I don’t think there’s been a musical performer who’s been with me for as long in my life — or had as profound of an impact — as Weird Al Yankovic. It’s weird to say that, considering that he’s seen as “that parody song guy,” but Weird Al always made me feel like there was someone in the music business who was like me: geeky, goofy, silly and nerdy to the core.
A few days ago I decided to make 100% sure I had all of Weird Al’s songs on my computer, and ended up rounding out my collection to almost 150 tunes that he’s composed since the early 80’s. (If you’re looking for one Weird Al purchase, I’d definitely recommend the recent Essential Weird Al — it’s got 38 hits for one low price.) Seriously, it’s amazing just how long and relevant Weird Al’s stayed in the business, and I can’t wait for his new album to hit this year.
Listening to these songs, memories flooded back of different stages in my life when I first heard them, from a little kid to just last year. I thought it was high time that I paid the man homage by compiling a list of what I consider to be his 20 best tunes, counting down to the best.
20. “Melanie” (Even Worse)
Quite a few of Weird Al’s songs paint a cheery portrait of a severely disturbed person who’s usually in love or dealing with romantic situations. Melanie may be the best of them as a tale of a guy who bemoans the fact that his stalker victim hasn’t fallen in love with him yet.
19. “Don’t Download This Song” (Straight Outta Lynwood)
Sung in the style of those “We Are the World” ballads, Weird Al tweaks the nipples of the RIAA by showing just how ridiculous the music industry’s persecution of its fans is. The ironic twist? Weird Al offered this up as a free download.
I love Weird Al’s comment on the filesharing situation: “I have very mixed feelings about it. On one hand, I’m concerned that the rampant downloading of my copyright-protected material over the Internet is severely eating into my album sales and having a decidedly adverse effect on my career. On the other hand, I can get all the Metallica songs I want for FREE! WOW!”
18. “The Weird Al Show Theme” (Running With Scissors)
Yes, Weird Al had a TV show for four glorious months in 1997, totaling 13 episodes. The theme song was spot-on catchy and amusing, and Al still uses clips from the show between his acts at concerts.
17. “Alberquerque” (Running With Scissors)
It’s a common misconception that ALL Weird Al does is song parodies — in actuality, the man makes up quite a few original songs, sometimes doing them in the “style” of a famous artist. One of his recent trademark tunes is to slap a super-long rambling song onto the end of his albums, the best of which is the 12-minute Alberquerque. It’s just bizarre and meandering, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
16. “I Love Rocky Road” (‘Weird Al’ Yankovic)
First of all, “I Love Rock ‘n Roll” is still a kick-butt song, so capital choice for a parody. Weird Al’s debut album in 1983 had an astonishing amount of hits for an accordion-based act, and this is probably my favorite from that album. What can I say, silly noises like kazoos and hand-farts do it for me!
15. “The Saga Begins” (Running With Scissors)
When Weird Al shaved his trademark ‘stache in 1999 it really threw me off, but songs like this showed that he still had it. The Phantom Menace was absolutely everywhere that year, despite being a complete clunker, and Weird Al’s retelling of the plot to the tune of “American Pie” hit a sweet spot for the nation.
14. “I Can’t Watch This” (Off the Deep End)
Off the Deep End was one of my most-listened to albums back when I first got a CD player in 1992 (hey, it was a big deal back then, shut up), and as much as I loved Hammer’s “Can’t Touch This,” Yankovic’s parody was almost better. Of course, most of the TV shows he lists aren’t even on the air any more, so it probably has little relevance to today’s crowd, but this is my list so you will sit down and read every word I have to write!
13. “When I Was Your Age” (Off the Deep End)
Everyone knows that old timer who tells you just how hard and difficult and different life was “back in the day,” which is why Weird Al’s send up to these attitudes is hilarious. It’s a wildly exaggerated collection of ridiculous claims, all set to a fairly catchy riff. “Didn’t have a swimming pool when I was a lad, the neighbor’s septic tank was the closest thing we had!”
12. “The Theme to Spy Hard” (Spy Hard)
While this James Bond movie spoof was forgettable (Austin Powers, which came out around the same time, trumped it in every way), Weird Al’s theme song did the Bond legacy justice. Lots of silly underwater acrobatics, topped off with Al’s head exploding from holding an extended note.
11. “Nature Trail to Hell” (In 3-D)
I remember as a kid hearing this in the car and promptly demanding that we replay it the second it was done — it was just that epic. Weird Al has a lot of fun with two major staples of 80s cinema: slasher horror films and the 3-D fad (and yes, 3-D is a fad no matter how many times the movie industry keeps trying to make it stick). Bonus moment: A backwards-talking Al who says “Satan eats cheez whiz!”
10. “Couch Potato” (Poodle Hat)
As we move into the top ten, Weird Al takes on Eminem with a version that is, honestly, way better than original. It’s just a huge shame that Eminem wouldn’t let Al make his planned music video for this — Eminem needs to lighten the heck up.
As a matter of principle and to keep out of too much legal trouble, Weird Al directly asks artists if he can parody them. James Blunt did give Al permission to do a version of “You’re Beautiful”, but after recording it Blunt’s label (Virgin Records) pulled permission. This kept the song off of Weird Al’s album, so he just released it for free and took shots at Virgin Records in his concerts and subsequent videos.
Anyway, it’s a hilarious song and probably my wife’s favorite of all of his tunes.
Weird Al’s sole music video for his film UHF is an oddity in several ways — legal issues forced the horrible slashed name, and Dire Straits only gave permission for him to record it if members of the band could play the instruments. Even so, it’s a loving take on a classic sitcom, and the computer animation for it is out of this world! OK, it sucks, but it sucks in a loving way!
7. “Alimony” (Even Worse)
Billy Idol’s “Mony Mony” became Weird Al’s “Alimony” in this tribute to the best parts of divorce: Having to pay through the nose. I’ve always loved both of these songs, and it shows Al’s dedication to picking some of the best tunes of the day to parody.
6. “The White Stuff” (Off the Deep End)
Boy bands come and boy bands go, and Weird Al will always be there to make fun of them. We may not have the New Kids on the Block in the forefront of our brains right now, but back in the early 90s they were everywhere, doing the same song in sixteen different varieties. Al looked at them and went, “Hm! I shall do… snack products!”
5. “Hardware Store” (Poodle Hat)
A surprisingly infectious diddy about a guy’s passion for hardware stores. It’s a great song that kicks into overdrive at the 2:20 mark when Al lists a hundred or so items in a row without breathing. I could listen to this over and over again.
4. “Smells Like Nirvana” (Off the Deep End)
I was always impressed at the music video for “Smells Like Nirvana”, as Weird Al went to great pains to recreate the classic Nirvana video with the same sets, actors and shots (with funny twists, of course). It’s 100% goofy awesomeness. Plus, there are kazoos.
3. “Amish Paradise” (Bad Hair Day)
Coolio may not have liked this parody, but we all did. Fusing together the Amish and gangsta rap was thought impossible before Weird Al did it in the mid-90s, and thank goodness for that! While the song is tremendous, I totally get a kick out of the music video as well, particularly the scene filmed backwards.
2. “White & Nerdy” (Straight Outta Lynwood)
Almost three decades after his first album, Weird Al hit it huge with both Straight Outta Lynwood and “White and Nerdy” — his first Billboard Top Ten hit. It’s well-deserved, too; the song it flat-out funny, as Weird Al embraces everything about nerd culture and celebrates it.
1. “Fat” (Even Worse)
When I saw Weird Al in concert back in ’99, he was still pulling out the fat suit for this song — and it’s still one of his absolute best. Sure, “Eat It” was more successful, but “Fat” is the superior Michael Jackson parody in my opinion. It’s got snarky lyrics, the music video is genius, and, well, there aren’t many songs that sing about how terrific it is to be chubby.