PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

Weird Al Yankovic remains a master at musical manipulation

Brian VanderBeek
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

MODESTO, Calif. — For 35 years, listeners to Weird Al Yankovic have focused on his words.

Of course, that is the stock in trade for every performer whose livelihood is based on putting new words to already-successful melodies and styles, and Yankovic is the all-time undisputed champion of that sparsely populated genre.

But as Yankovic’s craft has developed from the early accordion-based song parodies, through his full cinematic years on MTV and into the current stage of his career, his clever words have been paired with a equally strong force.

The guy has put together a fierce backing band. Yankovic’s recordings have sold more copies than any other comedy act in history.

The long curls and Hawaiian shirts remain the visual trademarks of the 52-year-old architecture degree-holding Cal Poly grad, and he’ll still strap on the accordion for a large chunk of the show.

But as he has displayed since his early albums and continues in his 13th studio effort, the June release “Alpocalypse,” the full Weird song treatment includes an uncanny reproduction of the original music. In many ways, when Yankovic takes over a song, it’s more of a musical tribute than many pure “tribute” bands have the chops to muster.

“We put a lot of attention to those musical details and the band knows the drill, that we’re trying to emulate the music as closely as possible,” Yankovic said in a phone interview.

“The joke now is to sucker the people into thinking they’re hearing the original song, before taking a left-hand turn. We get complements from the bands and artists about the way we’re able to pick their songs apart, even picking up the nuances they threw into their recordings. We duplicate that exact sound the best we can.”

That’s more difficult than it may seem when you consider the range of styles the Weird Al show will present.

The current tour includes Yankovic’s words to a wide scope of artists. A Miley Cyrus hit becomes “Party in the C.I.A.,” Green Day’s song is turned into “Canadian Idiot,” Michael Jackson becomes “Fat,” Nirvana “Smells Like Nirvana,” and the new showstopper from Lady Gaga morphs into “Perform This Way.”

Each is presented in Yankovic’s own celebration-of-all-things-nerdy style, with frequent costume changes, big-screen videos and, above all, with a family-friendly style that has been another key to Yankovic’s longevity as a performer.

“The nice thing about my show is that it appeals to age groups at a different levels,” Yankovic said. “The younger kids might enjoy the costume more, and the older fans probably get more out of the classic rock.

“We do the same kind of tour all the time, but each one gets bigger and better and more elaborate as we incorporate more recent material. We just try to step it up every time out.”

The biggest change in Yankovic’s act has come in the business side, well away from the spotlight.

“Alpocalypse” sold 44,000 units in the week of its debut. By comparison, his 1996 release, “Bad Hair Day,” which included his controversial “Amish Paradise” Coolio parody, sold more than 1.3 million copies in the U.S. alone.

His new release charted at No. 9 on the Billboard 200, the highest position ever for a Yankovic release, underscoring that long gone are the days in which an act can survive on album sales alone.

“I tour now about the same amount as I always have, but touring now is my bread and butter,” Yankovic said. “It used to be you’d tour to sell your records, and now you sell records so you can tour. As you may have heard, the recording industry isn’t doing so well these days.”

But the sales or lack thereof have not affected the Yankovic live show, which remains unwaveringly entertaining and firmly based in clever words set to familiar music, faithfully performed.

“It’s a good time,” Yankovic said. “I try to give people their money’s worth. It’s a rock show and it’s a comedy show and it’s a good time for all ages.”

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.


Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.


Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.


Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.


Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.


In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.


The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.


The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.


The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.


When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.


20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.


The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.


Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.