And three things you didn’t know about each!
Eat It (1984)
• Yankovic’s breakout hit, and probably still his best-known song, “Eat It” (parodying Michael Jackson’s “Beat It”) won Al his first of three Grammys, for Best Comedy Recording.
• In the early ‘80s, when the entire country was screaming “I want my MTV!,” the “Beat It” video seemed to be everywhere, so much of the charm of the “Eat It” clip is how it pokes fun at the original shot for shot. Ever-meticulous, Yankovic even recruited Jackson collaborator Vince Patterson to reprise his dual role as choreographer and one of the gang leaders (the white one).
• MJ apparently had a high opinion of the satirist, and Al credits his early support as helping to legitimize his career. Al has said: “All of a sudden, if a manager gave us static, we could say, ‘Michael Jackson gave us permission, so I guess you feel like you’re more important than Michael Jackson.’”
I Lost on Jeopardy (1984)
• A parody of “Jeopardy,” the biggest (and pretty much last) hit by Baltimore’s Greg Kihn Band. Kihn later went on to be a mildly successful horror novelist, including writing an alternate-history thriller about foreign terrorists trying to assassinate the Beatles.
• Though this single was released in June of 1984, legendary TV producer Merv Griffin credits its success with spurring the fall 1984 revival of Jeopardy! (which had essentially been off the air since 1975).
• The video features cameo appearances by original Jeopardy! host Art Fleming and announcer Don Pardo (probably best known from SNL), Al’s novelty-record mentor Dr. Demento, Yankovic’s real-life parents, and Kihn himself (making him the only artist to appear in a Yankovic video in which he’s parodied).
Dare to be Stupid (1985)
• Not a direct takeoff of any particular song, but rather a more general “style” parody of art-rock pinheads Devo, employing similarly surreal imagery. Devo honcho Mark Mothersbaugh has called “Dare to Be Stupid” “the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard” and, rumor has it, he congratulated Al on creating “the perfect Devo song.”
• Among the more specific Devo references: Al and his band wear the same yellow hazmat-style suits seen in the legendary “Satisfaction” clip; the band wear stockings on their heads, as also seen in the video for “Jocko Homo”; in Devo’s “Freedom of Choice,” a man must decide between a gun and a grenade, while here it’s between a banana and an accordion. (BTW, all of those Devo clips are really worth watching.)
• This song is used in the 1986 animated film Transformers: The Movie, as the theme of the pop-culture-referencing Junkions. (The film’s soundtrack was released by Scotti Bros., the same tiny label that Al was signed to at the time.) CNN has also named it the No. 2 “geek anthem” of all time, behind “She Blinded Me with Science.”
Like a Surgeon (1985)
• Not just a parody of Madonna’s “Like a Virgin,” but also Madonna’s idea (she suggested it to a friend who also knew Al’s manager). It’s a rare instance of a “Weird Al” parody that wasn’t originally Al’s own idea, let alone one that the artist being parodied actually came up with.
• The video transposes Madonna’s gyrations upon a Venetian canal from her own video to a hospital setting (Al even throws in his own random lion). Likewise, in concert, Yankovic has mocked some of Madonna’s notorious early-‘90s choreography by flailing around on an onstage hospital bed.
• At the beginning of the video, a PA can be heard saying, “Paging Dr. Howard , Dr. Fine, Dr. Howard”—a reference to Three Stooges Moe (Howard), Larry (Fine), and Curly (Howard), presumably among Al’s comedic heroes.
• Al reprises his greatest success with another Michael Jackson parody; MJ generously let Yankovic use the set from the “Bad” video, which he’d had constructed for his film Moonwalker. It earned the accordion master his second Grammy, for Best Concept Video.
• Regarding the scene in which he inflates from skinny to obese, Al says, “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.” Today, when he performs “Fat” in concert, the Weird One dons a simplified version of the fat suit, and uses a mask to re-create the jowly makeup.
• Among the overweight dancers in the video is a guy who just happened to be delivering pizzas to the casting office and was judged to have the perfect physique (for the role, not in general).
Smells Like Nirvana (1992)
• Al pinpoints the pop cultural moment—and mounts a comeback after three years recovering from the bomb that was his 1989 film, UHF’—with his parody of not just Nirvana’s biggest song (“Smells Like Teen Spirit”), but of the band itself. When Al phoned Kurt Cobain to ask his permission, the guitarist gave an enthusiastic yes (in his journal, he called Al “America’s modern pop-rock genius”). Cobain then asked if the song would be about food, but was delighted when he was told it would be about how no one could understand his lyrics.
• The video was filmed on the same sound stage as the original, and the cast includes most of the same audience members (joined by a young Tony Hawk), some of the same cheerleaders, and the same real janitor playing a janitor.
• On the drums is Yankovic’s longtime collaborator Jon “Bermuda” Schwartz, whose headbanging Dave Grohl impersonation resulted in three weeks of a sore neck.
Amish Paradise (1996)
• Al’s riff on both the Swiss Anabaptist sects and Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise” (which itself sampled Stevie Wonder’s “Pastime Paradise”) is perhaps his most controversial parody. Coolio’s record label gave Al permission, then Coolio said he never agreed to it and pitched a public fit (though strictly speaking, fair-use law protects satirists, but Yankovic’s policy is to ask regardless). Since then, Al has insisted on speaking with artists directly rather than accepting a label’s say-so (and the two have since come to a peace).
• The video was filmed in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, home to one the country’s largest Amish communities (and definitely its best-known place for anyone wanting to gawk at Amish). It’s the fourth “Weird Al” video directed by the singer himself (he now directs all of his own work). Cameos include Al’s parents (again) and Brady Bunch mom Florence Henderson.
• The unsettling effect at the end—in which the film seems to run backward, even though Al looks to be singing normally—was achieved by Yankovic painstakingly memorizing what the vocals sound like in reverse.
White & Nerdy (2006)
• Al converts Chamillionaire’s “Ridin’” into a paean to suburban Caucasian blandness, and scored his highest-ever Billboard chart hit (No. 9), 23 years after he first made the charts. It’s also his only single to ever be certified platinum.
• Early in the video, you can spot then–MADtv stars Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, years before they broke out with their own Comedy Central show. Also making a cameo: ‘70s idol Donny Osmond, recruited because he was, according to Al, “the whitest guy I could think of.” It’s also probably the only music video ever to reference both M.C. Escher and Happy Days.
• The video depicts Al’s 27 MySpace friends as including Bill Gates, Mr. Peabody, Einstein, and Screech from Saved by the Bell. The number 27 is a motif of Yankovic’s career; on his official site, he answers 27 fan questions every month.
Whatever You Like (2008)
• A takeoff of T.I.’s “Whatever You Like,” this is the only entry in the “Weird Al” catalog to have the exact same title as the song it’s parodying.
• Al conceived of this song, wrote it, recorded it, and released it on iTunes (his first digital-only release) in only two weeks, while the T.I. original was still topping the charts.
• The video was made by animator Cris Shapan (a mainstay of Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!). Look for references to many older Yankovic songs, including “Eat It” (the rice’s slogan), “My Bologna” (the ramen flavor), and “Polkarama!” (a battery brand).
Perform This Way (2011)
• Weird Al takes on Lady Gaga, specifically “Born This Way.” Al was initially reluctant to do it, considering the target both too predictable and perhaps in bad taste (he regarded the original as a “human rights anthem”), but decided it would work as a poke at the artist herself (à la “Smells Like Nirvana”). Plus, the nice guy he is, Yankovic donated proceeds from the single to the Human Rights Campaign.
• Al described this video as “beyond awesome, and disturbing on many levels,” with his head CGI superimposed onto the bodies of a dancer and a contortionist. He hung on to that peacock dress, and now wears it whenever he performs the song live.
• Photographer Robyn Von Swank’s Flickr page has nearly 200 behind-the-scenes shots from this insanely elaborate video shoot, including some really creepy ones in which a massively made-up Al looks like the Emcee from Cabaret.