In February 1981, “Weird Al” Yankovic’s song “Another One Rides the Bus” was officially released as a single, roughly five months after it first received radio airplay.
In the early part of Yankovic’s career, the comedian befriended Barrett Hansen, better known as the eccentric radio personality Dr. Demento. It was Dr. Demento who gave the young artist his first airplay, and the accordion-wielding singer became a regular on the radio host’s syndicated specialty show.
“I used to get, like, 25 to 30 tapes every week, and one of the cassettes that came in was this one from ‘Alfred Yankovic: Lynwood, Calif.,’” Demento recalled to Yahoo! in 2018. “And I put it on, and though it was crudely recorded, probably with one of those little cassette machines with a self-contained microphone, the balance was right, you could understand his words, the words were funny and he played the accordion — which by itself was new and unusual at that time.”
As their friendship grew, Yankovic became a regular on Demento’s radio program.
On Sept. 14, 1980, Yankovic was scheduled to debut his latest creation, a parody of Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust,” with a live performance on The Dr. Demento Show. Thanks to its quirky lyrics and frenzied energy, the track became a quick hit with the program’s loyal listeners.
Listen to ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic’s ‘Another One Rides the Bus’
“If I had to pick out one moment as the most exciting thing that has ever happened on The Dr. Demento Show, that would definitely be the one,” Demento wrote in the liner notes to the Permanent Record: Al in the Box box set.
“And the audience agreed: For the next few weeks, we got twice as many requests for ‘Another One Rides the Bus’ as for everything else put together. Thank goodness I had a tape rolling! We even got it in stereo.”
Sensing how the song resonated with listeners, Yankovic decided to release the parody. Capitol Records, which had released his previous parody hit “My Bologna,” was no longer interested in working with the singer.
“I’m sure Capitol really thought of ‘My Bologna’ as my one hit, I’m a one-hit wonder,” the singer explained on VH1’s Behind the Music. “At that point, they pretty much stopped returning my phone calls.”
Without a record deal, and unable to find a new one, Yankovic borrowed money from Dr. Demento and pressed roughly 1,000 copies of the Another One Rides the Bus EP – a collection of four songs that included the title track, as well as three other originals: “Happy Birthday,” “Gotta Boogie” and “Mr. Frump in the Iron Lung.” Yankovic sold these EPs in local record stores, arranging consignment deals with the owners. His plan worked, as they quickly sold out (and have since become a sought-after collector’s items).
“I would get home from class and my roommate would say, ‘Oh, New Zealand just called – they want to know how they can get ‘Another One Rides the Bus,’” Yankovic recalled in the liner notes to Permanent Record. “So I knew I had a sizable underground hit.”
Word of Yankovic’s parody even reached Queen. “There’s been a few cover versions [of ‘Another One Bites the Dust’] of various kinds,” guitarist Brian May noted in an interview at the time (later reprinted in Queen: The Complete Works). “Notably ‘Another One Rides the Bus’, which is an extremely funny record by a bloke called ‘Mad Al’ or something in the [United] States — it’s hilarious.”
Watch ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic Perform ‘Another One Rides the Bus’
Sensing Yankovic’s growing popularity, TK Records signed the comedian and agreed to release “Another One Rides the Bus” as an official single in February 1981.
The track continued gaining steam, making it to Billboard’s Bubbling Under chart and ranking as high as No. 104. It seemed as though momentum would easily take it into the Top 100, an impressive feat for a comedy track. But then things suddenly came crashing down.
TK Records, which had come to prominence during disco’s reign, had fallen on tough financial times. The label abruptly shut down, halting all its distributions and promotions. Doing so completely stagnated “Another One Rides the Bus,” the final single released by TK Records. The company was soon sold to Roulette Records, which then turned the imprint into Sunnyview Records.
By this point, Yankovic was long gone – his brief relationship with TK lasting for the one single only. Continued appearances on The Dr. Demento Show helped keep his career moving forward, as did his first television appearance, a performance on The Tomorrow Show With Tom Snyder. He met Jay Levey, the man who’d become his longtime manager, later that year. Still, it wouldn’t be until 1983 that Yankovic’s debut album would be unleashed onto the world.