There’s a comedian musician named “Weird Al” Yankovic. I’ll assume you’re familiar with the name for the sake of the post.
His music comes with one of five premises:
- Taking Pop music hits and re-writing the lyrics in an absurd parody
- Making a medley of some other pop music hits, in a accelerated pace and in a polka style
- Writing an original song with original lyrics…
- … in the musical style of a popular musician or band
- … focusing heavily on a single humorous premise, absurdity or satire
- … lampooning a songwriting tradition (usually these are love songs apparently written by sociopaths)
For example, on his 1988 album “Even Worse”, the track list is:
- Fat – (type #1 – a cover of Michael Jackson’s song, “Bad”)
- Stuck in a Closet with Vanna White – (type #3.2 – an original song, with original music)
- (This Song’s Just) Six Words Long – (type #1 – a parody cover of George Harrison’s song, “I Got My Mind Set On You”)
- You Make Me – (type #3.1 – an original song in the style of Oingo Boingo)
- I Think I’m a Clone Now – (type #1 – a cover of the Tiffany song, “I Think We’re Alone Now”, which is itself a cover of the 1967 song by Tommy James & The Shandells)
- Lasagne – (type #1 – a cover, of the Los Lobos cover, of the Richie Valens cover, of the Mexican folk song “La Bamba”)
- Melanie – (type #3.3 – a psychotic writes a love song)
- Alimony – (type #1 – a cover, of the Billy Idol cover, of the Tommy James and the Shondells song “Mony, Mony”)
- Velvet Elvis – (type #3.1, an original song written in the style of The Police)
- Twister – (type #3.1, an original song written in the style of The Beastie Boys)
- Good Old Days – (type #3.1, an original song written in the style of James Taylor)
(Oddly, no polka medley on “Even Worse”.)
Folks generally either really like Weird Al, or they find him simplistic and stupid. Usually the folks who find him simplistic and stupid have only heard his straight parody songs (and only a few of them, and also they don’t have a weird sense of humor, and they’re dumb and wrong… but let’s not judge them too badly).
Sure, when I bought my first Weird Al cassette (his first album, Weird Al Yankovic), I bought it for “Another One Rides the Bus”, but the two tracks on the album that have always made me laugh the most are “The Check’s in the Mail” and my all-time favorite Weird Al song, “Mr. Frump in the Iron Lung”, both of which are 3.2s. This is common for his discography. I almost always like his darkest humor, and his original songs are usually the darkest ones.
But from the standpoint of musicianship, the ones that I admire the most… as a testament to Al’s actual skills… are his 3.1 songs. I suspect it’s pretty difficult to write original music that evokes enough of an existing musician’s style without a lot of hard work. A few artists that have had their work parodied or lampooned by Al mention that they occasionally think of his lyrics for their songs, which made me wonder…
Have any of them ever done a “reverse-Weird Al”?
I can think of two versions of this… one would be just covering Weird Al’s parody of your song (or covering his song written in your style) during a live event. Turns out this has happened at least to some degree, according to Wikipedia:
The Presidents of the United States of America were so pleased with “Gump”, Yankovic’s parody of their song “Lump”, that they ended the song with his last line instead of their own (“And that’s all I have to say about that”) on the live recording of “Lump” featured on the compilation album Pure Frosting.
I’d call that half meta. Or maybe 1/8th meta? I have to admit, if the Oingo Boingo guys were still doing the Halloween show, I’d pay serious money to hear them cover “You Make Me”.
The second version would be to go full meta and do a “reverse full Weird Al”.
Step One: Weird Al has written an original song in the style of your band, such as Velvet Elvis (The Police) or Good Old Days (James Taylor)
Step Two: the target artist turns around and writes a parody version of the Weird Al song, using their own made-up lyrics (presumably ones that are actually not absurd, but in your actual lyrical style).
I would be tickled to know if this has ever happened.
I’d be even more tickled if it happened, and then Weird Al went and included the parody version of his own song in the polka medley on a future album.
That would be meta-meta!