Behold the humble parody. If you’re a fan of irony and bad puns, you can’t get enough of them. If you’re “Weird Al” Yankovic, you’ve made a career of them. With numerous Top 40 songs and more than fourteen albums to his credit, it’s obvious that his work enjoys a sizable fan base.
I count myself among the legions of “Weird Al” fans. As do the Jarhead, the Princess, and El Noblé. We own all but one of his studio albums, and several of his collections including “The Food Album,” “The TV Album,” and “Permanent Record: Al in the Box.”
If I had to name my favorite “Weird Al” parody, you would not be reading this post because I would still be going through all of the “Weird Al” albums in our music library trying to decide and, therefore, never would have finished writing it. Even if I were to list just my top five or ten the task wouldn’t be made any easier because they are so many and varied it would be impossible to establish a fair set of criteria on which to judge them.
For example, “Amish Paradise” is a song parody based on Coolio’s “Gangster Paradise.” Although I am not an avid fan of rap music, based on its lyrics alone this parody is pure perfection. Add to that the song’s hilarious concept—an Amish man who raps (!!!) using lines such as ‘you know I shun fancy things/like electricity’—and the delicious irony of a pious man “bragging” about his “humility” by saying ‘I know I’m a million times as humble as thou art’—and you now have something on the level of genius.
The same goes for “Pretty Fly for a Rabbi,” which is a parody of the punk hit “Pretty Fly (for a White Guy)” by the Offspring that extols the many virtues of a Jewish leader using a type of music to which people normally slam dance. And then there’s the “The Rye or the Kaiser (Theme From Rocky XIII)” based on Survivor’s megahit and the theme song of the movie, “Rocky III,” which imagines the title character now retired from boxing and running a deli. And we must not forget “The Saga Begins,” which is a musical account of George Lucas’ fourth Star Wars movie, “Episode 1: The Phantom Menace” based on Don McLean’s “American Pie” that replaces the lines:
Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry
And them good ole boys were drinking whiskey and rye
Singin’ this’ll be the day that I die
This’ll be the day that I die”
May be Vader someday later now he’s just a small fry
He left his home and kissed his mommy goodbye
Sayin’ soon I’m gonna be a Jedi
Soon I’m gonna be a Jedi”
If any of these songs are unfamiliar to you, I strongly encourage you to head over to YouTube or Amazon’s music center (after reading this post, of course) and treat yourself to one or more of them because they are awesome.
With these parodies, and all my other favorites being, quite literally, lyrical and literary masterpieces, it would be impossible to choose the best five or ten, much less to rank them in any way. In fact, rather than choose the one, five, or ten “Weird Al” parodies I LIKE the most, it might be easier and faster for me to name those I DISLIKE, since there are only five: “Grapefruit Diet,” “Germs,” “I Want a New Duck,” “Addicted to Spuds,” and “The Brady Bunch.” If any of these songs are unfamiliar to you, I strongly recommend you keep it that way because you’re missing nothing.
My love of parodies likely goes back to childhood when I discovered how exciting it can be to swap words to make a song either funny, outrageous, or controversial. The first parody I recall hearing was a version of that lonesome ballad about lost love, “On Top of Old Smoky” called “On Top of Spaghetti.” As a kid I got a real charge out of the idea of a meatball being set in motion by a mere sneeze and then travelling from its perch atop a plate of steaming pasta out into traffic only to be crushed by a tire. If you’re unfamiliar with this parody, I recommend you seek therapy because clearly you had an awful childhood.
Not long after hearing “On Top of Spaghetti” I became acquainted with its darker cousin. Retaining the title and many of the lyrics of the original, this version of “On Top of Old Smoky” told the story of murder and cleverly rhymes “blood” with “a .44 slug.” Depending on the person singing it (and their relationship with their currently educator, no doubt) the party being the victim of murder may be a lover or a teacher.
My taste in music got only slightly more sophisticated over the next few years. I don’t remember the details, but at some point I recall becoming fond of a variation on the classic “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” that replaced the words ‘merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily/life is but a dream’ with ‘throw your teacher overboard and/listen to her scream.’
For some reason, teachers were popular targets of musical parodies back in the seventies. Perhaps they still are. Perhaps fantasizing about offing your teacher and setting it all to music is how school kids resolve their cognitive dissonance over being forced to submit to another unrelated authority figure. Or perhaps I’m just full of it.
Either way, seeing harm come to your teacher was a common theme when I was a kid. Even at the holidays. In fact, it was during rehearsals for one of the many Christmas concerts from my youth that I came across a version of “Joy to the World” that had me in stitches for days—and in my Auntie’s bad books for weeks. I won’t risk inciting her further ire (which is a very real possibility since she is a devoted reader) by providing all of the lyrics here, but in case there are any wide-eyed innocents out there who don’t know what I’m talking about but REALLY, REALLY want to, I offer a couple of lines for elucidation:
Joy to the world/the school burned down/and all the teachers died
But lucky for the principal…
In honor of the season—and out of respect for all the wonderful, dedicated teachers past, present and future—I will end that quote here, and instead finish this essay with perhaps the greatest holiday-themed song parody of all time:
Jingle bells/Batman smells/Robin laid an egg
Batmobile/lost its wheel/and Joker got away—Ay!