Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Weird Al is a genius

Considering the news that "Weird Al" Yankovic has just earned his first number one album, I figured it would be a good time to write that tribute to him that's been gestating in my head for several years now.

Like most people my age, I first heard of "Weird Al" with the release of "Eat It". I was in fourth grade, and I thought that it was hilarious. I remember that a friend of mine had the cassette of his entire album, and he let me borrow it. I liked almost all of the songs, but I had trouble figuring out all the songs that were being parodied, not realizing that many of his songs were originals and were simply funny in their own right. (Apparently sometimes he also does "style parodies", which is what you get with "Dare to be Stupid", a parody of Devo.) 

I don't own many vinyl albums. I probably have about six or seven out in the garage somewhere, but two of them are from "Weird Al": Dare to be Stupid, and Fat. While I haven't picked up every one of his releases over the years, I also have owned Off the Deep End and Alapalooza on cassette. Plus, I just purchased his latest, Mandatory Fun, which is awesome, as an MP3 download. Needless to say, Mr. Yankovic has been a part of my life for about thirty years now, and it's great to see him finally get a number one.

I recall my uncle saying that there wasn't any point in buying a "Weird Al" album, because once you hear the songs a few times and catch all the jokes, the appeal of them is over. It may be true that the line "How come you're always such a fussy young man? Don't want no Cap'n Crunch don't want no Raisin Brain. Don't you know that other kids are starving in Japan?" will eventually stop being funny. (I'll let you know when it is, 'cause that hasn't happened yet.) But there's much more to his music than just the silly lyrics (often about food). 

Let's face it, even if you're a big fan of lyrics, there are times when you're just listening to the music. In this case, the music to "Smells Like Nirvana" is just as enjoyable as "Smells Like Teen Spirit" only there are funny animal sounds thrown around there to put a smile on your face.

More importantly though is when you listen to his originals, you realize that he's a pretty damned good musician/songwriter in general. People tend to overlook this because of the fact that his lyrics are (deliberately) silly, so they take the whole thing as a joke. But there are plenty of musicians out there whose lyrics are (unintentionally) silly, and yet they're taken seriously. Hey, I'd argue that the lyrics to "Achy Breaky Song" are LESS silly than the lyrics to "Achy Breaky Heart". But why do silly lyrics somehow cancel out the cleverness of the music? They don't, but I tend to be of the mind that people don't necessarily listen to music very carefully in the first place, so that explains that. 

Case in point of a catchy song - I'm loving "First World Problems" off of his current album. That's as catchy a song as can be, and there are a lot of interesting things going on if you pay attention.

I'm not the only one who thinks this. Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo thought the following about "Dare to be Stupid":
I was in shock. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard. He sort of re-sculpted that song into something else and, umm... I hate him for it, basically.

It also should be noted that Kurt Cobain thought that the man was a genius. You gonna argue with Cobain? I ain't. The man has outlasted most of the people he's parodied, and he's proven himself a master of pretty much every single style of popular music - plus polkas. Case closed.

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