Music News

Happy Birthday, Weird Al Yankovic!

Happy birthday to the ultimate music satirist, Weird Al Yankovic, who should be known by no other name.

Although his instrument of choice -- the accordion -- wasn't quite cool enough to ensure rock worship, he has thrived some 35 years after Los Angeles radio personality Dr. Demento opted to spin his recording of "My Bologna," a somewhat infantile takeoff on the Knack's "My Sharona."

Despite his offbeat intents, Al landed major-record-label contracts, sold more than 12 million albums, recorded more than 150 songs, amassed more than 1,000 live concerts, earned three Grammy Awards, and notched six platinum records in the United States. Songs such as "Eat It" (a knockoff of Michael Jackson's "Beat It"), "Another One Rides the Bus" (a parody of Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust"), and "I Love Rocky Road" (parodying Joan Jett's "I Love Rock 'n' Roll") helped establish his brand. But arguably it's his later tune playing off a Chamillionaire hit, "White & Nerdy," that best sums up his signature style.

Far from being a one-joke wonder, he's pioneered the use of video to enhance his artistic endeavors, and his road shows are nothing if not entertaining. He was also one of the first artists to embrace iTunes, and he often posted his music there prior to releasing it in a physical format. Most of the artists he's parodied have been flattered that he's targeted them -- Kurt Cobain was said to have remarked that he didn't feel the band had arrived until Weird Al lambasted them with his song "Smells Like Nirvana" -- and in many cases Yankovic makes a point to contact the musicians directly to obtain their blessing. Likewise, although he changes the lyrics, he remains true to the melodies, pointing out the incongruity between an artist's image and the silliness of the revamped narrative. He may be a goofball, but he's also a savvy satirist. 

Still, being that today marks Weird Al's birthday and he's still getting away with his shtick at age 52, one can't help but consider how weird Weird Al really is. Here, then, are five reasons why his weirdness really works:

* He's been at it far longer than anyone would have first believed. Making light of others works well for Don Rickles, but reducing serious songs to superfluous silliness hardly seems solid enough to sustain a career, let alone one that's lasted three and a half decades. That's weird! 

* Weird Al never looked the part of a rock star, and it's weird that he'd even attempt to assume that guise. Armed with an accordion, sporting thick glasses and mass of curly locks, he resembled a nebbish and a nerd, a guy unlikely to garner the devotion of his next-door neighbor, much less a hordes of devotees the world over. Yup, that's definitely weird. 

* His new look isn't much better. Tall and gangly, he now sports a King Louie XIV hairdo, the likes of which was last considered stylish in the 1980s. Make that the '70s. Suffice it to say, he still looks weird. 

* It's weird that artists don't seem to mind that he mocks their music. Michael Jackson was supposedly a huge fan. So is Paul McCartney, who refused him his parody of "Live and Let Die" under the title of "Chicken Pot Pie" only because the name ruffled Macca's vegan sensibilities. (Weird Al is also a vegan, by the way.) Likewise, Jimmy Page is an unabashed Weird Al admirer, and while he turned down his request to do a Led Zep medley, he did grant permission for Weird Al to redo "Black Dog." That kinda seems weird to us. 

* After all his success and acclaim, he didn't gain his first top-ten album and single (Straight Outta Lynwood and "White & Nerdy," respectively) until 2006, nearly three decades into his career. OK, maybe this one's not so weird after all.

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Lee Zimmerman