“Weird Al” Yankovic’s first single came out in 1979 — and that would technically make him eligible for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
But don’t rent your tux just yet, he says: “I’m not really holding my breath. I think Milli Vanilli has a better chance of getting in, to be honest.”
In that case, Yankovic will have to settle for doing what he does best — making fun of hall
of famers, present and future, and other icons of pop music and popular culture. Proudly calling himself a “parodist,” Yankovic has made the most of a sharp comic wit and three years’ worth of childhood accordion lessons with a string of hit revamps of popular songs.
It started in 1979 with “My Bologna,” a rewrite of the Knack’s “My Sharona,” and has continued through “I Love Rocky Road” (Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock ’n’ Roll”), “Another One Rides
the Bus” (Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust”), “Eat It” (Michael Jackson’s “Beat It”) and “Fat” (Jackson’s “Bad”). George Lucas gave the rare nod for Yankovic to send up “Star Wars” in “Yoda” (the Kinks’ “Lola”) and “The Saga Begins ...,” a retelling of the “Episode I” film set to the tune of Don McLean’s iconic “American Pie.”
Last year Yankovic, 47, delivered the gold-certified “Straight Outta Lynwood,” his highestcharting ever (No. 10 on the Billboard 200) and scored two Grammy Award nominations. Its first single — “White & Nerdy,” a send-up rapper Chamillionaire’s hit “Ridin’ ” — was Yankovic’s first-ever Top 10 single on the Billboard Hot 100 and ranked No. 76 on Blender magazine’s Top 100 Songs of 2006 list.
“Popularity is very important,” the Lynwood, Calif., native says of how he decides what songs he’ll take on. “It makes more sense to parody a song by Chamillionaire than a song by Pancreas Joe & the Animal Leftists or something, you know?
“And hopefully the parodies are funny in and of themselves, even if you’ve never heard the original source material — although it’s always more funny if you have. I like to think I put a lot of quality to my work and that my parodies are repeatable enough that you can listen to them over and over and over.”
Chamillionaire concurs. The rapper not only gives Yankovic props for a good parody but also says the single “helped advance the life of the song. It took it to another level. It definitely solidified it, like, ‘OK, this song “Ridin’,” it’s definitely one of those songs we’re just not gonna be able to forget about.’ ”
Yankovic — who has a 4-yearold daughter, Nina, with wife Suzanne —notes that “generally we have good reaction from the people we parody,” including the late Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, who famously declared that he felt his band had “made it” when Yankovic parodied its “Smells Like Teen Spirit” as “Smells Like Nirvana” in 1992. But there have been a few situations that went awry.
Rapper Coolio claimed he never consented to Yankovic’s parody of his “Gangsta’s Paradise” (as “Amish Paradise” in 1996), though Yankovic says he had been told by a third party that Coolio had given his permission. Eminem allowed Yankovic to turn his “Lose Yourself ” into “Couch Potato” but pulled consent for a video at the last minute, while British troubadour James Blunt’s record company kept Yankovic’s send-up of his “You’re Beautiful” (as “You’re Pitiful”) off of “Straight Outta Lynwood.” Prince, Led Zeppelin and Paul McCartney have turned down Yankovic requests.
But by and large, Yankovic says, “artists usually go along with having the parodies done. It’s certainly a lot easier now than it was when I first started out. Most artists kind of take it as a real tribute to get their ‘Weird Al’ parody, ’cause it’s a sign their career has achieved a certain plateau of success.”
And perhaps the ultimate sign of success for Yankovic is that his own parodies have been parodied by others.
“I’ve actually heard a lot of ‘Weird Al’ parodies from fans and things like that,” he says. “They’ve even parodies some of my original songs. I’ve seen ‘Weird Al’ lookalikes, both professional and amateur.
“That’s all flattering. I make my living mocking other people and lampooning other artists, so I certainly enjoy and appreciate when the favor’s returned.”
“Weird Al” Yankovic performs 8:30 p.m. Thursday (July 5th) on the Motor City Casino Main Stage at the Comerica CityFest in Detroit’s New Center Area. Admission is free. Visit www.comericacityfest.com.
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