Hey! Welcome to the second annual Weird Al Week! Over the course of seven days, Milwaukee Record will fill your feed with fresh, funny, and slightly fanatical Al-related materiel. It all leads up to Weird Al’s “Strings Attached” show at the Miller High Life Theatre on July 27! Fun!
In 1993, Scotti Brothers Records, nearing the end of its existence as a label, released The Food Album, a cash-grab buffet of “Weird Al” Yankovic songs that went on to be his only compilation album to reach gold status. Yankovic himself wasn’t eager to put the record out so soon after his 1988 Greatest Hits collection—as a silent protest, he commissioned the classic cover artwork featuring an alien fat-cat picking away at the last remnants of Al’s corpse. In hindsight, though, Scotti Brothers can hardly be blamed; the number of songs Yankovic has written about food might eclipse even his TV obsession, going all the way back to his debut 1979 single, “My Bologna.” So, while we’re probably waiting in vain for The Food Album Volume II to appear, let’s take a quick dive off the deep end into the culinary universe of Weird Al.
It all started in 1976, when Al was just a 17-year-old Dr. Demento fan. The champion of nerds and oddballs everywhere, Demento started playing tracks from a homemade demo tape by Alfred Yankovic on his radio show. One of the first songs that made it to the airwaves was “The School Cafeteria,” which may have been an early subconscious indicator of Al’s future transformation from fast-food aficionado to mostly-vegan health nut. The young Yankovic went so far as to remake Demento’s outro music as an ode to breakfast cereal, “Cheerios, Apple Jacks, Cheerios,” establishing his obsession with eatables even before he’d chosen his professional nickname.
The general public will forever know Al primarily for his parodies of other artists’ songs, and although this may be somewhat unfair, his penchant for parodies extends far beyond his recorded catalog. Much like Phish, some of his best material only appeared in his live performances. Sometimes this was due to failure to obtain permission from the original artists, but sometimes the gag wasn’t sufficiently fruitful to justify an entire song’s worth of rhyming puns. For many years, his concerts featured an actual “food medley,” which periodically swapped dozens of different unreleased song fragments. Sadly, the Weird Al bootleg market didn’t take off early enough to capture presumable classics such as “Year Of The Fat” or “Hot Dog And Apple Pie” or “Give A Little Bit Of Your Lunch To Me,” but many of the other snippets are easy to find online nowadays, prompting many fans to wonder why “Throw Gravy On You” or “Spameater” or “We Got The Beef” never got fleshed out into full tunes.
Then there’s this unreleased gem from 1980 that would surely make Pete Townshend roll over in his grave (if he were dead): “Won’t Eat Prunes Again.” Not only is the original synth part perfectly suited to accordion interpretation, young Al’s got the pipes to rival Roger Daltrey’s iconic scream at the song’s climax. Sure, the subject matter is a little…gross, but this recording definitely makes us wonder what other lost classics might resurface if some of Al’s Cal Poly classmates come across old tapes in their basements.
It was an anthem about ice cream that landed him a contract with Scotti Brothers in the first place: “I Love Rocky Road” became Al’s first bona fide top-40 radio success in 1982 (although officially, it only made it to #106 on Billboard’s “Bubbling Under Hot 100 Singles” chart, which apparently is still a thing that exists). Then came “Eat It,” which catapulted Weird Al to international stardom, becoming the most well-known song of his career and earning him a Grammy. Curiously, though, it was his last charting single that had anything to do with food, unless you count “Fat,” which did scrape in at #99 in 1988. (Okay, and “Amish Paradise” does mention churning lots of butter, but that hardly counts.) It seems that lampooning celebrities and subcultures is more lucrative in the long run than dietary ditties.
In fact, since the turn of the century, Al’s focus on foodstuffs seems to have dropped off significantly. “Couch Potato” doesn’t really count. “Foil” at least starts with some culinary references, but ultimately it’s not really about food. “Trapped In The Drive-Thru” (from 2006’s Straight Outta Lynnwood) may be his only food-based album track of the millennium thus far.
At the top of the Weird Al food pyramid: dairy. (At the bottom: sauerkraut.) In addition to the aforementioned “Rocky Road,” may we present this nugget from the mostly-forgotten 1997 MTV program The Weird Al Show, which, if “On Wisconsin” ever falls victim to the five principles of state-anthem design, might well serve as the People’s Anthem:
Al also provided his voice for a character in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic named, naturally, Cheese Sandwich. And let’s not forget about Twinkie-wiener sandwiches, people. Not only does Twinkie filling simulate an unknown dairy product of some kind, the delicacy consumed by George Newman in UHF would not be complete without a generous dollop of pressurized canned cheese, which…also probably contains no actual milk. What were we talking about again? Oh, right, The Weird Al Show. In the show’s very first episode, Al prepares a delicious snack of hickory-flavored asphalt with anchovy Jell-o on whole wheat bread, dips his arms into a vat of hot melted chocolate, and also introduces the world to his latest invention, jalapeño-flavored super-buoyant edible ping-pong balls. And yet, Guy Fieri has never so much as acknowledged Yankovic as an influence.
So, what does this all mean for Weird Al’s “Strings Attached” tour? We’re valiantly abstaining from checking out the setlists, so we can only speculate: Which of his food-based songs might make sense with orchestral backing? Would this be a good time to resurrect “Theme From Rocky XIII (The Rye Or The Kaiser),” “Addicted To Spuds,” or possibly “Spam”? “Grapefruit Diet” seems like a no-brainer, but we’re not getting our hopes up for “Waffle King” even though it seems like it would work quite well.
Let’s not beat around the bush, though. If there’s one song in the Weird Al canon that positively demands a string section, it is his still-unreleased parody of “Live And Let Die.” Although Sir Paul refused to condone Al’s version on vegetarian grounds (because of course he did), Yankovic has performed “Chicken Pot Pie” as part of the Food Medley on past tours. Will this lost classic finally get its due in 2019? Is it safe to blow off fireworks in the Miller High Life Theatre? *sigh* Well, maybe for the outdoor leg of the tour.