“Mean Al” Yankovic?

January 23, 2018

The clown prince of rock n’ roll is known primarily for his gentle, silly parodies of popular songs, most of them about food. But the man behind “Eat It” and “Like a Surgeon” can also get a little nasty.

“It’s Still Billy Joel to Me”

The hottest thing in rock music in 1980 was New Wave, tight, guitar-driven songs inspired by the back-to-basics approach of punk rock, as well as a thorough rejection of the overblown arena rock and progressive rock of the ‘70s. Billy Joel got on the bandwagon with “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me,” a New Wave song in which Joel personally defends New Wave, along with any and all other rock subgenres because, hey, “it’s still rock and roll” to him. Later in 1980, “Weird Al” Yankovic, who had just had his first hit with “My Bologna,” an accordion-based parody of the Knack’s New Wave smash “My Sharona,” thought Joel’s hit was smug and uncalled for. So he recorded—but never officially released—“It’s Still Billy Joel to Me.” Sample lyrics: “What’s the matter with the tune he’s writin’ / Well, you know it’s gonna be a smash / It’s so nice when you’re a big name artist / Doesn’t matter if it sounds like trash.”

“(This Song’s Just) Six Words Long”

Who dares make fun of the “Quiet Beatle”? In 1987, George Harrison made a very welcome return to the pop chart—and hit #1 with—a catchy, synthesizer-heavy cover of an old R&B song called “Got My Mind Set on You.” Was it a little repetitive, and a little lightweight, lyrically-speaking? Sure. And Yankovic pointed that out with his 1988 parody, “(This Song’s Just) Six Words Long.” The song is self-aware, as Yankovic sings the actual lyrics “this song is just six words long” over and over until he breaks into some verses about how hard it is to write a good song.

“Achy Breaky Song”

Yankovic doesn’t usually employ a parody to mock the musician who performed the original, but he did with his send-up of “Achy Breaky Heart” and its singer, Billy Ray Cyrus. Cyrus briefly became a superstar in 1992 with his country and pop hit, which inspired a line-dancing fad in bars across America. Yankovic’s take places Cyrus, “Achy Breaky Heart” and all that they represent into a box with other embarrassing musical acts of the past, such as Vanilla Ice, New Kids on the Block, and the Osmonds.