“Weird Al” Yankovic is a cultural icon and the best selling comedy recording artist of all time. He's known for his song parodies, but we wanted to delve into what music inspired him in his Guest DJ set, from an instrumental classic and some obscure singles to the best love song of all time. “Weird Al: The Book”, written by Nathan Rabin, is out now.
1. The Test Of Love And Sex - Fun With Animals
2. The Funky Western Civilization - Tonio K
3. Classical Gas - Mason Williams
4. Der Fuehrer's Face - Spike Jones
5. The Luckiest - Ben Folds
Eric J Lawrence : Hi, I'm Eric J. Lawrence and I am here with Weird Al Yankovic, cultural icon and the best-selling comedy recording artist of all time and he's not only the king of song parodies, but a master accordion player as well. So, we're very curious to hear about the songs he selected as part of KCRW's Guest DJ Project.
Weird Al: You seemed surprised that I'm here. "We're here with Werid Al Yonakovic…What? Wait a minute, how did this happen?"
EJL: Well Al, I want to thank you so much for coming down.
WAY: Well, my pleasure.
EJL: Well, what's the first song you've got for us?
WAY: Oh, let's start with a little song called "Test of Love and Sex", it's by a group called Fun With Animals.
WAY: It was a fairly obscure single back in my college radio days. Fun With Animals is, song for song, one of my favorite groups and one of the reasons for that is they only ever did -as far as I can tell- four songs. But each one of those songs is awesome.
Of those songs "Test Your Love and Sex" may be the best of all. It came out in the late nineties, middle of the new wave explosion and it sounds very Devo-esque. It could be a pastiche, I don't know if it's making fun of New-Wave, but I love this song because it is the most detached love song ever. I'm not sure if it's about robots falling in love and having sex or if it's like the human race in the future having been so disenfranchised that now they have to fill out questionnaires in order to mate.
Song: Fun With Animals -- "Test of Love and Sex",
EJL: You mentioned college radio. Were you actively involved in college radio?
WAY: I was. In fact, that's where I first got started with the name Weird Al. That became my professional moniker because I play all sorts of strange things like this on the air. I was sort of the surrogate Dr Demento for San Luis Obispo, California, so the name Weird Al seemed appropriate and, obviously, just kind of stuck.
EJL: That was Fun With Animals as selected by our guest, Weird Al. Well, what's the next song you've got for us?
WAY: The next song is by another favorite of mine, Tonio K., the song is called "Funky Westerrn Civilization" from the album, Life In The Food Chain. And, I'm not sure what Tonio K’s doing these days, but in the late 70's, early 80's he put out two or three really fantastic, bizarre albums.
At that time he was sort of a cross between Elvis Costello and Frank Zappa. He was angry and bitter and strange and random. “Funky Western Civilization”, I guess you could kind of call it a rap song because there's no real melody per se. He just sort of like shouts the lyrics and what I like about it is it's a dance song about the decline of Western Civilization. He’s just like, the world's coming to an end and we might as well dance, you know, why not? Let's enjoy the entropy of the universe.
Song: Tonio K -- “Funky Western Civilization”
EJL: You mentioned Dr. Demento. Talk a little bit about your relationship with him.
WAY: It's purely platonic, those polaroids mean nothing.
No, Dr. Demento basically discovered me when I was a teenager. I mean, if he hadn't existed my life would have taken a much, much different trajectory. I cannot imagine anybody in the universe that would have given airplay to a 16-year-old kid, recording things with an accordion in his bedroom onto a tiny cassette tape recorder. I really don't think anybody else would have given me a shot, but thank God for Dr. D. I mean, he played my stuff early on and I built up a cult following through the show and it gave me confidence to start banging on doors at record companies after I graduated from college and luckily things worked out for me.
EJL: Why did you pick the accordion?
WAY: I didn't pick that. I think my parents made that life-altering decision for me. When I was 6 years old - this sounds like a joke, but it's for real -- a guy came around to our door offering music lessons and he said ‘your kid can take accordion lessons or guitar lessons’ and my parents, being the visionaries that they were said, ‘Our little boy, Alfred, would love to take accordion lessons because when you play the accordion, you're a one man band. You will never be lonely. You'll be the life of any party…"
EJL: Well, you truly are…
WAY: And, you know, I think if I was a kid playing guitar and sending a tape, Dr. Demento really wouldn't have really thought it was a novelty, but here's a kid playing the accordion and thinking he's cool. And that really got his attention.
EJL: That was Tonio K. with "Funky Western Civilization", as selected by our guest, Weird Al. Well, what's the next song you have for us?
WAY: The next song is the first single I ever bought with my own money -- "Classical Gas" by Mason Williams. I heard it for the first time on the Smother's Brothers Show. At the time they played what ostensibly was the first music video I had ever seen. They had taken a couple thousand images of the most famous art in the world. Everything from Renaissance Art to Pop Art and they showed one frame of each piece, thousands of images back to back through the duration of the song and “Classical Gas” was the soundtrack and it was mesmerizing. I don't think that any network TV show would show it now because it'd probably induce epileptic seizures, but it was fascinating to watch and the music was great and it just kind of stuck in my head and it became my favorite song. That was when I was 10 years old and it's still one of my favorite songs.
Song: Mason Williams – Classical Gas
WAY: You know, I love instrumentals. It seems a little odd for a person, whose career is based on lyrics so much. The 60's and 70's were kind of a golden age for rock instrumentals. At the end of the ‘70s it got a little silly because they were just doing disco versions of everything.
EJL: That was Mason Williams with “Classical Gas”, as selected by our guest Weird Al. What’s the next song you got for us?
WAY: This is a favorite from Spike Jones who is one of my all time heroes. Spike Jones was the king of comedy all through the middle part of the 20th century – definitely one of my big inspirations. In fact every polka medley I’ve ever done is basically a nod to Spike Jones. And this was a big hit for him during, during Word War II which you may have heard of.
EJL: I’ve heard of that, yes.
WAY: That was a big deal a while back. And it was, you know, I think a cathartic experience for Americans because war is a serious business, but this was an opportunity for everybody, us as a country, as a nation, to give a raspberry to Hitler, which I think people enjoyed doing at the time. And it’s still fun! I’ll still give a raspberry to Hitler!
EJL: Talking about Spike Jones, “Der Fuehrer's Face”, that’s actually, technically a parody song because it’s parodying, I guess, the Nazi anthem.
WAY: Yeah and people sometimes denigrate, you know, music when it’s comical. They think ‘Oh, it’s a comedy band’ like, the implication being ‘How good could they be?’. But the thing is, they have to have the chops on top of the comedy. I mean, you know, even though Spike Jones was gargling, and doing the gun shots and the bulb horns, they were spot on. They didn’t miss a mark and you have to really know what you’re doing to pull that off and add comedy to it.
Song: Spike Jones – “Der Fuehrer's Face”
EJL: That was Spike Jones with “Der Fuehrer's Face”, as selected by our guest Weird Al. Well, talking about serious songs, the next song you have is somewhat of a little more serious tone. It’s from Ben Folds.
WAY: “The Luckiest”, this is from his “Rock in the Suburbs” album, and it’s just straight up I think the best love song ever written – at least, you know, it’s had the most dramatic effect on me. The first several times I heard this song it just destroyed me. And it’s hard to articulate why or what it is about the lyrics in the song that strike such a resonant chord for me but, I think he just really kind of got the imagery about what it’s like to find your soulmate, what it’s like to find the love of your life, and the whole true love thing. I mean, that’s hard to really describe without sounding mockish or banal, but he kind of did it. I mean, I got chills the first several times I heard the song.
Song: Ben Folds – “The Luckiest”
EJL: That was Ben Folds with “The Luckiest”, as selected by our guest Weird Al. Well Al I want to thank you so much for coming down.
WAY: My pleasure, this is fun.
EJL: For a complete track listing and to find these songs online, go to kcrw.com/GuestDJProject, and subscribe to the podcast through iTunes.