Where to begin? Weird Al’s work has been a cultural constant for decades, spanning fourteen studio albums, forty-six singles and dozens of perfectly placed farm animal sounds. I was first exposed as a kid in the ‘90s, and songs like “Dare To Be Stupid” and “Albuquerque” blew my nascent comedy brain wide open on long car rides as I tried to hold my CD player still so it wouldn’t skip. The brilliant strangeness of his original work and “style parodies” aside, however, Weird Al is best known for his clear-cut, 1:1 parody takes on popular songs. Here are ten that are better than their inspiring work. Remember, as Al himself has said, “mashed potatoes can be your friend.”
“I Love Rocky Road”
Let’s start with one of Al’s earliest hits, off the debut, self-titled album. Not only did “Rocky Road” introduce a generation of listeners to a fantastic ice cream flavor accessible to every palate, it perfectly nailed the lip-curling, joyfully stupid angst of “I Love Rock and Roll” as performed by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts (who themselves were covering an earlier version by British band The Arrows). From the first sputtering lines – “I hear those ice cream bells and I start to drool/I keep a couple of quarts in my locker at school,” Al’s got our sugar-addled brains hooked. The sublime and sincere stupidity of the narrator in “Rock Road” is beautiful, because ice cream is absolutely cooler (don’t pardon the pun) than putting coins in jukeboxes or whatever. “Have another triple scoop with me”? You’re damn right I will.
Weird Al is a huge Kinks fan, hence this sizzling and informative take on their hit song “Lola.” Originally recorded for an earlier release, it took roughly five years for Weird Al’s camp to secure the rights from George Lucas et al. A chance encounter with Ray Davies cleared the final hurdle and the song was placed on Al’s third album, “Dare To Be Stupid,” released in 1985. “Yoda”, like the later Don McClean parody “The Saga Begins”, is an essential listen for Al fans and Star Wars nerds alike. The song’s narrator, presumably Luke Skywalker/Mark Hammill, presciently sings “but I know that I’ll be coming back someday/I’ll be playing this part ‘till I’m old and grey”. Every bit as exciting and forward-thinking as Da Vinci’s sketch of a helicopter. A great (and weird) mind at work.
This 1996 parody of the Coolio (RIP, see you when we get there) hit replaces “gangsta’s” with the likes of Jebediah, Ezekiel and Jacob. While Coolio would at first balk at the song (permission had been given to parody the song by the record company, not the artist himself), he eventually came around to celebrating the work years later. “Amish Paradise” features what is perhaps the single best introduction to a verse in music history, when Al sings “A local boy kicked my in the butt last week/I just smiled at him and I turned the other cheek.” A brilliant couplet rivaled only by the likes of Shakespeare, Milton, and pre-publically-anti-semetic Kanye West.
The original song which inspired this take is by a band called (ugh) Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, and it’s about zoot suits and combing your hair and shit. Weird Al’s version, about being large and trying to cut down by eating grapefruits, is clearly better. That isn’t to say it’s “good,” but it is clearly better than a song by a dumb ska band about dumb suits. A slightly more palatable earworm than the original.
“White & Nerdy”
“What if white guy does rap” is a well-worn trope in comedy music (paging: The Lonely Island), and results can range from cringe inducing to “ok he did ‘Eat It’ though,” and here Al profoundly eats. No crumbs. Everyone else doing the bit can go home. While he won’t be featuring on mix tapes any time soon, Weird Al’s pitch-perfect and sincere parody of the Chamillionaire Grammy-winning hit while leaning into the trope is another high point in his career, and likely brought a new generation of kids into the Weird tent (which sounds worse than I meant it). Don’t take it from me – Chamillionaire even placed the parody on his Myspace page, commenting that Weird Al was actually “pretty good” on the track.
“Party In The C.I.A”
A somewhat tame but still political take on the Miley Cyrus hit “Party In The U.S.A”, this parody takes aim at the intelligence community’s history of destroying evidence, destabilizing countries and torturing captives for “quick confessions.” While Cyrus wrote a banger of a melody, the original is a little too sweet for my taste. “Party In The C.I.A” is a great way to enjoy the catchy tune while also (ever so slightly) sticking it to the man. A great way to introduce younger people to the dangers of unchecked imperialism AND Miley Cyrus. What more could you want?
“Smells Like Nirvana”
Let me just say up top that Kurt Cobain thought this parody was great. Coming a year after the Nirvana hit went platinum, “Smells Like Nirvana” showcases Al’s ability to quickly digest and regurgitate pop culture in a clever but sincere way. The music video is an ode to the original, and worth checking out as well. I think the single goat bleat during a pause in chunky riffs is perhaps the high watermark of American humor in the 20th century. Sublime. I mean, Nirvana.
“Chicken Pot Pie”
This parody of “Live and Let Die” by Paul McCartney never saw the light of day, but clips of live performances of the song are available on YouTube. Apparently the famously meat-avoidant McCartney refused to give Weird Al permission to go forward with the song as it advocated (quite strenuously) for the deliciousness of the titular fowl-based dish. McCartney’s stand, while laudable, robbed Weird Al-heads of what would have been a surefire hit, but merely knowing the title is enough to make you sing it in your head every time you hear the original. Al: 1, Paul: 0.
Like “Grapefruit Diet,” “Word Crimes” is a parody that is sure to outlive its inspiration – a lyrically troublesome song by that guy, what’s his name, about how he can’t drive without his glasses. Or something. I haven’t listened to it since it came out. Weird Al’s take, on the other hand, is a handy and catchy primer on grammar that puts Strunk & White’s Elements of Style to shame. I learned multiplication tables from songs as a kid, and “Word Crimes” should be offered to teachers as a similar learning instrument. “Word Crimes” is one of the best tracks on 2014’s “Mandatory Fun” album, the first in Al’s career to reach number one (it also nabbed him a Grammy.) Nothing criminal about that.
“It’s All About The Pentiums”
While dated, this ode to personal computing is another banger. A perfect window into the Y2K era, this 1999 song came with a music video featuring Emo Phillips and a Bill Gates lookalike. Like an AOL loading screen, Al’s got bars, particularly in a later verse where he mocks someone for printing out photos of Sarah Michelle Gellar while living in their parents’ cellar, a sick burn that has aged almost as well as the Buffy star.