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ARTISTS WE LOVE – It’s About to Get “Weird,” Al Yankovic

Warning: the following article may contain multiple versions of the same pun on the word “weird.” You’re welcome.

On July 20, 1969, in a first for humanity, the preservation of society and the progress of civilization itself, mankind landed on the moon.

Almost 10 years prior to that, on Oct. 23, 1959, a much more historically significant event would occur when Alfred Matthew Yankovic, better known by his moniker “Weird Al” Yankovic, was born, and the world as we knew it got a whole lot weirder.

To celebrate National Accordion Awareness Month (which is definitely something that was not made up just for this post and has been celebrated in June since 1989, we swear), let’s take a deep dive into the musical stylings of one Mr. Yankovic, foremost song parodist and internationally renowned accordion player.

Yankovic seemed destined for greatness – uh, “weirdness” – from the start. Yankovic grew up in a very supportive household, with his father Nick Yankovic believing that the key to success was “doing for a living whatever makes you happy.” As it turns out, what made Yankovic happy was playing the accordion and writing comedic songs.

Yankovic would learn to play the accordion after a traveling salesman offered accordion or guitar lessons at a local music school and his parents chose the accordion because, according to Yankovic, “they were convinced it would revolutionize rock.”

Weird Al performing “Polkas on 45” on tour (1984).

Yankovic’s music obsession would only continue to grow, and as a teenager he became a fan of the Dr. Demento Show. His first true brush with fame would occur in 1976, when at the age of 16 he sent in a tape of his songs to the radio show. Dr. Demento played one of his tracks called “Belvedere Cruisin’”, about the Yankovic family’s Plymouth Belvedere.

In college Yankovic became a disc jockey for a local radio station, and after hearing the hit song “My Sharona” by The Knack he recorded a parody called “My Bologna” in a bathroom at his college. Dr. Demento played “My Bologna” on his show, and it became a hit. Yankovic earned a record deal at Capitol Records, and his music career officially began.

Yankovic’s first television appearance in 1981, performing “Another One Rides the Bus” on The Tomorrow Show.

With each successive parody hit Yankovic’s popularity grew and grew. In 1984 he released his second album Weird Al Yankovic in 3D which would include his biggest hit single at that time, “Eat It”, a parody of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It.. Jackson was a huge fan of Yankovic’s parodies and even let him use the same set for Yankovic’s music video for his parody of “Bad,” “Fat.”

Though Yankovic’s parodies were mostly well-received by the original artists, there were some notable exceptions. Coolio was not pleased with 1996’s “Amish Paradise,” a sendup of his song “Gangster’s Paradise,” despite Yankovic getting approval from Coolio’s label to record the song. Since then, Yankovic has made sure that he receives direct permission from the artist themselves before recording any of his song parodies.

Perhaps most infamous is Prince’s refusal to let Yankovic record numerous song parodies of his work. Reportedly this even led to Yankovic being told that he could not make eye contact with Prince as they were sitting in the same row at an awards show.

In 1989, Yankovic released an original film called UHF; a passion project of his. It unfortunately opened to lukewarm reviews and did not do well at the box office. Nonetheless, the movie has been critically re-evaluated in the years since and has gained a cult following.

Film poster for UHF (1989).

Yankovic’s next major parody success would occur in 1992 with “Smells Like Nirvana,” a spoof of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” He would continue to release modestly successful albums in the years following but wouldn’t gain another major hit until 2006, with his biggest hit single to date, “White & Nerdy.”

Yankovic’s latest album, Mandatory Fun, was released in 2014 to critical acclaim and became his first No. 1 album ever. Since then, Yankovic has remained a constant fixture in popular culture. He has toured numerous times in the last decade, most recently in 2022 with the Unfortunate Return of The Ridiculously Self-Indulgent, Ill-Advised Vanity Tour, where he highlighted many of his lesser-known songs.

Yankovic’s recent tours have highlighted his original comedy songs, all of which can be found in the above playlist.

In 2022, Yankovic would return to filmmaking with the release of his biopic Weird: The Al Yankovic Story. Expanded on from a 2010 Funny or Die video with a similar premise, Weird is a comedic sendup of musician biopic films, retelling Yankovic’s life story with extremely embellished details (just one example to show how far out the story gets – the film ends with Yankovic being assassinated by Madonna’s henchmen directly after receiving the Best Accordion Player in a Very Specific Genre of Music award). The film was released to critical acclaim and won multiple awards, including a Critics’ Choice Television Award for Daniel Radcliffe, who played Yankovic in the film.

So now you know a little more about the artist known as “Weird” Al Yankovic. Rest assured, we’ve only scratched the surface, and if you’re inclined to learn more there are plenty of places to start. Hopefully you’ll take a little bit of the “Weird” we’ve shown you today and go even further, because more “Weird” is never a bad thing.

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