Category Archives: Take 5

Take 5: Weird Al Yankovic

A Special Take 5: A Celebration of the One and Only Weird Al Yankovic

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Thanks to the internet, there are a million different parodies for every pop hit. However, very few are a fraction as good as the progenitor of the pop parody, Mr. Alfred Matthew “Weird Al” Yankovic. Influenced by a wide array of talents such as Shel Silverstein, Spike Jones, Frank Zappa, Monty Python, and as an avid listener of Dr. Demento’s radio show, Weird Al got his start when Dr. Demento aired a homemade tape of 16-year-old Yankovic’s accordion-arranged parodies in 1976.

He continued honing his zany persona as a radio DJ for his college station (did you realize he studied architecture? How predictably unpredictable of Weird Al), while still making appearances on Dr. Demento’s show with classics like “My Balogna” (“My Sharona” by The Knack) and a live version of “Another One Rides the Bus” (“Another one Bites the Dust” by Queen). The latter caught on in a big way, leading to an appearance on Tom Snyder’s TV show and a tour with Dr. Demento’s live show, which quickly led to Yankovic forming his own band and making a full-time career out of his special talent.

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Coinciding with the infancy of MTV, Yankovic gained prominence with his equally hysterical music videos. His early efforts such as “I Love Rocky Road” (“I Love Rock & Roll” by Joan Jett & The Blackhearts) and “Eat It” (“Beat it” by Michael Jackson), which scored him his first of three Grammy’s, provided the “idiot giggles” with fart noises and other juvenile sound effects. Both his comedy and his musical abilities drastically improved with his iconic parody of Michael Jackson’s “Bad,” “Fat,” which was a shot-for-shot video except that Weird Al was in a gargantuan fat suit.

By the 90s popular music and their videos veered from the campiness of the 80s to a self-serious, edgy, urban style; the seriousness of music is even more pronounced today. In this shift, Yankovic has become more regarded as a novelty act than a comedian-musician, which is a far more accurate representation.

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While most singers enjoy Yankovic’s spoofs, one rapper, Coolio got his boxers in a wad over Weird Al’s take on his hit 1995 song (his only hit as far as I can tell) “Gangster’s Paradise,” with “Amish Paradise,” which was a dis of the Amish and not denigrating of Coolio or his song. Even as ridiculous as Coolio’s grievance is, Weird Al, who is respectful of other’s feelings, made sure to get firsthand permission from the celebrities, rather than liaison’s like he did in the past, though he was not legally required to do either.

The irony is that Coolio is being laughed at with appearances on Reality Shows while Weird Al is being laughed with all the way to number one of the charts for the first time with his latest album Mandatory Fun, which marks the end of his 14-year contract with Atlantic Records.

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He has taken the internet by storm with music videos, each one released for each song, spoofing Beyonce’s model. This has already received a lot of press. From reading some of the articles, it is interesting to see how Yankovic is looked down on for not doing parodies that snarkily make fun of singers and their songs (I have nothing necessarily against that mode of parody, as some like The Key of Awesome do it very well). The joy of Weird Al’s work is that he takes familiar tunes but makes them about seemingly unrelated topics, mostly food. In a gently satirical way, they do poke fun at our society.

Here are five fantastic songs and music videos by Weird Al Yankovic. Long live the King!

Like a Surgeon

For those who accuse Weird Al of being a lightweight, check out his take on Madonna’s “Like a Virgin,” where he pointedly mocks the corrupt, capitalistic medical industry playing an incompetent surgeon fresh out of med school who only cares about the money. He’s a less glamorous “Material Boy,” tee hee. He mocks Madonna’s original video with a lion arbitrarily roaming around the hospital as well as the pop star herself by emulating her breathy singing voice and her showy dance moves. Credit to Madonna for inspiring the title.

Trapped in the Drive-Thru

This epic 10 minute opus is Yankovic’s pinnacle of his oeuvre of food-themed parodies. Riffing R. Kelly’s bloated 90-minute hip-hopera saga (which I can’t tell if it’s deadly serious or if it’s intentionally funny) “Trapped in the Closet,” Yankovic narrates every detail of a laughably dull couple’s journey to the drive-thru and the obstacles they must face to order a cheeseburger and a medium soda.

White and Nerdy

This 2006 riff of Chamillionaire’s and Krayzie Bone’s gangsta rap “Ridin” is Weird Al’s artistic manifesto. He can really rap his ass off! Donny Osmond, one of the most endearing nerds in the biz, almost steals the show with his hilariously uncool background dancing.

Polka Face

This mashup medley of various pop songs kicks off and ends its trippiness with a performance of Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” in an accordion polka style and runs the gamut of absurdity with terrifying stalker robots, a perverted baby Justin Bieber, a dancing pig and chicken duo, and a bubblehead figure pulling its brain out multiple times, among other demented vignettes.

Spy Hard

Required viewing for all James Bond enthusiasts. Yankovic effectively spoofs various elements from the title songs of Bond movies, such as singing in the camera under a water background a la Sheena Easton (remember her?) to the exaggerated final long note of Shirley Bassey’s “Goldfinger” (who in real life almost passed out as she was singing it in an uninterrupted take).

Honorable Mention: Weasel Stomping Day

This short ditty, a collaboration with the team of the irreverent Adult Swim Claymation Robot Chicken, is probably Weird Al’s most morbid piece of musical comedy. The title is pretty spot, or in this case, splat on.

Take 5: Dakota Staton

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By Adam Tawfik

Every profession has its obstacles, but few match the challenges of survival in the cutthroat and fickle music industry. Millions of so-called musicians (really glorified noisemakers) have had a one-night stand with fame, but every now and again, there is an artist who has been criminally overlooked and ripe for rediscovery. Dakota Staton definitely falls into that latter category.

While Staton has achieved more than 15-minutes of fame, she has never matched the success of her debut 1957 LP “The Late, Late Show.” While full of pep, “Late Show” only scratches at the surface of Staton’s amazing talents.

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Many attribute Staton’s decline in popularity to her conversion to Islam and marriage to the controlling and divisive trumpeter Talib Ahmad Dawud. If this is the case, it is wholly the consumer’s loss as they’ve missed out on an impressive body of work that showcases a powerful, soulful voice that became even better with age. Although she passed away in 2007, her work will live on.

Here are five songs selected to turn you into a diehard Dakota Staton fan.

5. It Could Happen to You

While Staton hadn’t quite developed the huskiness in her voice at this early point in her career, she had vivid, dynamic energy that is fully realized in her rendition of this song (I know the video says it’s “Some Other Spring,” but trust me, it’s not). The album’s title “Dynamic” is fully earned.

4.  Jim

Staton effectively delivers a restrained performance on this track, poignantly narrating the tragic saga of a woman who “will go on carrying the torch for Jim,” a ne’er-do-well who doesn’t love her. This is the first time I’ve heard this tune, but it’s becoming one of my favorite heartbreak songs.

3. Young Generation

When Jazz fell out of favor with American audiences’ in the mid-1960s throughout the 1970s, many artists in the field dabbled in R & B, Disco, and/or Pop. Staton is one of the few to satisfyingly crossover, with this 1970 R & B/Funk song as the strongest. It’s intelligent, catchy lyrics and groovy beat (and of course the powerhouse Staton herself) make this song the perfect tribute to the brave young men and women who crusaded the Civil Rights and Anti-Vietnam protests and fought valiantly for a more equal, just world.

2. I Thought About You

This one is on the list as much for the fact that it’s one of the few pieces of footage of her available on the internet, even if the quality is shoddy. But for the few seconds that the videographer actually films Staton, we get a glimpse of a remarkable diva, with her larger-than-life poodle-esque mane of hair and heavily beaded white blouse and trousers which emphasizes her hefty bosom and voluptuous figure. As always, she goes against the grain in her interpretation of standards making this song, which is normally performed as a languid ballad, a groovy foot-tapper.

1. Mean to Me

I’ve heard this standard serviceably recorded by several other jazz singers, but Staton with her powerful smoky voice and bluesy phrasing imbues a sense of passion and gravitas lacking in other interpretations. This definitely is her best individual performance and possibly one of the best recorded ballads of jazz history.