Weird Al Yankovic – Straight Outta Lynwood

Weird Al Yankovic - Straight Outta LynwoodThere’s nothing quite like Weird Al Yankovic firing on all cylinders. Much moreso than most of the targets of his satire, the man has a talent that defies time’s every attempt to pass him by. He’s even endured the wrath of a few of the artists he’s parodied (such as Coolio), or their labels (Atlantic actually vetoed a song that was recorded for this album – and so, unable to sell it, Weird Al released it for free on his web site). He’s definitely a force to be reckoned with.

And yet, if there’s one problem with Straight Outta Lynwood, it’s that this album is nothing like Weird Al firing on all cylinders. There’s a roughly equal number of hits and misfires here. When the songs hit their target, whether they’re parodies or originals, they’re some of the best of his career. “Don’t Download This Song” is a wickedly funny original that picks on everything from ’80s Chicago to bloated “We Are The World”-style all-star charity epics. “Virus Alert” sets the now-ubiquitous virus hoax e-mail trend to tremendously catchy music. And of course, there’s the biggest hit single of Weird Al’s career, “White & Nerdy.” I also have to single out the surreal “Weasel Stomping Day” and “Polkarama” – the obligatory polka medley of current top 40 hits – for special praise.

Where it misfires, though, Lynwood misses by quite a margin. “Pancreas” is a “style parody” of classic Beach Boys ballads (with a special emphasis on “God Only Knows” though it steers clear of mocking any single song musically) that just never quite comes in for a landing. A certain overblown R. Kelly pseudo-epic becomes the fodder for “Trapped In The Drive-Thru”, which is one of those songs that’s funny the first time around, but as with a lot of Weird Al’s longer songs (I’m looking at you, “Genius In France”), it grates on repeat rating: 3 out of 4listening (“Albuquerque”, it ain’t). And maybe I’m missing the joke, but “Canadian Idiot” seems atypically mean-spirited for Al.

All this being said, I still give Straight Outta Lynwood high marks, because on average, I’d rather listen to half of a good Weird Al album than an entire album from most of the targets of his satire.

Order this CD

  1. White & Nerdy (2:50)
  2. Pancreas (3:48)
  3. Canadian Idiot (2:23)
  4. I’ll Sue Ya (3:51)
  5. Polkarama (4:54)
  6. Virus Alert (3:46)
  7. Confessions Part III (3:52)
  8. Weasel Stomping Day (1:34)
  9. Close But No Cigar (3:55)
  10. Do I Creep You Out (2:46)
  11. Trapped In The Drive-Thru (10:51)
  12. Don’t Download This Song (3:54)

Released by: Volcano
Release date: 2006
Total running time: 48:24

Weird Al Yankovic – Poodle Hat

Weird Al Yankovic - Poodle HatIt’s been far too long since Weird Al graced us with his presence on record, though I have a theory as to why this isn’t his fault. I’ll get back to that in a moment though.

Poodle Hat is simultaneously a joy – heck, in some respect, anything Yankovic does is a joy – and a slight disappointment too. The latter feeling stems from a wee bit of repetition. Granted, there are always some things you can count on with Weird Al – he’ll be making fun of whatever’s been big on radio, he’ll more than likely have a polka medley that blends a bunch of disposable hits into a frothy stew of bizarre reinterpretations, and he’s got some of the best musicians on the planet helping him out, because the parody songs wind up sounding almost exactly like the originals, if not better. But here, we’re treated to some other repeated concepts too: now it seems as though a classic rock number will be turned into an only slightly tongue-in-cheek retelling of a recent big-screen hit, and there’s going to be a really long song at the end of the album.

When Running With Scissors rode into the stores on the back of “The Saga Begins”, a retelling of Star Wars Episode I to the tune of Don McLean’s “American Pie”, it was a novel, well-executed idea – and it was right on time, too, arriving just on the heels of the movie with a perfect video to match. Poodle Hat gives us a synopsis of Spider-Man set to the tune of Billy Joel’s “Piano Man”, and hey, it is funny, but it’s not only a year too late, it’s a gag we’ve heard before. Maybe this is a tradition-in-the-making that needs to be rested.

As for the long song, Running With Scissors‘ “Albuquerque” need fear no competition from Poodle Hat’s “Genius In France”, a little riff on the legends of Jerry Lewis’ popularity in a certain European country. It drags on a bit too long. Like “Albuquerque”, “Genius” has a lot of time and melody changes, almost too many to keep track of – it’s like Weird Al’s doing a medley of original songs we’ve never heard before. And it’s not even as long as “Albuquerque” was…but still, it somehow doesn’t trip my trigger, becoming a bit of a “skip track.”

Now, those two complaints aside, the rest of the album is sheer genius no matter what country you’re in. I’m getting to where I like Weird Al’s originals better than his parodies, and here he puts what may be his best original song ever on display: “Hardware Store”. Not just funny, this song is a masterpiece of vocal performance. And I’m not being sarcastic there – over the years, Yankovic has parodied everyone from Michael Jackson to Madonna to R.E.M., and he couldn’t have done this without an incredibly flexible voice to pull it off, but “Hardware Store” blows away anything I’ve yet heard from him. Wow.

“eBay” is a dead-on (topically speaking) parody of both a Backstreet Boys song and everyone’s favorite (and/or least favorite) online auction service. The whole eBay culture is neatly lined up in Weird Al’s sights for this one, from “check my feedback” to the dreaded sniper bids. “A Complicated Song” neatly shreds Avril Lavigne’s Complicated, though in the course of the song, Yankovic goes from being constipated to decapitated. For those of us who instantly filed this song next to Alanis’ “Ironic” in the relevance department, it’s bliss to hear Weird Al spoof it.

The other big treat here is the “Angry White Boy Polka”, taking a bunch of angsty, supposedly hard-hitting songs and running them through the blender. It’s not quite up to the standard of some of Weird Al’s previous polka-fests, but – and this brings me neatly back to my theory of why, aside from a busy directing and producing schedule, Weird Al has been absent from the scene – maybe this is because what’s on top 40 radio lately just hasn’t provided Weird Al with the kind of fodder he needs. So much sampling of older songs, so 4 out of 4much forgettable stuff crowds the airwaves these days, maybe it’s taken Al this long to come up with enough material to fill an album. And really, it’s a good album – my big quibbles with it aren’t that major, more along the lines of concerns that a formula may be setting in. As much as Weird Al needs decent music for his parodies to thrive, bad music also needs Weird Al to kick it back into line.

Order this CD

  1. Couch Potato (4:20)
  2. Hardware Store (3:46)
  3. Trash Day (3:13)
  4. Party At The Leper Colony (3:40)
  5. Angry White Boy Polka (5:05)
  6. Wanna B Ur Lovr (6:16)
  7. A Complicated Song (3:41)
  8. Why Does This Always Happen To Me (4:54)
  9. Ode To A Superhero (4:54)
  10. Bob (2:31)
  11. eBay (3:38)
  12. Genius In France (8:56)

Released by: Volcano
Release date: 2003
Total running time: 54:54

Weird Al Yankovic – Even Worse

Weird Al Yankovic - Even WorseDoes Weird Al Yankovic love to take his swipes at Michael Jackson, or what? Once again, Al takes aim at Jackson – and tacks on yet another food theme – with “Even Worse”. Now, there’s no song by that title, but te cover art is clearly a spoof of Jackson’s buckle-covered Bad image, quite possibly the last time Jackson wasn’t too weird to be cool (well, arguably). But Bad is transformed into “Fat”, a littany of fat jokes which really worked better with the bizarre video than it does as a stand-alone song. Also not working in Even Worse‘s favor is “Stuck In A Closet With Vanna White”, a tune whose entire point seemed to be to cash in on the Wheel Of Fortune hostess’ then-inescapable ubiquity. (Truthfully, Al missed the mark here – had the song gotten out around 1988, he might’ve had a hit, but that prize went to someone else’s spoof.) “(This Song’s Just) Six Words Long” is a guilty favorite of mine, a spoof of George Harrison’s “(I Got My Mind) Set On You” which pokes fun at the original’s ever-so-slightly repetitious lyric. “You Make Me” seems to be yet another Devo style parody, and falls into the disposable category.

If it’s starting to sound like Weird Al struck out with Even Worse, fear not, it gets better. “I Think I’m A Clone Now” is a subtly amusing parody of Tiffany’s cover of “I Think We’re Alone Now”, right down to the straight-off-the-assembly-line bubblegum pop production sound, and “Lasagna” is a brilliant (and, once again, food-obsessed) take on “La Bamba”, which had just gotten some recent exposure thanks to Los Lobos. “Melanie”, one of my favorite Yankovic originals ever, is a little song sung from a stalker’s point of view, and performed as a catchy pop number a la Elvis Costello’s “Veronica” or later-era Toad The Wet Sprocket.

Yet another cover of a cover, “Alimony” lays waste to Billy Idol’s then-recent cover of “Mony Mony”. “Velvet Elvis” is one of those original songs that I could do without, while “Twister” takes, word-for-word, the original Milton Bradley TV ad for the party game of the same name and twists it into a Beastie Boys-style rap. “Good Old Days” is an original number which sets fire to James Taylor’s signature style of folk-pop and runs away snickering.

Given that In 3-D and Dare To Be Stupid were a couple of my all-time favorite albums at the time, I remember – even in 1990 – somehow expecting more out of Even Worse. For whatever reason, perhaps because rock music was confined to dull arena acts like Poison, pop producers were unleashing teenyboppers with the musical equivalent of pre-fabricated metal shacks, and rap was 2 out of 4starting to take over, Al just didn’t seem like he was firing on all cylinders here. In fact, it seemed like his next couple of CDs weren’t as on-the-mark either, and I was always disappointed that the seemingly obligatory polka medley – still a better demonstration of Yankovic’s musicianship and comic genius than any of his single-song spoofs – was missing.

Order this CD

  1. Fat (3:37)
  2. Stuck In A Closet With Vanna White (5:01)
  3. (This Song’s Just) Six Words Long) (3:37)
  4. You Make Me (3:05)
  5. I Think I’m A Clone Now (3:20)
  6. Lasagna (2:47)
  7. Melanie (3:59)
  8. Alimony (3:16)
  9. Velvet Elvis (4:30)
  10. Twister (1:04)
  11. Good Old Days (3:22)

Released by: Scotti Bros.
Release date: 1990
Total running time: 37:38

Weird Al Yankovic – Dare To Be Stupid

Weird Al Yankovic - Dare To Be Stupid1985. The video game industry had fallen, the last Star Wars movie had unspooled, leaving no sign of a sequel outside from some unpromising Ewok TV movies that somehow lacked the epic sweep of a Jedi duel between good and evil, and new wave music had given way to slickly-produced pop that attempted to mass-produce the synth-based sound that had been so boldly experimental just six years before when Gary Numan gave us Cars. And Weird Al Yankovic? Thank God at least Al was still around, and he had a fresh target: Madonna was on the rise.

This brings us to “Like A Surgeon”, Al’s cuttingly funny take-off of Madonna’s “Like A Virgin”, and the lead single (and first track) on Dare To Be Stupid. Considering that In 3-D had made him a superstar, the follow-up required some serious work to top it. And that it did, complete with some of Al’s best original compositions ever.

Dare To Be Stupid itself is a brilliant rip of the Devo sound, and in some ways even exceeds its inspiration. (Years later in a VH-1 special about Weird Al’s career, Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo confessed that he loved the synth sounds Al used in the song – and hated him from that day forward for “wasting” them on a parody. Get over yourself, Mark. We’ll reserve a room for you in the Shatner suite.) “One More Minute” sets some truly bizarre lyrics to Inkspots-style doo-wop music, while the brilliant “This Is The Life” takes on the big band style that wouldn’t be coming back into vogue for nearly a decade and a half. “Cable TV” is hilarious as well, and in some ways lays the foundation for Al’s movie, UHF.

In the area of parodying specific songs, Weird Al rarely hit the ball over the fence this often in the space of a single album. “I Want A New Duck” is a bizarre spoof which flips the bird to Huey Lewis’ “I Want A New Drug” (and I’ll best Yankovic spent a lot less time apologizing for his song after the fact); food is once again the topic of the Cyndi Lauper-inspired “Girls Just Want To Have Lunch”, and most brilliantly of all, Weird Al does an almost straightforward retelling of The Empire Strikes Back to the tune of the Kinks’ “Lola” in “Yoda” – proof, if any be needed, that Al needs to go back, record some new material, add “Yoda” and “The Saga Begins” to the mix, and tell the entire Star Wars saga through music.

The album is triumphantly capped off with “Hooked On Polkas”, another of Weird Al’s signature polka medleys of songs that were making it big at the time. Among his victims this time around are ZZ Top’s “Sharp Dressed Man”, Kenny Loggins’ “Footloose”, and Nena’s “99 Luftballoons”, to name just three richly-deserving candidates. It’s hard to really put a finger on why Dare To Be Stupid always rocked my world 4 out of 4back then; the only song that doesn’t do a thing for me is “Slime Creatures From Outer Space”, which sounds like a weak attempt to mimic Thomas Dolby’s style circa 1984, but that’s one bad egg out of nearly a dozen – and truth be told, Al foisted worse turkeys on us with Even Worse. Dare To Be Stupid dared to take on an era when rock and pop music was getting less and less interesting, and at least made them funny.

Order this CD

  1. Like A Surgeon (3:32)
  2. Dare To Be Stupid (3:26)
  3. I Want A New Duck (3:04)
  4. One More Minute (4:05)
  5. Yoda (3:58)
  6. George Of The Jungle (1:05)
  7. Slime Creatures From Outer Space (4:23)
  8. Girls Just Want To Have Lunch (2:49)
  9. This Is The Life (3:07)
  10. Cable TV (3:38)
  11. Hooked On Polkas (3:52)

Released by: Scotti Bros.
Release date: 1985
Total running time: 36:59

Weird Al Yankovic – In 3-D

Weird Al Yankovic - In 3-DMy first-ever exposure to Weird Al – actually the same goes for quite a few close, personal friends of Al – was sparked by my interest in “Eat It”, the spot-on parody of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It”. But time, while it hasn’t mellowed me one darn bit, has shown me that there are far, far finer spoofs of pop greatness to be found on Yankovic’s In 3-D.

The great thing about Weird Al’s earliest work was that he had the entire pantheon of rock ‘n’ roll to pick and choose from. Nothing was off-limits – nothing too new or too old. Polkas On 45 is a good example. I’m a sucker for Al’s polka-fied medleys of richly-deserving songs-of-the-moment, but to me, Polkas On 45 is the standard by which all other Weird Al polka medleys must be judged. (I know that’s a rather rarified genre, but stick with me here.) What makes Polkas On 45 all the funnier is that it plucks gems from many years before Al’s rise to the top – everything is fair game: Foreigner (“Hot Blooded”), Talking Heads (“Burning Down The House”), the Beatles Hey Jude, the Doors (“L.A. Woman”), Iron Butterfly (“In A Gadda Da Vida”), and even Deep Purple (“Smoke On The Water”). Some of these songs are well-loved anthems of rock ‘n’ roll, not disposible Spice Girls singles. To put it bluntly, it took some balls to line up some of the greats only to hurl musical meringue pies at them. This one track is worth the price of the whole album.

But aside from wacko Jacko’s finest, Yankovic also helped himself to full-length parodies of Survivor (turning “Eye Of The Tiger” into “The Theme From Rocky XIII” with a chorus of “It’s the rye or the kaiser…”), the Police (“King Of Pain” into “King Of Suede”), and “style parodies” spoofing an artist’s sound but no one specific song: the reggae satire “Gonna Buy Me A Condo” has always made me laugh, especially now that I am old enough to dream of paying rent on a better rental property. Long-time fans will also find the Greg Kihn 4 out of 4Band spoof “I Lost On Jeopardy” here, as well as a non-artist-specific new wave howler, “Mr. Popeil”. Man, to think that there was a time when I wondered who that song was about, back before late-night infomercials. I miss my youth.

But thanks to Weird Al Yankovic’s In 3-D, I can at least temporarily reclaim it.

Order this CD

  1. Eat It (3:19)
  2. Midnight Star (4:33)
  3. The Brady Bunch (2:39)
  4. Buy Me A Condo (3:52)
  5. I Lost On Jeopardy (3:26)
  6. Polkas On 45 (4:19)
  7. Mr. Popeil (4:41)
  8. King Of Suede (4:12)
  9. That Boy Could Dance (3:28)
  10. Theme From Rocky XIII (3:37)
  11. Nature Trail To Hell (5:49)

Released by: Scotti Bros.
Release date: 1984
Total running time: 43:50

Weird Al Yankovic – Running With Scissors

Weird Al Yankovic - Running With ScissorsEasily the weird one’s best effort in many years, this masterpiece’s main selling point for most will be “The Saga Begins”, a more-or-less straightforward (but still funny!) retelling of Star Wars Episode I to the tune of Don McLean’s “American Pie”. But I’m in love with “Polka Power!”, a polka-ized medley of the past three years’ biggest pop hits (on speed). It seems like the past three years have produced more than their share of flash-in-the-pan smash hits which truly sound silly if one thinks about it for more than ten seconds. “Polka Power!” single-handedly takes on the Spice Girls, Chumbawamba, Hanson, the Backstreet Boys, Marilyn Manson, Madonna, and the Beastie Boys, among others. Other parodies include a commentary on Jerry Springer (sung to the tune of Barenaked Ladies’ “One Week”), Grapefruit Diet (another trademark Weird Al “fat” song to the tune of Cherry Poppin’ Daddies’ “Zoot Suit Riot”), and “Pretty Fly For a Rabbi” (to the tune of “Pretty Fly For A White Guy”). And Weird Al parodies 4 out of 4the style, if not any specific song, of Nine Inch Nails in a tune called “Germs”. But the best original tune is the 11+ minute rambling rock extravaganza called “Albuquerque”. I don’t know if the song was improvised, or if Weird Al actually set out to write a number that would take one-sixth of an hour out of your life, but it’s quite entertaining, to put it mildly!

Order this CD

  1. The Saga Begins (5:27)
  2. My Baby’s In Love With Eddie Vedder (3:25)
  3. Pretty Fly For A Rabbi (3:02)
  4. The Weird Al Show Theme (1:13)
  5. Jerry Springer (2:46)
  6. Germs (4:35)
  7. Polka Power! (4:21)
  8. Your Horoscope for Today (3:59)
  9. It’s All About the Pentiums (3:34)
  10. Truck Drivin’ Song (2:27)
  11. Grapefruit Diet (3:30)
  12. Albuquerque (11:22)

Released by: Volcano
Release date: 1999
Total running time: 47:48