Classics: 30 Years of 'Weird Al' Yankovic's Off the Deep End

by Zane Ewton

"Weird Al" Yankovic earned his first number one album with 2014's Mandatory Fun - more than 30 years into one of the most unique careers in pop culture.

With a Yankovic biopic in production, all this late-career appreciation for him is heartwarming and deserved. In a world with too many bad guys, "Weird Al" is a good guy.

Following the box office failure of Yankovic's movie UHF in 1989, he was still a good guy, but perhaps also a desperate guy. Desperate enough to wait for a chance to mine an upcoming Michael Jackson record for a potential hit of his own.

Then came Nirvana.

Yankovic already had most of his next album ready to go, but needed that one big catch to capture the moment of 1992 - and he nailed it with the mush-mouthed Nirvana parody of "Smells Like Nirvana."

Right place, right time. Another Jackson parody would have been a misstep.

Whatever. Forgive the history lesson and allowed me a moment of unashamed gushing for Al and Off the Deep End.

I was 10 years old when the "Smells Like Nirvana" video hit MTV. You may as well have imprinted it on my brain alongside Batman Returns, Street Fighter II and the smell of Pizza Hut with a Book It coupon burning a hole in my pocket.

While "Smells Like Nirvana" feels fresh and was one fo the first, and best, send ups of the bubbling alt rock/grunge scene, the rest of the album was a few years behind the curve.

As Al was waiting on that Michael Jackson album to land, a year passed and then another. Two years may as well be a century when pop culture is concerned. The waiting left Yankovic with a handful of parodies of artists who were on the other side of their fame trajectory.

Of the acts parodied in Off the Deep End, by the album's release in 1992:

MC Hammer dropped the MC from his name and would soon be rapping poolside in a Speedo

New Kids on the Block would soon split before reuniting in the 2000s to the delight of mothers worldwide

Gerardo (the "Rico Suave" guy) traded in his suave to become a youth pastor

Milli Vanilli did the Milli Vanilli thing

Such is life on the pop charts. Yet "Weird Al" endures.

As an aside, how did "Rico Suave" become a hit song? You could argue it was a parody in itself.

Yankovic's original songs are typically parodies of a genre or act rather than a specific hit song. This flew over my 10-year-old head. Who were the Beach Boys? Tonio K? Nick Lowe?

I'd argue this is a prime reason to revisit the collected works of "Weird Al" Yankovic - different jokes land at different maturity (or immaturity) levels. The Beach Boys-inspired "Trigger Happy" is a trip. It's either a poorly-aged gag, or brilliant sociocultural farce. Maybe both?

The cherry on top of any Yankovic record is the polka melody. A Top 40 remix in full polka flight. "Polka Your Eyes Out" is a winner the moment the beat stops, pauses and a stand up bass line leads into the chorus of "The Humpty Dance."

It's beautiful.

Off the Deep End is 30 years old. It's not the best Yankovic record. He's made much stronger and enduring records since.

But really, the best "Weird Al" Yankovic record is whichever one was released closest to your 10th birthday, and hopefully you can still tap into that kid who disappeared into the Hawaiian print rabbit hole with abandon. You most likely came out the other side better for it.

Share this article

Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Pin it Share on Reddit email this article