"Weird Al" Yankovic
Volcano Records, 1983
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 01/08/2000
I remember back when I was in grade school, after parody ubermensch "Weird Al" Yankovic made it to the big time with "Eat It," I discovered that he had an album out prior to In 3-D. The only problem was that the little mom-and-pop store I frequented didn't have the tape in stock, and it took three weeks to get via special order. (Keep in mind this was back in 1984, before the days of the music superstores.) But when "Weird Al" Yankovic did arrive, I treated it like unearthed treasure.
It's been 17 years since this album (originally released on Rock & Roll Records) hit an unsuspecting public like a kick to the crotch, but the album shows Yankovic's fans two things after all these years. One: Yankovic knew how to write a good parody. Two: His songwriting was still developing, so this album isn't quite up to par with the rest of his discography.
This disc will forever be known for the parodies, of course. Long before I knew (much less cared) who Yankovic was, I remember seeing the video for "I Love Rocky Road" on HBO's "Video Jukebox." (Anyone else remember the funky animated robot from the intro to that show?) It was definitely low budget, but it was funny as hell - and it was as elusive as the Publisher's Clearing House van to find when you wanted to.
Even now, "I Love Rocky Road" is fun to listen to, even if you're not totally familiar with the original song, Joan Jett And The Blackhearts's "I Love Rock 'N Roll." Likewise, "Ricky" - another video that stuck with you once you saw it - does a good job reworking Toni Basil's "Mickey," only it doesn't have the same staying power as "I Love Rocky Road" does.
Two early hits for Yankovic appear in re-recorded forms - "My Bologna" (victim: The Knack and "My Sharona") and "Another One Rides The Bus" (victim: Queen and "Another One Bites The Dust"). This probably says too much about me, but I'll always treasure the belch in the bridge of "My Bologna" (now see if Al ever returns my phone calls again after that admission), and "Another One Rides The Bus" retains its magic to this day for me.
But one can't help but noticing about the parodies is that Yankovic is still developing his style, and he hasn't quite reached the level of excellence he would demonstrate for most of his career. "Stop Dragging My Car Around" (victim: Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers's "Stop Dragging My Heart Around") doesn't have the same kind of bite as the others, and as mentioned before, "Ricky" doesn't hold up as well over repeat listens.
Yankovic's originals run hot and cold on "Weird Al" Yankovic; when he's on, he's incredible. "I'll Be Mellow When I'm Dead" is actually a great song that has more than a germ of truth to it in my eyes, while "Mr. Frump In The Iron Lung" is a two-minute slice of weirdness that must be expreienced. (For that matter, the same could be said about "Happy Birthday," a track that almost could have been a war chant for Y2K survivalists.) And yes, it's corny, but "Gotta Boogie" is kind of funny, but the joke wears thin after repeat listens.
Problem is, when Yankovic isn't totally on base, the song suffers. Two words: "Buckingham Blues," a song I wasn't crazy about even when Princess Diana was alive. (Memo to Al: If you ever play House Of Blues, even though it's almost rote to play one blues song in a set, please let this one die.) "The Check's In The Mail" also doesn't have the same kind of zing - after all, it's nothing special to make fun of sleazy salespeople. I am torn, however, on "Such A Groovy Guy"; it's the kind of song that my opinion changes on depending on which way the wind is blowing.
"Weird Al" Yankovic is the album that acted as the springboard for Yankovic's career, and while it might not be the high-water mark of his recordings, it's hardly a waste of your time. Just make sure to have some tissue handy for when you laugh so much you start crying.