Deep Album Cuts Vol. 22: "Weird Al" Yankovic

This week, "Weird Al" Yankovic is releasing his 14th album, Mandatory Fun, and I'm looking forward to hearing how he takes on recent hits by Iggy Azalea, Robin Thicke and Lorde. In the meantime, I wanted to look back at his long career thus far as the most successful parodist in pop music history. Like many people who were 10-year-old boys at some point in the '80s or '90s, I can remember the first time I cracked up at a "Weird Al" Yankovic video ("Eat It") or listened to one of his albums over and over (Off The Deep End). I've watched UHF more times than I dare to remember, and eagerly awaited his "Al TV" specials on MTV. I watched his short-lived Saturday morning TV show even though I was 15 at that point.

"Weird Al" Yankovic is almost entirely known for parodies of recent pop hits, recreating the original music while substituting comedic new lyrics, and those comprise pretty much all of his singles that have garnered airplay on the radio or MTV (with some notable exceptions -- "You Don't Love Me Anymore," "Dare To Be Stupid," "Christmas At Ground Zero," etc.). But his albums are generally divided into 4 types of tracks: the aforementioned song parodies, original songs, polka medleys, and 'style parodies.' Those are the songs that mimic the musical and vocal signatures of a particular band but with original words and music, often the kind of alt-rock bands Yankovic himself likes (including R.E.M., Devo, Cake, and a Ben Folds Five style parody with Ben Folds himself on piano). I thought about doing a mix of just one of those categories of song, but it seemed more fun to mix it up just as he does on the albums.

"Weird Al" Yankovic Deep Album Cuts (Spotify playlist): 

1. Hardware Store
2. Theme From Rocky VIII (The Rye Or The Kaiser)
3. Polka Your Eyes Out
4. Yoda
5. Party In The CIA
6. Bob
7. Happy Birthday
8. I Was Only Kidding
9. (This Song's Just) Six Words Long
10. The Biggest Ball Of Twine In Minnesota
11. The Hot Rocks Polka
12. Confessions Part III
13. Frank's 2000" TV
14. The Plumbing Song
15. One Of Those Days
16. Everything You Know Is Wrong
17. Polkarama!
18. Albuquerque
19. The Check's In The Mail

Tracks 7 and 19 from "Weird Al" Yankovic (1983)
Track 2 from "Weird Al" Yankovic In 3-D (1984)
Track 4 from Dare To Be Stupid (1985)
Track 15 from Polka Party! (1986)
Track 9 from Even Worse (1988)
Tracks 10 and 11 from UHF - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack and Other Stuff (1989)
Tracks 3, 8 and 14 from Off The Deep End (1992)
Track 13 from Alapalooza (1993)
Track 16 from Bad Hair Day (1996)
Track 18 from Running With Scissors (1999)
Tracks 1 and 6 from Poodle Hat (2003)
Tracks 12 and 17 from Straight Outta Lynwood (2006)
Track 5 from Alpocalypse (2011)

"Bob" is probably Yankovic's greatest conceptual masterpiece, a Bob Dylan pastiche with lyrics comprised entirely of palindromes. The 11-minute "Albuquerque" is the best and longest of the album-closing epics that have become a signature of later records (the new album apparently ends with a 9-minute track). "I Was Only Kidding" and "Happy Birthday" are both style parodies of Tonio K., and considering how much I like those songs I guess I should check out Tonio K. sometime.

What's surprising, listening back to this mix, is how personal my connections to some of these songs are. Poodle Hat was the first album he released after I started dating my wife, and her little brother and I bonded over a love of Yankovic listening to "Hardware Store" on a family road trip (and John and I remain good friends and bandmates today). The greatest experience I ever had of hearing a "Weird Al" song in the wild happened a while back, during one of the low points of the financial problems I was struggling with a couple years ago. I was in a pawn shop, trying to sell off some of my possessions to pay my bills, and "Eye of the Tiger" came on in the shop. But it wasn't, it was Al's parody, "Theme From Rocky VIII," cheering me up at a moment when I really needed it.

His catalog is not without duds -- "Truck Drivin' Song" is like a carbon copy of Monty Python's "Lumberjack Song" and sometimes he marries a tired premise to a parody of a song everyone forgets within months of its release like Soul Asylum's "Misery." My least favorite style parody is "Wanna Be Ur Lovr," which is kind of a half-assed attempt at Midnite Vultures-era Beck that is neither as funny as Midnite Vultures nor effective as any kind of meta parody of actual R&B music.

I love the polka parodies so much that I could've included all or most of them, but decided to just sprinkle in three. Shout out to "Angry White Boy Polka" and "Bohemian Polka," though. Ultimately I went light on hit parodies -- only 6 here, including a great plumbing-themed medley of Milli Vanilli songs. It's fun to listen to the other stuff and admire that the guy has put in so much work dissecting popular songs of the last 30 years that, when he wants to, he can write a great tune too.

Previous playlists in the Deep Album Cuts series:
Vol. 1: Brandy
Vol. 2: Whitney Houston
Vol. 3: Madonna
Vol. 4: My Chemical Romance
Vol. 5: Brad Paisley
Vol. 6: George Jones
Vol. 7: The Doors
Vol. 8: Jay-Z
Vol. 9: Robin Thicke
Vol. 10: R. Kelly
Vol. 11: Fall Out Boy
Vol. 12: TLC
Vol. 13: Pink
Vol. 14: Queen
Vol. 15: Steely Dan
Vol. 16: Trick Daddy
Vol. 17: Paramore
Vol. 18: Elton John
Vol. 19: Missy Elliott
Vol. 20: Mariah Carey
Vol. 21: The Pretenders
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