Alfred Matthew Yankovic was born in southern California in 1959. His father is of Yugoslavian descent and his mother’s ancestors were from Italy. When he was six years old Al was given the option of guitar or accordion lessons. He chose the accordion which would eventually help create a successful career. While studying architecture at California Polytechnic State University, Al’s accordion career and his ability to create humorous parodies of of mainstream pop culture music. Al Yankovic was able to use the new medium of music videos and MTV to catapult him to fame. He says he was influenced by his father who encouraged his accordion and polka music and told him to do whatever makes him happy. Musical influences included Elton John. Yankovic learned to play his songs on the accordion. Comic influences included Tom Lehrer, Spike Jones, Shel Silverstein, Frank Zappa, Stanley Freberg and Allan Sherman. Yankovic’s comic parody skills were further influenced by MAD Magazine, Monty Python, and Zucker Abrahams and Zucker’s music parodies. Yankovic would go on to have a successful career creating musical parodies, music videos, films, voice acting and writing.
While in college, Al Yankovic worked as a disc jockey at his college’s radio station. He also began writing and recording demos of songs that parodied rock music. These impressed southern California and syndicated radio host Dr. Demento who played Yankovic’s music. Songs like “My Balogna”, a parody of The Knack’s “My Sharona” and “Another One Rides the Bus”, a parody of Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust” quickly caught on. Soon Yankovic was performing his songs on accordion in coffee houses alongside what he calls “Dan Fogelberg wannabes”. Al Yankovic certainly stood out.
The Band and Tours
In 1981 Weird Al Yankovic formed a band with the help of his new manager, Jay Levey. The band toured as part of Dr. Demento’s stage show. Weird Al’s band played their parody songs and performed routines on the road in nightclubs. Weird Al had already come up with modest hits including “My Sharona”, “Another One Rides the Bus”, “Ricky” and “I Love Rocky Road”. Al released his first album in 1983 and his shot by shot videos were played on the brand new music television station MTV, but Al had yet to become a household name.
The parody of Michael Jackson’s hit song “Beat It” is what made Weird Al Yankovic a household name and shot him to stardom. Al always had to get permission from the artist before parodying a song. When Al approached Michael Jackson about parodying “Beat It”, he wasn’t sure what to expect. Happily Jackson okay’d the song and found it amusing. Jackson also received royalties for “Eat It” which turned out to be a good side investment.
“Eat It” was released in 1984, and is about a kid who is a picky eater whose parents try desperately to get him to try new foods. The song was the first single released on Al’s second album “Weird Al” Yankovic in 3-D. The song featured product placement including Cap ‘n Crunch, Raisin Bran and Spam. What really helped the song become popular was the music video. Weird Al Yankovic mad a shot by shot remake of Michael Jackson’s famous “Beat It”video. From the diner to the pool hall to the exterior street fight scene, the “Eat It” video followed “Beat It” to a tee but in an obvious fun satirical sort of way. Some of the dancers from the original music video were even featured in the “Eat It” video where Weird Al, wearing a red leather jacket like Michael Jackson, as Weird Al clumsily dances along. The music video was played heavily in MTV’s rotation, often airing six times a day. Weird Al Yankovic was now a household name. He was famous and was recognized everywhere, and he won a Grammy Award for “Eat It’s” music video.
Weird Al would go on to make other successful music parodies like “Smells Like Nirvana”, “Like a Surgeon”, and “Amish Paradise”. Weird Al wrote and starred in a mockumentary of his life, “The Compelte Al”. He opened for “The Monkees” on their North American Tour. He created the 1989 film UHF. He starred in several “Al TV” specials for MTV. He has appeared and voice acted in many television shows, produced more music, continued to perform in concert, continues to create polka melodies and even written books. Al Yankovic and his wife Suzanne Krajewski and their daughter Nina live in southern California. “Weird Al” Yankovic is an American icon.