Here’s the Thing is where Rob dumps his random thoughts and strong opinions on all manner of nerdy subjects – from videogames and movies to board games and toys.
While he may not be a superstar musical artist – debatable, considering the five Grammy Awards, multiple gold and platinum records and a number one album on the Billboard Top 100 list – “Weird Al” Yankovic has been a significant pop culture icon for decades. Artists to this day still joke that they haven’t truly made it until Weird Al parodies one of their songs. And all of this from a career built on spoofing popular music and playing the accordion. But here’s the thing: beneath the silly lyrics and polka-inspired melodies, the man’s writing is freaking brilliant.
Sure, the concept of replacing the lyrics of a song seems straightforward, but have you ever tried it? That shit is tough. Especially if you’re trying to convey a specific idea with those new words. You have to figure out what you want the message to be, come up with words and phrases that convey it properly and make sure everything still fits with the pattern of the original lyrics and melody. And even that’s a cake walk compared to the things Weird Al has been able to pull off.
For a parody song to work, it must work well. There’s a reason most joke versions of popular music are only popular for a little while before we forget they exist: they aren’t actually very good. What sets Weird Al apart is how much thought and skill goes into his parodies, to the point where fans are almost guaranteed to think of his version first when a song comes on the radio. It’s catchy and so, so easy to sing along to.
Then there are his bafflingly complex songs like “The Saga Begins” and “Ode to a Superhero.” These are amusing songs on their face but if you stop to really think about what’s going on here, holy shit. He’s taken a popular song – in this case “American Pie” and “Piano Man,” respectively – and used it to relay a cliff’s notes version of an entire film plot. No, seriously, “The Saga Begins” recounts Star Wars: Episode 1 to the tune of “American Pie” and it’s incredible. The same goes for “Ode to a Superhero” breaking down the plot of the first Sam Raimi Spider-Man movie. And it all works!
He’s also really good at capturing the feeling of an artist or particular style of music, as evidenced by his original songs. “Dare To Be Stupid” (i.e.: that song from 1986’s The Transformers: The Movie) is a goofy, synth-heavy celebration of Devo. The ode to palindromes that is “Bob” is also an homage to Bob Dylan – spend about 10 seconds listening to the way Al sings in that one and you’ll get it.
The point of all this isn’t to say that I think Weird Al is unappreciated. In fact, I think it’s very much appreciated by a lot of people, and of course he deserves it. But I do think we often overlook just how remarkably talented he is as a writer. He’s absolutely funny and entertaining (and prolific), but he’s also brilliant. I dunno, I just feel like we should acknowledge that too, from time to time.
Rob Rich is a guy who’s loved nerdy stuff since the 80s, from videogames to anime to Godzilla to Power Rangers toys to Transformers, and has had the good fortune of being able to write about them all. He’s also editor for the Games section of Exploits! You can still find him on Twitter, Instagram and Mastodon.