Exactly 40 years after his first recording aired on the popular Dr. Demento syndicated radio show, "Weird Al" Yankovic is not only still an active recording artist, he's actually enjoying the biggest popularity of his career.
Yankovic brings his "Mandatory World Tour" to Boarding House Park on Thursday, Sept. 1, as part of the Lowell Summer Music Series. In a career full of firsts, this is his first time playing the Lowell Summer Music Series. Tickets to the 7:30 p.m. show are $58 in advance, $65 the day of the concert, and can be purchased at www.lowellsummermusic.org.
His most recent album, 2014's Mandatory Crimes, was the first of his career to top the Billboard album chart. Though the metrics of album sales have changed with the advent of downloads and Internet streaming, here are some numbers to chew on:
- It was the first comedy album to debut at No. 1
- It's the first comedy album to reach No. 1 since Allan Sherman's My Son, The Nut in August 1963
- It achieved the largest sales week for a comedy album since The Beavis and Butt-head Experience in 1994, selling 104,700 copies during a single week in July 2014.
- The song "Word Crimes" placed No. 39 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart that same week. It's the fourth Top 40 single in his career and makes him just the third artist (Michael Jackson and Madonna are the others) to have a Top 40 single in the 1980s, 1990s, 2000s and 2010s.
- It won the Grammy Award for Best Comedy Album in 2015.
Yankovic released eight music videos for the album, unveiling one a day for eight straight days beginning the day before the album came out. Those videos generated more than 46 million views within 10 days of the album's release.
He's been on tour for much of the past two years, playing 100 dates last year in North America and Europe, a separate tour of Australia in January and then 80 more dates across the United States this summer.
"The crowds have been great. We're having a good time," Yankovic told me last week in a telephone interview to discuss the album, the tour and playing here in Lowell.
Yankovic's built a career off parodying well-known songs: "Another One Rides the Bus," "Ricky," "I Love Rocky Road," "Eat It" (which reached No. 12 on the pop singles chart in 1984), "I Lost on Jeopardy," "Like a Surgeon" and "Fat" being his biggest hits of the 80s and of course "Smells Like Nirvana" and "Amish Paradise" in the 1990s.
Every time you may have forgotten about Yankovic, he re-emerges with more spot-on parodies. Typically, when you aren't thinking about him is when he's working on his new material. He told me he's not working on anything while on tour.
"I don't like to multi-task on the road so much. I prefer to be brainless and focus on the show every night. When I get home, I go through a recharge period. I'll sleep in, surf online, binge-watch TV shows."
Yankovic credits his support system for much of his enduring popularity.
"I surround myself with very talented people. I've had the same band since the early 1980s. The same people are in my organization. I'm loyal to them and they're loyal to me. The fans have been loyal as well. A lot of fans in the '80s are still fans and are now bringing their kids along. I've been very lucky as well."
Oh, and if you're thinking about bringing your kids to the show, know that Yankovic doesn't swear in any of his songs. It's a very family-friendly show. "It wasn't calculated in any way. It's just an extension of my personality. It's unusual for a comedy album to not have profanity or be suitable for family listening, but a nice by-product of that is my music is conducive to family experiences. I'm the soundtrack for a lot of family road trips."
Two more notes before we go: Yankovic says he could write original music, but "it's not that I couldn't do it. I just wouldn't be good at that. That's not how my brain is wired." Oh, and if you're a young musician looking to make a career in song parodies, "The way to do that these days is You Tube. Anyone can upload stuff. If it's good, people will find it. The only way to get good is practice. My early stuff took several years before I had a hit on Dr. Demento. There's a bit of a learning curve. I guess the thing I'd caution is, if you're learning on the internet, that stuff doesn't go away."