If you’re like me, your musical journey has taken you through a lot of different phases. I definitely had my Ben Folds Five phase, my oldies phase, my contemporary Christian rap phase, and my David Bowie phase. Okay, I’m always in a David Bowie phase.
But one phase that almost every young music fan goes through is their Weird Al Yankovic phase. In 1993, Yankovic released his eighth full-length album, “Alapalooza,” and my eight-year-old world was transformed, never to be the same.
My next-door neighbor picked up the album, and I spent countless hours over at his house playing Sega Genesis and listening to such unforgettable songs as “Bedrock Anthem,” “Livin’ in the Fridge,” and “Bohemian Polka.” I started listening to Yankovic for the same reason most kids do: he was funny. But while I was chuckling along to songs about food and TV, Yankovic was subconsciously helping me appreciate the music of the bands he was parodying.
As my musical tastes grew and Yankovic’s career progressed, it wasn’t long before I was checking out the original songs by Red Hot Chili Peppers, Aerosmith, Queen, and countless others. When I started to expand my listening into different genres, I started with the bands that Yankovic had parodied. Yankovic has expanded his repertoire as well, parodying current tracks by Chamillionaire, Usher, and Green Day on his newest LP, 2006’s “Straight Outta Lynwood.”
Despite the fact that he is mostly known for his parodies of popular songs, Yankovic is a talented songwriter in his own right. In addition to straight lyrical parodies, he also performs songs that sound like they could have been written by other popular artists. Among these ‘style parodies’ are songs in the style of Cake, Devo, or Bob Dylan. He pulls off each with uncanny accuracy, as proven by my roommates walking into the room and asking, “Hey, is this Cake (or Devo, or Bob Dylan)?”
Not only is Yankovic’s versatility unparalleled, his longevity is astounding as well. His debut album, “ ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic,” was released in April of 1983. In April of 2008, Yankovic will celebrate the 25th anniversary of that album’s release, finally making him eligible for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio.
According to http://www.rockhall.com, The Rock Hall selects performers based on “the influence and significance of the artist’s contributions to the development and perpetuation of rock and roll.” In January, the Rock Hall announced its 2007 inductees, a class headlined by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, R.E.M., and Van Halen. Without Yankovic, there would be no gateway to legendary artists such as these for young listeners. The influence of these artists is dependent on new listeners, a demographic that is often brought into the music world by Yankovic.
A generation of music fans who were six to ten years old in the mid-90s is now in college. These students are working at college radio stations, downloading from iTunes, and making purchasing decisions based on musical knowledge that began with Weird Al. An entire generation of college students, keeping the record industry afloat with a passion instilled in them by “Eat It,” “Christmas at Ground Zero,” and “Amish Paradise.”
If that influence isn’t significant enough for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, then I don’t know what is.