“Weird Al” Yankovic is the undisputed king of parody songs, but his career hasn’t always been smooth sailing. In 1991, the artist was suffering through a commercial lull. His 1989 movie UHF had been a commercial flop, as was its soundtrack. In an attempt to return to prominence, Yankovic briefly considered doing another Michael Jackson spoof – following in the footsteps of his hit songs “Fat” and “Eat It” – but was rebuffed by the King of Pop.
It was around this time Yankovic first heard Nirvana, a band that was making waves in the Seattle music scene. “I heard Nevermind and I thought, Oh, this is really great. I wish it were popular enough for me to do a parody,” he later recalled to Spin, “but that’s never going to happen!”
In the next few months, Nevermind ascended to one of the most popular albums in the world, and Nirvana were suddenly the biggest band on MTV. Yankovic had a concept for his parody, but he wanted to get the band’s permission to move forward. When calls to the group’s management went unreturned, Yankovic went a different route.
Nirvana were set to play Saturday Night Live on Jan. 11, 1992, and Yankovic knew cast member Victoria Jackson, who had costarred with him in UHF. “I told her, If you ever get Kurt Cobain alone in a room, put him on the phone, because I’d love to talk to him,” he said. “And she did!” During their brief conversation, Yankovic made his pitch and was pleasantly surprised by Cobain’s response. “He was sweet and he got it in, like, five seconds and said, ‘Of course you can do a parody.’
“Is it going to be a song about food?” Cobain inquired. “Well, no, it’s going to be a song about how nobody can understand your lyrics,” Yankovic responded. “Oh, sure, of course, that’s funny,” the grunge icon replied.
And so “Smells Like Nirvana,” Yankovic’s hit 1992 parody was born. The lead single from his Off the Deep End LP – which also spoofed Nevermind with its artwork – proved to be a comeback for him. Its video earned heavy rotation on MTV, while spurring the album to platinum sales. Cobain even reportedly claimed he didn’t know he’d “made it” until Yankovic parodied his band.
Not every “Weird Al” Yankovic parody has a history as interesting as “Smells Like Nirvana,” but that doesn’t make them any less entertaining. We combed through his discography to find the Top 10 “Weird Al” Yankovic Classic Rock Parodies.
10. “Cavity Search” (1995)
A parody of U2’s 1995 hit “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me,” “Cavity Search” focuses on the terrors of a trip to the dentist. Lyrics mention such dental horrors as gum disease, toothaches and screams of pain. Yankovic amplified the song’s vibe by inviting his personal dentist into the studio during recording. The two men sat in a booth and drilled into a human tooth, using the sound throughout the track.
9. “I Love Rocky Road” (1983)
Food has often been a muse for Yankovic. This edible excitement began on his 1983 self-titled debut. Among the LP’s food-inspired tracks is this parody of “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll,” the classic song penned by English band the Arrows but popularized by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. Throughout “I Love Rocky Road,” Yankovic dismisses other ice cream varieties and champions the “one flavor good enough for me.” Its video, which largely drew on inspiration from Jett’s popular clip, helped make the song one of Yankovic’s early hits.
8. “I Want a New Duck” (1985)
Yankovic’s signature silliness is on full display in “I Want a New Duck,” a parody of Huey Lewis and the News’ 1984 hit “I Want a New Drug.” Lyrics talk about a mallard gone mad, biting his owner and trashing the house. Naturally, Yankovic dreams of a better pet – one who “won’t raid my ice box” or “steal my beer.” The singer admitted he “went to the library and read up on ducks for a week” before penning the track.
7. “Ode to a Superhero” (2003)
Nerd culture is another staple of Yankovic’s world, with sci-fi, polka and Star Wars among his many influences. On “Ode to a Superhero,” he embraces his comic book fandom, delivering a ballad about Spider-Man to the tune of Billy Joel’s 1973 classic “Piano Man.” “Sling us a web, you’re the Spider-Man / Sling us a web tonight,” Yankovic croons on the track’s soaring chorus. “‘Cause we’re all in the mood for a hero now / And there’s evildoers to fight.”
6. “Another One Rides the Bus” (1981)
Yankovic has often credited cult radio host Dr. Demento for giving him his first break. The broadcaster gave a teenage “Weird Al” his first airtime, playing one of his early compositions on the radio in 1976. The two kept in touch, and Dr. Demento became an early champion of Yankovic’s talents. During a 1980 guest appearance on the show, the artist debuted a new song, “Another One Bites the Dust,” live on The Dr. Demento Show. The parody of Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust” became an underground hit. “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 (real name: Barry Hansen) wrote in the liner notes to the Permanent Record: Al in the 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. Over the next couple of months that tape was duplicated and re-duplicated all over the world, as the song took on a life of its own.”
5. “(This Song’s Just) Six Words Long” (1988)
Yankovic’s work is at its best when it not only parodies its source material but adds a little tongue-in-cheek commentary as well. Such is the case for this 1988 track, a send-up of George Harrison’s “Got My Mind Set on You.” The song – originally released in 1962 by James Ray before being covered by Harrison more than two decades later – was the final No. 1 hit in the former Beatles’ career. Though the song is definitely more than six words long, Yankovic’s parody perfectly skewers its simplicity and repetitive nature.
4. “Bedrock Anthem” (1993)
This ode to the classic animated TV show The Flintstones combines two Red Hot Chili Peppers tracks for inspiration. At the beginning, Yankovic sings over the band’s classic song “Under the Bridge” before switching to a rendition of “Give It Away” after the opening verse (both songs come from RHCP’s 1991 LP Blood Sugar Sex Magik). Inspiration for the parody came from both the classic cartoon series and a live-action movie that was set to arrive in 1994. “I knew there was a Flintstones movie coming out, and I figured that for once I’d have my song out before the actual phenomenon,” Yankovic explained in the liner notes to his Permanent Record box set. “I’d always wanted to do a tribute to the Flintstones because I think they’re a big part of pop culture. I did a lot of research, really immersed myself in the Flintstones.” Despite this effort, the Red Hot Chili Peppers were reportedly unimpressed. “I didn’t think it was very good,” bassist Flea admitted to VH1. “I enjoy “Weird Al”‘s things, but I found it unimaginative.” We disagree.
3. “Smells Like Nirvana” (1992)
The delivery, the music video, the garbled “bargle nawdle zouss” line – everything about Yankovic’s Nirvana parody is perfect. Cobain agreed, referring to the artist as “America’s modern pop-rock genius” in one of his journals. Following the parody’s success, Yankovic met the Nirvana frontman only once in person, during a chance encounter at a restaurant in Los Angeles. “He just happened to be eating at an adjoining table with his friends,” Yankovic recalled. “So I got to go over and thank him in person. I just profusely thanked him and said, ‘Anything I can do for you, let me know.’ Kurt extended his hand to me and said, ‘Polish my nails.’”
2. “My Bologna” (1979)
The first single of Yankovic’s career remains a classic. “My Bologna,” a spoof of the Knack’s “My Sharona,” was originally recorded in a bathroom on the Cal Poly San Luis Obispo campus, where Yankovic was still a student. He sent the song to Dr. Demento, who gave it radio airplay, with fans often calling in to request the track. Yankovic got the song into the hands of the Knack by sneaking backstage at one of their shows. “I introduced myself to [Knack singer] Doug Feiger as the kid who did ‘My Bologna,’” he recalled years later. “He said ‘Oh, that’s really a great song!’” The parody – and the Knack’s enthusiasm for it – helped Yankovic land his first record deal. Not bad for a song about sandwich meat.
1. “Yoda” (1985)
Nerdy but cool, silly yet clever, “Yoda” was originally penned in 1980 when The Empire Strikes Back was in theaters. But it took five years for Yankovic to get the song officially released. The delay was due to permission, as both Star Wars creator George Lucas and the Kinks – the band behind “Lola” – had to be convinced. While the filmmaker eventually agreed, the group’s music publishers kept rejecting Yankovic’s requests. A chance meeting between Yankovic and Kinks frontman Ray Davies revealed that the band had never even been presented the parody for approval. Davies gave it the green light, “Yoda” was released on his 1985 LP Dare to Be Stupid and the song quickly became one of the most beloved in his one-of-a-kind catalog.