Tuesday, September 9, 2008

"Weird Al" Yankovic: Three decades of listening and laughing

"Weird Al" Yankovic is not the kind of musical artist you'll often find on mainstream radio, but he's hardly obscure. Al started out submitting his own amusing songs to Dr. Demento in the 70s, and has since released numerous albums, appeared in person and in voice in TV shows and movies, had multiple specials on MTV and VH-1, and otherwise been a very visible presence in America... if you're looking in the right places.

Weird Al Yankovic"Weird Al" parodies the songs and styles of all manner of artists, including Queen, Michael Jackson, Aerosmith, Eminem, and many, many more. He sings excerpts of popular songs from artists such as Twisted Sister, Phil Collins, Vanilla Ice, Nine Inch Nails, the Beastie Boys, and 50 Cent, and transforms them into polka medleys. He also sings a great deal of his own original material that's often just too... well, weird to be a parody of anyone or anything else.

Some people don't consider parody artists to have much talent beyond just being able to make people laugh, but you might be surprised by just how talented Al and his band are. Though Al's voice is rather distinctive, his versatility shines through in his ability to closely mimick the vocal styles of the artists he parodies; furthermore, the instrumental music of his parodies are often so similar to the original version that you might at first be led to believe you're listening to Billy Joel or Nirvana instead of "Weird Al."

Just as some people prefer certain eras of an artist's or group's music (ex: "I prefer the Rolling Stones' music from the 60s"), it's very easy to only like certain eras of Al's music, largely for the same reasons that some people prefer 70s music to 80s music. As the times change, so does Al's music and the artists he parodies.

Additionally, you might notice that his more recent albums have been gradually more liberal with the kinds of topics he sings about; his work has always been solidly PG, but it's been pushing the envelope over the past several years, which is somewhat understandable if he's making fun of mainstream media such as The Jerry Springer Show.

I have to admit that listening to "Weird Al" has exposed me to a lot of music that I'd otherwise never have heard of. I've impressed (or possibly horrified) my friends by being able to sing along with the chorus of songs that, given my taste in music, I should clearly not be listening to, all thanks to Al's polka medleys. I've heard parodies that I liked enough to seek out and listen to the original versions, and I got hooked on those as well.

Of course, some people will harbor violent rage toward Al to the grave because he parodied their favorite and most sacred song. It's not like he killed your puppy, folks; please just skip the song and listen to the next one. In fact, your favorite song was almost certainly approved by the artist for parody, so "Weird Al" isn't entirely to blame.

Though his music is the focal point of his career, Al has had a lot of time on both the big screen and on the... well, actually, given these newfangled widescreen plasma TVs, I guess I can't just say "small screen" anymore. Anywidget, perhaps you've seen "Weird Al" in the cult classic film UHF, or singing the opening song of the movie Spy Hard, or in a series of Al-TV specials on MTV and VH-1, or in his very own Weird Al Show that ran for about a year before being canceled.

If you pop over to the official "Weird Al" Yankovic website, you can download one of his original songs for free, and also indulge in the fun and interesting things over there. (The FAQ page provided a lot of the information you just read; it's excessively informative!)

Finally, here's a sampling of a mere three songs (music videos, actually) that I feel are a good representation of Al's work throughout the years (though these three are by no means "comprehensive" or "definitive" or necessarily "the best"). These are even better if you've seen the original music videos, I might add. Enjoy, but be aware that these videos may briefly contain shirtless men and references to bubble wrap.

"I Love Rocky Road," from the album "Weird Al" Yankovic; a parody of "I Love Rock 'n' Roll" by The Arrows:

"Bedrock Anthem," from the album Alapalooza; a parody of "Under the Bridge" and "Give It Away" by the Red Hot Chili Peppers:

"White and Nerdy," from the album Straight Outta Lynwood; a parody of "Ridin'" by Chamillionaire featuring Krayzie Bone:

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