Pause & Play

‘Weird Al’ has a license to shill

Published on Sept. 5, 1999

What does “Weird Al” Yankovic have in common with Santana, Cher, Barry White, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Donna Summer, Kenny Rogers, Jimmy Buffett, Alabama and George Jones?

Well, no, it’s not what you think. They haven’t been skewered recently by the King of Parodies.

Those artists, including Yankovic, are on Billboard’s pop chart this week with new albums, the only artists listed with at least 20 years in the music business.

“Weird Al”?

Yes, it was 20 years ago when a young disc jockey at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo cut his first crudely made recording – “My Bologna,” a spoof of The Knack’s “My Sharona” – in a restroom across the hall from the college radio station.

Dr. Demento took the gawky, bespectacled 20-year-old under his wing, played “My Bologna” on his nationally syndicated radio show and made him a star.

For the past 20 years, Yankovic has made a career out of poking fun of the music industry. Few have escaped his whimsical wrath; fortunately, his victims – from Michael Jackson to The Presidents of the United States of America – are flattered enough to allow it.

Even Yankovic is amazed he has been able to pull the wool over America’s eyes for two decades.

“I’ve got permission to be a culture leech. Who has a better job?” Yankovic said recently. “I can shamelessly follow the trends and nobody can accuse me of selling out, because that’s my gig. That’s what I do.

“But I keep wondering when someone’s going to tell me my 15 minutes are up.”

That won’t happen any time soon, especially after the June 29 release of “Running With Scissors” (Way Moby/Volcano), one of Yankovic’s fastest-selling albums ever. The 10th studio album of his career debuted July 17 at No. 35 on Billboard’s pop chart and, powered by the hilarious video for his Puff Daddy send-up, “It’s All About the Pentiums,” it quickly went gold (selling more than 500,000 copies) and is just days away from platinum status (over 1 million).

Just when you think Yankovic has outlived his usefulness, he pulls another rabbit out of his hat. Who says Trix are for kids?

“I try to pace myself a little bit,” Yankovic said. “I wait until people are screaming and running amok in the streets yelling ‘Where’s the new ‘Weird Al’ record?’ That’s the secret of my success.”

On “Running With Scissors,” he’s at his razor-sharp best on “Pretty Fly For a Rabbi,” satirizing The Offspring’s “Pretty Fly (For a White Guy).” It doesn’t get any funnier than “When he’s doing a bar mitzvah, now that you shouldn’t miss; he’ll always shlep on down for a wedding or a briss/ They say he’s got a lot of chutzpah, he’s really quite hhhhhip; the parents pay the moyl and he gets to keep the tip!”

Normally, Yankovic wouldn’t tackle a song like “Pretty Fly,” but it was too good to pass up.

“The Offspring song was kind of funny to begin with,” Yankovic said. “I thought it was clever, but generally that wouldn’t be my first candidate for a parody because songs that are more self-important and pretentious actually make better fodder for parody.

“Both The Offspring song and the Barenaked Ladies song I do (‘Jerry Springer,’ which lampoons ‘One Week’) are almost, I’m not going to say novelty, but they’re quirky to begin with. But I really like the songs. They definitely jump out at you when you hear them on the radio and in music videos. So I figured, well … at this point in my life, I’m doing songs that I actually really enjoy doing. I’d rather be doing an Offspring or Barenaked Ladies song when I’m 80 years old than ‘Macarena’ on some Las Vegas stage.”

Yankovic can play a mean accordion – if that’s possible – really going to town on the “Polka Power!” medley. In a little over 4 minutes, he salutes 14 hit songs, including the Spice Girls’ “Wannabe,” Smash Mouth’s “Walkin’ On the Sun,” Madonna’s “Ray of Light” and Marcy Playground’s “Sex and Candy.”

On his current North American concert tour, he wows crowds with the frenetic medley.

“We play it with the original videos sped up in sync behind us,” Yankovic said. “It’s pretty hectic and an intense thing to do, but we pull it off every night.”

The hardest part of the recording process, Yankovic said, is securing publishing rights to retreat the hits. “Polka Power!,” in particular, was a logistical challenge, involving nearly 20 entities.

“Every time we do a polka medley, it’s a publishing nightmare,” Yankovic said. “There’s always a dozen or so songs we have to get clearance for. And just look at the publishing information for ‘It’s All About the Pentiums.’ The original Puff Daddy song (‘It’s All About the Benjamins’) had like 12 different publishers because of all the samples and the various people involved. I think the publishing information was longer than the lyrics.

“I always have to go through a lot of red tape for these songs. It’s an ongoing process. I started last year getting permission for the polka medley. I go for like six songs that I think are going to be memorable by the time the album comes out. I add a few more to the wish list. Not all 12 are going to be extremely topical, but there’ll be a few topical.”

Yankovic made music videos for “It’s All About the Pentiums” and “The Saga Begins,” a “Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace” tribute to the tune of Don McLean’s “American Pie.” He doubts he will do one for “Pretty Fly For a Rabbi.”

“The chances of doing another video from the album are pretty slim,” he said. “It all comes down to money. It’s really expensive to do videos, even for a parody. It has to have the production values somewhat similar to the original videos and they spend a lot of money on those videos. Just doing these two videos, I think we spent like five times the amount we spent making the actual album. It’s hard to justify spending a whole lot more on videos.”

Yankovic, who turns 40 on Oct. 24, is resting his brain between shows, swearing off tweaking any other songs till his next album. He is upset, though, for missing the boat on one recent hit.

“Oh, man, Ricky Martin’s ‘Livin’ La Vida Loca’ would be an obvious one to do,” he said, “but he took off just as we were finishing the album. Sorry, Ricky, maybe next time.”

THE FIRST RECORD I EVER BOUGHT: “It was a 45 of the song ‘Classical Gas’ by Mason Williams.”

THE FIRST CONCERT I EVER WENT TO: “Elton John, sometime in the mid-’70s, at the Forum in L.A. He was at the height of his gaudiness. It was sometime after ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ and he was into the flamboyant costumes and the glasses that lit up. He really put on a show. It may have been a small inspiration for the kind of shows I do now, without all the costume changes.”

BWF (before we forget): The “Weird Al” album discography – “‘Weird Al’ Yankovic” (Rock ‘n’ Roll, 1983); ” ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic in 3-D” (1984); “Dare to Be Stupid” (1985); “Polka Party!” (1986); “Even Worse” (1988); “UHF/Original Motion Picture Soundtrack and Other Stuff” (1989); “Off the Deep End” (Scotti Bros., 1992); “Alapalooza” (1993); “Bad Hair Day” (Rock ‘n’ Roll, 1996); “Running With Scissors” (Way Moby/Volcano, 1999); “Poodle Hat” (Volcano/Jive, 2003); “Straight Outta Lynwood” (2006); “Alpocalypse” (2011).

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