40 years of weird

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By Dave Kastner

Weird Al Yankovic’s music career is almost 40-years-old but instead of easing into retirement the biggest-selling comedy recording artist of all time has been going from strength to strength, with the last two years being arguably his most successful to date. Last year he released his 14th full-length album ‘Mandatory Fun’, which became the 1st ever comedy album to debut at Number 1 on the Billboard charts. This was also the 1st time Al had ever had a number 1 album and it earned him the 2015 Grammy for Best Comedy Album, his 4th win from 15 Grammy nominations.

GQ Magazine’s Popstar of the year in 2014, Weird Al has made a career out of sending up popular music of the time by recording his own versions of current hits and altering the lyrics to make them funny and clever. He and his band aim to make the backing track the same as the original, transcribing them by ear and re-recording them for the parody.  Kurt Cobain called him a “Musical Genius” when he parodied Nirvana’s smash hit ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ with his song ‘Smells Like Nirvana’, changing the lyrics to about how no one can understand Cobain’s singing. Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl said the band felt they had “made it”. Having Al record a parody of your song is generally considered one the highest honours in pop music and Lady Gaga certainly felt that when he parodied her song “Born This Way” for his song “Perform This Way”, stating it was a “rite of passage” for her music career. As Al himself puts it, “When ‘Weird Al’ wants to go parody, it’s not meant to make them look bad… it’s a tribute”.

Although not required by law to seek permission from the original artist to record a parody, Al is polite and likes to maintain good relationships with the artists by always asking permission before releasing a parody. He claims only 2 or 3 per cent of artists refuse his requests, for instance Prince has consistently denied Al permission to parody his songs, although Al never gives up and asks Prince every couple of years to see if he’s “lightened up”.

Born Alfred Mathew Yankovic on October 23 1959, Weird Al is only the 3rd artist, after Michael Jackson and Madonna, to have a top 40 hit in each decade since the 1980s. He has recorded over 150 parody and original songs, sold more than 12 million albums worldwide since 1976, briefly had his own TV show in the late 90s and has written and starred in a movie called UHF. He has also written two children’s books, 2011’s When I Grow Up and its sequel, My New Teacher And Me and in April 2015 he became the 1st ever guest editor of the long running American satirical publication, Mad Magazine for their 533rd issue.

Weird Al toured overseas for the first time in 2003, doing 11 shows across Australia and he returned here in 2007. His current show, ‘Mandatory World Tour,’ sees him performing at St Kilda’s Palais Theatre on January 3rd.
For details and tickets go to www.palaistheatre.net.au/whats-on.htm

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