The “Weird Al” Yankovics of Other Musical Genres, More or Less
Funny or “novelty” music is nothing new — Spike Jonze, Stan Freberg and Tom Lehrer were doing their funny musical shtick way back in the ’50s. The most famous funny musician of all-time, however, is undoubtedly “Weird Al” Yankovic, whose 30-year career has made him one of the most durable musicians of any kind, parodist or not. But Yankovic primarily covers Top 40 and mainstream rock, leaving the door wide open for acts in other genres to step up and be the “Weird Al” of their own particular style of music—or at least that’s their hope.
2 Live Jews (Rap)
There’s a lot of fake rap out there. White people just love to pretend to act gangsta while talking about decidedly non-gangsta topics, and have done so since the 80s, in youth-targeted commercials, not to mention the humorous rap of recent acts such as the Lonely Island and mc chris. But as far as a straight-up parody rap groups — in which an act specifically makes parodies of specific songs — there’s little competition beyond 2 Live Jews, consisting (not surprisingly) of two live Jews: Eric Lambert and Joe Stone. Although they later expanded to originals and parodying other acts, their 1990 debut As Kosher as They Wanna Be was a full-court press on the flash-in-the-pan controversial rappers 2 Live Crew and their filthy 1989 double-platinum album As Nasty As They Wanna Be. Here’s their “Me So Horny” parody, “Oy, It’s So Humid.”
P.D.Q. Bach (Classical)
Your socially awkward uncle who has owned more NPR tote bags than he has had dates is the kind of dude who’s into PDQ Bach. The music is brainy and the classical-music-in-jokes are way deep, which is probably why PDQ Bach has not reached the same level of fame as Yankovic. For more than 50 years, musician and composer Peter Schickele has played the role of an overlooked Bach relative, P.D.Q. Bach, by simply rearranging well-known classical works and adding “funny” instruments to the mix, such as the kazoo or a foghorn.
Number one in the hood, if by “hood” you mean “youth group.” ApologetiX are the clown princes of contemporary Christian music, not that there’s much competition. (ApologetiX is a “hip” take on apologetics, which means the intellectual defense of faith.) Since 1993, the band has released a staggering 18 albums on their own private label, consisting of parodies of rap, rock and pop songs, all with biblically-themed lyrics. For example: “The Real Sin Savior” (about Jesus) parodies Eminem’s “The Real Slim Shady.” “JC’s Mom” (about Jesus’s mother) parodies Fountains of Wayne’s “Stacy’s Mom.” The group even performs a song about how awesome religious grandmas are, in the form of “Smooth Grandmama,” a parody of Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal.” Here’s “La Bible,” in which ApologetiX affect fake Latin accents to sing the books of the Bible, all to the tune of “La Bamba.”
Cledus T. Judd (Country)
The “country comedy” thing hit big in the late ’90s, giving voice to a smattering of such catchphrase-spewing neo-bumpkins as Jeff Foxworthy (“you are a redneck if the following applies to you!”), Bill Engvall (“you should wear a sign around your neck, indicating your ignorance!”) and Larry the Cable Guy (“accomplish that task!”). Also part of this faux-hillbilly scene was Cledus T. Judd (real name, Barry Poole), who parodied hit country songs in the character of the redneckiest redneck in the trailer park, and made silly videos to promote them. Judd’s songs included “My Cellmate Thinks I’m Sexy” (from Kenny Chesney’s “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy”), “Did I Shave My Back for This?” (from Carlene Carter’s “Did I Shave My Legs for This?”) and this twangy gem, spoofing Shania Twain.
Dread Zeppelin (Reggae and Led Zeppelin)
Hey, you know what totally doesn’t go together, but has brought moderate wealth and fame for more than 20 years to the members of Dread Zeppelin? Reggae, Led Zeppelin, and Elvis. Dread Zeppelin is a popular, consistently touring live act with 16 albums to its credit, all consisting of super-heavy Led Zeppelin songs performed in a light, plodding reggae groove. Oh, and their lead singer is a guy who calls himself “Tortelvis,” because he is an Elvis impersonator who is admittedly fat. Here is a Jamaican-flavored “Immigrant Song.”
Me First and the Gimme Gimmes (Ska/Punk)
Ska bands are already ridiculous, what with their 45 members, their mohawks, their one ugly guy playing the slide-trombone and their fondness for jumping up and down a lot. They sure were popular for those three weeks in 1997. Me First and the Gimme Gimmes at least are (apparently) aware that it’s silly to perform straightforward ska/punk versions of popular rock and pop tunes, such as R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly” or Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl.” While billed as a comic punk band, the group plays their songs so bouncily and breezily that they might as well be a ska band without the horn section. There’s a major pedigree behind the band, too: it’s a side project for members of NOFX and Foo Fighters, among others.
Labeled and marketed as the “Weird Al of goth,” Cuban-born Aurelio Voltaire Hernandez works within the easily-parodied style of goth. Although Voltaire doesn’t parody specific goth songs (because how many Bauhaus songs would the average person know?), he does satirize the look, feel, and mopiness of the goth world with songs like “Graveyard Picnic” and “Hello Cruel World.” Volatire also wears a lot of black jackets and top hats. Best of all, his most recent CD has the most gothy title in the history of goth: Riding a Black Unicorn Down the Side of an Erupting Volcano While Drinking from a Chalice Filled with the Laughter of Small Children, which is delightfully artistically rendered on the sleeve.