A long, long, time ago…
If you just hummed the tune to “American Pie” to yourself as you read those words, you might be a Weird Al fan. Or, technically, a “Weird Al” fan, but for purposes of entertainment, we’ll be leaving the quotation marks off from here on out.
After what can only be described as absolutely crushing the 1980s, Weird Al seamlessly moved into the ‘90s with his ability to satire not only pop music, but popular culture in general. He taps into memes of the moment while mixing in timeless screwball comedy, and we love him for it.
According to some (namely, terrible, terrible people) Weird Al actually struggled commercially in the latter half of the ‘80s. In fact, there are even those who claim that UHF was a flop. I guess you can just put anything on the internet these days.
But Al kept on grinding, and while his overall number of parodies and output dipped in the ‘90s, the quality never changed—in fact, in some cases it got even better.
I remember my friend and I recording the Dr. Demento show from radio onto cassette tape just so we could listen to the latest Weird Al singles over and over (until we finally broke our parents down to buy us the albums). For many of us, Weird Al owned the ‘90s just as much and maybe more than the ‘80s, which makes whittling down this list nearly impossible.
But as we often do here at Classic Nerd, someone has to take on the boldest, most challenging, most urgent topics of our time. These are the best Weird Al Yankovic parodies from the 1990s.
Smells Like Nirvana — 1992
There was a time when I would hear those infamous opening guitar chords and wouldn’t be sure whether it was Nirvana or Yankovic. Also, I was not a very smart kid.
But I was all of 11 when Nirvana exploded onto the scene and roughly 12 when Weird Al released this iconic grunge parody from 1992’s Off The Deep End—one which, once he got through to him, Kurt Cobain immediately approved and said was a sign his band had truly “made it.”
“Smells Like Nirvana” broke the top 40, and if you believe everything you read on the internet, “revived” Al’s career in a big way. Of course, even Cobain knew what it meant to have a song parodied by Yankovic, whether or not it made lots of money (which in this case, it did).
The music video even went on to be nominated for an MTV Video Award at a time when that actually meant something.
Livin’ in the Fridge — 1993
Alapalooza, for a 12-13-year-old (as I was at the time), may as well have been the Beatles’ white album, Pink Floyd’s The Wall. Hell, it might as well have been Beethoven’s entire catalog as far as I was concerned.
It was everything I loved: cover art that reminded me of Jurassic Park, music I recognized, and the type of humor I still gladly laugh out loud for to this day.
And, I suppose, one could argue that Aerosmith’s arc was a bit similar to Weird Al’s in the early ‘90s. Both were looking for a resurgence, although Aerosmith was just blatantly throwing spaghetti at the wall until they finally found something that would stick in the form of any song that could have a video starring Alicia Silverstone.
And apparently, we were close to never having this gem grace our universe—allegedly “Livin’ in the Fridge” was recorded over a month after the rest of Alapalooza when Al felt they needed one more parody to even things out. Aerosmith was the first to grant permission for their single, “Livin’ on the Edge”. Thank God they did.
Just repeat that line to yourself for the rest of the day every time you open the fridge. Trust me, it will make your day much better.
Bedrock Anthem — 1993
With “Bedrock Anthem”, Weird Al did something I’m not sure he has done since—parodied not one, but two songs simultaneously. Genius. (For the record, he did do similar work for “The Plumbing Song” from ‘92, parodying both "Baby Don't Forget My Number" and "Blame It on the Rain" by Milli Vanilli.)
Pulling from the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ breakthrough hits “Under The Bridge” and “Give it Away”, “Bedrock Anthem” was less of a parody of its source material and more of a love story from Yankovic to a cartoon he loved—The Flinstones, in case that somehow wasn’t clear.
And as is always the case for Weird Al, the video is brilliant, opening with the bee girl from Blind Melon’s “No Rain” video tapdancing, only to be poked and pushed off the stage. Then we fade to a shirtless Al, doing his best Anthony Kiedis impression. Such a great parody of the ‘90s in general.
Amish Paradise — 1996
It’s well known that Yankovic asks permission for all of his parodies before producing them—something that he doesn’t have to do legally or otherwise, but Al is clearly a good dude, so he does it anyways.
But every now and then there’s a little bit of a communication mixup, and apparently that was the case with “Amish Paradise”. It’s hard to imagine Weird Al having beef with anyone, but Coolio was quite vocal in the ‘90s about his displeasure with the parody, and stated that he had never approved.
The rumor is that there was a communications mix-up that led to the parody being released, which ended up reaching 53 on the top 100 charts. But to Coolio’s credit, he went on to say, “That was one of the dumbest things I did in my career.”
With this music feud finally buried, we can focus on the brilliance of the song: comparing being Amish with being hardcore gangbangers.
Maybe I’m remembering wrong, but “Gangsta’s Paradise” was one of those songs from the ‘90s that just felt like it was everywhere. Like it would come on the radio, I’d change the station, and it’d start on that station. I also remember that happening with TLC’s “Waterfalls”.
So “Amish Paradise” became a relief from the relentless, heavy rotation radio play of the time, in addition to being yet another of Weird Al’s most brilliant parodies.
Jurassic Park — 1993
I remember seeing Jurassic Park in the theater on opening night. In the small town I grew up in, it felt like the entire population had come out for Steven Spielberg’s ultimate dino blockbuster.
Oh, and as a geeky little sixth grader, I had obviously already read the book.
Of course, all of that had very little to do with Weird Al’s “Jurassic Park”, aside from the fact that I was instantly drawn to it as I was basically anything related to the franchise.
What stands out about this song is that I’d estimate 98% of my friends and probably anyone under the age of 40 at the time had no idea that this was, indeed, a parody. It wasn’t until my dad said “hey, isn’t this a Richard Harris song?” that I knew something was up.
And what a song it is. In fact, the original lyrics to MacArthur Park read like they may as well be Weird Al:
Uhhh …. OK dude.
And hey, any video that features Barney the purple dinosaur’s head getting ripped off by a T-Rex is fine by me. Somehow, an obscure minor hit from the late ‘60s became the perfect framework for this enduring parody.
The White Stuff — 1992
If you’ve read my list of the best Weird Al parodies from the ‘80s, you know one of the things I love about his work is when he just describes things.
“The White Stuff” is one of those moments of brilliance from Yankovic where he just looked at an Oreo and was like: “that’s a song.”
And why shouldn’t that sugar/questionably qualifiable as food product get its own homage? It’s awesome, and at the same time Yankovic takes on an entire genre that had seemingly infected the nation (or at least 8-14-year-olds who went roller skating): the boy band.
The New Kids on the Block parody was actually one of the first singles recorded for Off The Deep End, and legend has it that a pressing of the single (along with the M.C. Hammer spoof “I Can’t Watch This”) was made, only to be literally thrown in the trash. Which means, obviously, they are now collector’s items.
Pretty Fly for a Rabbi — 1999
It’s strange to write about a parody of a song that itself was a parody of sorts, or at least satire. It’s like the Inception of sarcasm, yet it somehow works wonders.
While Weird Al clearly put most of his parody effort into another song on this list from 1999’s Running With Scissors (and it paid off), this Offspring parody feels like it could have been written in 10 minutes—and that’s just fine. Like Al just thought to himself, “how can I work bagels and schmear into a song?” and boom, hit single.
Yet in spite of its brilliance, “Pretty Fly” wasn’t even released as a single in the U.S. Instead, it was released as a single in Australia, where people in the outback actually understand music. Because of this, there’s no official music video, but there is the live footage above of Al rocking the hell out of the accordion.
Achy Breaky Song — 1993
If “Gangsta’s Paradise” and “Waterfalls” were everywhere, then “Achy Breaky Heart” was all-encompassing across the universe.
There was truly no escaping Billy Ray Cyrus in the early ‘90s, with his single peaking at no. 4 and altering pop music forever. As much heat as it gets, Billy Ray brought country music to the mainstream in a way that maybe had never been done and endures to this day.
Yet as Billy Ray sold millions upon millions of records and won awards left and right, it seemed most people hated the song, which personifies his heart and essentially states that if his heart finds out about the singer’s latest breakup it will explode and kill him. Classic pop-music fodder, obvi.
While the lyrics of most of Weird Al’s parodies actually have very little if anything to do with the original songs, this one takes down its source material mercilessly:
In fact, it became so mean-spirited that Al and original “Achy Breaky” composer Don Von Tress agreed to donate all proceeds from the song to charity. Another sign that Weird Al is one of the best humans on the planet.
And of note: apparently people agreed with Al’s take so much, the parody received significant airplay on country radio.
Gump — 1996
While it takes place across several decades, there are very few things that encapsulate the ‘90s like the film Forrest Gump.
Today children yell “run, Forest, fun!” with no clue what they hell they’re referencing. Lines and references from this movie are so deeply embedded into our culture that they are now passed down genetically. It’s science.
This movie represented such a major cultural moment that they gave Tom Hanks six Oscars just for being in it (well, that’s how many the movie won overall, but I assume they just gave them all to Hanks).
Parodying a band that I listened to way too much in the mid-90s, the Presidents of the United States of America (or PUSA for the cool kids), it was like they wrote “Lump” thinking that Weird Al might be able to utilize it for this specific use case.
Once again, it’s not like Yankovic is doing much more than describing the movie, but there is truly no one else on the planet who could do it better:
Weird Al is so good at finding the parody that you knew should have always existed, yet you never could have thought of yourself.
The Saga Begins — 1999
Obviously, I wasn’t going to reference this song up top and not have it on the list. And of course, OF COURSE, it’s on this damn list, and I don’t give a damn whether you like it or not. Damn!
There are those who would argue this parody represents Weird Al’s transition from the ‘90s into the 2000s, perhaps in the same way that UHF delicately walked the line out of the ‘80s. But others, like me, would say that’s crap and you know it.
This song is, simply put, brilliant. I’m one of those who would even go as far to argue that it’s the best thing about Episode I. There, I said it.
I grew up hearing and singing along to Don McLean’s “American Pie” on vinyl, like many people my age. And I won’t ever stop enjoying that.
But there is nothing—nothing—in this world as satisfying as standing with thousands of strangers, belting out these lyrics as Weird Al, his band, and a small batallion of stormtroopers dance on stage:
Weird Al’s parody output has slowed considerably since the ‘90s, although he still nails them better than anyone ever has or ever will. This song is the opus of a man at the top of his game, and frankly, if he had never put out anything else ever again, would any of us have been bothered?
And one last time, but slower, with acoustic guitar and endless Weird Al clones: