In the music spotlight: Weird Al Yankovic

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BY JEFF ELBEL | FOR THE SUN-TIMES

Beginning in 1979 with airplay for “My Bologna” on the funny music program “The Dr. Demento Show,” “Weird Al” Yankovic’s comical catalog is strewn with parody singles that have achieved a substantial measure of the original song’s acclaim.

Boosted by MTV’s heavy rotation of a shot-for-shot video remake of Michael Jackson’s smash “Beat It,” Weird Al’s “Eat It” was a No. 12 hit on the Billboard Hot 100.

Featuring the same trusted musicians throughout his career, Yankovic’s expert band shifts seamlessly among styles during concert. The band’s acumen for adrenalin-fueled grunge-rock during “Smells Like Nirvana” is matched by its affinity for hip-hop on “White & Nerdy.”

The band recently visited Jack White’s 1947 Voice-o-Graph recording booth at Third Man Records in Nashville to record a complicated segment of a capella gibberish directly to vinyl. In concert, the segment punctuates performances of “Yoda,” a Star Wars-themed retooling the Kinks’ “Lola.”

Yankovic has diligently sought permission directly from the original artists for his parodies. The practice has largely avoided bad blood, with rare exceptions including 1996’s “Amish Paradise.” Rapper Coolio originally spoke out against a parody of his “Gangsta’s Paradise,” but eventually softened. In cases where permission was not granted, songs like “Chicken Pot Pie” were never committed to record. A parody of Wings’ “Live and Let Die” instead became a staple of Yankovic’s live show.

Yankovic has won four Grammy awards since 1984, but his latest honor came directly from the record-buying public. Following a clever preview campaign of video parodies for Pharrell Williams’ “Happy,” Lorde’s “Royals” and Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines,” Yankovic’s 14th studio album “Mandatory Fun” became his first number one record last year. “Word Crimes” marked another chart hit, placing Yankovic in the rarified company of Michael Jackson and Madonna as the only artists to chart Top 40 singles in every decade since the ’80s.

* “Weird Al” Yankovic, 7:30 p.m. June 27, Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State. $33.50 – $53.50, (312) 462-6300; thechicagotheatre.com.

SPOTIFY playlist: http://bit.ly/WeirdSPOT

Jeff Elbel is a local freelance writer.

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