9 Musicians Who Refused to Let "Weird Al" Yankovic Parody Their Songs

Michael Buckner/Getty Images for Hilarity For Charity
Michael Buckner/Getty Images for Hilarity For Charity

For the past 40 years, "Weird Al" Yankovic has been churning out hit songs by putting his own, spoofy twist on other chart-toppers to come up with tunes like “Eat It,” “Like a Surgeon,” “White & Nerdy,” and “Amish Paradise.” While the First Amendment and fair use copyright laws mean that Yankovic doesn’t have to get permission from the original recording artists to record a parody song, out of courtesy and respect he always does. Which means that he has gotten the occasional “no,” as these nine artists prove.

1. PAUL MCCARTNEY

Weird Al wanted to parody the Wings song “Live and Let Die,” but Paul McCartney turned him down. “I wanted to do ‘Chicken Pot Pie,’ and Paul was a good sport,” Yankovic explained. “He said, ‘I would love for you to do this, but could you not make it about chicken because I’m a vegetarian. I don’t want to condone the eating of animal flesh.’” But “It wouldn’t work with ‘Tofu Pot Pie.’"

Weird Al still plays bits and pieces of the parody song during his live performances, but he has yet to get permission from McCartney to record it.

2. EMINEM

In 2003, Weird Al intended "Couch Potato" to be the first single off his then-new album, “Poodle Hat.” The song was a parody of Eminem’s Academy Award-winning song “Lose Yourself” from 8 Mile. While Eminem gave Weird Al permission to parody the song, the rapper denied him permission to use it as a single and be the center of a music video.

“Eminem was fine with me having the parody on my album but said he was afraid that a Weird Al video might detract from his legacy, that it would somehow make people take him less seriously as an important hip-hop artist,” Yankovic said in an interview.

In response, Interscope Records spokesman Dennis Dennehy said on Eminem’s behalf, “It’s an important personal piece of music for him, a piece of art. He doesn’t mind him doing the song, but he didn’t want to change kids’ visual perception on what that image was. He wanted to make sure the image would remain intact.”

3. PRINCE

Over the many decades of Weird Al’s career, Prince has been the one recording artist who has never let him parody one of his songs. It’s not for lacking of trying. He’s tried to do spoofs of “Kiss” and “1999” since the 1980s without success. “The only person who’s consistently said no has been Prince. I haven’t approached him in 20 years,” Yankovic told Access Hollywood in 2014. “He just wasn’t into the parody.”

4. JIMMY PAGE

While he’s a big fan of Weird Al’s music, guitarist Jimmy Page declined Yankovic permission to turn Led Zeppelin songs into a polka medley. However, Page did allow Weird Al to do an interpolation of “Black Dog” in Yankovic’s “Trapped in the Drive-Thru,” which is a parody of R. Kelly’s “Trapped in the Closet.”

Yankovic told the Toronto Sun, “It’s actually quite a coup that I was able to get Led Zeppelin to let me and my band do that little bit of ‘Black Dog’ in ‘Trapped In The Drive-Thru. They’re famous for not letting people do anything with their music.”

5. COOLIO

Although Weird Al received permission from Interscope Records to parody “Gangsta’s Paradise,” rapper Coolio didn’t give Yankovic consent to write the parody “Amish Paradise.” After the Grammy Awards in 1995, Coolio spoke out against the parody, “[I] ain’t with that … I think that my song was too serious … I really … don’t appreciate him desecrating the song like that … his record company asked for my permission, and I said no. But they did it anyway.”

According to Yankovic, it was all a misunderstanding: “Two separate people from my label told me that they had personally talked to Coolio … and that he told them that he was okay with the whole parody idea … Halfway into production, my record label told me that Coolio’s management had a problem with the parody, even though Coolio personally was okay with it. My label told me … they would iron things out—so I proceeded with the recording and finished the album.”

Since parody falls under fair use, “Amish Paradise” was recorded and became a smash hit in 1996. Years later, Coolio apologized to Weird Al about the misunderstanding surrounding the spoof. “I’ve since apologized to him,” the rapper said. “That was a stupid thing for me to do. That was one of the dumbest things I did in my career.”

6. MICHAEL JACKSON

Although Michael Jackson gave Weird Al permission to spoof “Bad” and “Beat It” into the parody songs “Fat” and “Eat It,” respectively, the King of Pop denied Yankovic consent to parody his 1991 song “Black or White.” “Michael wasn’t quite so into it, because he thought ‘Black or White’ was more of a message song, and he didn’t feel as comfortable with a parody of that one, which I completely understood,” Yankovic wrote in Rolling Stone. Though he never recorded the spoof “Snack All Night,” he does perform it live from time to time.

Fun Fact: Michael Jackson shares a co-writing credit with Yankovic on “Eat It.”

7. WEEZER

In 1996, Weird Al included a number of popular alternative rock songs into one polka medley called “The Alternative Polka.” He originally included a snippet of Weezer’s “Buddy Holly,” but then the band reconsidered. “‘Buddy Holly’ by Weezer was originally in ‘The Alternative Polka,’” says Yankovic on his website. “In fact, it was completely recorded, and we were about to do the final mix when we got a call from Weezer’s management—apparently the song’s writer, Rivers Cuomo, decided for whatever reason that he didn’t want his song in my medley after all, so at the very last minute (after the ‘special thanks’ had already been printed on the CD and cassette booklets) we had to physically cut the song out of the medley. I’m still kind of bummed about it—it sounded really cool.”

Yankovic later released an unmixed and unmastered version of the 23-second section online for free.

8. DANIEL POWTER

In 2006, Weird Al wanted to spoof Daniel Powter’s “Bad Day” with the parody “You Had a Bad Date,” but the recording artist denied Yankovic permission to record it. At least at first. “And then literally the day before we went into the studio to record ‘White & Nerdy,’ we got a call saying he changed his mind and he wanted to do it after all,” Yankovic told the Toronto Sun. “And I had to inform him that the train had left the station.”

9. ATLANTIC RECORDS

After receiving James Blunt’s blessing to parody his hit song “You’re Beautiful,” Weird Al recorded and planned to release the spoof “You’re Pitiful” as the first single from his “Straight Outta Lynwood” album in 2006. However, Blunt’s record label Atlantic Records stepped in and denied Yankovic any use of the parody because they felt it might hurt James Blunt’s brand and public image. Weird Al later released “White & Nerdy,” a spoof of Chamillionaire’s “Ridin,’” as the first single instead and then released “You’re Pitiful” online for free.

“I have a long-standing history of respecting artists’ wishes,” Yankovic wrote to NPR. “So if James Blunt himself were objecting, I wouldn’t even offer my parody for free on my website. But since it’s a bunch of suits—who are actually going against their own artist’s wishes—I have absolutely no problem with it.”

10 Products for a Better Night's Sleep

Amazon/Comfort Spaces
Amazon/Comfort Spaces

Getting a full eight hours of sleep can be tough these days. If you’re having trouble catching enough Zzzs, consider giving these highly rated and recommended products a try.

1. Everlasting Comfort Pure Memory Foam Knee Pillow; $25

Everlasting Comfort Knee Pillow
Everlasting Comfort/Amazon

For side sleepers, keeping the spine, hips, and legs aligned is key to a good night’s rest—and a pain-free morning after. Everlasting Comfort’s memory foam knee pillow is ergonomically designed to fit between the knees or thighs to ensure proper alignment. One simple but game-changing feature is the removable strap, which you can fasten around one leg; this keeps the pillow in place even as you roll at night, meaning you don’t have to wake up to adjust it (or pick it up from your floor). Reviewers call the pillow “life-changing” and “the best knee pillow I’ve found.” Plus, it comes with two pairs of ear plugs.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Letsfit White Noise Machine; $21

Letsfit White Noise Machine
Letsfit/Amazon

White noise machines: They’re not just for babies! This Letsfit model—which is rated 4.7 out of five with nearly 3500 reviews—has 14 potential sleep soundtracks, including three white noise tracks, to better block out everything from sirens to birds that chirp enthusiastically at dawn (although there’s also a birds track, if that’s your thing). It also has a timer function and a night light.

Buy it: Amazon

3. ECLIPSE Blackout Curtains; $16

Eclipse Black Out Curtains
Eclipse/Amazon

According to the National Sleep Foundation, too much light in a room when you’re trying to snooze is a recipe for sleep disaster. These understated polyester curtains from ECLIPSE block 99 percent of light and reduce noise—plus, they’ll help you save on energy costs. "Our neighbor leaves their backyard light on all night with what I can only guess is the same kind of bulb they use on a train headlight. It shines across their yard, through ours, straight at our bedroom window," one Amazon reviewer who purchased the curtains in black wrote. "These drapes block the light completely."

Buy it: Amazon

4. JALL Wake Up Light Sunrise Alarm Clock; $38

JALL Wake Up Light Sunrise Alarm Clock
JALL/Amazon

Being jarred awake by a blaring alarm clock can set the wrong mood for the rest of your day. Wake up in a more pleasant way with this clock, which gradually lights up between 10 percent and 100 percent in the 30 minutes before your alarm. You can choose between seven different colors and several natural sounds as well as a regular alarm beep, but why would you ever use that? “Since getting this clock my sleep has been much better,” one reviewer reported. “I wake up not feeling tired but refreshed.”

Buy it: Amazon

5. Philips SmartSleep Wake-Up Light; $200

Philips SmartSleep Wake-Up Light
Philips/Amazon

If you’re looking for an alarm clock with even more features, Philips’s SmartSleep Wake-Up Light is smartphone-enabled and equipped with an AmbiTrack sensor, which tracks things like bedroom temperature, humidity, and light levels, then gives recommendations for how you can get a better night’s rest.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Slumber Cloud Stratus Sheet Set; $159

Stratus sheets from Slumber Cloud.
Slumber Cloud

Being too hot or too cold can kill a good night’s sleep. The Good Housekeeping Institute rated these sheets—which are made with Outlast fibers engineered by NASA—as 2020’s best temperature-regulating sheets.

Buy it: SlumberCloud

7. Comfort Space Coolmax Sheet Set; $29-$40

Comfort Spaces Coolmax Sheets
Comfort Spaces/Amazon

If $159 sheets are out of your price range, the GHI recommends these sheets from Comfort Spaces, which are made with moisture-wicking Coolmax microfiber. Depending on the size you need, they range in price from $29 to $40.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Coop Home Goods Eden Memory Foam Pillow; $80

Coop Eden Pillow
Coop Home Goods/Amazon

This pillow—which has a 4.5-star rating on Amazon—is filled with memory foam scraps and microfiber, and comes with an extra half-pound of fill so you can add, or subtract, the amount in the pillow for ultimate comfort. As a bonus, the pillows are hypoallergenic, mite-resistant, and washable.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Baloo Weighted Blanket; $149-$169

Baloo Weighted Blanket
Baloo/Amazon

Though the science is still out on weighted blankets, some people swear by them. Wirecutter named this Baloo blanket the best, not in small part because, unlike many weighted blankets, it’s machine-washable and -dryable. It’s currently available in 12-pound ($149) twin size and 20-pound ($169) queen size. It’s rated 4.7 out of five stars on Amazon, with one reviewer reporting that “when it's spread out over you it just feels like a comfy, snuggly hug for your whole body … I've found it super relaxing for falling asleep the last few nights, and it looks nice on the end of the bed, too.” 

Buy it: Amazon 

10. Philips Smartsleep Snoring Relief Band; $200

Philips SmartSleep Snoring Relief Band
Philips/Amazon

Few things can disturb your slumber—and that of the ones you love—like loudly sawing logs. Philips’s Smartsleep Snoring Relief Band is designed for people who snore when they’re sleeping on their backs, and according to the company, 86 percent of people who used the band reported reduced snoring after a month. The device wraps around the torso and is equipped with a sensor that delivers vibrations if it detects you moving to sleep on your back; those vibrations stop when you roll onto your side. The next day, you can see how many hours you spent in bed, how many of those hours you spent on your back, and your response rate to the vibrations. The sensor has an algorithm that notes your response rate and tweaks the intensity of vibrations based on that. “This device works exactly as advertised,” one Amazon reviewer wrote. “I’d say it’s perfect.”

Buy it: Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

11 Facts About Henry David Thoreau

By Benjamin D. Maxham, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
By Benjamin D. Maxham, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

In his book Walden, Henry David Thoreau declared his love of nature, simplicity, and independence. Although most people know about Thoreau’s time in Walden Woods, as well as his Transcendentalism, abolitionist views, and writing on civil disobedience, there’s a lot more to uncover about him. Here are some things you might not have known about Henry David Thoreau, who was born on July 12, 1817.

1. You're probably mispronouncing Henry David Thoreau's name.

Born in Concord, Massachusetts in 1817, David Henry Thoreau switched his first and middle names after graduating from Harvard. His legal name, though, was always David Henry. Although most people today pronounce Thoreau’s surname with the emphasis on the second syllable, he most likely pronounced it “THOR-oh.” Ralph Waldo Emerson’s son, Edward, wrote that the accent in Thoreau’s name was on the first syllable, and other friends called him “Mr. Thorough.”

2. Henry David Thoreau invented a machine to improve pencils.

In the 1820s, Thoreau’s father started manufacturing black-lead pencils. Between teaching students, surveying land, and working as a handyman, Thoreau made money by working for his family’s pencil business. After researching German techniques for making pencils, he invented a grinding machine that made better quality plumbago (a mixture of the lead, graphite, and clay inside a pencil). After his father died, Thoreau ran the family’s pencil company.

3. Henry David Thoreau accidentally burned hundreds of acres of woods.

In 1844, a year before moving into a house in Walden Woods, the 26-year-old Thoreau was cooking fish he had caught with a friend in the woods outside Concord. The grass around the fire ignited, and the flames burned between 100 and 300 acres of land, thanks to strong winds. Even years later, his neighbors disparagingly called him a rascal and a woods burner. In an 1850 journal entry, Thoreau described how the earth was “uncommonly dry”—there hadn’t been much rain—and how the fire “spread rapidly.” Although he initially felt guilty, he wrote that he soon realized that fire is natural, and lightning could have sparked a fire in the woods just as easily as his cooking accident did.

4. Henry David Thoreau's house at Walden Pond later became a pigsty.

After Thoreau left the home he built in Walden Woods in 1847, the structure went through multiple iterations. He sold the house to Emerson (it was on land that Emerson already owned), and Emerson sold it to his gardener. The gardener never moved in, so the house was empty until a farmer named James Clark bought it in 1849. Clark moved it to his nearby farm and used it to store grain. In 1868, the roof of the building was removed from the base and used to cover a pigsty. In 1875, the rest of the structure was used as a shed before its timber was used to fix Clark’s barn. Today, you can see replicas of Thoreau’s house near Walden Pond in Massachusetts.

5. Henry David Thoreau and his brother both fell in love with the same woman.

In 1839, Thoreau wrote in his journal about how he fell in love with Ellen Sewall, an 18-year-old from Cape Cod. In 1840, Thoreau’s older brother John proposed marriage to Sewall but was rejected. So, like any good brother, Thoreau wrote a letter to Sewall, proposing that she marry him instead. Sewall rejected him too, probably due to her family disapproving of the Thoreau family’s liberal views on Christianity.

Despite the aforementioned marriage proposal, some historians and biographers speculate that Thoreau was gay. He never married, reportedly preferred celibacy, and his journals reveal references to male bodies but no female ones.

6. Despite popular misconception, Henry David Thoreau wasn't a loner.

Historians have debunked the misconception that Thoreau was a selfish hermit who lived alone so he could stay away from other people. Rather than being a loner, Thoreau was an individualist who was close to his family members and lived with Emerson’s family (on and off) for years. To build his cabin in the woods, he got help from his friends including Emerson and Bronson Alcott, the father of Louisa May Alcott. During his stay in the woods, he frequently entertained guests, visited friends, and walked to the (nearby) town of Concord. At his funeral at Concord’s First Parish Church, a large group of friends attended to mourn and celebrate his life.

7. Henry David Thoreau was a minimalist.

Long before tiny houses were trendy, Thoreau wrote about the benefits of living a simple, minimalist lifestyle. In Walden, he wrote about giving up the luxuries of everyday life in order to quiet the mind and have time for thinking. “My greatest skill has been to want but little,” he wrote. Thoreau also related his love of simplicity to the craft of writing: “It is the fault of some excellent writers ... that they express themselves with too great fullness and detail. They give the most faithful, natural, and lifelike account of their sensations, mental and physical, but they lack moderation and sententiousness.”

8. Henry David Thoreau took copious notes.

Although he was a minimalist, Thoreau wrote an abundance of notes and ideas in his journals, essays, and letters. He jotted down his observations of nature, writing in detail about everything from how plant seeds spread across the land to the changing temperature of Walden Pond to animal behavior. In addition to his plethora of notes and environmental data, Thoreau also collected hundreds of plant specimens and birds’ eggs.

9. Henry David Thoreau was praised for his originality.

In 1862, newspapers widely reported the news of Thoreau’s death. Obituaries for the 44-year-old writer appeared in The Boston Transcript, The Boston Daily Advertiser, The Liberator, The Boston Journal, The New-York Daily Tribune, and The Salem Observer. The obituaries describe Thoreau as an “eccentric author” and “one of the most original thinkers our country has produced.”

10. Henry David Thoreau donated his collections to the Boston Society of Natural History.

After Thoreau’s death, the Boston Society of Natural History got a huge gift. Thoreau, a member, gave the society his collections of plants, Indian antiquities, and birds’ eggs and nests. The plants were pressed and numbered—there were more than 1000 species—and the Native American antiquities included stone weapons that Thoreau had found while walking in Concord.

11. Don Henley of the Eagles is a huge fan of Henry David Thoreau.

As a big fan of both Thoreau and Transcendentalism, musician Don Henley of the Eagles started The Walden Woods Project in 1990 to stop 68 acres of Walden Woods from being turned into offices and condominiums. The project succeeded in saving the woods, and today The Walden Woods Project is a nonprofit organization that conserves Walden Woods, preserves Thoreau’s legacy, and manages an archive of Thoreau’s books, maps, letters, and manuscripts. In an interview with Preservation Magazine, Henley described the importance of preserving Walden Woods: “The pond and the woods that inspired the writing of Walden are historically significant not only because they were the setting for a great American classic, but also because Walden Woods was Henry David Thoreau's living laboratory, where he formulated his theory of forest succession, a precursor to contemporary ecological science.”

This story has been updated for 2020.