Just forget the words and sing along

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Good Ol' Days of Weird Al Videos

With Mandatory Fun being his first #1 album on the Billboard charts, and his recent "8 Videos in 8 Days" campaign causing a viral sensation, there's no doubt that it's a good time to be a Weird Al fan.  And the good news just keeps coming, with the news this morning that UHF is finally getting a Blu-Ray release this November!

It's kind of funny...a year ago, I read an interview with Weird Al where he'd been told by the studio that owns UHF that they had no plans to release it on Blu-Ray because everything's going to streaming video now.  What a difference a #1 album on the Billboard charts makes!  Well, to be fair, the studio that owns UHF -- MGM -- isn't putting out the Blu-Ray.  It's being put out by Shout! Factory, which has really done a good job putting out cult classic films on Blu-Ray recently.  And they are Weird Al friendly, having put out The Weird Al Show: The Complete Series a few years ago.

But that's not all!  Shout! Factory also announced they'll be releasing The Compleat Al on DVD at the same time.  The Compleat Al was a TV movie that Weird Al starred in in the mid-80s.  It was a mockumentary, chronicling his rise to fame.  Weird Al has used clips of it in his Al Music specials, and I've seen bits and pieces on YouTube, but I've never seen the whole thing.  So the Weird Al completest in me is glad that this is finally coming to DVD.  It was released on VHS back in the day, but it's been out of print since the early 1990s. 

But all this Weird Al video goodness has me spoiled.  Thanks to YouTube and other streaming video services, every "Weird Al" Yankovic music video ever made is now at my fingertips.  Not like the good ol' days, when you'd have to watch Much Music for hours on end, just praying that they might show one of his videos.  But if you were lucky, one of Weird Al's TV specials might come along, and you could tape it, and finally have all the Weird Al videos for your very own.  Going through my old shoebox of VHS tapes, I see that I have several such specials recorded.

The first one I find is The "Weird Al" Yankovic Music Video Collection.  This was a 1-hour TV special that Weird Al did for MuchMusic in 1999, to promote the release of Running With Scissors.  For this hour, they played nothing but Weird Al's videos, and new comedy sketches of him making mischief in and around Toronto.  At his official website at the time, Weird Al explained why he did this instead of another Al Music special.  Turns out MuchMusic was starting to get nervous about the Al Music specials.  With Weird Al's trademark fake interviews, and mocking commentaries of music videos, MuchMusic started worrying that they'd get in trouble with one of the artists.  So, the "Weird Al" Yankovic Music Video Collection was the compromise that Weird Al and MuchMusic came up with.

But then, there were the Al Music specials.  Those were pure gold.  Weird Al did three in the 1990s:  in 1992 to promote Off the Deep End, in '93 for Alapaloza, and '96 with Bad Hair Day.  It was pure magic when I saw that first one.  It was the spring of 1992.  It was Track & Field Day at school, so, the gym-hating, nonathletic kid that I was, I was "sick at home."  I was flipping around the channels, stumbled upon Much, and there was Weird Al!  And...he was like a VJ!  And...he was making fun of the videos!  Of course I wound up watching the whole thing.  I wish I still had that one on VHS.  He did a bit on the differences between the USA and Canada.  Back in the 1990s, the exchange rate between Canadian and American money was pretty consistent:  $1 CAD = $0.70 USD.  So, while outlining the differences, he holds up a loonie and says, "In the USA, a loonie is only worth 70 cents.  But here in Canada, it's a whole dollar!" 

I do, however, have the second one, Al Music 2.  A co-worker gave a copy a few years ago.  With Jurassic Park being Weird Al's lead single, and the Dinosaur World Tour having just stopped in Toronto, about the last half-hour of the special was Weird Al messing about at the Dinosaur World Tour.  For those who don't remember, the Dinosaur World Tour was this massive traveling dinosaur museum that showcased a bunch of new fossil finds from China and the Canadian Arctic.  It opened in the summer of 1993, and Edmonton was its first stop.  I went.  I loved it.  And that was the extra fun of Al Music 2, as I watched Weird Al mess around with exhibits that I myself had seen just a few months earlier!

And then a fun little blip was, in the late-1990s, MuchMusic did a couple of specials called Laff-a-Thon.  As we know, it's become custom for a stand-up comic to add a song to their comedy albums to get some airplay, and then a music video to get some exposure on the music video shows.  So, MuchMusic did the Laff-a-Thon where they had a marathon of all these comedic music videos.  For the first one, there was controversy.  They kept hyping that they were going to play a Weird Al video.  Weird Al came on to introduce it, but the bit was, they then did not play a Weird Al video.  Annoyed, Weird Al introduced a second video, promising that this time it would be one of his.  But it wasn't.  For the third time, a very angry Weird Al introduced the video, and it was finally one of his.  However, the fans weren't happy with this.  And later in the special, a very downbeat VJ came on and said, "Because of all the complaints just got over playing just one Weird Al video, here now are 3 Weird Al videos back-to-back."  When they did the second Laff-a-Thon a year later, they dedicated an hour in the middle of it to nothin' but Weird Al.

But for me, it all began way before any of this.  For those who may not recall, back when MuchMusic still played music videos, one of their daily programs was called Spotlight, where, for a half-hour straight, they'd play nothing but Weird Al videos.  When my family first got cable, it seemed to be on everyday just as I got home from school.  One snowy spring day in 1990, I came home from school, flopped down on the couch, started leafing through the TV guide, and I thought I'd died and gone to heaven.  Today's Spotlight artist was..."Weird Al" Yankovic.  But damn it!  I missed the first 10 minutes!  But that was OK.  Back then, I quickly discovered that MuchMusic repeated a lot of their programming 4 hours later.  So, 4 hours later, after supper and my homework was done, I took control of the TV, popped a blank tape in the VCR, and hit "record" when Spotlight began.

I'll never forget the first line of VJ Dan Gallagher's introduction:  "'Weird Al' Yankovic!  The man has made a living...looking like George Fox."  For those who don't know, George Fox is a Canadian country music singer who was big in the late-1980s.  At around this time, he had just done a big TV special on CBC and...yeah.  When George Fox wore glasses, he was the spitting image of 1980s Weird Al.  I remember seeing George Fox's picture on the cover of TV Guide and thinking, "Is George Fox Weird Al's real name?"

Anyway, I taped that episode of Spotlight and damn near wore out the tape watching it over and over and over again.  And now, for you, I will recreate the line-up of that episode Spotlight.  After Mr. Gallagher's introduction, we got...

I Love Rocky Road

Eat It

Like a Surgeon

Living With a Hernia


An old interview clip of Weird Al in the MuchMusic studios plugging UHF, thus ending the show with....


"Tomorrow on Spotlight...10,000 Maniacs."  

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