Weird Al Yankovic Was the Valedictorian of His Class in High School
Today I found out Weird Al Yankovic was the valedictorian of his class at Lynwood High School, which is just outside of Los Angeles.
In addition to this, he graduated high school at just 16 years old. He was able to do so because his parents had him attend kindergarten a year earlier than is typical. After performing well academically in kindergarten and the first grade, he then was allowed to skip second grade, which ultimately put him about two years ahead of most kids his age in school. He went on to be a straight-A student throughout high school, which eventually culminated in him becoming the valedictorian of his class.
It was during high school when he also submitted home-made recordings to Dr. Demento, which were tapes of Weird Al performing various parodies of songs, accompanied with his accordion. Dr. Demento would occasionally put some of Weird Al’s songs on the air, such as “Belvedere Cruisin”, which was one of his more popular “high school years” songs.
Yankovic did not, however, go into professionally performing right out of high school. Instead, he attended the California Polytechnic State University and earned a degree in architecture. However, while at college, he did have a radio show and continued to write and publish parody songs on the side, including his first hit “My Bologna”, parodying “My Sharona”, which was actually recorded in a men’s bathroom at the university.
The lead singer of The Knack, Doug Fieger, eventually heard “My Bologna” on the radio and convinced his label to sign Yankovic to a contract. In thanks, Yankovic bought Fieger an over-sized bologna.
- After graduating from college with a degree in architecture, Weird Al decided he didn’t like architecture and so applied for a job at McDonald’s, but was ultimately rejected due to being overqualified. He later got a job in a mail room.
- Yankovic earned money in high school by giving accordion lessons, as well as working as an accordion repo-man.
- Weird Al was just six years old when he started playing the accordion. He received formal training on that instrument for the next three years.
- “Like a Surgeon” was suggested to Weird Al by his manager, Jay Levey, who had a friend who was also a friend of Madonna’s. Madonna had wondered aloud to that friend when Weird Al was going to make “Like a Virgin” into “Like a Surgeon”. To date, that is the only Weird Al song where some aspect of the song wasn’t originally thought up by Yankovic himself.
- Before parading any song, Weird Al always gets permission from the copyright holder first, even though he is not required to do so by U.S. copyright law, which allows parodying of copyrighted work without permission.
- Notable cases where artists refused permission to Yankovic to parody one of their songs were:
- Paul McCartney: (“Live and let Die” to “Chicken Pot Pie”), which was apparently refused because McCartney, though a big Yankovic fan, is a vegetarian.
- James Blunt’s label, Atlantic Records, rejected “You’re Pitiful”, from Blunt’s “You’re Beautiful”, though Blunt had already given permission to Yankovic, so Weird Al removed it from his album and released it for free via the web (Yankovic also recorded himself defacing Atlantic Record’s Wikipedia page with “You Suck”).
- Prince: who Weird Al has tried unsuccessfully to get to let him parody several songs through the years, but is always rejected
- Coolio, “Gangster’s Paradise” to “Amish Paradise”: Yankovic got permission from Coolio’s record label who supposedly asked Coolio and got permission, but Coolio contends he was never asked and would have said no, supposedly not finding out about the parody until the album was already released. In order to avoid this problem in the future, Weird Al now always speaks to the artist themselves, rather than through the record labels as he occasionally did before.
- Nirvana band members were reportedly extremely excited when they found out from Kurt Cobain that Weird Al had called him and asked to parody “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. In that conversation, Cobain, who described Yankovic as a “musical genius”, gave permission but said “Um… it’s not gonna be about food, is it?” to which Yankovic responded, “No, it’ll be about how no one can understand your lyrics.”
- Weird Al’s 1986 song “Christmas at Ground Zero”, which is obviously a song about Nuclear war, has been banned at many U.S. radio stations since 2001 due to the fact that they fear that people will think it’s about the World Trade Center attack.
- Weird Al’s parents died in 2004 of carbon monoxide poisoning after lighting a fire without being aware that the flue was closed. His father was found dead sitting in his recliner and his mother was found dead lying on their bathroom floor.
- It was during college that Yankovic earned the nickname “Weird Al”, which is a name people first occasionally called him during his freshman year at college and which later stuck when he used it as his DJ name at the campus radio station KCPR.
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what is an accordion repo-man?
I was at the 2004 show at the fox valley theater the day weird al found out his parents died. He put on a hell of a show that night.
\The song he recorded in the bathroom was “another one rides the bus”. His nick name came from college because there were two Al’s, he was the weirder one.
@Bretman: Your sources? IMDB says it was “My Bologna” that was recorded in a bathroom, which is why it is nicknamed “The Bathroom Song”. It’s entirely possible though that he recorded more than one song in a bathroom. He apparently liked the acoustics. 🙂 On his own website, it’s stated that Al gave himself the nickname “Weird Al” for his radio show because of his penchant for playing weird music, though he “seems to remember people calling him ‘Weird Al'” at college before that time. I’d be interested to see your source on that “two Al’s” as that would be an interesting factoid.
“To date, that is the only Weird Al song where some aspect of the song wasn’t originally thought up by Yankovic himself.”
This seems wrong…
@ghost: Seems like it, but according to Weird Al, he does not ever except ideas for songs from anyone for legal reasons obviously and that “Like a Surgeon” was the only exception to that. That little factoid was from his official website itself.
I’m as curious as mee: Just what is an accordion repo-man? Did he sneak into folk’s homes and apartments and repossess accordions? 🙂
@Kyle: On his website it says after that statement “Don’t ask”. So I’m not sure what exactly he did there. 🙂
I always knew he was a smart guy !
“Weird Al’s 1986 song “Christmas at Ground Zero”, which is obviously a song about Nuclear war, has been banned at many U.S. radio stations since 2001 due to the fact that they fear that people will think it’s about the World Trade Center attack.”
That’s…just…stupid. The term ground zero was coined before the 9/11 attack and anyone who bothers to listen to the song will find it’s obviously about nuclear explosions and not planes flying into buildings.
“Weird Al now always speaks to the artist themselves, rather than through the record labels as he occasionally did before.”
Apparently not true as of late since he had some trouble getting Lady Gaga’s permission. http://alyankovic.wordpress.com/the-gaga-saga/
@kreiyu: “Apparently not true as of late since he had some trouble getting Lady Gaga’s permission.” Yep, that was interesting given that it’s his own website stating he has that policy and here he’s saying he had his manager contact her manager. Although, he says in the update that he was told Lady Gaga was the one making the decisions on this, which was a lie as her manager never told her (supposedly, though this screams of manager taking the fall for bad publicity as a result of her rejection of the parody). But in any event, perhaps it is sufficient for Al to know that it is the musician making the decision and not the record company and he no longer needs to speak to the person directly. He should update his website ;-).
Yes, but you forgot to mention one important addition to this story… Lady Gaga can go fuck herself.
I know its weird but he is still one of my Favorite artists… I’m not surprised to hear that we was such a smart kid….
@Daven: You were right, only “My Bologna” was recorded in the bathroom because the people working at the studio would not let him in. “Another One Rides The Bus” was recorded live on the Dr. Demento Radio Show. 🙂
I have had so much fun following weird Al over the years. I attended Cal poly while he was there. He was definitely a favorite on campus. I was on the gymnastics team so we both tended to be performers at major events such as poly Royal. I wish him all the best with his upcoming television series.
I was extremely fortunate to have seen Weird Al one time as a opening act for The Monkees In Philly’s Mann Music Center
There was hardly anyone there yet so I moved all the down to about the 2nd or 3rd row
He was hilarious as well as his band too