'Weird Al' Yankovic: The Stories Behind The Songs

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Image Credit: ILLUSTRATION BY JACK BRUML NORTON/DAVID LIVINGSTON/GETTY IMAGES

For 35 years, “Weird Al” Yankovic has been music’s most reliable satirist, sending up the biggest pop hits and the most iconic artists for the sake of belly laughs. He’s about to release a brand new album called Mandatory Fun on July 15, so to prepare for a fresh batch of tunes we caught up with Yankovic to get the stories behind hits both big and small. 

“My Bologna” (1979)
“I had sent Dr. Demento a few home made tapes before that, and the Knack in the summer of 1979 was inescapable. I was a college radio DJ and every other request on the phone line was a request for ‘My Sharona.’ I had a stupid idea to make it a song about lunch meat, and I took my accordion across the hall because the bathroom had this acoustically perfect tiled vibe—the old Bathroom Wall Of Sound. I sent it to Dr. Demento in hopes that he would play it, and it became a big hit on the show.

Back in those days, I didn’t ever think that this was going to be released on an album some day, so contacting the original artists was the furthest thing from my mind. I thought, ‘They’re never gonna hear this—why even bother them?’ But it turns out the Knack did hear it, and when I snuck backstage at a Knack concert later that year and talked to Doug Fieger, I introduced myself as the guy that did ‘My Bologna,’ and he said, ‘Oh, I love that song,’ and he turned to his right to a guy who happened to be the vice president of Capitol Records at the time and said, ‘You should put this guy’s song out on Capitol Records.’ And they did! It was pretty crazy.

As you can imagine, as a guy going for his architecture degree at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, that was pretty heady stuff.  When I did ‘My Bologna,’ that was literally recorded in a bathroom across the hall from my college campus radio station, and when I found out that had been number one for two weeks in a row on the Dr. Demento Funny Five, I thought, ‘Well, it’ll never get better than this. I’ve reached my peak.’”

“Another One Rides The Bus” (1981)
“I think the first thing I ever sent to Dr. Demento, which has since been lost for posterity, was an entry into the ‘Pico and Sepulveda’ contest, where he would have fans send in their own versions of the theme song, which was ‘Pico and Sepulveda’ by Felix Figueroa, a song from the ‘40s where basically a guy just lists a bunch of famous streets and intersections in the Los Angeles area. I submitted a version which was horrible and one of the people who was a finalist ended up being my drummer John ‘Bermuda’ Schwartz. In fact, that’s how I met him.

Several years later, in 1980, he was invited to the show and I was invited to the show, and that’s where we met and literally an hour later he was banging on my accordion case and playing ‘Another One Rides The Bus.’ That was the only recorded version, the live sound check of that performance on the show. That became the record, and that was an hour after I met my drummer.

At that time, ‘Another One Rides The Bus’ ended up being the most requested song in the history of the show, and it got bootlegged around the world to the point where we were able to release it on a single and it actually charted. So I thought, ‘This is as big as it’s gonna get.’”

“I Love Rocky Road” (1983)
“Jake Hooker was part of a group called the Arrows, which did the song ‘I Love Rock and Roll,’ which Joan Jett had a hit with in the early ‘80s. Going into my first album, I realized I actually should be getting permission for this stuff, so when we approached the songwriters of ‘I Love Rock and Roll’ to do my parody ‘I Love Rocky Road,’ Jake Hooker said, ‘Well, that sounds like a great idea, and by the way I happen to manage Rick Derringer, and I think Rick would be really interested in being part of this project.’ I met with Rick, and I was a big fan of his, and I was honored and flattered that he wanted to work with me, and he ended up producing my first six albums.”

“Happy Birthday” (1983)
“That was an early pastiche. I do these songs which are basically style parodies. They’re not overt parodies of a particular song, but they’re meant to in an artist’s style. ‘Happy Birthday’ is actually one of two pastiches I had done of Tonio K, who is not obscure but he’s not an artist that a lot of people would immediately recognize. But I’m a huge fan of his, and that song was meant to be in his style. So it’s a very fast and dark and angry and weird. That was one of my early favorites. It showcases a bit of my dark side, I guess. Plus, I felt like we needed another happy birthday song, because the radio would always play the Beatles birthday song and there weren’t many other options. So I thought we needed to saturate the market with more birthday songs.”

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