“Weird Al” Yankovic: An Essay in Three Parts

We went to see Al about a week ago. I needed to put this down after realizing he’s been performing for close to 3 decades. This is going to be lengthy, so I split it in 3 and because of the different phases of my life this represents.

My first exposure to Al was in grade school. It was bring music to music class day.  Someone brought this record (yes we had albums; not sure if cassettes were available yet; I know they were by high school) with a song that sounded conspicuously like “Beat It” by Michael Jackson.  I asked a buddy who it was; part of the fun was we could guess who and what as part of the learning. My buddy said Crazy Al. I know I thought who the heck was Crazy Al? This was before I’d heard of parodies.

The song was “Beat It” and it was very quirky. Within the next year or two, we would get cable at home. I couldn’t tell you what year that music class was, 2nd or 3rd grade, but I know it was after ’82 when we first had cable. MTV brought a whole new world to my eyes. I had only seen cable TV at other people’s homes, so I was at their mercy of what we watched. At first, I watched a lot of Nickelodeon – You Can’t Do That On Television, Out Of Control, The Tomorrow People, and then the younger shows my sisters wanted to watch. But MTV provided music, in rotation no less, and a visual representation of what I heard. It tied much of movies and other entertainment into music – WWF with Cyndi Lauper (and the Goonies), James Bond with Duran Duran, and, at a stretch of matches, Michael Jackson with “Weird Al” Yankovic.

The first video was “Beat It,” naturally. This was followed by “Like A Surgeon,” “Dare To Be Stupid,” (which leads into the Transformers movie) “Fat,” and classics like “I Lost on Jeopardy” and “I Love Rocky Road.” “This Is the Life” was Al’s first soundtrack song, tying into Johnny Dangerously with Michael Keaton and Joe Piscopo. Moving to the end of the 80s, I lost interest in Al, moving to more serious tastes.

Then CDs became the new media for music. I had started listening to the Dr. Demento show on Sunday nights. On nights when I had to sleep before 10pm, I popped a cassette in my CD/cassette box to record the show. I usually caught most of the show. And that’s where I heard Al again. Little did I know, Al had quite a boost from Dr. Demento. Off the Deep End was Al’s new release and one of the first three CDs I purchased. The other two were Garth Brooks and Hammer (he’d lost the MC by then.) I spent hours remixing the Al songs with the songs he parodied. Ah, the mix tape. Not the traditional version mind you. This was the DJ version, not the I love you kind.

Al had new hits on his hands and I played that CD until I burned out again. I was a fan of the Dr Demento show and it was about this time that Al’s music was showing it could outlast the artists he parodied. UHF.

It would be the mid-90s before I returned seriously to Al again.

Part 2 coming…

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