For nearly two and a half decades, "Weird Al" Yankovichas served as pop music's foremost yukster, ready at all times to lampoon the latest offerings of music's major players. From pop stars like Michael Jackson and Madonna to rock bands like Dire Straits and R.E.M., no one is safe from Yankovic's parodies. And while critics have tried to write him off as a joke that will eventually get old, Yankovic's shtick proved every bit as sustainable as that of so-called "real" artists.
Although Yankovic certainly is not the first popular parody act (he grew up listening to Dr. Demento's nationally syndicated comedy radio show), none before him made such a long-lasting impact, riding at the top of the charts for two and a half decades. After years of sending in home recordings to the good doctor, Yankovic made his first big impression in 1979 with "My Bologna," a spoof of the Knack's megahit "My Sharona." Yankovic first entered the charts in 1983 with "Ricky," his I Love Lucy-themed take on Toni Basil's "Micky." With the help of a young MTV, "Ricky" gained a whole new dimension as a music video, which added to its goofiness -- and immediate popularity. Armed with this new medium, Yankovic next took on the King of Pop. Michael Jackson's "Beat It" was easy fodder for Yankovic, who answered the song's rhetorical challenge with a command of his own: "Eat It." Not only did Yankovic's song reach the Top 15 but it earned Yankovic his first of three Grammy Awards.
However, 1986's Polka Party was met with a lukewarm reception in both the pop charts and the reviews of music critics. Had the punch line finally arrived? Hell,no -- especially not after Michael Jackson hired Martin Scorsese to produce an even bigger ball of cheese than the "Beat It" video: 1988's "Bad." The song itself bordered on self-parody and was just begging for Yankovic to give it his magic, geeky touch. Alas, the Even Worsealbum was born, and so was the "Fat" video -- one of music television's all-time funniest moments.
Yankovic carried on into the '90s, updating his repertoire to include the likes of Nirvana and Coolio. On his current album, 2003's Poodle Hat, Yankovic goofs on artists like Eminem and the Backstreet Boys. Sadly, on April 11, shortly after Yankovic began his 2004 tour, both of his parents were found dead in their home, having suffered carbon monoxide poisoning from a fire. Despite the tragedy, Yankovic is continuing with the tour, writing on his website (www.weirdal.com) that his music might help cheer him up. It certainly cheers up the rest of us, who happily look at Yankovic as much-needed comic relief from the seriousness of Top 40 music. Indeed, the Weird One will be with us for awhile. As long as the music industry continues to churn out self-important pap in a constant effort to reinvent cool, Yankovic stands ready with a counterpunch of pure goof. -- Jason Budjinski