Listmania: Never Mind The Parodies, Here’s 20 Weird Al Yankovic Originals

After a short-lived saga over whether or not Lady Gaga refused him the right to put a parody of “Born This Way” on his upcoming album, the words “‘Weird Al’ Yankovic” have suddenly begun to light up online search engines in a manner not seen since…well, probably the day before, really. (Al’s always had a pretty strong web presence.) Here at Popdose, we thought we’d do our part to help keep Al’s name prominent, but instead of focusing on yet another list of parodies – because, you know, we can always do that piece next week…and probably will, so keep your eyes open – we figured it was an even better opportunity to shine the spotlight on some of Al’s best original songs. If you’re a fan, you probably already know most of these songs, and if you’re a big fan, then you’ll probably give us the smackdown in the comments section about what songs we neglected to include. To that, we say, “Bring it on.” The more discussion, the better…

1. “Happy Birthday” (“Weird Al” Yankovic): Given that it’s almost impossible to imagine “Weird Al” Yankovic without his accordion, it may be surprising to realize that it’s only his self-titled debut that features the instrument on every single song. This track may never replace Patty and Mildred J. Hill’s most famous composition as the go-to singalong on one’s day of birth, but, dammit, there’s no reason it shouldn’t. Come on, everybody, sing! “I guess you know the Earth is gonna crash into the sun / But that’s no reason why we shouldn’t have a little fun / So if you think it’s scary, if it’s more than you can take / Just blow out the candles and have a piece of cake!” – Will Harris

2. “Mr. Frump in the Iron Lung” (“Weird Al” Yankovic): This song from Al’s debut album succeeds on two levels. On the surface it’s a sweet, melodic, and slightly melancholy ditty about the close friendship between Al and his buddy, the titular Mr. Frump. Backed by nothing but accordion, bass guitar, and light percussion, it’s the kind of whimsical yet catchy tune that might’ve snuck into the Top 40 in the early ‘60s. But beneath that musical sunshine, this is possibly the most twisted song in the Yankovic back catalog. You see, Al’s friendship with Mr. Frump is decidedly one-sided as the latter is confined to an iron lung – a giant ventilator that was used widely during polio outbreaks in the mid-20th century, when patients became paralyzed and lost the ability to breathe on their own. As black humor goes, “Mr. Frump in the Iron Lung” is about as dark as it gets. Naturally, it’s also one of Weird Al’s funniest and most memorable songs. – Chris Holmes

3. “Midnight Star” (In 3-D): No, not a tribute to the band who brought you “Freak-A-Zoid” and “No Parking (On the Dance Floor),” but, rather, Al’s take on  supermarket tabloids. He’s mostly taking aim at publications of the Weekly World News variety, though that doesn’t keep him from slipping in the line “enquiring minds like mine want to know” toward the end. Not the deepest Mr. Yankovic has ever dug for a song idea, but it was still early days yet. Besides, it’s got a great chorus, and the female backing vocals at the 2:37 mark kick ass. – WH

4. “Mr. Popeil” (In 3-D): Although  Al was denied the opportunity to make good on a planned Prince parody called “$19.99″ – the Purple One has never been known for his sense of humor – the idea of a song revolving around the “now how much would you pay?” premise was too good to sit on. Instead, the concept gave birth to one of Al’s earliest parodies of a particular artist’s sound, in this case the B-52’s. – WH

5. “Dare to be Stupid” (Dare to be Stupid): Another sonic tribute to an artist’s sound, in this case Devo. Even if for some reason you can’t hear it, the video underlines Al’s intent, showing him and his trusty bandmates dressed in yellow jumpsuits and wearing safety goggles, just like Mark Mothersbaugh and the gang. Some of the lyrics are a little dated – kids today have no clue who Mr. Whipple is – but it hasn’t stopped “Stupid” from being one of Al’s signature numbers. – WH

6. “One More Minute” (Dare to be Stupid): Our man Zack Dennis nailed it when he described this faux doo-wop number as “pretty much tailor-made for every a capella group at every college in the country to perform.” Personally, I have a very distinct memory of wanting to perform it during my senior assembly in high school, but I rationalized that the public school powers-that-be would’ve had a problem with lines like, “I’d rather dive into a swimming pool filled with double-edged razor blades than spend one more minute with you.” (It plays far better in my memories than admitting that I simply didn’t have the balls to perform onstage.) – WH

7. “This Is The Life” (Dare to be Stupid): Ah, to think that, once upon a time, it was considered a major achievement for Al to have pulled the honor of writing the theme song for a Michael Keaton / Joe Piscopo movie. (In its defense, “Johnny Dangerously” earned its pop culture stripes simply for having introducing the phrase “farging iceholes” to a generation of kids in the ’80s who were provided with the opportunity to curse without really cursing.) “This Is The Life” may sound like a ragtime number which pays tribute to the glorious gangster lifestyle of the roaring ’20s, it’s also easy to see it paralleling the excess of the ’80s…and if you don’t see it, then dig this verse: “They say that money corrupts you / But I can’t really tell / I got the whole world at my feet / And I think it’s pretty swell.” – WH

8. “Christmas at Ground Zero” (Polka Party!): This isn’t the only holiday number in Al’s repertoire, but if you hold this track up against “The Night Santa Went Crazy,” there’s little question which will emerge the victor. Although it’s been said many times and in many ways, there’s just something about singing of possible nuclear apocalypse that truly helps to make the season bright, so let us dodge debris while we trim the tree underneath a mushroom cloud, but don’t forget: if someone’s climbin’ down your chimney, you better load your gun and shoot to kill. – WH

9. “Melanie” (Even Worse): Given how many songs and musical styles Al has successfully parodied in his career, it shouldn’t come as any real surprise that he’s managed to come up with some pretty incredible original tunes as well, but “Melanie” has got to be one of the catchiest. It’s perhaps a little too cruel to suggest that some of Al’s fans might be able to relate to the song’s narrator, a guy who falls in love with a girl he sees through his telescope and then becomes so obsessed with her that he goes through her garbage to learn more about her and tries to impress her by tattooing her name on his forehead, but…I don’t know how else to finish that sentence. Once again, Al’s slightly morbid sense of humor comes shining through in the end, with the lovesick sap singing, “You wouldn’t listen when I promised to be true / I couldn’t stand it, so I jumped out from the sixteenth story window / Right above you.” The punchline…? “Now I may be dead, but I still love you.” – WH

10. “Twister” (Even Worse): You’ve heard him parody Eminem, Chamillionaire, T.I., Puff Daddy, and even Tone Loc, but what’s arguably Al’s most effective foray into rap is his Beasties-inspired take on the classic game by Milton Bradley that “ties you up in a knot.” – WH

11. “You Don’t Love Me Anymore” (Off the Deep End): I don’t want to say too much about “You Don’t Love Me Anymore,” otherwise I’d be giving away the joke — but suffice it to say that the ballad contains detailed descriptions of a relationship gone horribly wrong. The reason the song never fails to crack me up, no matter how many times I listen, is Al’s earnest delivery of his inventive, completely ludicrous lyrics, via his smooth tone and deliberate over-enunciation. The video, a parody of Extreme’s “More Than Words,” gets me every time as well. I’d love to cover this song, although I know I’d never be able to get through it with a straight face. – Jason Hare

12. “Frank’s 2000″ TV” (Alapalooza): Though neither the first nor the last time Al would tackle the topic of television in one of his songs, it’s about as jangly a pop song as you’ll find in his back catalog. A sonic tribute to R.E.M.? Given that it comes on the heels of his not-quite-as-immortal parody of “Stand” (“Spam,” of course), it’s not impossible, especially since an instrumental version of the song would play not entirely unlike a blend of “Near Wild Heaven” and “Man in the Moon.” – WH

13. “Since You’ve Been Gone” (Bad Hair Day) has a few different distinctions. Clocking in at a mere 1:22 (which includes two seconds of coughing and throat clearing at the beginning), it’s certainly one of the shortest of Al’s originals. And, unlike the similar “One More Minute,” the song is performed a cappella with a multitracked Al providing all of the voices, which I believe is the only one of his songs where he does this. (In fact, even when he did the song in concerts, he sang live to a recording of the other parts.) Sure, it’s yet another warped tune from Al about losing someone, but all those Als make a tight tight harmony that’s a joy to behold. – Tony Redman

14. “Spy Hard“: Every parodist should get the chance to do a faux Bond theme at some point in their career, and this was Al’s shot at the genre. Although it was the theme song for the Leslie Nielsen film of the same name, it saw life first as the B-side to the “Gump” single, then earned release as a single in its own right. The most obscure inclusion on our list, “Spy Hard” isn’t even commercially available at present, nor has it ever been terribly easy to come by, having never actually appeared on any of Al’s albums or best-of collections, but trust us when we tell you that the video for the song – which is essentially what plays over the opening credits of “Spy Hard” – is far funnier than anything in the film itself. – WH

15. “The Weird Al Show Theme” (Running with Scissors): It’s fair to say that I was well out of watching Saturday morning shows by the time “The Weird Al Show” premiered on CBS in 1997…hell, I was five years out of college by then…but I was willing to make an exception when I heard that Mr. Yankovic was going to be getting his own series. If you’re a fan of Al’s but you’ve never seen it, I’ll stop right here and say that you should click here and buy it right now. In addition to his usual comedic stylings, the series also featured Billy West, Judy Tenuta, Brian Haley, Eddie Deezen, the incomparable Stan Freberg, and – YES! – Harvey the Wonder Hamster, along with guest appearances by Patton Oswalt, David L. Lander and Michael McKean, John Tesh, Alex Trebek, Teri Garr, Victoria Jackson, Dick Van Patten, Fred Willard, Drew Carey, Dick Clark, Mary Lynn Rajskub, and even Dr. Demento. The theme song pretty well sets up the sensibilities of the show…which is to say that it’s awesome. – WH

16. “Why Does This Always Happen To Me?” (Poodle Hat): Funny how the piano playing on this song sounds like Ben Folds, doesn’t it? Actually, it’s no joke: that is Mr. Folds. The two musicians had crossed paths a few times, resulting in Al getting the opportunity to direct the “Rockin’ the Suburbs” video for Ben, but after sharing that experience, they ended up deciding to do a little collaborating in the studio as well. (In addition to Ben’s ivory-tickling on Al’s song, you can hear Al’s background vocals on Ben’s “Time.”) I continue to find it incomprehensible that this song didn’t get released as a single, since it’s got cross-format smash written all over it: not only does it feature Folds, but it also has lyrics that speak to the inherent selfishness in all of us. Be honest: at some point in your life, haven’t you gotten pissed off when you were recording a show and, suddenly, they cut to a breaking news story? If so, you’ll really appreciate Al’s reaction to the death and devastation after an earthquake in Peru: “God, please answer me one question: why’d they have to interrupt ‘The Simpsons’ just for this?” – WH

17. “Pancreas” (Straight Outta Lynwood): When I talked to Al a few weeks before the release of Straight Outta Lynwood, he described this track as “my best production to date, an homage to Brian Wilson…done in sort of his Smile and Pet Sounds era,” but I think just about any Beach Boys fan would agree that it’s definitely more inspired the former record. It’s not as though Al hadn’t already carved himself a nice niche in the field of stylistic parodies, even taking on Mr. Wilson’s early ’60s surf sound on “Trigger Happy,” but this track takes it to a whole new level, nailing just about every possible aspect of the Smile sound. Plus, it’s educational, too! (Seriously, if Al ever decides to go the They Might Be Giants route and play to the kids-music crowd, this song will surely be a staple of his sets.) As of 2009, Al hadn’t heard anything from Wilson himself, but he seemed genuinely thrilled when he told me, “I got a very, very nice letter from his musical director (Darian Sahanaja), who loved the song.” As well he should have: it’s easily as good as anything Wilson’s written recently. – WH

18. “Don’t Download This Song” (Straight Outta Lynwood): David Lifton describes this track as “pretty damned brilliant, especially considering he gave it away on his site,” adding that the lyric “‘Even Lars Ulrich knows it’s wrong” never fails to crack him up. The line even funnier when you take into consideration Al’s comments on filesharing during a Q&A session for his website: “I have very mixed feelings about it. On one hand, I’m concerned that the rampant downloading of my copyright-protected material over the Internet is severely eating into my album sales and having a decidedly adverse effect on my career. On the other hand, I can get all the Metallica songs I want for FREE! WOW!!!!!” – WH

19. CNR” (Internet Leaks EP): People tend to dismiss Yankovic’s contributions to music with the ‘novelty’ tag, but one fringe benefit to his unique talents is that as long as there is music, he will always be in style. He is a pop culture omnivore, and few of his songs, style parody or otherwise, prove that better than “CNR,” the White Stripes soundalike that elevates campy ’70s game show regular Charles Nelson Reilly to Chuck Norris levels of machismo. Musically, the track is a spot-on riff of “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground,” and the production is uncanny, filled with echo-laden power chords and cymbal-happy drumming. Lyrically, it’s just goofy. Ate his weight in coal and excreted diamonds, had a third nipple on the back of his neck, trained a rattlesnake to do his laundry…it might sound like he’s just taking the piss, but it’s a very serious effort on Yankovic’s part to capture the essence of Jack White’s stream-of-consciousness approach to writing. And the video, created by JibJab, is sublime. Giddy up, Gene. -David Medsker

20. “Skipper Dan” (Internet Leaks EP): We started this list with a dark song, so we might as well finish with one. Granted, the trials and tribulations of Skipper Dan, the tour guide on the Jungle Cruise ride, wouldn’t seem on the surface to be such a sad topic, especially given how cheery and harmony-laden the music is, but if you’re actually paying attention to the lyrics, then you quickly become privy to the story of Dan’s depressing life and times. Despite having “graduated first in my class at Juilliard” and dreamed of Hollywood “while I read my Uta Hagen, and studied the Bard / Picked up parts and paid my dues / And got phenomenal rave reviews,” Dan’s planned collaborations with Annie Liebowitz and Quentin Tarantino somehow never quite came to pass. Instead, he’s “laughing at my own jokes, but I’m crying inside / ‘Cause I’m working on the Jungle Cruise ride.” Anyone who believes that a parodist can’t delve into pathos as well clearly hasn’t been listening to the right “Weird Al” Yankovic songs. – WH




  • Anonymous

    I’d add Craigslist, I’ll Sue Ya, Hardware Store, Bob, Your Horoscope for Today, The night Santa Went Crazy, Everything You know is wrong, UHF, The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota, Trigger Happy and I’d leave out Twister… (really? what were you thinking? seriously?)

  • Anonymous

    I stand by “Twister.” It’s a spot-on Beastie Boys homage.

  • http://mostlymodernmedia.wordpress.com Beau

    Wow, as big an Al-ophile as I am, you’ve got a few here I didn’t even know.

    The video makes “You Don’t Love Me Anymore” work. “Dare to be Stupid” and “One More Minute” are classics. And my kids love the TV theme as much as I do.

    But you left off one of my top five — “I’ll Sue Ya,” a roaring Rage Against The Machine style parody with some of Al’s best lyrics. “I sued Verizon / ‘Cause I get all depressed anytime my cell phone is roaming / I sued Colorado / ‘Cause you know, I think it looks a little bit too much like Wyoming!”

  • http://mostlymodernmedia.wordpress.com Beau

    Wow, as big an Al-ophile as I am, you’ve got a few here I didn’t even know.

    The video makes “You Don’t Love Me Anymore” work. “Dare to be Stupid” and “One More Minute” are classics. And my kids love the TV theme as much as I do.

    But you left off one of my top five — “I’ll Sue Ya,” a roaring Rage Against The Machine style parody with some of Al’s best lyrics. “I sued Verizon / ‘Cause I get all depressed anytime my cell phone is roaming / I sued Colorado / ‘Cause you know, I think it looks a little bit too much like Wyoming!”

  • Anonymous

    Yeah, I like “I’ll Sue Ya,” and I think “Germs,” which is straight from the Trent Reznor playbook, is pretty fun, too. But what can I say? My pop sensibilities clearly come shining through in my selections.

  • Anonymous

    The Al fan in me applauds the spotlight on his non-parodic work; the Talking Heads fan in me questions the exclusion of “Dog Eat Dog”. Can we discuss his polka medleys next time?

  • Clarinot

    how can you not add “Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota”??!! i remember learning every word to that epic 10?minute song so i could sing along when i saw him in concert

  • Wifrank

    No mention of one of my favorites: “Close But No Cigar.”

  • Rob

    I can’t believe there is no “Albuquerque” on this list. Not that I can stand listening to it, but the fact that so many 20-somethings or younger (including my own sons) have memorized nearly every lyric to this song has to account for something…

  • Charlie

    I was a late arrival to Weird Al — Off the Deep End was the first purchase I made from his material. So “You Don’t Love Me Anymore” is probably one of my top-five tracks. Flawless delivery, and original.

  • Chesshrkatt

    Thank you for writing this! I would NEVER smackdown an article giving Al so much credit for his non-parody work. I’m sure if you listed them all, we’d all still be sitting here next week reading this.

    I have to say “Your Horoscope for Today” is my favorite style parody. It is a twisted and hysterical look into the concept of living your life by what your daily horoscope might tell you is going to happen.

    Regarding “Pancreas”, It’s not that I’m not a Beach Boys fan, but beyond their well known surfer hits, I’m just not very familiar with their work. I knew that Pancreas was a style parody of the Beach Boys. The song “Wind Chime” is in constant rotation on my work’s radio station. I did not realize Wind Chime was a Beach Boys song until I got it stuck in my head one day, and noticed that it kept somehow morphing into the Pancreas song. So I Googled Wind Chime, and low and behold. So to say he nailed their style is an understatement.

    Let’s not make this a bash-fest about what songs got left off. All of his songs are good!

  • jamesballenger

    Al is one of our most under-appreciated artists. A true musical and comedic talent.

  • smf2271

    Everybody has their personal favorites, so this isn’t meant to be a “how could you possibly leave off…?” type comment, but since no one has mentioned it yet, I feel the need to give props to “Nature Trail to Hell.” Lyrics as hilarious as anything he’s ever written but the real brilliance is how the music is a spot-on parody of all prog and/or metal that attempts to be deep, ambitious, and meaningful. Especially the silly, elf-like interlude near the end that suddenly gives way to a thundering guitar crescendo, and then how he repeats the chorus ad-nauseum, mimicking many a ’70s rocker that doesn’t know how to end.

  • David_E

    Ditto for this 40-year-old and his three under-11-year-olds.

  • David_E

    Ditto for this 40-year-old and his three under-11-year-olds.

  • David_E

    Ditto for this 40-year-old and his three under-11-year-olds.

  • David_E

    Ditto for this 40-year-old and his three under-11-year-olds.

  • http://www.grayflannelsuit.net/ Chris Holmes

    Yes, that is a great one as well. In 3-D is such a great album.

  • http://genxsingalong.wordpress.com Gigi

    “The Alternative Polka” may be be fave Al track EVER.

  • Anonymous

    No argument here. You never forget your first Al album, and “In 3-D” was mine.

  • Anonymous

    No argument here. You never forget your first Al album, and “In 3-D” was mine.

  • Johnny Caustic

    I belong to the club that thinks the biggest omission is “The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota.” It’s a ten-minute endurance race of a song that by all rights should be incredibly annoying and way too long, yet I never tire of the endlessly inventive pitch-perfect Ned Flanders lyrics. And the rapid-fire flow with which he delivers

    The scenery was just so pretty, boy I wish the kids could’ve seen it
    But you can’t see out of the side of the car
    Because the windows are completely covered
    With the decals of all the place where we’ve already been

    There’s Elvis-O-Rama, the Tupperware Museum,
    The Boll Weevil Monument, and Cranberry World,
    The Shuffleboard Hall Of Fame, Poodle Dog Rock,
    And The Mecca of Albino Squirrels

    …would be the envy of any rapper.

  • http://everybodysdummy.blogspot.com wardo

    Weird Al is a national treasure, and belongs in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (in Cleveland). For my money, his best “original” is “Genius In France”, a spot-on homage to Frank Zappa. Hear here:

  • CraigoryVOL

    Ditto on “Genius in France.”

  • weirdojace

    My only complaint with this list is you didn’t include Hardware Store. Just about every Weird Al fan will tell you it’s one of his best, and I always cite it as an example of how amazing of a musician he really is. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9m7SldTq8CY

  • http://profiles.google.com/theleroygrey Greg Levrault

    The Weird Al works that made me unapologetic about my fandom are his epic songs: his 11:20 opus “Albuquerque” on ‘Running with Scissors’ demonstrated an artistic ambition and cohesive musical identity previously only hinted at in prior compositions. It’s Weird Al at the height of his powers…

  • http://www.facebook.com/mburke77 Michael Burke

    I had not heard half of these, and they are spectacular.  Thanks for doing this. 

  • None

    I’d say, in chronological order:
    Midnight Star
    Dare to be Stupid
    Dog Eat Dog
    Melanie
    The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota
    Trigger Happy
    When I was Your Age
    You Don’t Love Me Anymore
    Frank’s 2000″ TV
    Everything You Know is Wrong
    I Remember Larry
    The Night Santa went Crazy
    Your Horoscope for Today
    Hardware Store
    Why Does This Always Happen to Me?
    Genius in France
    Close but no Cigar
    Don’t Download this Song
    CNR
    Skipper Dan

    Some of the songs on here, namely “Frump”, “Popeil”, and “Twister”, I regard among his worst originals. I also believe that, as good as CAGZ is, “Santa” is a masterpiece.