In my first post I made the outrageous claim that not only is Weird Al Yankovic one of the greatest lyricists of his generation, but that all ‘serious’ songwriters would do well to emulate his example of diligent rewriting.
Time to bring forth some evidence.
Exhibit One. One of my all time favourite Al lyrics from Jerry Springer, a parody of Barenaked Ladies song One Week.
Once you start watchin’, there’s just no stoppin’
Your brain shuts down, then your IQ’s droppin’
Jerry’s the king of confrontation, He’s a sensation
He puts the ‘sin’ in syndication.
It’s totally worthless, like a bad cheque, it’s like a train wreck
Don’t wanna stare but you can’t look away
Like Sally Jesse he does talk shows, but with more weirdos
The ratings jumpin’ higher everyday
As a song in it’s own right the lyrics are brilliant, from the flow of ideas (bad cheques to train wrecks) and the play on words (‘sin in syndication’) to the flawless rhyming (confrontation/sensation/syndication). But when you consider this has been done within the constricting form of a parody of an existing song the skill involved is breathtaking. Here are the original lyrics…
Chickity China the chinese chicken
You have a drumstick and your brain stops tickin’
Watchin’ X-Files with no lights on, we’re dans la maison
I hope the Smoking Man’s in this one.
Like Harrison Ford I’m getting frantic, like Sting I’m tantric
Like Snickers, guaranteed to satisfy
Like Kurasawa I make mad films. (O)kay, I don’t make films
But if I did they’d have a Samurai
The rhyme scheme is a very clever A, A, BB, B, CC, D, EE, D.
Yankovic mirrors this exactly and even improves on it in the 7th line where he rhymes ‘talk shows’ with ‘weirdos’ where the BNL’s repeat the word ‘films’.
The number of syllables in each line is as follows
BNL – 10, 11, 13, 9, 15, 10, 14, 10
Al – 10, 10, 14, 9, 15, 10, 14, 10
exactly the same in 6 lines and never more than 1 syllable difference!
Both of these elements ensure a strong resonance with the original song. But as if this wasn’t enough, Al often manages to incorporate original phrases into the new lyrics. “your brain stops tickin” is reworked as “Your brain shuts down” and “Like Kurosawa” is replaced by “Like Sally Jesse”.
There’s a lot more where that came from, but for now go buy the song on Al’s Live DVD or the classic CD ‘Running with Scissors’
Related Posts: Serious Like Weird Al
Part 1 (White & Nerdy & rewriting)
Part 2 (Jerry Springer/One Week)
Part 3 (The Saga Begins/American Pie & Ode To A Superhero/Piano Man)
Part 4 (Bob & palindromes)