In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing. This week, in tribute to Mandatory Fun, we’re recounting some of our favorite “Weird Al” Yankovic songs.
As much as I’ve enjoyed watching “Weird Al” Yankovic’s style evolve to mirror the times, and the way he’s gone to increasingly elaborate lengths to make his parodies sound like the originals, my favorite of his spoofs remains the primitive “Another One Rides The Bus.” The 1981 track was written and recorded on the fly, with Yankovic tasked with creating a new parody live for The Dr. Demento Show, and crafting his take on Queen’s “Another One Bites The Dust” right there outside the sound booth. And with apologies to everyone for being the guy who brings the notion of “artistic purity” into a discussion of favorite “Weird Al” songs—or says, basically, “Yeah, I liked his early stuff”—to me there’s no better distillation of Al’s particular snotty brilliance than this.
It’s easy to forget after decades of MTV plays, movies and TV shows, and hosannas from artists all too flattered to have their work openly mocked, but “Weird Al” started out as a brat, the guy who took other people’s grand artistic expressions and turned them into bleating polka jams about food. Transforming Queen’s strutting funk hit with all its cinematic gangster movie imagery into a squawking complaint about public transportation—backed by a guy Al had just met, Jon “Bermuda” Schwartz, banging on his accordion case—is funny in itself for the way it deflates the song’s self-importance. Like the class clown who gets laughs by repeating everything the teacher says in a dumb voice, “Another One Rides The Bus” is hilarious just by virtue of not trying very hard. Its dashed-off nature only adds to the joke.
That said, its lyrics are also skillfully constructed for something Yankovic supposedly just threw together. In a few short stanzas, “Another One Rides The Bus” evocatively captures all the demeaning details of commuting and the barely sublimated rage they induce. (If there’s such a thing as Yankovic’s “angry young man” phase, “Another One Rides The Bus” is his punk record.) And it does it so timelessly that, more than 30 years later, I still find myself unconsciously thinking, “Hey! Who’s gonna sit by you?” whenever I’m stuck on a crowded CTA line—and still laughing about it. For as many great “Weird Al” songs the intervening years have brought us, and for as many more are hopefully still yet to come, there’s a lasting beauty in that goofy simplicity.
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(As a bonus, it produced this hilarious clip of Tom Snyder trying to pretend like he doesn’t find the whole thing completely asinine.)