Weird Al and the Cycle of Pop Culture

Off The Top of My Head

With the release of a brand new Weird Al album this week, I got to thinking about my personal history with the Great Yankovic’s music and noticed an alarming trend….

When I was a kid I listened to a lot of Disney albums and dinosaur-centered kids’ records. The first album from a specific musical artist I ever received was literally a WEIRD one. An older kid whose mom was friends with my mom gave me my first Weird Al album. And it was a doozy. Dare to Be Stupid.

As a six year old I did know some popular music. I of course knew Michael Jackson, some Madonna, the Bangles “Walk like an Egyptian,” for some reason “Cruel Summer” by Bannanrama sticks in my memory from this era. But I didn’t know much beyond that. The only song I recognized at all from the Dare to be Stupid was the Madonna cover “Like a Surgeon.” I knew “Like a Virgin” from the radio, however to be honest I listened to the Weird Al album so often I still can’t hear the intro to Madonna’s original without singing the lyrics to Yankovic’s parody.

Of the rest of the songs on the album I only vaguely knew “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” so I knew the tune, but I couldn’t even define “parody” well enough to realize Weird Al was lampooning a popular song. The rest might as well have ALL be Al-originals. I didn’t know Huey Lewis beyond Back to the Future and “Lola” was unknown to me but I sure knew Star Wars well enough for Al’s “Yoda” to resonate.

I was an instant fan, whether I knew the original artists or their songs or not.

A couple years later I received Polka Party and the self-titled album. Off this album I knew NONE of the original popular songs but I still know every word to the Al parody, even though I still don’t know what some of the originals ARE. Off of the self-titled, I only recognized the Joan Jett cover of “I Love Rock ‘n Roll” well enough to know “I Love Rocky Road” was indeed a parody of it. Though these albums cover artist from James Brown, and Tom Petty, to Queen, and Mick Jagger I only knew Al.

For a while I forgot Weird Al as a novelty of my youth until I rediscovered him in middle school. I was now more familiar with popular music so when I found old used tapes of Even Worse and In 3D I recognized the songs as older hits. “Bad” and “Fat” were both such big hits they transcended lack of knowledge of Al or Michael Jackson. I also knew the “I Think I’m a Clone Now” track from the cover of “I think We’re Alone Now.” From In 3d Eat it was the huge hit, another I recognized from Michael Jackson, and I recognized a lot of the oldies in “Polkas on 45.” It was nice to know a lot of the music Al was lampooning and it added to the parody as you could see how he changed the song and used the original artist’s music to create a whole new song.

As a teenager I knew the modern popular music of course so when I got Off the Deep End, Alapalooza, and Bad Hair Day, nearly every parodied song I heard I had heard the ORIGINAL first. Often over and over. It wasn’t until this era when I personally realized that, of course, Al parodied the BIGGEST hits of a few years of music. Nirvana, Coolio, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, very well known to me at the time, Al’s tracks were just as great (if not greater) and knowing the newer songs as well as I did made the Al-bums even more enjoyable.

Then something strange happened… Right around Running With Scissors I started to lose touch with popular music again. I knew the songs he was parodying but the original lyrics no longer fought for control in my brain when I heard the Al version. By the time Poodlehat and Straight out of Lynwood arrived I knew OF the songs but can honestly say I never heard “Confessions” or “Ridin” before the Al parodies. Though I did know American Idiot it was the only one I could have named the original title of off of Lynwood.

When Alpocalypse came out I was six years old again. Trying to figure out which of the tracks were parodies and which were Al originals. The additional fallout to this is while walking around whistling “Party in the CIA” to the rest of the world I was jamming to Miley Cyrus…

It’s a strange circle of pop culture life. From not knowing the originals and only know Al’s parodies, to knowing a bit of the originals but more of Al’s, to knowing the originals well AND Al’s, to knowing Al’s parodies better than the originals, and back to ONLY knowing the Weird Al tracks.

It speaks to Al’s longevity and versatility that he has had a successful music career that spans nearly my entire life thus far.

 

I’m eagerly awaiting Al’s latest offering, “Mandatory Fun” though to be honest, even if the track list HAD been leaked, it wouldn’t have mattered…I wouldn’t know the popular originals anyway!

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