Weird Al Yankovic is one of the most famous American comedians of our time, who parodied, and still parodies, the world’s biggest music hits. The latest film about him, Weird: The Al Yankovic story, was released on The Roku Channel.
Written by the real Al, it stars Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe in the lead role, showing that he can play the accordion as well as the magic wand. The film tells the story of Jankovic’s life, from the time he started playing the accordion as a child and decided he wanted to be different from everyone else, to his global rise to fame in the music industry with parodies such as “Eat It” (based on Michael Jackson’s hit “Beat it”) and “Like a Surgeon” (based on Madonna’s “Like a Virgin”).
Alfred Metju Jankovic was born in 1959 in California, the only child of set designer Mary Elizabeth and army medic Niko Jankovic. The future musician was of English, Italian and Serbian descent. At the age of seven, he picked up an accordion for the first time and has never let go of it since. Although he studied architecture after school at the California Polytechnic Institute, Al always knew that his career would be in music. In 1976, at the age of just 16, Jankovic met Dr Demento, the manager of a comic radio station, who, noticing the young man’s talent, gave him airtime on his radio station and the first rays of fame. In 1981, with the help of a manager he met on tour, Jay Levy, the oddball Al formed his own band, and from then on began a successful and busy career as a musical comedian, with numerous songs, videos, albums and even films. Jankovic is still an active figure in the entertainment world today, and his latest film is about to hit the small screen.
Here’s a top ten list of the weirdest songs by Al Jankovic, which will put a smile on the face of even the biggest curmudgeon.
10. “Canadian Idiot“
It is a parody of Green Day’s “American Idiot”, released in 2006. Although critically controversial, it is one of Jankovic’s most successful parodies, ranking 82nd on the Billboard Hot 100.
In it, the comedian pokes fun at American stereotypes of their Canadian neighbours. Perhaps Americans and Canadians have a similar relationship as Lithuanians and Estonians. Just as we think that Estonians are a bit slow and silly, so Americans think of Canadians as phlegmatic, misunderstood neighbours from the North. Of course, this is just a fun tendency to make jokes, because neither Lithuanians and Estonians nor Americans and Canadians have any serious conflicts.
Jankovic describes the Canadians’ craze for beer and hockey and laughs at their furrowed brows, their taste for doughnuts and moose meat (Canada is known to be home to a lot of moose). Americans also find Canadians’ money funny, because it looks like it comes out of a Monopoly box, and their different accents, which make it difficult to understand the meaning of words.
It’s easy to see that the lyrics are not angry. It’s more like a funny exasperation. Moreover, Jankovic even adds things that Canadians can be proud of a good health system, cheap medicines, low crime and the famous Selin Dion. Of course, this is also done in jest. After all, those Canadians are such weirdos!
9. “Eat It“
It is a parody of Michael Jackson’s Beat It, released in 1984, almost immediately after the original in 1983.Eat It was well received by critics and listeners alike, and Jankovic soon won a Grammy for the song. It was ranked twelfth in the United States Top 40, and Australians liked it even more, placing it at number one on their list.
Like Michael Jackson’s music video for “Beat It”, the parody clip starts with a few gang members leaving a diner. A conflict seems to be brewing. Everything is replicated in the same way as in the original, but this time, instead of Michael Jackson, it is Jankovic himself who sings and acts. He manages to make the right moves, but the lyrics themselves are not about gang wars at all, but… about a child with an eating disorder.
A parent scolds his son for not wanting to eat what is put on his plate. He will not eat his breakfast cereal, nor his chicken, nor even the cake he puts in his mouth. His father or mother reproaches him that in Japan children have nothing to eat, so let him get stronger and not be proud, because if he starves to death it will be his own fault.
This parody is funny because it mocks every parent who cares about their child’s eating habits and every child who has no appetite. We know the situation to the marrow of our bones and we laugh when we recognise the typical phrases and scares that parents say to their children.
Although the video does not involve any eating disorders at all, in the final fight scene, the guys pull out spoons instead of knives. A predictable but no less funny ending to this comedy.
8. “My Bologna“
This is a 1979 song based on The Knack’s single “My Sharona”. Jankovic wrote it while still at university and the original parody version was recorded in the toilet of the radio station where he worked as a DJ. The song is a parody of Bologna, specifically Oscar Mayer’s Bologna, which was popular in the US at the time. Jankovic sent the song to Dr Demento and it was placed on the national radio programme, and shortly after a meeting with the singers of The Knack and their approval, My Bologna was released as a single. Jankovic received USD 500 for this and sold 10,000 copies of the single.
In the original version, The Knack, of course, sings about love for a girl called Sherona. Maybe even more passion than love. This only makes Jankovic’s song even funnier, because he replaces Sherona with… bologna. So instead of celebrating the beauty of a woman and her hot touch, the object of love becomes food – toasted toast, liberally smeared with mustard, and a succulent Bolognese sausage, which the lover’s stomach, which is shrinking with hunger, cannot resist.
The strange Al has repeatedly come up with food analogies, and this one is particularly funny because it equates passion with the appetite for food, making a mockery not only of The Knack, but also of the hot blood that boils at the sight of a beautiful woman in all the poets and troubadours of the past.
7. “Another One Rides the Bus“
Another energetic parody is a reworked version of The Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust”, written by Jankovic at the beginning of his career in 1980. Like a crazed death bus driver, the singer, barefoot onstage, spills out of his shores, playing the accordion expertly and transmitting to the audience his powerful energy.
Jankovic first played the song on Dr. Demento’s radio programme and it became instantly popular, even becoming a promotional soundtrack for TK Records, but when the company collapsed, the single also lost its fame (this song by The Queen does seem to have commercial potential, as a Dacia Duster advert was released in 2016, with the soundtrack “Another One Drives a Duster”). However, in 1983, the singer included the track on his debut album, and The Queen’s guitarist Bryan May was particularly impressed by the humour. He said: “I’ve only heard a few covers of ‘Another One Bites the Dust’ that I’ve really liked, and one of them is ‘Another One Rides the Bus’. I think it’s very funny, and I think the guy who made it – ‘Crazy Al’ or whatever – is also really funny.”
This song is one of the funniest in Jankovic’s repertoire, because it describes a situation that we have all been in, so we can identify with the protagonist – the man on the bus. We don’t know where he is coming from or where he is going to, but it doesn’t matter, because the point here is the bus itself, where people, all strange in their own way, from different corners of life, with an interesting smell, and who don’t follow the rules of their personal space, because it is simply not possible to do that in this kind of a space. Someone rests his elbow in the protagonist’s ear, someone else’s suitcase stabs him in the ribs, and the driver stops to let more people in. There is nothing to breathe and the face seems to be turning blue and there is no wallet in the pocket, but the right stop has long been passed, because you just couldn’t reach the door.
I think it’s the personal story of every city dweller’s morning commute, told so aptly that you don’t know whether to laugh or cry.
6. “Like a Surgeon“
It is the first song of Jankovic’s third album Dare to Be Stupid (1985), which parodies Madonna’s single “Like a Virgin”. He co-wrote it with two other co-writers, Tom Kelly and Bill Stainberg. In fact, Madonna herself, fascinated by the idea, came up with some interesting ideas which the authors later incorporated into the track, although Janković never liked to take ideas from the original authors. “Like a Surgeon” became one of Strange Alo’s best-known hits, with Billboad describing it as its third most popular single.
This musical piece revolves around a resident who has just graduated from medical school but didn’t do well in his class and is now just trying to slip through the cracks – naturally, being a resident, he makes one more mistake that leads to the death of his patients. So now it is no longer the first time a virgin is touched, but the first time a future surgeon cuts with a scalpel.
The video shows the hospital environment, the staff and the surgeon himself (the weird Al), who has little idea what he is doing. Towards the end, there are elements of dance from Madonna videos – Janković himself is fidgeting and fidgeting on the ward floor and on the beds, making funny facial expressions – that is, mimicking the pop diva’s facial expressions. He definitely has acting and dancing skills – he plays the innocent doctor in his profession perfectly.
5. “Smells Like Nirvana”
The song “Smells Like Nirvana”, which appeared on Jankovic’s seventh album “Off the Deep End” in 1992, helped him and his band to recover from a career slump that began when his film “UHF” was a complete financial failure. “Smells Like Nirvana appeared at number 35 on the Billboard Hot 100 and the US Mainstream Rock Tracks lists, and the song’s video was nominated for the 1992 MTV Best Male Music Video Award.
It is a parody of Nirvana’s popular single “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. Jankovic couldn’t get hold of Kurt Cobain to give him permission to parody Nirvana’s song, so he called him as the band was getting ready to go on Saturday Night Live. Cobain then hastily agreed to do a parody of the hit. While Jankovic’s career was slipping downhill, so-called grunge music and Nirvana itself were on the rise at the time.
Jankovic’s work, as always, mocks Nirvana’s musical style, Cobain’s lack of articulation and the lyrics. If you watch the original video, it is even subtitled and there is more screaming in the background than the actual lyrics, which, by the way, also often do not make sense and are just a random jumble of words.
In the video, weird Al and his band tried to replicate Nirvana’s performance exactly, choosing the same film set and even hiring some of the same actors. Although he didn’t manage to imitate Cobain’s own singing-drinking so well, the performance is still a parody and Jankovic’s facial expressions are still immortal, and if someone were to compile a TOP10 list of the funniest performers in music videos, the comedian would definitely take the top honour.
Michael Jackson’s single “Bad” is the second song by Janković to be parodied. The first was “Eat It”. The comedian decided that “Fat” could be a great follow-up to “Eat It”, since, coincidentally, both parodies are about food. For the “Fat” video, Jankovic and his band won an Emmys for Best Music Video Concept in 1988.
Although the meaning of “Bad” and “Fat” is not really related, the parody sometimes uses exactly the same words, but changes a few details to give a completely different meaning. So in the end, a song about bad guys turns into a song about fat guys trying to earn the respect of the gang by eating a lot.
Jankovic’s video replicates almost everything in the original – lots of dance elements and the same location, a subway station, but this time the dancers are chubby people, so they don’t get to move around much or do a lot of tight choreography. Instead, they do an unsophisticated choreography that they are very proud of. However, watching their performance does not give the feeling that the video is trying to offend anyone. It is reminiscent of comic shows like “Prichipom”, which used to be shown on TV – laughing at awkward, silly situations.
3. “The Saga Begins“
“The Saga Begins is a parody of Don McLean’s American Pie, released in 1999. Although the lyrics of the parody have nothing to do with the original lyrics, American Pie is an incredibly long song that tells the story of one man. You could say it’s a true musical saga. So Jankovic, instead of finishing the fate of McLean or his protagonist, chooses the plot of the Star Wars saga. More specifically, he finishes the events of the first episode of Star Wars, ‘Shadow of Danger’, from the perspective of Obi-Wan Kenobi. Janković is quite different from usual in the video for this song. Instead of being full of energy, he is rather lyrical and calm.
McLean liked Jankovic’s idea and readily gave permission for the parody, adding that his children had played it so often that McLean himself would get confused during his concerts and sometimes, instead of pulling the original lyrics, he would take the lyrics about Jedi and star wars. “Lucasfilm TV, famous for creating and producing Star Wars and Indiana Jones, said only this: “You should have seen the smile on George Lucas’ face.”
“The Saga Begins” is not Janković’s first song about the famous Star Wars saga. The first one came out back in 1985 and was called “Yoda”. It parodies The Kinks’ single ‘Lola’ and, like ‘The Saga Begins’, presents the events of Star Wars from the perspective of one of its characters, Luke Skywalker. So it’s fair to say that weird Al definitely had two themes: food and intergalactic life.
Jankovic is still active in the 21st century. Although he is more restrained in his videos, he still knows how to make funny facial expressions and, of course, he still writes lyrics that make your head spin. In 2014, a parody of Lorde’s “Royals” was released under the title “Foil”, in which Janković finishes off none other than… aluminium foil.
At the beginning of the song, things revolve around food again. In the video, the strange Al plays a cooking show host who says that he can’t manage to eat all the contents of his plate in restaurants, so he asks the staff to give him a takeaway. This leads to many problems, such as mould and bacteria, as food that is not stored properly starts to spoil. But the protagonist of the musical narrative discovers the solution: aluminium foil.
The first part of the single praises the ability of foil to keep food from spoiling, but the second part of the single suddenly switches to conspiracy theories such as the Illuminati, other mysterious organisations, aliens and the impending new world order. This plot twist is hardly predictable, but both themes – food and conspiracy theories – share the same aluminium foil. Jankovic puts on a cap made of it at the end of the clip and claims to be able to protect himself from attack by hostile forces.
“Foil was released alongside Jankovic’s fourteenth album, Mandatory Fun, and was critically acclaimed, climbing to number three on Billboard Comedy Digital Tracks. The comedian never seems to run out of creative fire to bake up one after another of the most outrageous parodies of all time.
1. “Amish Paradise“
“Amish Paradise”, recorded in 1996, parodies the famous rapper Cole’s single and the soundtrack of the movie Dangerous Minds, “Gangsta’s Paradise” (1995). This time, it is not the hard life of a criminal that is being celebrated, but the hard life of… the Amish.
The Amish are a conservative religious community founded in North America in 1720, known for their rustic lifestyle, modest dress, Christian reticence and slowness to adapt to new developments. Jankovic, taking the other extreme from Coolio, humorously presents the everyday life of this sect in terms of farm work, unremarkable women, conservative dress, backwardness and the negative reactions of those around them. Ironically, all this is called the Amish paradise.
Coolio, the author of the original, was one of the few people who did not initially give permission for a parody of his song. The recording studio gave permission, but Coolio himself was categorically opposed. Jankovic even wrote a letter of apology to the singer, to which he never replied. It was only a decade later that the rapper admitted that he had been foolish to persist in withholding the rights to the parody of his own song, and it seems that the two artists have finally reconciled.
Although it is difficult to discuss religion, let alone ridicule it, Janković was never a mean-spirited or caustic comedian. His humour is light and his songs are suitable for the whole family.