An Insanely Thorough and Expansive Ranking of Every Weird Al Polka Medley

weirdalpolkaLet’s get right to it: below is an unnecessarily analytical and even more unnecessarily expansive ranking of all of pop song parodist “Weird Al” Yankovic’s polka medleys.

You know about the polka medleys, right? I mean, you know Weird Al, of course. He’s the guy who does parody songs (“Eat It,” “White N’ Nerdy,”, “Amish Paradise,” “Tacky”), which he has been doing since 1983. Well, Al also does this thing once per album where he covers a bunch of pop songs in a polka-style medley. If you’re a “Weird Al” fan, you look forward to them. They’re a thing and they’re pretty great.1

SO: in honor of Weird Al finally having had his first number one album (Mandatory Fun, released last year), I have taken his polka medleys and subjected them to cold statistical analysis.

My process: I rated each medley in six categories: Funniness, Musicality, Variety of Songs Included, Thematic Unity, Flow, Timeliness and Innovativeness. I gave 1 to 3 points for each category and then averaged. Numbers are fun.2

I also noted for each medley:

  • what songs are included (Thank you, this wikipedia page),
  • a comedy highlight
  • a polka highlight,
  • what the closing phrase is (they all end with the same “ta-da!!!!” music),
  • and which song gets the “slow down” treatment. The “slow down” treatment is what I call it when Al slows the melody down, replaces the drum machine with snaps and does a fake bass voice. He does it generally once per medley. You guys knew that, right? Of course you did.

Spoiler: All of the medleys are good. Or rather: if you like ANY of them, you’ll like all of them as Weird Al Yankovic tends to always make good stuff, so there are no clunkers. Despite the consistency, I make some hard choices. Here we go. In reverse order of how well they scored:

12. “Polkas on 45” from ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic in 3D (1984)

  • “Jocko Homo” by Devo
  • “Smoke on the Water” by Deep Purple
  • “Sex (I’m A…)” by Berlin
  • “Hey Jude” by The Beatles
  • “L.A. Woman” by The Doors
  • “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” by Iron Butterfly
  • “Hey Joe” by Jimi Hendrix
  • “The Lonely Goatherd” from “The Sound of Music”
  • “Burning Down the House” by Talking Heads
  • “Hot Blooded” by Foreigner
  • “Bubbles in the Wine” by Bob Calame (1913–1967), Lawrence Welk’s long-standing theme song
  • “Every Breath You Take” by The Police
  • “Should I Stay or Should I Go” by The Clash
  • “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” by The Rolling Stones
  • “My Generation” by The Who

Funniness: 2
Musicality: 3
Variety of Songs Parodied: 1
Thematic Unity: 1
Flow: 2
Timeliness: 1
Innovativeness: 3 (first one)
Overall score: 1.86

Comedy highlight: The “I’m a man! Am I bi? I’m a slave, I’m a little girl, when we make love together!” bit from “Sex!”
Polka highlight: After “Hot Blooded,” he uses the bubbles sound from Lawrence Welk’s theme song to transition out. Hot blood = bubbling; that’s some polka genius.
The “slow down” song: “Hot Blooded” by Foreigner
Closing phrase: “My-my-my generation!”

Compared with the slickness of the later ones, this one is all over the place in terms of song selection. Rather than make a time capsule of the era, about half of these are from the 1960s (“Hey Jude”, “L.A. Woman”) and the songs that ARE from the then-current era seem arbitrarily picked, and not the biggest hits: (“Sex” from Berlin, “Jocko Homo” from Devo).

It’s almost as if he thought that just doing a polka arrangement of ANY assortment of pop songs was funny enough and that he wasn’t going to be analyzed against the rest of his life’s work by some jerk blogger in the year 2015.

11. “Hot Rocks Polka” from UHF: Soundtrack (1989)

  • “It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll (But I Like It)”
  • “Brown Sugar”
  • “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”
  • “Honky Tonk Women”
  • “Under My Thumb”
  • “Ruby Tuesday”
  • “Miss You”
  • “Sympathy for the Devil”
  • “Get Off of My Cloud”
  • “Shattered”
  • “Let’s Spend the Night Together”
  • “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”

Funniness: 1
Musicality: 3
Variety of Songs Parodied: 1
Thematic Unity: 3
Flow: 2
Timeliness: 1
Innovativeness: 3 (all one band)
Overall score: 2.00

Comedy highlight: Happily yelping “Hey! You! Get off of MY CLOUD!”
Polka highlight: Cool accordion moves after “Honky Tonky Blues”
The “slow down” song: None
Closing phrase: “Satisfaction! Satisfaction! Satisfaction!”

For this one, all the songs are from the Rolling Stones (the title comes from the Rolling Stones greatest hits collection Hot Rocks). An impressive feat but not as much fun as his others. It seems songs which are critically acclaimed don’t become as funny in polka form as more disposable pop songs. Like, “Sympathy For The Devil,” even as a polka, stays surprisingly bad-ass.

It’s worth noting that this album was the soundtrack to UHF, which was Weird Al’s 1989 movie. His MOVIE. Just six years after his first album, he was writing and starring in his own movie. And he’d already he’d hosted his own MTV specials, been on the Tonight Show, and toured the country multiple times playing parody songs on his accordion.

He must have at some point been reeling from his own success. Was there debauchery? Are there women out there with stories of sneaking into an MTV New Year’s Party in the late 1980s and hooking up with Weird Al Yankovic? If so, is that something you keep secret, or do you roll it out as the world’s most fascinating ice-breaker?

10. “Bohemian Polka” from Alapalooza (1993)

  • Just one – “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen

Funniness: 1
Musicality: 3
Variety of Songs Parodied: 1
Thematic Unity: 3
Flow: 2
Timeliness: 2
Innovativeness: 3 (all one song)
Overall score: 2.14

Comedy highlight: The exaggerated breath at the start
Polka highlight: Some cool moves in between the first two verses
The “slow down” song: None
Closing phrase: “Any way the wind, any way the wind, any way the wind blows!”

He does just one song, Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”, inspired by that song’s resurgence from the Wayne’s World soundtrack. It’s a hilarious idea, though a polka version of “Bohemian Rhapsody” is somehow not as crazy sounding as the actual “Bohemian Rhapsody”.

Still, this medley is one of the many that showcases how genuinely musically talented Al is. I mean, it takes someone with the backbone of a stegosaurus to do a Freddie Mercury song in ANY genre, and Al pulls it off pretty damn well. You’re sort of the Kanye West of parody guys when you tell your band “We’re doing Queen next.”

9. “Angry White Boy Polka” from Poodle Hat (2003)

  • “Last Resort” by Papa Roach
  • “Chop Suey!” by System of a Down
  • “Get Free” by The Vines
  • “Hate to Say I Told You So” by The Hives
  • “Fell in Love with a Girl” by The White Stripes
  • “Last Nite” by The Strokes
  • “Down with the Sickness” by Disturbed
  • “Renegades of Funk” by Rage Against the Machine, originally by Afrika Bambaataa
  • “My Way” by Limp Bizkit
  • “Outside” by Staind
  • “Bawitdaba” by Kid Rock
  • “Youth of the Nation” by P.O.D.
  • “The Real Slim Shady” by Eminem

Funniness: 2
Musicality: 3
Variety of Songs Parodied: 1
Thematic Unity: 3
Flow: 2.3
Timeliness: 3
Innovativeness: 1
Overall score: 2.19

Comedy highlight: “Chop Suey!” by System of a Down is more hilarious than normal
Polka highlight: “My Way” by Limp Bizkit actually makes for a good polka
The “slow down” song: “Last Nite” by the Strokes
Closing phrase: “Stand up, Shady! Stand up, Shady! Stand up, Shady!”

I’m so torn. On one hand, this is one of the all-time great Weird Al polkas because there is no better target than the chest-puffing alpha male aggression of early 2000s dude pop. What better way to take Fred Durst’s aggro posturing down a peg than to set it to an oom-pah tuba beat? But on the other hand, I found that on repeated listens I grew just a bit — JUST A BIT — weary of the dudes being dudes, even veiled in accordion.

Then again, ALL of these medleys are restricted by how interesting the music of their time was. And listened to in a row, they make the case that pop music gets more interesting and varied as we proceed. The 1980s medleys seem to pull one-half of their songs from guys in their 40s playing guitar rock. Whereas the 2000s medleys have hip hop, dance, rock, indie, singer-songwriters and good old disposable pop all living comfortably together.

8. “Polka Party!” from Polka Party! (1986)

  • “Sledgehammer” by Peter Gabriel
  • “Sussudio” by Phil Collins
  • “Party All the Time” by Eddie Murphy
  • “Say You, Say Me” by Lionel Richie
  • “Freeway of Love” by Aretha Franklin
  • “What You Need” by INXS
  • “Harlem Shuffle” by The Rolling Stones, originally by Bob & Earl
  • “Venus” by Bananarama, originally by Shocking Blue
  • “Nasty” by Janet Jackson
  • “Rock Me Amadeus” by Falco
  • “Shout” by Tears for Fears
  • “Papa Don’t Preach” by Madonna

Funniness: 2
Musicality: 3
Variety of Songs Parodied: 2
Thematic Unity: 3
Flow: 2.5
Timeliness: 3
Innovativeness: 1
Overall score: 2.36

Comedy highlight: The “wah wah” sound in “Say You, Say Me”
Polka highlight: The instrumental in “Party All The Time”
The “slow down” song: none
Closing phrase: “Keep my baby! Keep my baby! Keep my baby!”

A great one. This is his third polka medley but the first one to really serve as an accurate time capsule for the pop songs of the time. It’s also the shortest medley, with very little “real” polka separating the songs.

I’m not sure if it still happens but for a long time every Weird Al album had at least one parody song where the guitar solo was replaced by a guy “playing” the solo via fart sounds he made with his hands. That’s not relevant to the polka medleys; I just think it’s interesting to bring that up.

7. “Polka Your Eyes Out” from Off The Deep End (1992)

  • “Cradle of Love” by Billy Idol
  • “Tom’s Diner” by DNA featuring Suzanne Vega
  • “Love Shack” by The B-52’s
  • “Pump Up the Jam” by Technotronic
  • “Losing My Religion” by R.E.M.
  • “Unbelievable” by EMF
  • “Do Me!” by Bell Biv DeVoe
  • “Enter Sandman” by Metallica
  • “The Humpty Dance” by Digital Underground
  • “Cherry Pie” by Warrant
  • “Miss You Much” by Janet Jackson
  • “I Touch Myself” by Divinyls
  • “Dr. Feelgood” by Mötley Crüe
  • “Ice Ice Baby” by Vanilla Ice

Funniness: 3
Musicality: 3
Variety of Songs Parodied: 2
Thematic Unity: 3
Flow: 2.2
Timeliness: 3
Innovativeness: 1
Overall score: 2.46

Comedy highlight: The cry for “drum solo!” followed by just a drum machine continuing to hammer its steady beat.
Polka highlight: The yodel at the end of “Do Me”
The “slow down” song: “Humpty Dance”
Closing phrase: “Ice ice baby! Ice ice baby! Ice ice baby!”

Man, the ridiculousness of era really helps this one. You’ve got the tackiness of Motley Crue, the instantly-datedness of Vanilla Ice and the shameless bravado of Bel Biv Devoe: just a montage of the actual songs would be hilarious.

By this time in his career, Al uses a lot less of a “jokey voice” when he does his polkas and instead just seems to sing the songs straight (albeit over a polka beat). It’s that way with any artist. Scorcese uses fewer fancy shots, Dave Chappelle gets lower energy and more thoughtful, Picasso uses fewer and fewer lines. The great ones get simpler as they go. I know I sound like I’m making fun of Al but I mean it earnestly: he’s getting more confident as he goes.

6. “The Alternative Polka” from Bad Hair Day (1996)

  • “Loser” by Beck
  • “Sex Type Thing” by Stone Temple Pilots
  • “All I Wanna Do” by Sheryl Crow
  • “Closer” by Nine Inch Nails
  • “Bang and Blame” by R.E.M.
  • “You Oughta Know” by Alanis Morissette
  • “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” by The Smashing Pumpkins
  • “My Friends” by Red Hot Chili Peppers
  • “I’ll Stick Around” by Foo Fighters
  • “Black Hole Sun” by Soundgarden
  • “Basket Case” by Green Day

Funniness: 2
Musicality: 3
Variety of Songs Parodied: 2
Thematic Unity: 3
Flow: 1.7
Timeliness: 3
Innovativeness: 3 (first overt theme)
Overall score: 2.53

Comedy highlight: Substituting the “Fred Flintstone bonked on the head sound” for the f-word in “I’m gonna (bonk) you like an animal.”
Polka highlight: The great yodel in “You Oughtta Know”
The “slow down” song: None
Closing phrase: “Am I just stoned? Am I just stoned? Am I just stoned?”

The first Al polka to overtly name its theme in the title. This one was gonna include “Buddy Holly” from Weezer but they retracted permission at the last minute, which slightly hurts the flow of this song where it was going to be, right before “Bullet with Butterfly Wings.”

This take-down of the “alternative movement” came out a full two years after the death of Kurt Cobain. Al doesn’t have that kind of time anymore to make his comment. With the internet, lesser parody groups can get songs out whenever it’s relevant. It’s why Al says he’ll not do another traditional album, though that doesn’t mean he’s stopping. With iTunes, he can and needs to strike when the iron is HOT.

5. “Hooked on Polkas” from Dare To Be Stupid (1985)

  • “State of Shock” by The Jacksons & Mick Jagger
  • “Sharp Dressed Man” by ZZ Top
  • “What’s Love Got to Do with It” by Tina Turner
  • “Method of Modern Love” by Hall & Oates
  • “Owner of a Lonely Heart” by Yes
  • “We’re Not Gonna Take It” by Twisted Sister
  • “99 Luftballons” by Nena
  • “Footloose” by Kenny Loggins
  • “The Reflex” by Duran Duran
  • “Bang Your Head (Metal Health)” by Quiet Riot
  • “Relax” by Frankie Goes to Hollywood

Funniness: 2
Musicality: 3
Variety of Songs Parodied: 2
Thematic Unity: 3
Flow: 2
Timeliness: 3
Innovativeness: 3 (first time capsule medley)
Overall score: 2.57

Comedy highlight: The voice flutter on “The Reflex” (Which, when he performed this on The Tonight Show he did just by grabbing his throat skin and rattling it around)
Polka highlight: The “Yeee-haas!” after “Sharp Dressed Man”
The “slow down” song: “Footloose”
Closing phrase: “When! you! want! to! come!”

This medley is great and more to the point: Al’s third album Dare To Be Stupid is one of the greatest comedy albums ever made. It’s his Pinkerton, his Paul’s Boutique, his Sgt. Pepper’s. If someone really knows their Weird Al, they point to this one as one of their favorites without hesitation. The preceding album (3-D, with the single “Eat It”) made him a star, but on this one he really showed he had range. The originals (“One More Minute”) are just as funny as the parodies (“Like A Surgeon”) and the Devo homage (title track) is astoundingly on-point. Amongst my siblings we regard this album with the same reverence we have for the second side of Abbey Road, maybe more.

4. “Polkarama!” from Straight Outta Lynwood (2006)

  • “Let’s Get It Started” by The Black Eyed Peas
  • “Take Me Out” by Franz Ferdinand
  • “Beverly Hills” by Weezer
  • “The Nina Bobina Polka” by “Weird Al” Yankovic
  • “Speed of Sound” by Coldplay
  • “Float On” by Modest Mouse
  • “Feel Good Inc.” by Gorillaz featuring De La Soul
  • “Don’t Cha” by Pussycat Dolls featuring Busta Rhymes
  • “Somebody Told Me” by The Killers
  • “Slither” by Velvet Revolver
  • “Candy Shop” by 50 Cent featuring Olivia
  • “Drop It Like It’s Hot” by Snoop Dogg featuring Pharrell
  • “Pon de Replay” by Rihanna
  • “Gold Digger” by Kanye West featuring Jamie Foxx

Funniness: 2
Musicality: 3
Variety of Songs Parodied: 3
Thematic Unity: 3
Flow: 2.4
Timeliness: 3
Innovativeness: 1
Overall score: 2.63

Comedy highlight: “Don’t Cha wish your girlfriend was a freak like me”
Polka highlight: “Drop It Like It’s Hot” makes for a genuinely good polka.
The “slow down” song: “Candy Shop”
Closing phrase: “Gold gold digger! Gold gold digger! Gold gold digger!”

As pop music gets more varied, so do the polka medleys get more satisfying. Indie, hip-hop, pop, dance and rock all figure into this one.

Isn’t it surprising and also nice how much Al has become beloved these days? Despite his fairly immediate huge success, he was still most often brought up as a punch line during the 80s. But by the time this album came out (with his monster hit “White N’ Nerdy”) in 2006 the comedy elite was populated with people who had grown up listening to him. And there’s few things we are more protective of than the pop culture we loved as children: (See the similar adoration locked in on Ghostbusters, The Goonies, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Back to the Future, Jurassic Park, Duck Tales — depending on your age).

In 3D, Al’s second album which came out in 1983, was the first album I ever bought. (Second? Soundtrack to Footloose.)

Maybe there’s also something reassuring about Al’s wholesomeness. He works hard, he doesn’t parody anyone without permission. He makes fun of songs and is genuinely funny but he is never truly mean. So many comedy heroes seem to turn out to have such horrible dark pasts. Maybe we are all just collectively glad that Al DOESN’T seem to ever have a debauched period.

3. “Polka Power!” from Running With Scissors (1999)

  • “Wannabe” by the Spice Girls
  • “Flagpole Sitta” by Harvey Danger
  • “Ghetto Supastar (That Is What You Are)” by Pras featuring Ol’ Dirty Bastard and Mýa
  • “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)” by the Backstreet Boys
  • “Walkin’ on the Sun” by Smash Mouth
  • “Intergalactic” by the Beastie Boys
  • “Tubthumping” by Chumbawamba
  • “Ray of Light” by Madonna
  • “Push” by Matchbox Twenty
  • “Semi-Charmed Life” by Third Eye Blind
  • “The Dope Show” by Marilyn Manson
  • “MMMBop” by Hanson
  • “Sex and Candy” by Marcy Playground
  • “Closing Time” by Semisonic

Funniness: 3
Musicality: 3
Variety of Songs Parodied: 3
Thematic Unity: 3
Flow: 2.6
Timeliness: 3
Innovativeness: 1
Overall score: 2.66

Comedy highlight: “Sex and Candy”
Polka highlight: The horns backing up “Tubthumping”
The “slow down” song: None
Closing phrase: “It’s closing time! Closing time! Closing time!”

Starting with the 1999 medley, Al really steps up the flow of his songs. One songs ends and fits right into the next one, making the whole piece remarkably seamless. Maybe the medley is a running gag, but Al seems determined to make it better each time.

In that regard, Al reminds me of — and I mean this as an enormous compliment — Charles Schulz, creator of Peanuts. Laboring in a medium that few respect, the newspaper strip, Schulz found more critical and commercial success than he could ever dream of. He responded by working harder than ever. The strip would go in and out of fashion, yet Schulz would never leave his drawing board, continuing to inject his personal feelings into Charlie Brown, Lucy and Snoopy day after day.

Schulz worked as long as he could, and then when his hands were too shaky to continue, he finished a small backlog of strips and announced his retirement. As the final strip was being delivered to the printers in February 2000, fifty years after its debut, Schulz died in his sleep — pretty much simultaneously with his life’s work ending.

I think it’s easy to let it go unappreciated when successful people continue to work hard, to perfect, to enjoy the simple pleasure of a job well done.

Al’s career is so far only half as long as Schulz. But he seems to have the same work ethic, the same relentlessness. Will there be a new Weird Al release in 2033, fifty years after he began?

2. “Now That’s What I Call Polka!” from Mandatory Fun! (2014)

  • “Wrecking Ball” by Miley Cyrus
  • “Pumped Up Kicks” by Foster the People
  • “Best Song Ever” by One Direction
  • “Gangnam Style” by Psy
  • “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen
  • “Scream & Shout” by feat. Britney Spears
  • “Somebody That I Used to Know” by Gotye feat. Kimbra
  • “Timber” by Pitbull feat. Kesha
  • “Sexy and I Know It” by LMFAO
  • “Thrift Shop” by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis feat. Wanz
  • “Get Lucky” by Daft Punk feat. Pharrell Williams

Funniness: 3
Musicality: 3
Variety of Songs Parodied: 3
Thematic Unity: 3
Flow: 2.7
Timeliness: 3
Innovativeness: 1
Overall score: 2.67

Comedy highlight: Either the Jerry Lewis shout-out with “Sexy LADIES!” in “Gangnam Style,” or Al going “It’s large!” in the background of “I’ve got this big ‘ol coat” during “Thrift Shop”
Polka highlight: “Scream and Shout”
The “slow down” song: “Sexy And I Know It”
Closing phrase: “We’re gonna get lucky! Get lucky! Get Lucky!”

This one is his most recent medleys and like all of them, it is terrific.

Another thing you notice when you listen to all of these in a row: Al seems to condescend LESS as he gets older, which is the opposite of almost every other human being’s relationship to pop music. He’s more open and affectionate towards the songs he parodies, channelling their fun rather than mocking them.

As I noted in the intro, this album reached number one on the pop charts, the first time a Weird Al album hit that mark.

1. “Polka Face” from Alpocalypse (2011)

  • “Poker Face” by Lady Gaga
  • “Womanizer” by Britney Spears
  • “Right Round” by Flo Rida ft Ke$ha
  • “Day ‘n’ Nite” by Kid Cudi
  • “Need You Now” by Lady Antebellum
  • “Baby” by Justin Bieber ft Ludacris
  • “So What” by Pink
  • “I Kissed a Girl” by Katy Perry
  • “Fireflies” by Owl City
  • “Blame It” by Jamie Foxx ft T-Pain
  • “Replay” by Iyaz
  • “Down” by Jay Sean ft Lil Wayne
  • “Break Your Heart” by Taio Cruz ft Ludacris
  • “The Tick Tock Polka” by Frankie Yankovic
  • “Tik Tok” by Ke$ha
  • “Poker Face” by Lady Gaga (Reprise)

Funniness: 3
Musicality: 3
Variety of Songs Parodied: 3
Thematic Unity: 3
Flow: 2.5
Timeliness: 3
Innovativeness: 2 (for having a reprise)
Overall score: 2.78

Comedy highlight: “Replay”
Polka highlight: Getting a snippet of an actual polka by the unrelated but revered-in-Polish-neighborhoods-everywhere Frankie Yankovic in the mix.
The “slow down” song: “So What”
Closing phrase: “Pah-pah Poker Face! Pah-pah Poker Face! Pah-pah Poker Face!”

And here is your winner. Regardless of how badly-conceived my scoring system may be (and I’m sure it is), it did right with this choice because this is a goddamn terrific polka medley.

It tackles a wide range of styles, it knits them together seamlessly. It’s funny. It represents its time well. It has cool little comments which Al probably didn’t intend — like starting with current Pop Queen Lady Gaga followed by dethroned pop Queen Britney Spears saying “Womanizer, Womanizer.” His take of “Need You Now” has more pathos and feeling than the original. His approximation of T-Pain’s auto-tune is done just with his own singing and it’s goddamn good.

And then it wraps it up with a reprise of where it started, making it feel like a PIECE with a nice coherent wholeness. We, the listeners, feel when we have gotten to the end of this song that we have arrived at home.

I’m not kidding. This one is great.

I hope there is never an Al backlash. I hope he keeps doing these albums, and these medleys, for decades and decades. He’s both a continual success, but also an underrated musician/craftsman. I’m proud to be a fan of Al. An Al-ien? A Weirdling? A Yankovitizen? Whatever we’re called, I’m one. Thank you.

* * *

1And you know what polka is, right? Traditional Eastern European style of music featuring accordion, tubas doing an oom-pah beat, maybe a few trumpets doing a sort of Slavic version of salsa? Usually performed by a bunch of Polish guys in their 50s who all shout “hey!” to punctuate the end of a chorus? Point is that polka is VERY square sounding, so when you do a polka version of a pop song it sounds funny. Okay, now you’re caught up.

2To figure the “flow” for a medley I graded each transition within the song from 1 (needed a string of polka music to get there) to 3 (seamless — one right into the next) to and averaged THOSE. The point is I went deep, mathematically speaking.

Will Hines is a teacher/performer with the UCB Theatre in LA.

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