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The surreal moment America caught its first sight of "Weird Al" Yankovic

Weird Al onstage at the Tonight Show
(Image credit: NBC/YouTube)

In 1981, American satirist "Weird Al" Yankovic was not the international multi-media colossus he is today. 

Yankovic had made his debut recording two years earlier, cutting a parody version of The Knack's classic My Sharona entitled My Bologna in tribute to the celebrated Italian sausage. Released by Capitol, it received airplay on The Dr. Demento Show, the nationally syndicated comedy show from broadcaster Barret Eugene "Barry" Hansen, a.k.a. Dr Demento. It sold 10,000 copies. 

Despite the single's "earth-shatteringly profound historical significance" (Yankovic's description, not ours), it was two years before he released another. A parody of Queen's Another One Bites The Dust, Another One Rides The Bus was recorded live on The Dr Demnento Show, and struck an immediate chord with listeners. 

"For the next few weeks, we got twice as many requests for Another One Rides the Bus as for everything else put together," said Demento. "Thank goodness I had a tape rolling! We even got it in stereo."

As Capitol weren't interested in releasing the follow-up to My Bologna, Yankovic scratched together the funds to press up 1000 copies of the single and release it own his own label, Placebo Records. And the noise surrounding the track led to an invitation two months later to appear on The Tomorrow Show, the late-night television talk show hosted by Tom Snyder, the former newscaster who would later host The Late Late Show at the behest of David Letterman.

"We were pretty much scared out of our minds," recalled Yankovic. "I was straight out of college, and all of a sudden they were flying me out to New York to perform live on national TV. And I was wearing these horrible, crazy quilt velvet pants that a friend of mine had found at a thrift shop, and, you know, barefoot, frizzed-out hair. It was quite a look."

Backing Yankovic on a lively array of percussion was Jon Schwartz, whom Al had met for the first time in the minutes leading up to the Dr Demento session. Invited to perform on the song, he can be heard banging on Al's accordion case, and by the time of The Tomorrow Show he was providing all sorts of unlikely backing.

"Jon Schwartz is a serious talented drummer, and I had him on his knees poundin' on my accordion case, blowing into duck calls, siren whistles. I mean, if you're in my band you can't have too much of a sense of dignity."

Even four decades on, Yankovic's commitment to his craft is still apparent, as he relates the story of a mundane bus journey (There's a suitcase pokin' me in the ribs / There's an elbow in my ear / There's a smelly old bum standin' next to me / Hasn't showered in a year) with the wild conviction of a seasoned pro. 

It was the beginning. Two years later Yankovic would release his debut album, have an MTV hit with Ricky (a parody of Toni Basil's Mickey), and quit his day job. The following year, the follow-up album Weird Al" Yankovic in 3-D – produced by guitarist Rick Derringer – would sell a million copies.  

As for Queen themselves, Brian May liked the song, even if he struggled with the attribution, describing Another One Rides The Bus as an "extremely funny record by a bloke called Mad Al or something, in the States."

Mad Al or something  was on his way. 

Fraser Lewry
Fraser Lewry

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 36 years in music industry, online for 23. Also bylines for: Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, The Word Magazine, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Saga, Music365. Former Head of Music at Xfm Radio, A&R at Fiction Records, early blogger, ex-roadie, published author. Once appeared in a Cure video dressed as a cowboy, and thinks any situation can be improved by the introduction of cats. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović.