TONYA HARDING & WEIRD AL YANKOVICH

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Mmmmmm Mmmmmmm

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“Headline News” is a parody song by “Weird Al” Yankovic. It is a parody of the Crash Test Dummies’s 1993 hit “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm”. It was released as the lead-off single for the compilation box set Permanent Record: Al in the Box on September 27, 1994. The song was written after Yankovic’s label insisted he craft a new song to promote the album; Yankovic in turn combined the music of the Crash Test Dummies’ song with three news stories that were popular in late 1993 and early 1994.

To help promote the song and album, Yankovic directed a music video that was a direct parody of the Crash Test Dummies’ original. In it, the three news stories are presented as if they are one-act plays before an audience of people. The video took two days to film and ended up running over the allotted time that had been scheduled for filming. The resulting video was also extremely expensive to fund. Several notable individuals made cameos in the video, such as Doug Llewelyn, Dr. Demento, Yokozuna and Judy Tenuta.

The song and video were met with mostly positive reviews from critics, although at least one critic noted that the source material would soon become dated. The Crash Test Dummies were very pleased with the final result and even performed the song with Yankovic in concert twice. “Headline News” charted at number four on the Billboard Bubbling Under Hot 100 Singles chart, making it Yankovic’s first single to chart domestically since 1992’s “Smells Like Nirvana”.

While Yankovic was writing the original songs for a new album—which was later released in 1996 as Bad Hair Day—his label, Scotti Brothers Records, insisted that he release a new record in order to meet monetary projections for the fourth fiscal quarter of the year. Yankovic, however, explained that he would be unable to finish a new record in time, so his label decided to release a box set entitled Permanent Record: Al in the Box. The label then stipulated that Yankovic would need to at least record a new single to promote the box set. [1]

Yankovic had previously heard “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm” during 1994 and felt that it was “one of two or three songs” that could be potentially parodied. [1] He noted that it “would be really good to do for the next album”, but felt that “when the time is right, [he would] think of something” to write the parody about; he then returned his attention to writing original songs. [1] After Scotti Brothers insisted on the writing of a new lead single, Yankovic very nearly had his label cancel the box set due to being unable to write under pressure. However, he soon returned to the idea of parodying “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm”. He decided to pair the song’s music up with “all the weird news stories that were going on” and make each verse its own vignette. [1] Yankovic also felt that by doing this and releasing it on the box set, he would be able to capitalize on the topicality of the issues. [1]

Recording for the song itself started on July 27, 1994, at Santa Monica Sound Recorders in Santa Monica, California. [2][3] Backing Yankovic were Jon “Bermuda” Schwartz on drums, Steve Jay on bass, Jim West on guitar, and Kim Bullard on keyboards. Lisa Popeil provides the female backup vocals, as well as the scream of Nancy Kerrigan. [4] The song also features various idiosyncratic elements to increase the humor. The song features manualist Mike Kieffer, who produces the flatulence-esque sound effects heard near the end of the song. [4]

Additionally, the ending features a chorus of kazoos, and Yankovic plays a short riff of the song on his trademark instrument, the accordion. [4][5] Yankovic himself produced the session. [6][7] Due to the vocal part of the original being in such a low register, Yankovic had to record the parody’s vocal tracks early in the morning, when his voice was naturally lower. [3]

While the original song’s verses each told the story of three abnormal children, each verse of “Headline News” tells the story of three famous tabloid stories of 1993 and 1994: Singapore caning American delinquent Michael Fay, figure skater Tonya Harding’s then-boyfriend attacking her rival Nancy Kerrigan, and Lorena Bobbitt severing her husband’s penis with a knife. [8] In the last verse, Yankovic substitutes the term “penis” with euphemisms like “wiener” and “Mr. Happy”. [9] Yankovic later joked that he “wanted to write a song about these people because [he didn’t] think they’re getting quite enough media attention”, a reference to the stories’ over-saturation in the news. [10]

The music video for “Headline News” parodies the “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm” video in that it presents each news story as a one-act play on stage before an audience of people. The video was directed by Yankovic, making it his third directoral credit after 1986’s “Christmas at Ground Zero” and 1993’s “Bedrock Anthem”. [11] Yankovic appears as Brad Roberts, and his band appears as the other members of the Crash Test Dummies; notably, the video also marks the on-screen debut of Yankovic’s official keyboardist, Rubén Valtierra, who appears in drag as Ellen Reid. [12]

The video was filmed on August 29 and 31, 1994. All of the scenes that took place at the school were filmed during the day at Longfellow Elementary School Auditorium, in Pasadena, California. The scenes at the ice rink were filmed at night in a rink in Paramount, California. [1][12] According to Yankovic, the crew ran over time and it was a rather expensive video. Yankovic noted that “without giving you the actual number”, he could have “recorded two albums, probably, for what it cost to do that one video.” [1] The video features several celebrity cameos, including an appearance by Doug Llewelyn of People’s Court fame, and long time radio show host Dr. Demento. Comedianne Judy Tenuta also appears as Lorena Bobbitt. [13]

Reception

Brad Roberts, writer of the song “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm”, enjoyed the parody and has performed it in concert with Yankovic.

“Headline News” was released on September 26, 1994, as the lead-off single for Permanent Record: Al in the Box, which was also released a day later. [14][15] Yankovic also insisted that the song be commercially available as a CD single so that his fans who are completists would not have to purchase the expensive box set just to get the new song. [1] Much like the cover for the Crash Test Dummies’s 1993 studio album God Shuffled His Feet, the cover for Yankovic’s single superimposes his faces over the figures of Titian’s painting Bacchus and Ariadne. The art direction is credited to Doug Haverty, and design is credit to Daniel Sorenson, David McDougall. [6] The b-side of “Headline News” was a remix of Yankovic’s 1986 original song “Christmas at Ground Zero”. [6] The song was never officially released on a studio album, although it did appear on Yankovic’s Greatest Hits Volume II album, which was released a month later on October 25, 1994. [16] The single charted and peaked at number four on the Billboard Bubbling Under Hot 100 Singles chart, which corresponds to a position of 104 on the Billboard Hot 100. [17] This made it Yankovic’s first domestically charting single since 1992’s “Smells Like Nirvana”. [18]

Brad Roberts, the original songwriter for “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm” was extremely pleased with the parody, and found it humorous. He later noted that, “People assume that I was annoyed but when [Yankovic] does a parody of you, you know you’ve made it.” [19] He later praised the way Yankovic interacted with the artists that he parodies, noting that “Weird Al goes the whole route and cultivates a relationship with the artist. Plus he gets half the earnings and that helps me make money.” [19]

Reviews

“Headline News” received mostly positive reviews from music critics. Lou Carlozo of the Chicago Tribune wrote that the song “provided savage laughs at the expense of Tonya Harding and John Bobbitt.” [20] Roch Parisien of Allmusic cited the song as one of the three stand-outs from Yankovic’s second greatest hits volume, and called it a “rib-tickler”. [21] Tina Maps of The Milwaukee Journal wrote a positive review and felt that the musical parody was a “dead-on skewering of the Crash Test Dummies’ ‘Mmm, Mmm, Mmm, Mmm”. [22] Not all reviews, however, were so positive; an article that appeared in The Commercial Appeal noted that while the video for “Headline News” had some “cute bits and unusual cameos”, it was “not as clever as many of Yankovic’s past efforts” and that “the current events included here are already dated”. [23]

Live performances

Yankovic first started performing “Headline News” in August 1994, almost a month before it was officially released. [24] In addition, Yankovic has performed the song with the Crash Test Dummies twice: once on Canada’s MuchMusic channel and another time at the House of Blues in Los Angeles. [25]

Reportedly, during one of the performances, Ellen Reid, backing vocalist and keyboardist for the Crash Test Dummies, went out and purchased kazoos. The band then hid the instruments until the end of the song, when they took them out and played them; this “came as a big surprise to” Yankovic. [5] Yankovic’s Straight Outta Lynwood concert tour contained new lyrics as part of a parody medley, referencing Britney Spears, dealing with her 2007 head-shaving shock and underpants-less limousine trip in late 2006. [26] Later in the tour, he changed it to reference Paris Hilton’s DUI and imprisonment, and her subsequent interview on Larry King Live. [27][28]

CD single [6]

1. “Headline News” – 3:46

2. “Christmas at Ground Zero (Alternate Mix)” – 3:07

Chart (1994) Peak position

U.S. Billboard Bubbling Under Hot 100 Singles [17] 4

“Weird” Al Yankovic – Lead and backing vocals, accordion, production, arrangement [4]

Jim West – guitar

Steve Jay – bass guitar

Jon “Bermuda” Schwartz – drums

Kim Bullard – keyboards

Lisa Popeil – backing vocals

Mike Kieffer – manualism

Tony Papa – engineering

®

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