I need a good laugh these days, who doesn’t, so “Weird Al” Yankovic is my Music Discovery this month, just in time for April Fool’s Day. As a song parodist, Weird Al has had an unexpectedly long career. Listening back to all of his albums has the element of opening a time capsule. There were times when I thought “Oh yeah, I remember this song he’s parodying when it was a hit” or found myself chuckling at a reference to a pop culture entity of time gone by. But Weird Al is more than novelty music and a lot of his work has a surprisingly long shelf life. Here are three reasons I think why:
1. He’s a talented musician. Weird Al and his accompanying band are accomplished artists who put as much work into their music as any other popular artist. He’s also been able to keep up with the time, taking styles that didn’t exist when he first started, such as grunge, gangsta rap, and boy bands.
2. He really has a creative way with words that make the lyrics worth listening to again and again.
3. As a parodist, rather than a satirist, he is rarely making reference to current events. Of course, this could also be a criticism of how apolitical Weird Al’s work is, but I just acknowledge that Weird Al is a great parodist while others are great satirists. Besides, we really need funny songs about food, movies, and direct marketing infomercials.
Having listened to all of Weird Al, I’ll say that his own songs and style parodies stand up better than direct song parodies, but a number of them thrive as well. Here is Weird Al at his best:
“Weird Al’s” Five Best Albums
- “Weird Al” Yankovic in 3-D (1984) – this was my first Weird Al album so there was a lot of nostalgia listening to this one
- Off the Deep End (1992) – this came out when I was in college. Weird Al had been out of the picture for a while, but coming back with an album where he had a big hit parodying Nirvana made him cool again.
- Bad Hair Day (1996) – the mid-90s was a time when big time musicians were taking themselves way too seriously so this album is particularly rich.
- Straight Outta Lynwood (2006) – may be one of the strongest albums track-by-track of Weird Al’s career.
- Mandatory Fun (2014) – Weird Al once again makes a big splash releasing 8 videos in 8 days and what may be his last album (but not last work altogether!)
“Weird Al’s” Top 20 Songs of All Time
This list doesn’t include any of Weird Al’s polka parodies which are their own category of brilliance.
“Another One Rides the Bus” – the lyrics are true to any regular bus rider’s experience
“Eat It” – Weird Al’s first monster hit is also something I can relate to as a parent with fussy eaters.
“Buy Me a Condo” – I always loved this reggae song of an upwardly-mobile rastaman.
“Like a Surgeon” – the lyrics are great but you also have to admire how the song keeps rhythm to the EKG monitor the entire time.
“Yoda” – not for the last time Weird Al sets the plot of a blockbuster film to music and creates a masterpiece.
“Fat” – Michael Jackson was very good to Weird Al in the early days. The wordplay in this fat anthem is particularly strong.
“Smells Like Nirvana” – This may be the first time Weird Al parodied a song to make fun of the band that played it, and it’s hilarious.
“You Don’t Love Me Anymore” – The best of Weird Al’s original love ballads.
“Bohemian Polka” – polkas are always a highlight of any Weird Al album and this is the one time a polka is dedicated to parodying a single song.
“Amish Paradise” – It takes Weird Al to think that gangsta rap and the Amish people needed to be joined together.
“Pancreas” – it is an important organ.
“Everything You Know is Wrong” – things get weird because parodying They Might Be Giants is nigh on impossible since you just end up with a They Might Be Giants’ song. So I guess this is an excellent homage?
“The Saga Begins” – take a mediocre, overplayed song and an awful, overhyped movie and you get something that transcends both towards absolute brilliance.
“Bob” – +1 for parodying Bob Dylan so well. +2 for doing it entirely in palindromes.
“White and Nerdy” – pretty much the official theme song of Weird Al and his most devoted fans.
“Don’t Download This Song” – perhaps Al at his most political, satirizing the moral panic of the music business and the dreck of charity songs.
“Perform This Way” – kind of the essence of Lady Gaga, only funnier.
“Foil” – Weird Al switches topics mid-song and it works so perfectly.
“Mission Statement” – the hippies of the 60s became the vapid corporate execs of today.
“Tacky” – brilliant parody, amazing video.