I reserve the term “musical genius” for a very limited selection of musicians like George Gershwin, Chuck D and Bruce Springsteen. I add “Weird Al” Yankovic to this list without hesitation. Easily one of the most significant satirists of our generation, Weird Al takes advantage of intellectual property law’s fair use guidelines and converts our beloved pop songs into brilliant, tongue in cheek commentaries. The Essential “Weird Al” Yankovic from the Legacy Essential Series released this fall presents 38 of his career greatest hits.
A true Renaissance song writer, Weird Al spans genres from ska to hip hop to metal and topics from obesity to Star Wars to Santa (little known fact, he also has a degree in Architecture from Cal Poly). Between the release of his 1983 self titled album and 2006’s Straight Outta Lynwood Weird Al has transformed popular music as we know it. Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise” became “Amish Paradise,” the first person narrative of a pleased Pennsylvania Amish on the 1996 album Bad Hair Day. “And I’ve been milkin’ and plowin’ so long that/Even Ezekiel thinks that my mind is gone/I’m a man of the land, I’m into discipline/Got a Bible in my hand and a beard on my chin/But if I finish all of my chores and you finish thine/Then tonight we’re gonna party like it’s 1699.”
In “The Saga Begins” off of 1999’s Running with Scissors, Don McLean’s “American Pie” becomes the tune for a vivid retelling of Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace. Weird Al croons, “Did you know this junkyard slave/Isn’t even old enough to shave/But he can use the Force, they say/Ah, do you see him hitting on the queen/Though he’s just nine and she’s fourteen/Yeah, he’s probably gonna marry her someday.”
Some of Weird Al’s songs are less obvious. “Pancreas” off of 2006’s Straight Outta Lynwood discusses the functions and beauty of the pancreas to a medley of Brian Wilson songs including the Beach Boys’ “Our Prayer,” “God Only Knows,” “Heroes and Villains,” “Good Vibrations,” “I Just Wasn’t made for These Times” and Brian Wilson’s solo songs “Roll Plymouth Rock” and “Wind Chimes” from Smile. It’s both informative and charming: “My spleen just doesn’t matter/Don’t really care about my bladder/But I don’t leave home without/My pancreas/My pancreas is always/There for me/Secreting those enzymes/Secreting those hormones too/Metabolizing carbohydrates/Just for me.”
Other incredible metamorphoses include Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust” into “Another One Rides the Bus,” Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” into “Eat It,” “Smells like Teen Spirit” into “Smells like Nirvana,” Backstreet Boys’ “I Want it that Way” into “eBay” and my personal favorite, “Ridin’” by Chamillionaire and Krayzie Bone into “White & Nerdy” (how can I not adore a song with references to comic books, editing Wikipedia, Star Trek, Ren Faires, fanny packs and Dungeons & Dragons?).
A multi instrumentalist, Weird Al usually sticks to accordion. Standing 6’0’’ tall and weighing 175 pounds, the lanky singer song writer is famous for his long, dense, curly locks and his impeccable ability to transform into various characters for music videos and performances.
Three Grammy wins (nine nominations), six platinum records and four gold records in addition to a collection of Billboard hits speak to the impact Weird Al has had on music and the world. The Essential “Weird Al” Yankovic is not to be missed. Buy it for yourself or a loved one as soon as humanly possible. It’s available on CD and digitally.