“Weird Al” Yankovic released his self-titled debut all the way back in 1983. Since then, for the better part of three decades, he’s enjoyed an unbelievable run of 14 albums, perhaps concluding with his last “traditional” album, 2014’s Mandatory Fun. The lifespan and staying power of “Weird Al” is extremely impressive, especially when you consider that the man who is currently the band leader for Comedy Bang! Bang! is a parody and humor artist. It’s a one thing for a band to trot out rock song after rock song for over 30 years, and few even succeed at that. Yankovic has performed songs in a variety of styles, has to stay on top of pop culture, and has to, you know, still be funny. And despite maybe a misfire here or there, his discography remains pretty spotless — rare is the Weird Al album that is a real flop. However, one album has to stand above the rest, and that album is Bad Hair Day, which came out 20 years ago today in 1996.
Of course, the traditional thing that is said about Weird Al’s albums is that your favorite one is the one that came out when you were 12, and, um, while that may be close to true in this instance, do not chalk this up to simple nostalgia. From a clearheaded, critical standpoint, Bad Hair Day is the pinnacle of “Weird Al” Yankovic’s achievements, music wise.
The record comes hot right out the gate, with one of Weird Al’s most iconic songs. We speak, of course, of “Amish Paradise,” Yankovic’s parody of Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise.” Controversy erupted when Coolio said he did not approve of Yankovic parodying his very serious song from that movie where Michelle Pfeiffer teaches urban youths that rap music is just poetry. It rankled the integrity of the future Match Game panelist and celebrity chef. Fortunately, eventually cooler heads prevailed, and now we can all just agree that “Amish Paradise” is a super good song. It may even be the best of Weird Al’s parody outings.
Obviously, a lot of the humor comes from Weird Al aggressively rapping in the guise of an Amish gentleman about how dope being Amish is. There is an inherent dichotomy there that is, indeed, pretty funny. However, you need so much more than that to have a song that actually sustains itself beyond being a simple joke. There’s a lot of funny lines in the song, and a shout out to Gilligan’s Island in the lyrics. It’s not the first time Yankovic rapped about Gilligan and friends misadventures on an island, which speaks to another aspect of the song. Earlier on, when Weird Al would try to rap, it didn’t really work. Take, for example, the song “Isle Thing,” a parody of Tone Loc’s “Wild Thing.” It’s not a good song, and Yankovic sounds awkward. Here, he’s much better — he far more comfortable in his understanding of the art form. It’s not quite on the level of his flow on “White & Nerdy,” but I still feel “Amish” is superior overall. Furthermore, “Amish Paradise” has an uproariously funny music video to accompany the track, which is just as important an aspect of Yankovic’s career. He’s a comedian in addition to being a musician, after all.
This is, overall, a strong outing for parody songs. “Gump” is a parody of the alt-rock anthem “Lump” by The Presidents of the United States of America. He mostly just goes through the plot of the (terrible) movie Forrest Gump, and his use of the word “slut” would probably get him some stick in these modern times, but it’s still earns a laugh. “Phony Calls,” a song about prank calls set to the tune of “Waterfalls” by TLC probably doesn’t do anything to argue against the notion that Weird Al is for young boys, but it’s still a pretty good song. Plus, it has a clip from The Simpsons in it!
U2 gets parodied, as Weird Al takes a run at the lovable lads’ song “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me,” which is from the Batman Forever soundtrack. That fact is funnier than anything Weird Al could do in song, but “Cavity Search,” which is about going to the dentist and is a good song. “Syndicated Inc.” is a parody of some song called “Misery” by Soul Asylum. This has not exactly stood the test of time, but it’s a solid song. It’s about pop culture, namely TV, because Weird Al loves pop culture, and people who love Weird Al love pop culture. So, you know, it’s always a smart avenue to take.
However, while, “Weird Al” Yankovic is a parody artist, primarily, in the minds of most, he does original songs as well, and a Weird Al album can live or die with his originals. Also, there’s his polka medley. This time it’s the “Alternative Polka,” and it’s maybe his best polka medley. There is also very little to say about a polka medley aside from it’s cleverly arranged, so back to the originals. There are a couple mediocre originals on this album. Bad Hair Day isn’t quite all killer, no filler. “I Remember Larry” is a weird song about Weird Al being bullied and then murdering the guy. It’s a dark joke song, and Weird Al usually does good dark joke songs, but this one is a bit bland. “Callin’ In Sick” is a grunge style parody that doesn’t really have much to say.
The rest of the originals, though, get a very hearty thumbs up. “Since You Been Gone” is a catchy tune that builds to a clever twist of a final joke. “Everything You Know is Wrong” and “I’m So Sick of You” are also good songs, although the latter isn’t that funny. It sounds good, though. Then, the album ends with “The Night Santa Went Crazy,” which is a very funny song. It’s another dark joke of a song, but a good one. The gist of the song is right in the title. Santa goes nuts and starts killing elves and reindeer. It gets a little gory, but in a funny, accessible way. Bad Hair Day starts strong, and ends strong. “The Night Santa Went Crazy” is one of Yankovic’s best originals, perhaps the very best, although the vote here goes to “Wanna B Ur Lovr” from the somewhat lacking Poodle Hat.
Bad Hair Day is a delight. Is it an all-time great album? Maybe not. But it’s a fantastic humor album full of song parodies. Weird Al isn’t John Lennon or Bruce Springsteen, but he’s not trying to be. He’s a gifted artist, accompanied by an incredibly talented band who can play songs in any style and make it work. It’s critical that we never overlook the musical artistry on display when it comes to Weird Al’s music. He’s made several great albums over the 30-plus years of his career, but Bad Hair Day tops them all.