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"Weird Al" Yankovic  – a Master of Music Parody

By Kent Johnson

Did you know that "Weird Al" Yankovic, the undisputed master of music parody, is an accomplished accordion player, was valedictorian of his high school class, and graduated from California Polytechnic State University with a degree in Architecture? (Apparently they weren’t offering degree programs in music parody).

So how did "Weird Al" Yankovic get his start?

Alfred Matthew Yankovic (aka "Weird Al") was born October 23, 1959 in the Los Angeles suburb of Lynwood. He was the only child of Nick and Mary Yankovic, and the young couple got their son involved with music at an early age (with the accordion, of all things).

As a youth, Al reportedly watched a lot of television, which would influence his later work and career. He was also a big fan of the legendary music comedians Spike Jones and Allan Sherman. His first exposure to these musicians was through the Dr. Demento radio show, which ironically would become the launching pad for his own career.

In his teenage years, Al Yankovic began recording his own accordion-powered music in his bedroom, on an inexpensive cassette player. He had nerve, and confidence, and he sent some of the recordings to Dr. Demento, who recognized some talent in young Al. Dr. Demento even played some of the recordings on his radio show.

Al went on to attend Lynwood High school, where he was a straight-A student, part time accordion teacher, and eventually graduated as Valedictorian of his class at the age of 16. From there he went to the California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo, where he majored in Architecture.

While in college, Al started moonlighting as a DJ on the campus radio station, KCRP. He gave himself the on-air name of "Weird Al," (mainly due to his offbeat music selections) and the nickname stuck. And throughout his college years, "Weird Al" kept recording his own music, and Dr. Demento kept playing it on his radio show, and soon Al had two nationally released singles: "Another One Rides The Bus," and "My Bologna."

After graduating from college, Al decided that architecture was not going to be his lifelong profession. He got a job in the mailroom for a large radio syndication company in Culver City, California, and eventually moved up to a desk job at the same company. In 1982 he signed a deal with Scotti Bros. Records, who went on to release all of his albums through Bad Hair Day, and "Weird Al" music career became his full-time occupation.

"Weird Al" Yankovic became a household name-—again thanks to Dr. Demento—-when "Eat It" became a smash hit after debuting on the Good Doctor’s show. The Michael Jackson parody also won Al his first Grammy award. To this day, "Weird Al" gives special thanks to Dr. Demento on each of his albums, since the radio DJ was the first to give his songs air time.

In the years since, Al has gone on to have a phenomenal comedy music career. As of March, 2000, he had four gold and four platinum records in the US, as well as five gold, two platinum, and one double platinum record in Canada. He’s been nominated for eight Grammy’s (and won three, the latest for his 2003 album "Poodle Hat"). He’s released 9 albums altogether, along with a series of compilations, a boxed set, videos, movies, and he even had his own Saturday morning TV show in the late 1990’s on CBS.

"Weird Al" has directed some of his music videos, and many celebrities have made guest appearances those same videos (Pat Boone was in "Gump," and Florence Henderson had a role in "Amish Paradise." He also assisted in the production of his movie "UHF," which became a cult classic.

What most people forget about Al Yankovic is that he does "serious" music as well as parodies. Roughly half of the songs on Al's albums are originals, meaning he wrote the music as well as the lyrics. Most of the albums also include polka-style tracks performed by Al and his band. In these songs, Al is able to demonstrate his considerable talents on the accordion.

In 1998, "Weird Al" Yankovic changed his trademark look of a skinny white guy in a Hawaiian shirt, glasses and a moustache. In January of that year, he had LASIK surgery to correct his near-sightedness, and he shaved off his facial hair (much to the chagrin of many of his fans). No one is quite sure what happened to the Hawaiian shirts, but Al will occasionally don costume glasses and a fake mustache during some of his shows.

Al was married on February 10, 2001, to his wife Suzanne. They have a daughter named Nina, born February 11, 2003, and they currently live in a home in Hollywood Hills, California.

Little Known Facts about "Weird Al"


Al does get permission from the original writers of the songs he parodies. While this is not required by law, Al has stated that he feels it’s important to maintain the relationships that he's built with artists and writers over the years.

During the height of his "Eat It" fame, Al did a spoof of Michael Jackson's Pepsi sponsorship when he appeared in a Diet Coke commercial. The commercial showed a man from behind, wearing a "Thriller"-style jacket, who then turned around to reveal it was Al.

Not every recording artist has given Al permission to do a parody. Prince, for example, has repeatedly refused Al's requests, as has Paul McCartney, and the rap star Coolio who claimed that Yankovic's "Amish Paradise" (a parody of "Gangsta's Paradise") was disrespectful of a song that felt was too serious to parody.

When asked about his musical influences, Al credits Spike Jones, Stan Freberg, Tom Lehrer, Allan Sherman, Shel Silverstein, Frank Zappa and all the other artists that he discovered through the Dr. Demento Radio Show.


Click here to visit Picklehead's "Weird Al" Yankovic page. We carry a number of Al's CD's, available through our partner, Amazon.com.


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