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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The complete Weird Al Yankovic catalog reviewed

Posted by Scott

When I was growing up I was a huge "Weird Al" Yankovic fan. I had every one of his cassette tapes(!) I'm not nearly as rabid a fan now, but I'm still excited when he puts out new music. This man has an awesome 18-year catalogue that few artists can match. So I've decided it's time for a review of the complete Weird Al discography. Every original album, rated from 1 to 5 stars, presented in order from best to worst.

It's Al's Sgt. Pepper. One of the best albums of the '90s, period. Smells Like Nirvana was the best song he ever recorded. The original songs are genius: the hilarious acoustic ballad You Don't Love Me Anymore, the well-written rocker When I Was Your Age, and Trigger Happy, a surf-pop song sarcastically celebrating the right to bear arms. Throw in timely parodies of MC Hammer, New Kids on the Block, Milli Vanilli, and Gerardo, and you have a near-perfect album.

This album is notable because it was an absolute disaster on the charts, almost ending Al's career. But strangely it's one of his best works. The parodies are flawless - Living With a Hernia, Addicted to Spuds, Here's Johnny, and Toothless People. And the originals are not bad either. Dog Eat Dog is an appealing song done in the style of Talking Heads; the title track might be Al's best polka medley ever; Good Enough For Now is a funny country song; Christmas at Ground Zero is hilarious for the juxtaposition of a festive melody with apocalyptic lyrics.

UHF (1989)
This one is fun because it's a soundtrack, so it features bits from the movie inserted between songs. Three great parodies of '80s hits - Isle Thing (Wild Thing by Tone Loc), Spam (Stand by REM), and She Drives Like Crazy (She Drives Me Crazy by Fine Young Cannibals.) One notable original - The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota.

Of all the parodies Al has done, It's All About the Pentiums might be the one that sounds most like the original song (the rock remix of Puff Daddy's It's All About the Benjamins.) It's spot-on, with smart lyrics about computers. Truck Drivin' Song, a tale about a cross-dressing truck driver, is just plain stupid, but Albuquerque, a 12-minute nonsensical original, is excellent.

More top-notch parodies - Fat, Lasagna, I Think I'm a Clone Now (Al was way ahead of his time on that one), Alimony, and This Song's Just Six Words Long, a clever takeoff of George Harrison's Got My Mind Set on You. I also love the 47-second Beastie Boys ode, Twister. You Make Me and Melanie are notable originals.

The best parody on this album, and one I didn't like at first, is "Confessions Part III." Al nails all of Usher's vocal idiosyncrasies. "Dont Download This Song" is a brilliant "We Are the World" takeoff - with a choir and fake strings, Al sings bombastically about the evils of downloading. "Trapped in the Drive Thru" is an 11-minute parody of R. Kelly's "Trapped in the Closet." And "Pancreas" is a silly original that is great because of the way it mimics the Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys style.

Highlights - the Devo-esque title track, Like a Surgeon, and Yoda, a parody of the Kinks' Lola, which became a concert staple for years. Also notable here is Yankovic's first great original song, a doo-wop song called One More Minute. A classic moment from that video is Al's head in the middle of the screen, while toilets revolve around him in a circle, as he sings, "I'd rather clean all the bathrooms in Grand Central Station with my tongue than spend one more minute with you."

The best song is Frank's 2000" TV, an original that shows off Al's production skills, with several of his voices layered on top of each other throughout the song. Billy Ray Cyrus, Chili Peppers, and Aerosmith parodies are ho-hum.

This was one of Al's most successful releases due to the smash Amish Paradise, one of his best songs ever. But the originals on this CD are awful. Callin' in Sick, I Remember Larry and I'm So Sick of You aren't the slightest bit funny. The TLC parody Phony Calls is pretty boring too, though it does feature Moe from the Simpsons.

Lame parodies by Eminem, Nelly, Avril Lavigne and Billy Joel. The most intriguing song here is "Bob," a creative Dylan imitation in which Al's lyrics are composed entirely of palindromes.

IN 3-D (1984)
Eat It and I Lost on Jeopardy are the only highlights here. The Survivor and Men Without Hats parodies are vaguely interesting.

No decent original songs on this one, but the parodies are ok - Ricky, I Love Rocky Road, Another One Rides the Bus.

Unreleased track, 2006:
MP3: Weird Al Yankovic - You're Pitiful


Deena said...

Ah, Weird Al. I think every awkward kid somehow identifies with Weird Al, whether it's because someone as odd-looking as him could make it big by playing the accordion or because they just plain don't understand what's so great about popular music. Although I support your top pick, I honestly couldn't tell you when the last time I heard that album was--and I hesitate to go back and listen to it to confirm because, well, I spent so much time convincing myself that I would never listen to MC Hammer, New Kids on the Block, Milli Vanilli, and Gerardo again...

Scott said...

Those were great bands!

BeckEye said...

I love Weird Al. I agree that "Smells Like Nirvana" was his best song, ever! Although I've got a real soft spot for "My Baby's in Love With Eddie Vedder," for obvious reasons.

Scott said...

The funny thing is when that song came out, he started getting all kinds of emails from kids, saying, 'Who's this Eddie Vedder?'

BeckEye said...

Damn kids!

There's a John Hiatt song that references Eddie too - "Little Head."

BigOno said...

I've always been a Weird Al fan. And I'll have to give my vote for "You Make Me" - although not a direct parody, Al admitted it was to pay tribute to Oingo Boingo. I also went to college where we was an Architecture major (yes Architecture), Cal Poly (although I wasn't there when he was, he is a few clicks older than I am). He really got his start at the University radio station, KCPR, which was in the Graphic Arts Building (my major) and recorded "My Bologna" in the department mens bathroom across the hall from KCPR. Here's the link to the Cal Poly article that they recently published. Also met him at a Mark Ryden (a great artist) after party (even weirder looking in person, with a gorgeous blond on his arm).

Scott said...

You Make Me is a great song. 'When I'm with you I don't know whether I should study neurosurgery or go to see the Care Bears movie.'

Adrian said...

You said the entire Weird Al catalog, so I need to ask you, where's the version of Peter and the Wolf that he did with Wendy Carlos?

It's pretty hilarious, though I say that having not heard it in probably 14 years, so who knows actually how funny it is.

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