With the release of The Essential Weird Al Yankovic, attention turns to acts who have performed as effective parody. Radio host Dr. Demento always enjoyed bringing the insane and inspired to a rather large listening audience that proved your music didn't need to save the world in order to be appreciated. And we here at List Of The Day always enjoy people who think music can break your heart but can also tickle it back to life.
Some people think Bob Dylan has released an album of Christmas Song parodies with his latest Dee-Lite-Perry Como influenced, Christmas In The Heart. Anything involving Bob Dylan is open to conjecture and many varying viewpoints. Even at this late date, there are people who still complain he can't sing. Not us, though.
Over the years there have plenty of jokers in the musical deck. Tom Lehrer took political satire to an artform and Cheech and Chong played some pretty awesomely lousy stoner rock. Adam Sandler amuses many and Monty Python's the Rutles were clearly the blueprint for the Beatles and all their silly little jokes. "Why Don't We Do it In the Road?" That's just crazy! What is that about?
Weird Al has had a lock on the high-tech end of song parodies. His early successes encouraged his record company to fund elaborate videos and his enviable professionalism and high commercial and critical stature often convinced the acts he was parodying to give Al the special access he needed in order to fully accomplish his goals.
But there have been others who have done a decent job goofing around. As always, I encourage you to list in the "comments" section anyone that amuses you, whether it be Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks or Randy Newman, men who are more satirists than parody hounds or someone I've unjustly ignored. (Let the Dickie Goodman fans raise their voices.)
10) Cledus T. Judd: Considered by some to the be the Weird Al of Country Music parodies, Judd specializes in writing parodies of songs that often sound like parodies in the first place. He named his third album, for example, Did I Shave My Back For This?, a spoof on Deana Carter's album, Did I Shave My Legs for This? Sometimes, the original is crazier, as Kenny Chesney's "She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy" is surely a sicker, less plausible idea than "My Cellmate Thinks I'm Sexy," which from the little I've read about jail, is a very real possibility, provided you are, in fact, sexy.
Spinal Tap: It's practically to the point of boredom that I cite these gents yet again and maybe we should allow The Folksmen from A Mighty Wind to take their place. In any case, Christopher Guest, Harry Shearer and Michael McKean are the kind of quick study dudes who notice the small stuff and write better songs than many of the people who were there in the first place. Then again maybe that's because they mostly write debut albums. Spinal Tap's follow-up albums suffered in comparison to their debut.
8) Flight Of The Conchords: Brett and Jemaine entertain me at least as much as Beck, who also likes to play around with genres. Their humor is best when calling and responding between one another, and the jokes can get old after a few listens, but isn't that true of even the best parody?
The Chipmunks: As a kid, I used to take my vinyl albums and speed them up to 45 to hear what they would sound like. I remember listening to the Beatles for days at the wrong speed. Imagine being the guy who discovers that people will actually pay to hear popular songs twisted up like this. We are a weird species.
6) Tenacious D: Sometimes you want to smack Jack Black. That's the whole point. His bluster, his bravado, his maniacal devotion to the music of his youth which is now on its way to becoming as much "oldies" as anything else. There's no escaping aging. But that doesn't mean you can't behave immaturely--especially if it pays.
Ween: Ween are the one group here you could sincerely argue do not parody the music they play. They just happen to play many different styles. In many cases, they're no more a parody than Mick Jagger singing in his country voice. Yet, when you listen to a Ween album, you can often hear the inspiration, the record they were listening to when they conceived of the idea. They've even gotten to the point where they can hire David Sanborn to play on their records and complete the puzzle. So what does this make them? Talented musicians with a smart-assed sense of humor? Do you think they'd be annoyed to learn they made this list? I bet they're happier than They Might Be Giants, another duo with a creative streak who didn't.
4) Bill Cosby: No, put away the Cosby sweater. That's not what I'm talking about. I once had my hands on a Bill Cosby album called Bill Cosby Sings Hooray For The Salvation Army Band! that includes a great spoof of Sgt. Pepper's to the tune of "Purple Haze," a version of "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" that's pretty unsatisfied with just about everything and a "straight" version of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" that's sung about as well as most of us in the shower with the added attraction of having what amounts to audible stage directions while the song progresses.
Spike Jones: By adding gunshots and whistles to music not usually associated with such horseplay, Spike Jones "murdered" the classics. But why not attach a horserace to the "William Tell Overture"? It wasn't like there were a ton of "remix" albums back then. Somehow he managed copyright clearances that not everyone could acquire, as we see with...
2) Allan Sherman: Allan Sherman's 1962 album, My Son, The Folk Singer, boasted parodies of "Frere Jacques" as "Sarah Jackman," "The Battle Hymn Of the Republic" as "The Ballad Of Harry Lewis" and other tunes that were in the public domain. And a few that weren't that led to lawsuits for copyright infringement. Unlike Weird Al, who mostly received the blessings of his subjects, Sherman was denied access to the works of Irving Berlin, Ira and George Gershwin and the estates of dead people who you would think would have a better sense of humor, being dead and all.
Weird Al: "Another One Rides The Bus," "Eat It," "Like A Surgeon," "Smells Like Nirvana," "Amish Paradise," "It's All About The Pentiums," Weird Al rewrites the songs the whole world sings. Plenty of bored session bass players have done the same, but they don't have Al's work ethic or determination to see their daydreams turned into reality.