Alex has been an online sports and pop culture writer for five years. When he's not writing about sports, Alex is an aspiring screenwriter.
The King of Spoof Culture
It’s tempting to rag on parody artists since their work is inherently derivative. But "Weird Al" Yankovic has made a real art out of it. He wasn’t the first, but he’s certainly the one people think about.
The fact that he remains relevant in an era where any YouTuber can crank out a parody of a song, it’s impressive that "Weird Al" coexists with a culture he essentially created. A big part of that is how clever his parodies are (not to mention the fact that he does mix in funny originals). Anyone who’s tried merely crowbarring a phrase into the melody of a song probably realizes that "Weird Al" makes that stuff look easy.
But every now and then, Yankovic's efforts actually outshine the original. It’s bound to happen: Musicians who are big deals one day can be just a trivia question the next. Or maybe we don’t want to remember certain songs for… other reasons. But here is a collection of "Weird Al" songs that for one reason or another seem to be better remembered than the originals.
Honorable Mention: "I Think I'm a Clone Now" (1988)
Version Spoofed: Tiffany, "I Think We're Alone Now" (1987)
This is only an honorable mention because the original version of "I Think We're Alone Now" by Tommy James and the Shondells is not some forgotten, underground novelty. The song remains popular, including a recent cover by Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day.
However, the version on the charts when Yankovic spoofed it was by Tiffany. It’s easy to forget because even though it was a number one hit, you don’t hear it as often anymore.
Plus, "Weird Al" has spoofed a lot of songs that are famous but long gone from the charts—“Lola”, “MacArthur Park”, and most famously “American Pie.” Come to think of it, “The Saga Begins” has more affection than the movie "Weird Al" was singing about (The Phantom Menace). Maybe that’s another honorable mention.
5. "I Lost on Jeopardy" (1984)
Original: Greg Kihn Band, "Jeopardy" (1983)
This one is a little borderline because I still hear Greg Kihn’s “Jeopardy” every now and then. It pops up in movies and TV shows here and there, and I occasionally hear it on '80s stations.
But, I also question if any song has teed itself up for a parody quite like this one. The original chorus even sounds like, “I lost on Jeopardy.” It’s easy to see why people remember the "Weird Al" song, though. Greg Kinh’s “Jeopardy” has hooks and is catchy, but the lyrics are a little generic. "Weird Al," on the other hand, does such a great job painting pictures with words—even without the video.
The fact that "Jeopardy" has remained popular despite the fact "Weird Al" is describing a version of the show many viewers are too young to remember is moot. I’m not used to using the word "relatable" when it comes to Yankovic’s music, but it's applicable.
Also, the hilarious Don Pardo monologue fills in the empty space in the original song. Considering Greg Kihn made a cameo in the video, I guess he wasn’t too busted over being outclassed.
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4. "Cavity Search" (1996)
Original: U2, "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me" (1995)
Unless you’re a dedicated Batman Forever fan, most people don’t remember “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me.” People tend to remember that other song that was stuffed into the latter half of the end credits, Seal's “Kiss from a Rose.” Besides Weird Al’s funny lyrics about a dentist visit, I find the fact that he even picked this song to be hilarious.
U2's song did in fact make the Top 20, even though I don't remember hearing it even when Batman Forever was a mega-hit. The band has performed "Hold Me, Thrill Me" on a few live tours, but it's not fair to call it a staple of U2's act.
3. "Trapped in the Drive-Thru" (2006)
Original: R. Kelly, "Trapped in the Closet" (2005)
Considering the controversy surrounding R. Kelly, it’s pretty easy to see why nobody wants to talk to about the original “Trapped in the Closet.” At the same time, even if one ignores his crimes, a song like "I Believe I Can Fly” can still be enjoyed unironically.
“Trapped in the Closet,” though, just begged to be parodied. It was a silly song, and the question wasn’t, “Would 'Weird Al' parody the song?” but rather “HOW would he do it?”
In one of his funniest songs, "Weird Al" spends 10 minutes weaving a tale of the most tedious trip to order food from the drive-thru. Unlike "I Lost on Jeopardy," his descriptions aren't even that wacky. Everything that happens is plausible, making the joke even funnier.
Even if you’re unfamiliar with R. Kelly's original, Yankovic's spoof is still pretty funny—whether it's his overuse of the phrase "drive-thru" or overemoting to simple things.
There’s an animated video for this song, but honestly, I’m not a huge fan. The joke is how tedious and pedestrian the events are, and actually seeing said events takes something away from the song, which on its own is hilarious. (Tho I can verify "Weird Al" abridges the song live.)
2. "You're Pitiful" (2006)
Original: James Blunt, "You're Beautiful" (2005)
I fleetingly considered “White and Nerdy” for this list because apparently Straight Outta Lynwood seemed to be the era for "Weird Al" to spoof songs and singers with short shelf lives. But this one deserves to be talked about.
"Weird Al" famously butted heads with Coolio over “Amish Paradise” (though the two patched things up). In this case, James Blunt was actually cool with the parody, but Atlantic Records famously stonewalled Mr. Yankovic out of concern that James Blunt would get the scarlet letter of One Hit Wonder. I mean, if the shoe fits…
"Weird Al" gave it away for free on his website and performed it live—with appropriate digs at Atlantic. And in a prime example of the Streisand effect, Atlantic’s burial only added mystique to the song. “You’re Pitiful” was eventually released on Internet Leaks, probably because James Blunt’s reputation as One Hit Wonder had been solidified.
1. "Word Crimes" (2014)
Original: Robin Thicke, "Blurred Lines" (2013)
It’s not hard to see why the Robin Thicke phenomenon fizzled out. The surprising part is just how quickly it happened. Thicke owned 2013 with a super catchy song. The problem was questionable lyrics and an unlikable public persona.
Yankovic's version seems to have stayed popular because it keeps everything that works about “Blurred Lines,” but removes everything that doesn’t. The general consensus is that “Blurred Lines” is skeevy and pushy, if not outright rape-y.
Thicke clearly wanted to sound like a smooth ladies man, but ended up sounding like a stalker who won’t leave a woman alone. (Imagine Gaston or Biff Tannen singing the song.)
"Weird Al" replaced those pushy lyrics with some of his wittiest lines. Just from a songwriting perspective, it’s amazing he was able to squeeze all these multisyllabic words into one song.
But the wordplay is golden, with "Weird Al" being overtly nerdy in teaching grammar lessons, ranging from common mistakes to grammar Nazi pet peeves. Maybe English class would have actually been down with this song back in the day!
© 2022 Alex deCourville