Monday, January 04, 2010

"Weird Al" Yankovic - "Headline News"

Headline News was the only new song on Al's 1994 box set Permanent Record: Al in the Box (it was also released as a single and on Greatest Hits Volume II). The song is a parody of Crash Test Dummies unlikely hit of the same year, Mm Mm Mm Mm.

That song detailed three stories about children, one who is so traumatized by an auto accident that his hair turns white, another who is embarrassed to undress for gym class because of her birthmarks, and another who goes to a Pentecostal church. It's a strangely elliptical tune with a wordless chorus, sung in an improbably low baritone. What can I say, the mid '90s were heady musical times.

Al's take on the song finds him substituting the children's stories for, as you might have guessed from the title, popular news stories of the time. First up is Michael Fey, the American youth who got caught for vandalizing cars and stealing road signs in Singapore. He was sentenced to be caned, a routine punishment there. Next is Tonya Harding, an ice skater who arranged an attack on her rival, Nancy Kerrigan. Finally there's Lorena Bobbitt, who severed her husband's penis in a fit of rage. All three of these incidents happened in either '93 or '94.

Besides just describing the stories, Al also sneaks in some commentary about our culture of glorification. He sings on the bridge, "They got paid for their sound bites / And sold their TV movie rights." I also like how he recycles a line from the original song in the final bit. In reference to John Bobbitt waking up to find his penis missing, Al sings, "He couldn't quite explain it / It'd always just been there." One might quibble about the stories only being funny in the context of their times (I'd argue that only the Harding story has lived on beyond its momentary infamy), but apparently Al has taken to updating the lyrics when he performs the song live.

The song is also notable because Al doesn't change the chorus at all, and for being the first Al song in many years to feature both the accordion AND the hand farting noises that so characterized his early parodies.

All in all, Headline News is one of Al's better parodies, both in conception and in execution.

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