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''Weird Al'' Yankovic: The Stories Behind the Songs

On the cusp of his 14th album, ”Mandatory Fun,” the 54-year-old Clown Prince of Parody hops in the way-back machine for a spin through some of his most gut-busting hits

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”My Bologna,” 1979
”I was a college radio DJ, and every other request on the phone line was for the Knack’s ‘My Sharona.’ I had a stupid idea to make it a song about lunch meat, and I took my accordion across the hall because the bathroom had this acoustically perfect tiled vibe, the old Bathroom Wall of Sound. I sent it to [syndicated-radio personality] Dr. Demento in hopes that he would play it, and it became a big hit on the show. Back in those days, I didn’t ever think this was going to be released on an album, so contacting the original artists was the furthest thing from my mind. I thought, ‘They’re never gonna hear this — why even bother them?’ But it turns out the Knack did hear it, and when I snuck backstage at a Knack concert later that year and talked to [frontman] Doug Fieger, I introduced myself as the guy that did ‘My Bologna’ and he said, ‘Oh, I love that song.’ He turned to his right to a guy who happened to be the vice president of Capitol Records at the time and said, ‘You should put this guy’s song out.’ And they did! It was pretty crazy. As you can imagine, for a guy going for his architecture degree at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, that was pretty heady stuff. When I found out that it had been number one for two weeks in a row on the Dr. Demento Funny Five, I thought, ‘Well, it’ll never get better than this! I’ve reached my peak.”’

”Eat It,” 1984
”It was pretty obvious back then that Michael Jackson was the biggest star in the universe. Everything revolved around him. ‘Eat It’ is not that clever a variation on ‘Beat It.’ It’s probably the most obvious pun. If YouTube had existed in 1984, there would have been a million ‘Eat It’ parodies. [But] it really was a bona fide hit — number one in Australia, number 12 in the States. If it hadn’t been for Michael Jackson, I don’t know that I would have a career to this day, because getting permission from him in 1984 opened a whole lot of doors for me. Prior to that, we were getting a lot of resistance from people who were like, ‘I don’t know about this ”Weird Al” guy.’ But after we were able to tell them, ‘Michael Jackson didn’t seem to have a problem with it,’ they were like, ‘Well, sure! If it’s okay with Michael, it certainly should be okay with me.’ Up until [the 2006 Chamillionaire parody] ‘White & Nerdy,’ that was my biggest hit. And it really put me on the map after the ‘Eat It’ video went into heavy rotation on MTV, to the point where I was continually stopped on the street and pointed at as the ‘Eat It’ guy. I had two videos on prior to ‘Eat It’ — ‘Ricky’ and ‘I Love Rocky Road.’ Both of them got rotation, mostly because MTV needed videos. They weren’t anything terribly special or funny, but MTV had a bit of a problem in that they decided in 1981 to start a 24-hour music-video channel and there weren’t a lot of music videos around. They were going, ‘Gee, I wish somebody would make some videos!’ So anybody who submitted videos to them, they were happy to put them in the pipeline. I got a lot of early airplay even though I maybe didn’t deserve to back then.”

”Fat,” 1988
”I would say I was friendly with Michael, but I wouldn’t say we were close or anything like that. I had met him maybe two times. I had never gone bowling with him or anything. He was always very sweet and supportive. He allowed me to do both ‘Eat It’ and ‘Fat,’ and he let me use his subway set when we shot the ‘Fat’ video. That was a lot of effort for the special-effects people. It was old-school. This was 1988, and the shot where my face literally expands — these days that would be an easy CGI job. But back then, they had to glue these latex bladders onto my cheeks with tubes running down my back and through my pant legs, and there were two special-effects artists literally blowing through tubes by my feet to inflate my face. It worked and it was effective. In fact, and this isn’t available anywhere as a deleted scene, on the take that we used, I had them blow up my face until my face literally exploded. I don’t know if you’ve ever had your face explode, but it’s quite a feeling.”

”Smells Like Nirvana,” 1992
”I was a big fan of Nirvana’s, and they were one of those bands where I watched their videos on MTV and thought, ‘I would love to do these guys, but they’ll never be popular enough to parody.’ I never thought in a million years they’d be the defining act of the decade. I was thrilled when they hit number one because that meant I could do a Nirvana parody. That was a thrill for me, and it’s still one of my favorite songs to do live. I loved the whole grunge and indie movement of the ’90s. I kind of wish we’d go back in that direction.”

”Amish Paradise,” 1996
”That was one of my favorite videos, and still is to this day. My mom and my dad are in it, and some uncles and aunts, playing Amish people. They’re cheaper than extras. And Florence Henderson! I had to make the creative call: Do I want Michelle Pfeiffer, or do I get Florence Henderson? You gotta go with the Flo, as they say. Coolio contends he never gave permission [for his hit ‘Gangsta’s Paradise’]; my record label contends that he did. But I ran into him a couple of years ago at a trade show, and we hugged it out. They made such a big deal about that in my Behind the Music special, because there’s not a whole lot else to talk about. There’s just not a lot of conflict in my life. I think I was a disappointment for them, because they had this arc [on the show] where they went, ‘…And then things went horribly wrong.’ That just never happened. I think my joke about it was that my fourth album didn’t sell as well as my third, so I had to buy the medium-size Jacuzzi.”

”The Saga Begins,” 1999
”The comic Brian Posehn has a whole bit in his act where he talks about playing my stuff for his kids but he won’t play them Michael Jackson, so years later they’ll be in college and hear Michael Jackson and think, ‘This guy’s totally ripping off ”Weird Al”!’ A lot of people who aren’t maybe that tapped into pop culture, they learn about pop music from my albums in a reverse way. My albums are sort of like time capsules of all the biggest hits from the last couple of years. Like when I did my Star Wars song, ‘The Saga Begins,’ in 1999, which was a parody of Don McLean’s ‘American Pie.’ Most kids of the Radio Disney age aren’t familiar with a hit from 1971. They just think, ‘Oh, Al’s got this song about Star Wars.’ What happened was the next year, after my song came out, Madonna did, like, a disco cover version of ‘American Pie,’ and all these kids were going, ‘How come Madonna is doing an unfunny version of a ”Weird Al” song? That’s bizarre!”’

”Genius in France,” 2003
”I put this at the end of an album because it’s a long song, but it was a real labor of love. It was obviously meant to sound like early-to mid-’70s [Frank] Zappa. I think having [his son] Dweezil Zappa play the opening guitar lick adds a little more authenticity to it. If you add up all the time I spent on that one song, it’s probably two or three months out of my life. Zappa is one of my all-time heroes, so there was this extra pressure — you don’t want to mess up. My Mount Rushmore of inspirations would probably be Stan Freberg, Spike Jones, Tom Lehrer, and Allan Sherman, but Zappa is way up there too. I heard the Apostrophe album when it came out in the early ’70s, and that was a huge inspiration to me.”

”Trapped in the Drive-Thru,” 2006
”’Trapped in the Closet’ was already so far out in left field that a parody seems redundant, so I made it as banal as possible. I took this wild story and made it about a couple trying to figure out where to go to dinner and ended up at the drive-through. It was this highly dramatic 10-minute song basically about nothing. I haven’t gotten any direct feedback from R. Kelly, but I know that he obviously approved it. In fact, I found out that because it was so long, he was entitled to an additional payment, but he waived it. He was nice enough to lower his rate on it so I could add another song to my album.”

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