Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
"Weird Al" Yankovic
Alfred Matthew "Weird Al" Yankovic, the son of Nick & Mary Yankovic, first started playing the accordion one day before his seventh birthday, mastering the instrument by age ten.
After hearing Dr. Demento's radio show (a comedy radio program featuring humorous music), Al sent the Doctor a tape of a song entitled "Belvedere Cruising" in 1976. Al was a senior at Lynwood High School in Lynwood, California at the time, but that tape was the start of his eventual career.
Three years later, Al was an architecture student at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and a disc jockey at the university's radio station (KCPR). Since "My Sharona" by The Knack was on the charts and The Knack was going to play at Cal Poly, Al took his accordion into the bathroom across from the listening booth and recorded a parody entitled "My Bologna", with a B-side called "School Cafeteria". The Knack thought it was funny, and arranged for the song to be released on their label, Capitol Records, which gave Al a six-month contract. Dr. Demento's listeners put this track atop his "Funny Five" list.
In 1980, Al was working the mail room at Westwood One, Dr. Demento's radio network at the time, when he announced he had another parody. Jon Schwartz was also there, and he was a percussionist, so he was recruited to bang on Al's accordion case. The resulting performance of "Another One Rides the Bus" was a parody of a Queen hit, "Another One Bites the Dust". The rare 1981 Placebo EP release of this song has as its B-Side the subtle track "Happy Birthday."
1981 brought Al on tour for the first time as part of Dr. Demento's act. His performances were particularly interesting as few, if any, people at the time were doing parodies of rock and roll songs on accordion. His stage act caught the eye of manager Jay Levey , who loved it and became Al's manager. Jay insisted that the act would sound better if Al had a full band, so he held auditions. Steve Jay became Al's bass player, and Jim West the lead guitarist. With Jon "Bermuda" Schwartz on drums, the band was complete.
The Dr. Demento Society , which issues yearly Christmas re-releases of material from Dr. Demento's Basement Tapes, often includes among these unreleased tracks from Mr. Yankovic's vaults, such as "Pacman", "It's Still Billy Joel To Me", or the demos for "I Love Rocky Road". The live version of "School Cafeteria" is also to be found on Dr. Demento's Basement Tapes.
In 1985, Al co-wrote and starred in a mockumentary of his own life entitled The Compleat Al that intertwined fact and fiction of his life up to that point. The movie was co-directed by Jay Levey , who would direct UHF (see below) three years later.
Al claims to have been inspired by Allan Sherman, whose portrait in miniature (with name) can be found by the observant on the cover of Al's first album.
On April 9, 2004, Al's parents, Nick Louis Yankovic, 86, and Mary, 81, were found dead in their Fallbrook, California home, apparently the victims of carbon monoxide poisoning. The night after their bodies were found, Al went on with his concert in Mankato, Minnesota, saying that since his music had helped many of his fans through tough times, maybe it would work for him as well.
Though he is best known for his song parodies, Yankovic has recorded a greater number of original humorous songs, such as "Why Does This Always Happen to Me?" and "Hardware Store". Yankovic's work depends largely on the satirizing of popular culture, including television, movies, food, popular music, and sometimes issues in contemporary news. Although many of his songs are parodies of contemporary radio hits, it is rare that the song's primary topic of lampooning is that artist. Yankovic's humor lies more in creating unexpected incongruity between an artist's image and the topic of the song, contrasting the style of the song with its content, or in pointing out trends or works which have become pop culture cliches. Some of his original songs are pastiches or "style parodies," where he chooses a band's entire body of work to honor/parody rather than any single hit by that band; some bands so honored have been Devo ("Dare to Be Stupid"), The B-52's ("Mr. Popeil"), Talking Heads ("Dog Eat Dog"), Nine Inch Nails ("Germs"), The Beach Boys ("Trigger Happy"), Oingo Boingo, Frank Zappa ("Genius in France"), ("You Make Me"), The Police ("Velvet Elvis"), James Taylor ("The Good Old Days"), The Beastie Boys ("Twister"), and They Might Be Giants ("Everything You Know is Wrong").
In addition to his parodies, Al also includes a medley of various songs on most albums, each one reinterpreted as a polka, with the choruses of various songs juxtaposed for humourous effect. Examples include "Alternative Polka", "Angry White Boy Polka" and "Polka Power."
One of his most controversial parodies was Amish Paradise, a spoof of the song Gangsta's Paradise by Coolio. Coolio says he denied Weird Al's producers permission for the song to be spoofed, but according to Weird Al, they said Coolio gave the okay. Coolio was upset, but legal action never materialized.
He has contributed songs to several films, including the original song "This Is The Life", featured on the soundtrack for Johnny Dangerously ; the title track to his own movie, UHF; and a parody of the James Bond title sequences in Spy Hard , the title track to a 1996 Leslie Nielsen movie directed by Rick Friedberg . He also contributed the song "Dare to Be Stupid" to Transformers: The Movie.
Weird Al has directed many of his own music videos, as well as several by such artists as Hanson, The Black Crowes, Ben Folds, and The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. He also directed the title sequence to Spy Hard , in which he sang the title song.
Yankovic has received three Grammy Awards and became eligible for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004, although he says, "I think my chances of ever making it into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame are about as good as Milli Vanilli's."
Yankovic has been called a "cultural barometer" by The Onion's recurring fictitious dweeb character Larry Groznic (10 November 2004), who called Weird Al's music "the consummate pastiche of popular songwriting styles for our times." The article also referred to one real-life indication of Yankovic's status: Kurt Cobain, the lead singer for Nirvana stated that he felt that he had "made it" after Yankovic recorded "Smells Like Nirvana" (parodying Cobain's "Smells Like Teen Spirit").
The popularity of Al's music among users of Internet file sharing networks has led to many parody or comedy songs shared in this manner being identified as "Weird Al" tracks which in fact have no connection to him. One major victim of this seems to be Bob Rivers, but so many wrongly attributed tracks exist that several fans have set up websites attempting to list such tracks along with their real artists. It has been argued that this not only deprives the real artists involved of credit for their creations, but sometimes associates Al's name with types of music he would never produce and would not want to be known for.
Since Al got a record contract in 1983, he has released many albums and parodies. The following is a comprehensive list of his albums to 2003:
- Weird Al Yankovic - 1983
- "Weird Al" Yankovic in 3-D - 1984
- Dare to Be Stupid - 1985
- Polka Party - 1986
- Even Worse - 1988
- UHF (movie soundtrack) - 1989
- Off the Deep End - 1992
- Alapalooza - 1994
- Bad Hair Day - 1996
- Running With Scissors - 1999
- Poodle Hat - 2003
Compilation albums (international)
- Greatest Hits - 1988
- The Food Album - 1993
- Permanent Record - Al in the Box - 1994
- Greatest Hits - Volume II - 1994
- The TV Album - 1995
Compilation albums (imports, other)
- Eat It - 1984 (Japanese LP)
- The Official Music Of "Weird Al" Yankovic" - 1984 (Japanese LP)
- The Best Of Yankovic - 1992 (Korean LP)
- Polka Fiction - 1996 (bootleg)
- The Movie Album - 1997 (bootleg)
- - 1997 (bootleg)
- The "Weird Al" Yankovic Anth-AL-ogy - 1999 (hoax)
- The Saga Begins - 1999 (Japanese LP)
- UHF- 1989: A commercially unsuccessful movie satirizing the television industry, starring Yankovic, Michael Richards, Fran Drescher and Victoria Jackson. It has since become a cult favorite, and was an extremely popular DVD. Al previously showed clips at his concerts to the great appreciation of his fans, but this was halted by a cease and desist order from MGM.
- Babalu Music - 1991: A collection of I Love Lucy music. Al's contribution as producer doesn't seem to extend past the title track.
- Peter and the Wolf - 1988: "This warped classical children's record featuring narration and poems written by "Weird Al" Yankovic and music arranged, composed and performed by synthesizer whiz Wendy Carlos" - WeirdAl.com. Weird Al's text modifies the original story considerably: "The Grandfather will be played by... Don Ameche! What? He can't make it?", while the music features various innovations by Wendy Carlos over the original by Sergei Prokofiev. Side two of the album is "Carnival of the Animals, Part II" which is a sort of homage to The Carnival of the Animals by Camille Saint-Saens, with Weird Al taking the role of Edward Lear in writing humorous poems about the slug, the shark, etc.
- "Polkamon" (Pokémon The Movie 2000 (soundtrack) - 2000)
- Theme from "Spy Hard" (Spy Hard soundtrack - 1996)
- "Headline News" (Parody of "Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm" by Crash Test Dummies) - 1994
Popular album tracks
- "Albuquerque" an 11 minute song about Al's weird ventures into the city of Albuquerque
- "Ricky " (a parody of "Mickey" by Toni Basil, humorous lyrics themed from I Love Lucy; a parody of and tribute to the series)
- "Couch Potato " (Eminem's "Lose Yourself" from the movie 8 Mile)
- "The Saga Begins " (Parody of Don McLean's "American Pie"; tells the story of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace)
- "Eat It" (Parody of Michael Jackson's "Beat It")
- "I Love Rocky Road " (Parody of Joan Jett's "I Love Rock N' Roll ")
- "Pretty Fly for a Rabbi " (Parody of The Offspring's "Pretty Fly (For A White Guy) ")
- "Smells Like Nirvana " (Parody of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit")
- "Cavity Search " (Parody of U2's "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me ")
- "Jerry Springer " (Parody of Barenaked Ladies' "One Week")
- "Theme from Rocky XIII " (Parody of Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger")
- "Gump" (Parody of the Presidents of the United States of America's "Lump")
- "Bedrock Anthem " (Parodies of Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Under The Bridge" and "Give It Away ")
- "Phony Calls " (Parody of TLC's "Waterfalls")
- "Like A Surgeon " (Parody of Madonna's "Like a Virgin")
- "Grapefruit Diet " (Parody of Cherry Poppin' Daddies' "Zoot Suit Riot")
- "Fat" (Parody of the title track from Michael Jackson's Bad album)
- "Living with a Hernia " (Parody of James Brown's "Living In America ")
- "Amish Paradise" (Parody of Coolio's "Gangsta's Paradise")
- "It's All About the Pentiums " (Parody of Puff Daddy's "It's All About The Benjamins ")
In addition to parodies such as these, most of Al's albums include a medley of popular songs played in polka style, as well as original songs with his own lyrics and words. Originals such as "Melanie" and "Albuquerque" are favorites of many of his fans.
Weird Al had a short-lived TV series called The Weird Al Show, which aired from September 1997 to January 1998 on CBS. Though the show appeared to be geared at children, the humor was really more for adult fans of Al.
Al has hosted AL-TV on MTV many years, generally coinciding with the release of each new album. For Poodle Hat, however, AL-TV appeared on VH1. The most popular part of AL-TV is Al manipulating interviews especially commissioned for AL-TV by the network for comic effect.
VH1 produced a Behind the Music episode on Al. Al is so clean-cut that the producers couldn't find any of the typical angst-laced problems that make many rock stars' stories compelling (as Al noted in an interview with BTM), so their angle was on Al's life as a bachelor and (what they presumed was) his loneliness. (Also, the commercial failures of UHF and Polka Party). However, since the taping, Al has married. He and his wife, Suzanne, recently had a daughter, Nina.
Al has also made a number of cameo film appearances, including all three Naked Gun films. He currently plays a role in the "Haunted Lighthouse 4-D " Show at the Busch Gardens Williamsburg theme park. He has also appeared in cartoons such as EEK! The Cat, The Simpsons, The Brak Show, Johnny Bravo and The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy, lending his voice to that of the Squid Hat, a parody of the Sorting Hat in the Harry Potter series.
- Al has put two backwards messages into his songs: the first, in Nature Trail to Hell, said "Satan Eats Cheez Whiz"; the second, in I Remember Larry, said "Wow, you must have an awful lot of free time on your hands." 
- Al often hides the number 27 somewhere in his songs, album art, and memorabilia. Examples are Al wearing a 27 on the cover of the Running With Scissors album and including 27 photos in the photo gallery on the "Weird Al Yankovic Live!" DVD.
- On November 10, 2004, The Onion published an editorial titled "I Must Take Issue With The Wikipedia Entry For Weird Al Yankovic."
- While artists are generally pleased with Weird Al, there are three notable exceptions. Coolio was very displeased since his management told Weird Al to go ahead with the parody without consulting him. Al apologized for the misunderstanding. Also, Prince has refused to allow parodies, though Weird Al has stated that he continues to "check back with him to see if he has developed a sense of humor" in interviews. Al was also requested to change the video for his remake of Eminem's "Lose Yourself." Says Al: "Last year, Eminem forced me to halt production on the video for my 'Lose Yourself' parody because he somehow thought that it would be harmful to his image or career ..."
- Interestingly, Weird Al has only backed down from artists like Prince and Eminem out of courtesy and convenience. Because parody is recognized as fair use by copyright laws, Weird Al is actually free to make fun of any artist's work without permission. He only asks for permission to maintain good relationships and avoid nuisance law suits.
- Licensing issues for Weird Al's works are some of the most complicated in the music industry. Because of his polka-medleys, Weird Al can wind up performing works by dozens of artists on a single album. Because of the potentially crippling amount of royalties required for this, Weird Al's record labels have had to engage in endless negotiation and diplomacy.
- Official site
- Weird Al fans have a discussion board at the World of Weird Al Yankovic forums.
- Alsongs is an extensive collection of Weird Al lyrics.
- The Not Al Page attempts to list tracks which are often wrongly attributed to Weird Al and discover their true origins.
- Yankovic! Parody page, Parody artist
- Al-oholics Anonymous The largest fan-based site for Weird Al, including photos, sounds, and video clips.
- We've Got It All On UHF
- Weird Al Star Fund Help get Al his star on Hollywood's Walk Of Fame
- Weird Al: Polkas, Parodies and the Power of Satire, a PDF article about Al and the band from Goldmine magazine, written by columnist Chuck Miller [14 page PDF]
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