Thursday, April 1, 2010

April 1: "Weird Al" Yankovic, "Eat It"

Artist: "Weird Al" Yankovic
Song: "Eat It"
Album: In 3-D
Year: 1984

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If it is true that imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, then there is one musician for whom artists from all across the musical spectrum should be head over heels.  For more than three decades, there is one man who has proven that if done with consistent quality, ANY type of music can produce a pop hit and cross over into mainstream success.  With a pair of Grammys, number one hits, and some of the most memorable music videos in history to his name, one cannot take the "easy" way out and write him off as a simple novelty artist, as he has proved over the years that there is only one man worthy of the title "Weird," and that man is Alfred Matthew Yankovic.  Donning himself  as "Weird Al," there has never been another musician more skilled at taking songs from across the musical spectrum and lyrically turning them into hilarious new versions, as Al has parodied everyone from Madonna to Coolio, and even taking a swipe at THE Trilogy (that's Star Wars, NOT that silly "Rings" movie).  Though for the most part, "Weird Al" has made these remakes with the permission of the original performer, coming up in the EmpTV era, Al nearly always uses the visual form to completely lampoon the artist in question, and this has led to many of his videos being just as memorable as the songs themselves.  Yet over the decades, there is one artist who was clearly a favorite subject of "Weird Al," and some of Al's most successful songs have come at the expense of the King Of Pop himself, Michael Jackson.  Case in point, in 1984, "Weird Al" found his greatest success, as he become known across the globe for his hilarious and truly brilliant spin on a Jackson hit, the retitled and rewritten, "Eat It."

The fact that over the years, "Weird Al" has managed to find new and interesting ways to recreate the songs he chooses is a testament to his exceptional musical talents, and taking on the brilliant original production of Jackson and Quincy Jones, as well as the guitar work of Eddie Van Halen was surely no simple task.  Yet bringing everything from "armpit squeezes" to the guitar playing of producer Rick Derringer, Yankovic manages to walk the fine line between staying true to the original, and turning it into something new, yet equally as fantastic.  Truth be told, when Derringer takes on the iconic solo of Van Halen, he actually rips to to shreds, and in many aspects, it actually does the unthinkable, surpassing the original as Derringer is far more aggressive.  It is moments like this that one cannot deny the arranging talents of Yankovic, as it is also clear that he has an uncanny talent for knowing "which" songs to choose and how best to "re-present" them.  Like many of his songs, the music on "Eat It" brings a far lighter and more jovial mood, and "Weird Al" furthered this balance between the two styles as he did what is nearly a "shot for shot" remake of the original music video.  Everything from the clothing to the sets are almost identical, and it was in this early video that the signature look of "Weird Al" was also solidified.  It is also within the video that Yankovic was able to pay further tribute to Jackson, as at then, Al turns to the camera and is wearing a pair of "cat eye" contact lenses, identical to those that Jackson wore in his legendary "Thriller" video.

Yet even with the wonderfully adjusted musical arrangement and the hilariously reenacted video, the core of "Weird Al's" success has always come via his uncanny ability to re-work a songs' lyrics into something completely different.  Nearly always turning songs into far more "friendly" affairs, on "Eat It," "Weird Al" goes after one of the most universal battles: that of a parents' struggle to get their child to eat different foods.  While at face value, there is nothing inherently funny about this time honored tradition, the fact that Yankovic is able to spin it into a comedic tale is a large part of the true genius behind his music.  Rarely repeating anything in his song, "Weird Al" is unquestionably one of the most talented writers of his generation, as even the bridges on "Eat It" vary, and it allows the true absurdity behind the song to morph into both a memorable and high quality performance.  With absolutely phenomenal lines like, "...don't want no Captain Crunch, don't want no Raisin Bran, well, don't you know that other kids are starving in Japan..." this remains one of Yankovic's more enduring songs, and the lyrics are just as amusing today as they were nearly thirty years ago.  On "Eat It," "Weird Al" also shows is amazing understanding of just how important timing and subtlety is to music, and without question, one of the most overlooked moments of brilliance on the song is when, almost as an aside, he drops the hysterical couplet, "Eat it, eat it, eat it, eat it...if it's gettin' cold, reheat it..."  There is not an off line anywhere on this song, and quite literally everything that makes "Weird Al" an unquestionable music legend is on display during "Eat It."

To write off parody music or comedic music as a "novelty" does one a disservice, and from the early days of Alan Sherman to the rise of Dr. Demento, the perseverance and unquestionable quality of the music over the decades has proven that, when done correctly, this genre can be just as good as any other form of music.  Without question, if there was one artist who has taken this idea to the "next level," it is the King Of Parody, "Weird Al" Yankovic, and over the past three decades, he has been able to reinvent himself with every change in musical trends.  Spinning songs into polkas and sonic montages, one cannot deny the fact that, though consistently funny, the arrangements and lyrics of his songs stand as some of the most unique and unquestionably amazing of his generation.  Further solidifying this fact is the unrivaled chart success of Yankovic, as he stands as perhaps the only "true" crossover artist of the comedic style.  His first breakthrough hit was his extraordinary take on Michael Jackson's "Beat It," and popular legend says that when Yankovic first presented the idea to the King Of Pop, Jackson was "amused" by the idea and gave his permission for the remake.  "Weird Al" was able to stay faithful to the attitude behind the song, whilst making it thoroughly absurd, and this juxtaposition is the hallmark of Yankvoic's musical prowess. Truth be told, there are few artists of any genre who have had as long a career as "Weird Al" Yankovic, and the fact that he is still relevant more than thirty years after he first appeared serves as a testament to the true quality behind his music.  Though he has had a number of successful songs, as well as group of equally impressive original compositions, there has simply never been another song that quite measures up to the comedic genius of "Weird Al's" 1984 classic, "Eat It."

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