When it comes to parody prowess, there's no one in the same universe as "Weird Al" Yankovic. Since the early '80s, he's dominated the musical comedy realm and proved to have more enduring pop cultural relevance than most of the chart-toppers whose songs he turned into comedic fodder. How many other artists get their first No. 1 album with their 14th record, 31 years after their debut album? None. Except Weird Al, who did so with 2014's Mandatory Fun.
Weird Al returns to Spokane this week when "The Unfortunate Return of the Ridiculously Self-Indulgent, Ill-Advised Vanity Tour" stops at the Fox on June 24. Having seen the first version of the tour, it's really designed for Weird Al diehards. This isn't the show with a million costume changes and all the hit parodies (hence the "ill-advised"). Instead, Al and his band strip things down and play mostly the deeper album cuts (hence the "self-indulgent") that the true nerds hold dear.
With that in mind, it felt like a good time to look at the best original tunes in the weird one's catalog. While the send-ups of pop hits might get most of the attention, there are non-parody gems (30-plus of 'em) from across his catalog that most non-hardcore fans might overlook. For the exercise, I'm allowing broad genre spoofs but excluding direct song parodies and style pastiches that are clearly aping a singular artist's style, which unfortunately disqualifies Weird Al classics like "Everything You Know is Wrong" (They Might Be Giants), "Dare to Be Stupid" (Devo) and even "Albuquerque" (The Rugburns).
Here's the best of Weird Al when he's left to his own devices.
10. "GOOD ENOUGH FOR NOW" (Polka Party!, 1986)
While those old-time country crooners had a way to melt hearts, Weird Al's country ballad takes the opposite tack, with the singer making an ass of himself by being too honest and saying he feels like he's completely settling by being in a relationship with his current lady friend.
9. "ATTACK OF THE RADIOACTIVE HAMSTERS FROM A PLANET NEAR MARS" (UHF, 1989)
While some might object to the exclusion of "UHF" from this list (it woulda been No. 11), it's not the best Al original on the cult classic film's soundtrack. That honor would go to this over-the-top rocking tale of extraterrestrial kaiju hamsters wreaking havoc on the globe, which allows Al to revel in his wacky storytelling.
8. "SPORTS SONG" (Mandatory Fun, 2014)
There is nothing less funny than a non-sports fan attempting to be chiding by using the term "sportsball." If you're gonna make fun of sports, go the Weird Al route. This marching band song captures the absurdity of fandom by making a rallying cry out of literalist language. In the end it's truly a "We're great! And you suck!" tribalist mentality, after all.
7. "CHRISTMAS AT GROUND ZERO" (Polka Party!, 1986)
Here's a not-so-hidden secret: Weird Al has a much darker, more twisted comedic perspective than is evident on his biggest parodies. That fact shines through on his originals. Never was this clearer than when his record label asked him to do a Christmas song and he gave them this holiday earworm about yuletide nuclear annihilation masked by a deceptively cheery wall-of-sound holiday backing.
6. "THIS IS THE LIFE" (Dare to Be Stupid, 1985)
Well before bling rap culture got going, Weird Al brought the same braggadocious wealth-flaunting energy (solid gold Cadillacs, Perrier baths, women lined up at his door) to this catchy 1920s/30s jazz number.
5. "YOUR HOROSCOPE FOR TODAY" (Running with Scissors, 1999)
Mixing the equally silly realms of astrology and third-wave ska, this jaunty tune finds Al listing off everyone's bleak horoscopes to a skank-worthy soundtrack. Mocking the universality of the cosmic predictions by making them extremely specific (giving Meryl Streep a hickey, being impaled by a javelin) and presenting them with bouncy enthusiasm underlines their ridiculousness.
4. "YOU DON'T LOVE ME ANYMORE" (Off the Deep End, 1992)
Few things are more of a comedic layup than an idiot being totally oblivious to the world around them. This soft songwriter ballad highlights a fool completely not taking the hint that his ex might not like him despite their piranha attacks, poisonings and claims that he's an ugly antichrist. Keep being willfully obtuse, you dummy.
"WEIRD AL" YANKOVIC ALBUMS RANKED1. Dare to Be Stupid
3. Off the Deep End
4. Running With Scissors
5. Mandatory Fun
6. Bad Hair Day
7. "Weird Al" Yankovic in 3-D
8. Even Worse
9. "Weird Al" Yankovic
10. Straight Outta Lynwood
11. Poodle Hat
14. Polka Party!
3. "THE WEIRD AL SHOW THEME" (Running with Scissors, 1999)
It's a crime Weird Al's Pee-Wee's Playhouse-esque Saturday morning CBS kids show only lasted one season (it maybe came around too early, as it's far easier to see it catching on in the streaming age). Regardless, the theme song holds up even when removed from the context of the show actually being real. Backed by zany sound effects and banjo, Al channels his peak hyperkinetic self to tell the full lore of landing his own TV show (with plenty of goofy extraneous details: women with spatula tattoos, his jelly bean-and-pickle sandwich-making prowess, etc.) in just over a minute, and has an absolute blast doing so.
2. "SINCE YOU'VE BEEN GONE" (Bad Hair Day, 1996)
No, Weird Al didn't write Kelly Clarkson's biggest hit (that one has a "U" in the title). This short a capella group number offers up evocative descriptions about how much pain Al has been in since his lover left. Heartbreak can garner plenty of laughs when compared to tin foil chewing, ice cream headaches, and sticking one's head in a blender. After the array of awful descriptions, the ending salvo that "I feel almost as bad as I did... when you were still here" is a flawless comedic twist.
1. "ONE MORE MINUTE" (Dare to Be Stupid, 1985)
A note-perfect doo-wop tune provides the ideal ground for Al to go full hyperbolic exaggeration to describe the devastation of heartbreak while trying to throw up a facade of I'm not even upset I'm glad I don't have to be around you. What starts as normal jilted lover fodder (torn pictures) takes a turn for the gleefully absurd which includes arson, eating shards of glass, self-disembowelment, and bathroom cleanings with his tongue to express just how much he's totally not upset. It remains a timeless original that holds up as well as Weird Al himself. ♦
"Weird Al" Yankovic, Emo Philips • Fri, June 24 at 8 pm • $40-$85 • Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox • 1001 W. Sprague Ave. • foxtheaterspokane.org • 509-624-1200