With “Weird Al” stepping in as the new Comedy Bang! Bang! band leader and cohost, we thought we should do a deep dive into all things Yankovic. Sure, many of us grew up listening to the king of parody songs, but that doesn’t mean we know much about him beyond the microphone. Here are some of the most surprising facts we dug up about the world’s greatest song parodist/polka king. Welcome to IFC, Al. We’ll be sure to keep the fridge stocked with Spam.
10. One of his first songs was about his family’s car
Al’s interest in music began when his parents got him his first accordion lesson at the age of six. In 1976, he recorded a demo tape of songs which he gave to his idol Dr Demento when the oddball radio host spoke at Al’s high school. One of the songs, an ode to his family’s car called “Belvedere Cruisin’,” was an early hit for Al on the Demento radio show.
9. He gave himself a “Weird” nickname
While studying architecture at California Polytechnic State University, Al got a gig with the college’s radio station, manning the midnight to 3am shift every Wednesday. Wanting to stand out from the crowd — and give a tip of the hat to Dr. Demento — he took on the moniker “Weird Al” and made it his mission to slip odd music past his hard-nosed bosses at the station.
8. He recorded “My Bologna” in the bathroom
It was during his time at CPSU that Al would score his first major hit, a parody of The Knack’s “My Sharona,” which he recorded in the bathroom across the hall from the radio station. When The Knack played the small college, they met with Al backstage, and professed their appreciation for his spin on their hit song. The Knack’s lead singer, Doug Fieger, suggested that his label Capitol Records release “My Bologna” as a single. It was a hit, and led to Al scoring a record deal.
7. Michael Jackson refused to let him record a parody for “Black or White”
Al of course hit the stratosphere with his classic Michael Jackson parodies “Eat It” and “Fat.” The King of Pop was a huge fan, but still refused to let Al record a spoof of his 1991 hit “Black or White.” Jackson thought that his pop anthem had an important message, and didn’t want it undercut with Al’s proposed song “Snack All Night.” Granted, Al didn’t need to heed Jackson’s request, but he preferred to only spoof songs when the people behind them approved. He’s since gone on to state that Jackson helped save his career. Instead of another Gloved One parody, he wrote “Smells Like Nirvana,” his biggest hit in years. While Al never recorded “Snack All Night,” he has performed it live on occasion.
6. Victoria Jackson helped make “Smells Like Nirvana” possible
Fans can thank former SNL cast member and current controversial political blogger Victoria Jackson for Al getting permission to record his classic Nirvana parody. When Nirvana performed on SNL in 1992, Al called his UHF costar and asked if she could put him on the phone with Kurt Cobain. Al pitched a “Smells Like Teen Spirit” spoof to Kurt, who loved the idea and asked if the song would be about food. Al informed the singer that he’d be poking fun at the band’s garbled lyrics, an idea that Kurt was totally on board with.
5. Madonna came up with the title for “Like a Surgeon”
Madonna herself suggested the title for Al’s “Like a Virgin” spoof while joking with friends about when Weird Al would get around to spoofing her. The idea made it’s way back to Yankovic, who loved it and made it the first song on his “Dare to Be Stupid” album. It was the first and only time that one of Al’s songs came directly from the artist he was spoofing.
4. Coolio was not a fan of “Amish Paradise”
Due to a miscommunication, “Weird Al” thought he had the go-ahead when he wrote “Amish Paradise,” his take on Coolio’s hit “Gangsta’s Paradise.” Coolio complained that his song was about social change, and shouldn’t be mocked. Al apologized, but that didn’t stop Coolio from dissing him on his next album, rapping, “Fools be in the bars advanced with a switch. Uppercuts and fight kicks with Weird Al Yankovic.” Years later, the rapper admitted he had made a mistake, claiming it took him too long to realize that the parody was “funny as sh*t.”
3. The number 27 turns up often in his music
Yankovic loves the number 27. But unlike Pixar’s fixation on A113, Al seems to have come by his love of the number randomly. He accidentally used it in both “Like a Surgeon” and “This is the Life” before realizing the connection. After a fan pointed out the happy coincide, he called the number funny, and started squeezing it into any song that it would fit in.
2. Prince’s lawyer once forbid Weird Al from making eye contact with The Purple One
Over the years Al has talked about how Prince has frequently refused requests to spoof any of his music. But that was just the tip of the iceberg. Al once received a telegram from Prince’s attorneys, directing him to avoid contact with “His Royal Badness” at the American Music Awards. Al said he still looked a few times, just for the heck of it.
1. Don McLean accidentally sang lyrics to “The Saga Begins” onstage
Al had a hit with his Star War spoof “The Saga Begins,” released just before The Phantom Menace hit theaters in 1999. Set to the tune of “American Pie,” Al even attended an exclusive fundraiser that screened the movie before its release just to make sure he was getting all the details right. The song became a big hit, especially in the home of “American Pie” singer Don McLean. His kids played it constantly, causing him to mix up Yankovic’s lyrics with his own a few times on stage.