshinemeg said...

Amish paradise was pretty hard core. Ha! Love the post. Great for a Monday.

Badass Geek said...

Weird Al is still rockin' the shit, in my opinion. He's got real talent, doing what he does with reproducing the music so accurately. I mean, "The Saga Begins", his Star Wars-themed version of "American Pie", is spot on.

Obviously, you can tell I am still a huge, huge fan. And yes, I follow Weird Al on Twitter.

Shannon said...

I will always love Weird Al's polka medleys. Best thing ever!

Warren said...

Amish Paradise was hilarious. Too bad Coolio couldn't appreciate it.

Frank said...

I love Weird Al. When Michael Jackson died and people started posting his music videos everywhere, I started posting Weird Al's parodies of them. Pissed of a lot of sad people.

The Novelista Barista said...

hahahah OH MY GOD i remember him too so funny!

bananas. said...

oh my gosh. i used to pee my pants laughing at i'm fat and eat it. i though it was the funniest thing EVER! by the time amish paradise came out i was over it. but big ups to weird al for making a living off this.

for the love of pictures said...

I love Weird Al :) Amish Paradise was hilarious - it still is actually.

josie(bean) said...

haha loves it. one of my besties and her entire family are obsessed with weird al, they go on annual trips to see him, and i think their count is at like 17 or something! haha.

prashant said...

Amish paradise was pretty hard core. Ha! Love the post. Great
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Little Ms Blogger said...

I remember Weird Al...He was so 90s wasn't he?

Hey, I left you a present to pick up...

Sadako said...

I loved Amish Paradise the most. The video was hilarious! "Think you're really righteous? Think you're pure of heart, well I know I'm a million times more humble than thou art!"

Elizabeth Marie said...

Amish Paradise is really a classic...I was already laughing when I saw your twitter about this post and couldn't wait to get over here! Such a fun post for a monday.

Kristin said...

Dude, I seriously loved me some Weird Al when I was little. Eat it. My fav!

Ela said...

Oh my goodness, I've completely forgotten about him. I thought he was hilarious when I first heard one of his songs at the age of 6, though I'm pretty sure my parents frowned upon me even knowing who he was ;)

Chelsea Talks Smack said...

amish paradise will ALWAYS be my fav.

Jacqueline said...

I have seen a few of his videos on you tube...very funny...he did the E Bay song didn't he ?

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