LOS ANGELES - "Weird Al" Yankovic first gained attention in 1979, with "My Bologna", a parody of the Knack's "My Sharona". Seventeen years later, the novelty still hasn't worn off, as the parodist is enjoying the most successful album of his career.
Yankovic's Scotti Bros./All American Music Group album "Bad Hair Day", which is No. 21 in its 15th Week on the Billboard 200, has sold more than 777,000 copies according to SoundScan. For the week ending April 27, the album reached No. 14 on the Billboard 200, a career peak for Yankovic. It's also his first album to be certified platinum by the Recording Industry Assn. of America. (NOTE: Platinum = 1,000,000 sales)
"Bad Hair Day" - which includes "Gump", Yankovic's take on the Presidents Of The United States Of America's "Lump" recast as a tribute to the dimwitted film Character, and "Amish Paradise" a send up of "Gangsta's Paradise", Coolio's remodeling of Stevie Wonder's "Pastime Paradise" - is one of the season's sleeper hits. It recently spent 11 consecutive weeks in the top 20 of The Billboard 200.
Even Yankovic is a bit surprised by the album's sales. "Whenever I do an album, it's my best effort and I have high hopes for it, but I'm always surprised when an album does better than I expect" he says. "I had no idea it would be the best-selling album of my career."
As All American Music Group president Chuck Gullo points out, Yankovic has had greater career longevity than many of the acts he has parodied. "Some of the artists have come and gone, but Al is still here, making fun of people", says Gullo.
A quick look at the 1994 Scotti Bros. four-CD set "Permanent Record: Al In The Box" will remind consumers that Yankovic has outlasted such past targets as the Knack, Toni Basil (whose "Mickey" was turned into the "I Love Lucy" tribute "Ricky"), and Tiffany (whose cover of "I Think We're Alone Now" was morphed into "I Think I'm A Clone Now").
Bob Bell, new-release buyer for the 280-store, Torrance, Calif.-based Wherehouse Entertainment, says that Yankovic has remained a reliable seller. "Many people may have doubted him, but his career has really been consistent. He has always been pretty much right on target with the stuff he chooses to parody, whether it be Michael Jackson, Nirvana, or Coolio." Bell adds that "Bad Hair Day" has been selling "very consistently" at the chain.
SETTING UP 'BAD HAIR DAY'
Scotti Bros. began to set up "Bad Hair Day" in January, when Yankovic served as a presenter on the American Music Awards sporting Coolio-styled hair. For the Millions of pop music fans watching ABC-TV that January evening, the appearance was a hint as to who would be the next victim of a Yankovic parody.
With "Gangsta's Paradise" still receiving airplay, Scotti Bros. issued "Amish Paradise" to radio and retail March 7. Four days later, a video placing Yankovic in the middle of Amish country, was serviced to MTV, the Box and other video outlets.
"Al delivered a terrific record right on the heels of the Coolio hit, and it just rode out perfectly for us" says Gullo. "We were right on the wave".
"Bad Hair Day" debuted at No. 28 on The Billboard 200 for the week ending March 30. The following week it climbed to No. 18. Gullo says "Bad Hair Day" was helped by WEA, with which All American hooked up in early 1996, after its distribution pact with BMG expired (Billboard, March 9). "It was the first new release through the WEA system" Gullo says. "They were excited, and they did a number for us."
The album received a second boost when "Gump" was released April 25, followed by the video clip for the track four days later. Wherehouse's Bell says, "The 'Gump' video certainly did a lot to keep it going." Perhaps one of the biggest means of exposure came from longtime Yankovic supporter MTV.
The network debuted "Al TV", a two-hour special that featured the original hit videos followed by Yankovic's parodies, on May 23. Greg Drebin, VP of programming for MTV, says that the concept made perfect sense. "That's really when you can see how sharp and clever Al is: when you can compare his videos to the original versions." Drebin adds that the program received a favorable response from viewers and was repeated several times.
Although he is primarily known for his parodies, Yankovic also writes originals, which are published by Ear Booker Music, administered by BMI. The artist, who is managed by Jay Levey for Imaginary Entertainment, says the fact that his original music goes largely ignored is a minor annoyance. "That has always been a little bit of a pet peeve" he says. "I love doing the parodies, and I'm not upset when they do well, but sometimes I wish originals received more attention. To this day, a lot of people are not aware that I write originals."
That may change, however, due to the additional exposure Yankovic received on the big screen performing the Bond-spoof original "Spy Hard", which serves as the title theme to the Leslie Nielsen comedy of the same name. Although the track isn't found on "Bad Hair Day", it can be found on the "Gump" single.
Yankovic, who favors the music formally known as alternative rock, says his criteria for picking parody subjects include the song's popularity and his personal preference. "They're usually songs that I like, because I am aware that I'm going to be spending a lot of time with them." Usually the artists who are subject to ridicule get the joke, says Yankovic. "With one notable exception on this album every single artist has gotten it", he says. "Most people take it as a compliment."
The one artist who was less than thrilled with the Yankovic treatment was Coolio. "Whenever I do a parody, we ask for permission," Yankovic says. "But there was some kind of major miscommunication with Coolio".
The comedian's popularity isn't limited to the US "Bad Hair Day" has been certified platinum in Canada (for sales of more than 100.000 units). The album has also been well received in Japan, where it was released on Pony Canyon. However, the album has not been issued in other territories, as All American is finalizing a new international distribution agreement.
YANKOVIC COMES ALIVE
Yankovic's humor also works well live. On May 24th, he kicked off his Bad Hair Day tour, which will run through October. The trek, booked by the Agency Group, finds Yankovic performing in 2000-seaters and at shows that are attended by crowds as large as 10,000. "Everything has kind of quickened for me" Yankovic says. "I'm selling out virtually every place we play. I know it's very uncool and unalternative to enjoy one's success, but I'd be lying if I said I'm not happy."
A tour of Europe is penciled in for early 1997, after All American secures its international distribution and releases the album in other territories. Yankovic's run of "Bad Hair Day" is far from over. Scotti Bros. is contemplating releasing a third single before the end of the summer and issued "Bad Hair Day: The Videos" a four-clip compilation that sells for $9.98, on June 4. In addition, Yankovic will be the subject of a Disney Channel Special, "Going Home", which is scheduled to air in the fall.