Music

"Weird Al" Yankovic: The Essential "Weird Al" Yankovic

Three decades after his first accordion-assisted recordings, we're still talking about the Clown King of Pop Music and his continued influence.


"Weird Al" Yankovic

The Essential "Weird Al" Yankovic

Label: Sony/Legacy
US Release Date: 2009-10-26
UK Release Date: 2009-10-26
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When "Weird Al" Yankovic first broke onto the national scene with his parody of the Knack's "My Sharona" in 1979 (titled "My Bologna", naturally), few would have guessed that we would still be talking about him three decades later.

Yet even fewer could've predicted that with his wry, inoffensive pop song parodies, Yankvoic would go on to sell millions of albums, become a three-time Grammy winner (much less get nominated again this year), get his own VH1 Behind the Music special, and continue to sell out concert venues year after year after year. Although parody songs come and go with each passing decade, few have truly cornered the market like Yankovic has, and therein lies his importance: by mocking the popular trends of any given era, Yankovic not only provides a mirror for just how absurd any given musical movement is, he also provides it with its own time-capsule, capturing its essence in satire and preserving it for generations to come.

Although this may seem like a tough responsibility for the curly-haired guy whose weapon of choice is the accordion, this is not a responsibility that Yankvoic takes lightly. Anyone can write a song parody, but writing a good song parody -- much less one that lives alongside its original (or in some cases, even outshines it) -- is a challenge in and of itself. Thus, The Essential "Weird Al" Yankovic marks the first major non-thematic hits compilation for Yankovic since 1994's box set Permanent Record: Al in the Box, and boy how things have changed in those 15 years between sets.

When Permanent Record was released, Yankovic was already eight albums (and one movie) into his career, with his last disc -- 1993's Alapalooza -- having already scored a massive hit in the form of the Red Hot Chili Peppers parody "Bedrock Anthem". When Yankovic returned with 1996's Bad Hair Day, however, the grunge movement was in full effect, and Yankovic positively seized the moment, resulting in what is arguably the most consistent album of his career, giddily mocking gangter rap (the Coolio parody "Amish Paradise"), alternative rock ("Gump"), and even left-field quirk poppers like They Might Be Giants (with the style-parody "Everything You Know Is Wrong").

In listening to these tracks, we begin to see why Yankovic has maintained his universal appeal for so long: he was never mean-spirited about his targets. Being civil, he always asked for the original artists' permission before parodying a song, and frequently juxtaposed the track's original context with a completely absurd new meaning (like taking the dead-serious "Gangsta's Paradise" and reworking it into, well, "Amish Paradise"). The few times he appeared to go after an artist (specifically with how "Smells Like Nirvana" is how no one could decipher Kurt Cobain's mumbled lyrics), he did so with the artist's blessing.

The first disc of The Essential "Weird Al" sums up everything prior to 1994, starting with his first "major" work (the stripped-down Queen parody "Another One Rides the Bus"), and working through Yankovic's polkas ("Polkas on 45"), Michael Jackson parodies ("Eat It", "Fat"), and his first of several elongated story songs ("The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota"). What makes The Essential work so well, however, is the wise choices of track selections. Gone are Yankovic's admittedly "lesser" singles (like his 1984 Dare to Be Stupid ragtime track "This Is the Life", the too-obvious Huey Lewis goof "I Want a New Duck"), and -- in their place -- we have excellent album cuts like Kinks-indebted "Yoda", the Talking Heads riff "Dog Eat Dog", and the R.E.M. goof "Frank's 2000" TV".

With the The Essential's second disc, however, things get a little less consistent, largely due to the fact that Yankovic's output from 1999 onward was all over the place in terms of quality. The right songs are pulled from 1999's Running with Scissors (like "The Saga Begins", "It's All About the Pentiums", and the ska-revival parody "Your Horoscope for Today" -- along with the insanely long "Albuquerque"), but things get dicey when we reach the artistic low-point that is 2003's Poodle Hat. Only three tracks are culled (the best of them being the Backstreet Boys parody "eBay"), two of which are fairly forgettable (the Bob Dylan-styled palindrome fest that is "Bob", the spastic "Hardware Store"). This dip in quality makes for somewhat of an awkward transition into the six tracks that are taken from Yankovic's stellar 2006 disc Straight Outta Lynwood, which includes his first-class Chamillionaire parody "White & Nerdy", the 10-minute "Trapped in the Closet" rip that is "Trapped in the Drive-Thru", as well as a fairly good (but not incredible) American Idol knock ("Don't Download This Song", which -- incidentally -- Yankovic released as a free download).

A straight-through listen of these two discs is breathtaking in scope, as some songs still provide plenty of comedic zing ("Smells Like Nirvana" still rings true) even as they are way past their supposed shelf date. Though, yes, certain references get lost in shuffle of things ("It's All About the Pentiums" can be particularly dated at times) and certain parody subjects are just far too obvious (changing Green Day's "American Idiot" to "Canadian Idiot"? Really?), the bulk of Yankovic's material is as solid as comedy-rock gets, totally nailing R. Kelly's exact inflections on "Trapped in the Drive-Thru" and the acoustic '80s soft-rock vibe on the acoustic (and delightfully outrageous) "You Don't Love Me Anymore". Part of the comedy is in the sheer imitation of it all, but most of the comedy comes from Yankovic himself.

Yet while The Essential does an absolutely stellar job of not only summing up Yankovic's career, but also the numerous ways that pop music has morphed over three decades (covering the Beach Boys to Madonna to Rage Against the Machine to Green Day in the course of two-and-a-half hours), fans and even casual observers will (still) find glaring omissions abound. No "My Bologna"? "Ricky"? "Christmas at Ground Zero"? "This Song's Just (Six Words Long)"? "Money for Nothing/Beverly Hillbillies"? "Achy Breaky Song"? "Here's Johnny"? "I Can't Watch This"? "Harvey the Wonder Hamster"? "Bohemian Polka"? "Headline News"? "Cavity Search"? "Phony Calls"? "Wanna B Ur Lovr"? "Confessions, Part III"? Although not every track that Yankovic ever did was absolutely brilliant (no artist can ever last three decades without making more than a few missteps), do we really need to hear something as fleeting as Yankovic's Brian Wilson homage "Pancreas" when even the theme to The "Weird Al" Show would've fit in just as well?

Fortunately, this quibbles are all rather minor. The Essential "Weird Al" Yankovic is a testament to the comedic genius that Yankovic has maintained over the course of three decades, proving that no matter how seriously we take our music sometimes, there will always be at least one person to pull us aside and remind us just how ludicrous the whole thing is. For that alone, he deserves our thanks.

9

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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