Chris Walsh (chris_walsh) wrote,
Chris Walsh

WWWAD? (What Would Weird Al Do?)

Thirty-plus years of a career and "Weird Al" Yankovic can still surprise us. Thirty-plus years and he can still find ways to bend almost any kind of music through his particular filter, like a prism for amusement.

I wonder how else he could surprise us. There are still styles he hasn't tackled, at least not on an album (I certainly don't have access to Al's inventory of songs he never put on albums, and I kind of envy anyone who does, because that likely means they know Al). He wants to surprise us; he considered re-doing Frozen's "Let It Go" as a song about Star Trek's Jean-Luc Picard, called (of course) "Make It So," but didn't because he found someone had posted their own version online already. So one by him would've been less of a surprise. But there is always another idea. And another and another...

For years I've wondered how Al would do a Ramones-style song: there's a deceptive simplicity to the music, sometimes paired with smarter-than-expected lyrics. My mind figures why not take that to the nth? Have that Ramones beat to lyrics, say, describing theories of black holes. BLACK LIKE THE LEATHER THE RAMONES WORE. How would a Weird Al version of Kraftwerk sound? Weird Al Japanese Pop? He hasn't yet done much country (I can only think of "Good Enough For Now" and, if you want to stretch the definition, "Truck Driving Song"). Could Al do something funny with instrumentals? We're probably a decade too late for there to be an Al version of the wordless vocals that cleolinda, back in 2004 when she parodied Troy, called "Our Lady of Soundtrack Sorrow." Oh, well. Maybe Bear McCreary and Raya Yarbrough will still figure out how to do that.

Then there's another challenge I thought of, but the time for it has most likely passed: could Al do a parody of an entire, single album? It could be a Weird Al concept album! He -- and maybe only he, since he's earned a reputation for being respectful of other artists' wishes and for getting his versions as close to the originals musically as possible -- could probably get a band's permission to do something that elaborate, but getting the OK from a record label might be too hard: "It would confuse the marketplace! It would hurt sales!" Darn, now I can think like a record label. I didn't want to.

(You will not be surprised to know I've recently listened to both Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall by Pink Floyd. I'm in even more of an album mindset than usual.)

We're in a music marketplace that's less album-friendly; it's a big reason Al has said he might not do a full album ever again, instead releasing his songs online from now on. He's done so for a decade (whoa, that just hit me), starting with his free release of his James Blunt parody "You're Pitiful." (He'd gotten Blunt's permission to parody "You're Beautiful," then Blunt's record label rescinded that permission, and Al responded by releasing it for free...and quickly writing the replacement song "White and Nerdy," his biggest hit up to then, so that worked out!) Some of my fellow Al fans have wondered if he'd release anything more experimental that way, in the spirit of his Frank Zappa style tribute "Genius In France" or his patter-song-on-steroids "Hardware Store," parts of which he sings at near-Busta Rhymes speed. I can't really know, but as a fan of Weird Al's, um, weirder stuff, I hope he does. I'd think the songs he'd release online wouldn't all have to be big hits; his fans have followed him this far, I hope enough of us would keep following him wherever he goes. But would a lot of us not have had the patience for his insane 11 1/2-minute epic "Albuquerque" if it had first come out online instead of on an album? I honestly don't know.

Besides, the idea of a Weird Al concept album? I'd say he came close to that already. With 1986's Polka Party. Really. So many of the songs have an underlying, pronounced nervousness to them: nervous about work (his Talking Heads style tribute "Dog Eat Dog"), nervous about how much can go wrong at once ("One Of Those Days"), nervous about unhealthy relationships ("Don't Wear Those Shoes"), nervous about MAYBE THE END OF THE WORLD ("Christmas at Ground Zero"). In the Eighties, I and a lot of my peers really felt nuclear holocaust could happen -- I had anxiety dreams back then about it -- and here's a cheerful-sounding, possibly brilliant song about that very thing happening. And Polka Party kicks off with an anthem, based on James Brown's everything-is-awesome anthem "Living In America," which Al turned into "Living With a Hernia." Nervous about health! (Which you could say extends to "Toothless People," too...)

What I'm saying, a lot of us already know: Weird Al keeps finding ways to have fun with music. I'm looking forward to how he keeps doing that.

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