Joan Jett? Sure, she’s still around. She will be at Junefest on the Sunset Station lawn June 6. And Toni Basil? She does choreography for Bette Midler.
But the accordion guy who parodied them both back in 1983 with “I Love Rocky Road” and “Ricky”? Five shows next week at Planet Hollywood, and a No. 1 album last year.
The irony isn’t lost on “Weird Al” Yankovic, the 55-year-old song parodist who parks at Planet Hollywood Tuesday through Saturday.
Back in the early ’80s, record executives all told the young “Dr. Demento” devotee that comedy is “an ephemeral art form. You’re going to be here today, gone tomorrow. We want artists who are going to have a lasting career.”
Now, he says, “The fact that I’m still around and most of the artists who were big in the ’80s are not — I find that sort of amusing.”
Last year’s “Mandatory Fun” was not only Yankovic’s first No. 1 album, but he says it fulfilled a 14-album contract.
“I was literally working for minimum wage in the mailroom when I signed the deal, and it was a 10-album deal at the time,” he says. “That doesn’t mean we’re going to put out 10 albums. That means on the extremely off chance that you’re successful, we’ve got you for 10 albums.”
Some perspective on how rare that is: Mariah Carey, also in town this weekend, famously cut a five-album, $80 million deal with Virgin Records, only to have the company pay $28 million to get out of the deal in 2002, after just one release.
But somehow Yankovic kept putting out albums for different labels that ended up under the fold of Sony Music Entertainment. He even met the terms of two contract extensions calling for two more albums. Finally fulfilling his contractual obligations after 32 years, he now says, “I don’t think I’m going to be doing any more albums.
“I don’t think albums are the best way for me to get my stuff out there. I’m trying to be topical and timely, and if I have to wait around until I have 12 tracks to release all at once, that’s not the most efficient way to do that.”
The staggered Internet release of his “Mandatory Fun” videos proved “the Internet is the new MTV,” he says. “It’s all about being viral. It’s all about grabbing people’s attention for a very short window of time.”
Superficially, the Weird Al formula seems to have changed little over the years.
“Mandatory Fun” is the usual mix of groaner-inducing parodies — Lorde’s “Royals” becomes “Foil,” and yes, it’s about wrapping leftovers in aluminum foil — and more observant, sharply drawn humor, such as the closing “Jackson Park.”
And there’s always a polka medley, this one rolling up “Pumped Up Kicks” by Foster the People and Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball.”
But there are slight clues to the passage of time — Yankovic now being the father of a 12-year-old — in a couple of cranky numbers.
“Tacky” (based on the ubiquitous “Happy”) takes on bad fashion and Instagram overkill. And “Word Crimes” turns “Blurred Lines” into a video grammar lesson: “You should know when it’s ‘less’ or it’s ‘fewer’ like people who were never raised in a sewer.”
“A lot of my songs, even though they’re based on a character, they come from a real place,” he says. “I’m not as much of a prescriptivist as the character in ‘Word Crimes,’ but bad grammar does bug me. I do get irate when I have to correct a press release written by people that ostensibly have a college education,” he adds with a laugh.
And Yankovic does have his own R&D department with his daughter at home.
“When Iggy Azalea was going up the charts, I was looking for the hit song of the summer. Because I needed one more track to finish my album,” he says. So he asked his 12-year-old, “Are they talking about Iggy Azalea in sixth grade?”
At first she said, “Not so much right now.”
“Two weeks later, I asked her again and she said, ‘Oh yeah, that’s all they’re talking about.’ I said, ‘Tipping point!’ ” And the “Fancy” parody “Handy” made it on the album just in time.
Yankovic is launching the “Mandatory Fun” tour in Las Vegas, so the five shows here won’t add more “Star Wars” costumes, fat suits and Amish hats than will fit in a tour truck. But he says he wouldn’t mind more visits to the second-floor theater currently branded with comedian Jeff Dunham.
“I think we’re all kind of testing the waters,” he says. “I’ve always thought I would sort of be the ideal Vegas show. The show is family friendly, it appeals to people of all demographics, it’s funny, it’s got a lot of production value.”
And needless to say, the guy has staying power.
Read more from Mike Weatherford at bestoflasvegas.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More of the Best of Las Vegas
who: ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic
when: 8 p.m. Tuesday-May 16
where: PH Showroom at Planet Hollywood Resort,3667 Las Vegas Blvd. South
tickets: $71.50-$181.50 (800-745-3000)