The Weird Al Yankovic Music Video Fest

    As a novelty act, he accomplished remarkable fame simply by being the best and the most ambitious — be it with his untouchable culture-obsessed songwriting or his groundbreaking music videos. Weird Al will inevitably take his place beside Tiny Tim, Nicolas Cage and “The Simpsons,” on a long list of underappreciated art written off by most as an obnoxious gag. But for the rest of you Hawaiian shirt-clad loyalists, nostalgic twenty-somethings and casual fairground concertgoers out there, here are ten of Al’s most memorable music videos — some stone-cold classics and perhaps more than a couple surprises. 

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    1982 – “Eat It”

    Weird Al made two shot-for-shot remakes of classic Michael Jackson music videos in the 1980s (his food years). And while his Grammy-winning 1988 video for the “Bad” parody, “Fat,” may be the more visually and technologically impressive of the two, “Eat It”’s heartfelt homage to Jackson’s hyper-dramatic musical motion picture spectacle proves utterly timeless. It was his first classic video of many to come.

    Highlight: That double-whammy of a twist ending is pure comic gold.

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    1985 – “Dare To Be Stupid”

    It’s been long established that Weird Al’s style-sampling originals are often stronger than his straight parodies, and by 1985, the Devo send-up “Dare to Be Stupid” was his strongest yet. His execution is so genuine and thoughtfully absurd that Mark Mothersbaugh even heralded it as “the perfect Devo song.” The video has just as much surreal irreverence and green-screen buffoonery to match. In all the jubilant pastiche of the 80s’ hip-to-be-square nerd culture, Al inadvertently ended up making one of its most innovative and resonating images.

    Highlight: An infomercial host mummified in green bandages tenderly slices a kiwi, complete with sign language translation for deaf viewers at home.

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    1985 – “One More Minute”

    The festival’s coveted slot for “original breakup song” pins 1985’s love-sick Presley doo-wop gem “One More Minute” against 1992’s equally brilliant, vaguely James Taylor “You Don’t Love Me Anymore.” And while the latter features Robert Goulet caught in a bear trap, the video for “One More Minute” encapsulates the simplistic best of Al: equal parts farce and nostalgia without a hint of disdain. And like “You Don’t Love Me Anymore,” it’s a real breakup song (that’s actually a photograph of Al’s ex who inspired the song in the video).

    Highlight: That poignant lick of flame in the reflection of Al’s glasses as he casually mentions burning down the “malt shop where we used to go.”

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    1986- “Living with A Hernia”

    This delightfully dated exploration of James Brown’s coke-dusted disco days provides a great example of a solid Weird Al track made infinitely more fun by its subsequent video. Al embodies the hernia-stricken godfather of soul with grace — filming the video on the stage that appears in Brown’s original and using many of the original costumes. The med-school finale is also just priceless (not to mention educational).

    Highlight: High fives for obstructed hernias!

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    1992 – “Smells Like Nirvana”

    After the financial disaster that was his then-lauded, now-cult parody blockbuster “UHF,” Al’s answer to the budding grunge movement thankfully landed him his most successful single since “Eat It.” With enthusiastic support from fan Kurt Cobain, the video for Al’s MTV lampoon “Smells Like Nirvana” is pretty much exactly what you’d expect: same set and costumes (and janitor) as Nirvana’s original, plus a whole lot of Generation Y fuck-you attitude pushed to its absurd extremes.

    Highlight: There’s something so beautifully and authentically “90s counterculture” about those wide-angle close-ups of farm animals.

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    1994 – “Headline News”

    A bit of wildcard, as it was never officially released on a studio album, “Headline News” restaged three depraved contemporary tabloid headlines for an audience of grotesque carnies, all set to the melody of a song that Al seemed to predict was but an allotted 15 minutes of fame for Canadian one-hit-wonders the Crash Test Dummies. Consequently, it’s his most scathing social commentary, as well as the closest Weird Al Yankovic has ever come to making “serious” art.

    Highlight: The velvet Elvis painting hanging above the band provides a subtle referential Easter egg for you Yankovic diehards.

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    1999 – “Amish Paradise”

    The late 90s undoubtedly marked Weird Al’s second golden age, and “Amish Paradise” is another true classic. It strikes a gratifying balance between send-up of the original (the sweat-drenched profile shot, the redefined candle-lit dramatics), delightful Yankovian irreverence (“I know I’m a million times as humble as thou art”) and brazen, memorable music video filmmaking. And the fact that Al’s song and video provoked a beef with parodied artist Coolio kind of makes Weird Al a legitimate rap artist. Though Coolio was probably just frustrated that a white comedy musician’s metered flow and double entendre were miles above his own (and that his only other hit was the theme to “Kenan & Kel”).

    Highlight: How fucking perfect is that reverse sequence at the end?

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    1999 – “The Saga Begins”

    “The Saga Begins” is perhaps Al’s greatest music video, and aside from showcasing some of his best lyrics (written almost entirely before “The Phantom Menace” was released) it’s the penultimate example of what makes him such a gifted artist. Though it’s rarely the aim of his songs anyway, here there’s virtually no inclination that Al’s “poking fun” at Don McLean’s folky original. Instead, Al taps into our collective cultural psyche in order to fabricate an entirely new pop reality that is altogether separate from “parody” — in this case, a fairly straight-forward interpretation of what a hit music video would look like if it had been made a long, long time ago on Tatooine. Not to mention, it’s filled with more life and love for the series than Lucas himself was able to muster for “Episode I.”

    Highlight: It’s basically pure joy from start to finish (though the wallet-size portrait of Anakin is a definite winner).

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    2007 – “Trapped in the Drive-Thru”

    As Al’s videography enters its oft-regrettable straight-to-YouTube flash animation/cartoon phase, curating his more recent music videos can feel a bit obligatory. The nearly 11-minute animation for the R. Kelly take “Trapped In The Drive-Thru” offers a pleasant exception, thanks mostly to Doogtoons’ simple and cleanly rendered aesthetic that appeals to the song’s clever dramatization of banal married life. Still, it’s difficult not to imagine the fantastic potential of a live-action version starring Al himself.

    Highlight: A great interpretation of what “Behind the Music with Lynard Skynard” might be like.

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    2011 – “Another Tattoo”

    Finally, closing out the festival is last year’s doodle-packed riff on B.o.B.’s “Nothin’ On You.” After a string of dated and forgettable ‘toons, the video, by the sleek and more culturally relevant animators of “Ugly Americans,” breathes life into the catalogue simply by virtue of being — like the best of Al’s videos — packed with great art and even better ideas.

    Highlight: Any of these tattoos could be someone’s favorite. I’d go with the stabbed-to-death book of “Learning.”

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