Song Parodies That Are Better Than The Original

On the way home from work yesterday, the station I was listening to treated (?) me to R.E.M.'s “Stand.”

By the time the song was almost through and I’d heard the same lyrics a few times over, I thought, “you know, Al Yankovic’s “Spam” is actually a better song on the merits: the same music, but easily more interesting lyrics.”

And it got me to wondering: how many song parodies succeed in being better than the original song being parodied? I can’t imagine that there are many such songs, because most parodied songs are pretty good to begin with. For instance, part of the reason Yankovic’s “Yoda” and “Eat It” are good is that the Kinks’ “Lola” and Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” were good.

The only other example I could think of was the Rutles’ “Cheese and Onions” which is loosely a parody of “All Together Now” from the Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine,” but turns itself into something more by borrowing from “A Day In The Life” and possibly other songs. But it’s clearly not intended as a parody of “A Day In The Life.”

So here’s my very short list:

Yankovic’s “Spam” > R.E.M.‘s “Stand”
The Rutles’ “Cheese and Onions” > The Beatles’ “All Together Now”

Anybody got any others?

Lewis Carroll’s parodies of hildren’s poems have long outlasted the original, maudlin works in public memory. I’m not sure if that makes them “better”, but they certainly are more compelling and more fun. To me.

Weird Al’s parodies are often better songs than the originals. My favorite example is Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way”:

It doesn’t matter if you love him
or capital H-I-M
Just put your paws up
'Cause you were born this way, baby

My mama told me when I was young
We are all born superstars
She rolled my hair and put my lipstick on
In the glass of her boudoir*

…versus Al’s “Perform This Way”.
My mama told me when I was hatched
Act like a superstar
Save your allowance, buy a bubble dress
And someday you will go far

Now on red carpets, well, I’m hard to miss
The press follows everywhere I go
I’ll poke your eye out with a dress like this
Back off and enjoy the show*

Her lyrics are mediocre, with poor rhymes and barely scan. His are far better and have good rhymes.

There’s a pretty good X-Men one of this song too…

White and Nerdy I’d argue is better than the original.

“White an Nerdy” is the greatest song evah.

“Ridin dirty”? meh.

Weird Al Yankovic’s “Gump,” which is a parody of “Lump” by the Presidents of the United States of America.

“Lump” lyrics:

Lump sat alone in a boggy marsh
Totally motionless except for her heart
Mud flowed up into Lump’s pajamas
She totally confused all the passing piranhas

“Gump” lyrics:

Gump sat alone on a bench in the park
“My name is Forrest,” he’d casually remark
Waitin’ for the bus with his hands in his pockets
He just kept sayin’ “Life is like a box of chocolates”

The lyrics scan perfectly with the tune and convey the plot of the movie.

I concur! I’ve read the originals at least in part, courtesy of The Annotated Alice, and they are pretty treacly stuff. Just to pick one:
Against Idleness and Mischief (Isaac Watts)

How doth the little busy bee
Improve each shining hour,
And gather honey all the day
From every opening flower!

How skillfully she builds her cell!
How neat she spreads the wax!
And labours hard to store it well
With the sweet food she makes.


How doth the little crocodile
Improve his shining tail,
And pour the waters of the Nile
On every golden scale!

How cheerfully he seems to grin,
How neatly spreads his claws,
And welcomes little fishes in,
With gently smiling jaws!

No contest.

A group called Big Daddy did A Day in the Life in the style of Buddy Holly. I don’t know if I’d say it’s better than the original, but as a pastiche of Holly and the Beatles it’s brilliant.

Likewise, “It’s All About the Pentiums” and “It’s All About the Benjamins”.

Likewise for Smells Like Nirvana, and it’s not particularly close.

Concur with Lewis Carroll, and with at least a few of Weird Al’s songs, going back to the early years (“Hey Ricky” vs “Hey Mickey”).

I’ll preface this by saying that I am not a Don McLean fan, and generally dislike American Pie for being incomprehensible crap.

That said, “The Saga Begins” is the set of lyrics that pops into my head when the music starts, not the lyrics to “American Pie.”

Weird Al did something right if his lyrics replaced those of a classic song in someone’s head, even if they dislike the classic song.

I was going to post this example. I think it shows how much Weird Al fundamentally appreciates the Star Wars series – the lyrics are somehow lovingly crafted. He tells the whole story.

I’m a big fan of drag queen Willam and his well done parodies (usually accompanied by Detox and Vicky Vox).

He covered Blurred Lines and made it about actress Amanda Bynnes’ slide into drug use.

I think your comeback gig will be on “Intervention” (oh I love A&E)
Cause you smoked your SAG/AFTRA pension
Coke nose shot-muggin’ (Boop, Boop, Boop)
Smoked a Glade Plug-In. (Boop, Boop, Boop)(You can do that?)
Better get them drugs in. (Boop, Boop, Boop)

That’s why we gonna take a seat girl.

We right behind you, you just do you boo, fire can gonna stop you. (We love you…)
Got your back, girl. What I like about you. (Alright) Is when you huff glue.
Talking shit when you Vine too.
We love you Blurred Bynes.
New tits real sexy, wig extra messy, looking real, real sketchy
But you a mess girl. (Mess girl~)
Bitch when you O.D., you’re gonna O.D., (alright) go ahead Amanda Bynes
Fuck Amanda Bynes!

(Full lyrics here)

They also re-did Wilson Phillips’ “Hold On” to a song about Chik-Fil-A servin’ up their bigotry called “Chow Down (at Chik-Fil-A)”:

Have it your way
(Have it your way)
(Yeah, take that shit)
BK, McD, Subway all taste the same
You’re tired of eating meat
that just went moo
(Sorry ’bout that)
Taco Tuesday makes your butt spew (Hamburger Mary’s Tace Tuesday Excluded!!!)
(That’s gross)
So please don’t sue us for libel
(For libel)
We just want a little meat without your Bible

Someday somebody’s gonna make you want to gobble up a waffle fry.
But no no, don’t you know,
Chick-Fil-A says you make the baby Jesus cry.
Dude’s with boobs,
Gay-for-Pay, even Dykes say hey

So chow down at Chick-fil-A
Chow down at Chick-fil-A
Even if you’re gay
(Even if you’re gay)
Chow down at Chick-fil-A
(Full lyrics here)

Just as everyone remembers Lewis Carroll’s comical “Father William” but not the actual didactic poetry it was lampooning… many people still remember Cheech & Chong’s “Basketball Jones” but almost nobody remembers “Love Jones,” the soul song that inspired it.

Weird Al is the ghod of parodies.

Eat It
The Saga Begins

And so many others…

In 1976, the first Rutles album, Neil Innes sang Cheese and Onions on NBC’s Saturday Night (Before it was renamed Saturday Night Live). He was introduced as “The Rutle who lives in New York: Nasty”. Neil was the musical guest on that show. He also did, with a small orchestra of musicians dressed as bobbies another song that was reworked into a Rutles song for The Rutles Archaeology, Shangri-La. I thought the original performances of both were far superior to the reworked versions.

Cheese and Onions was just Neil singing and playing piano. The Day in the Life sounding stuff was added for the Rutles album. In its original form it was more reminiscent of Imagine, but it was not a direct parody.

Oh, c’mon. I’m not much of a Nirvana fan, but gimme a break.

Hell, that’s true for me of plenty of Weird Al’s songs (“Yoda,” “Eat It,” “I Love Rocky Road,” “King of Suede,” etc.), but that doesn’t mean the parody is better.

A band called Modern Man did a parody of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born To Run” and wrote it around some New Jersey food-safety legislation that was going to ban soft-cooked eggs at diners (band comment: “Evidently they’ve solved that whole pesky ‘crime’ problem …”) and titled it, appropriately enough: “Eggs Like These.”

'Cuz baby eggs like these,
Baby they were born to runnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn
audience singalong: Bahhhh, bah bah bah, baaahhhh, baaaaaAAAAAAAhhhhhhhh
band comment: The words are “BAH.”
I couldn’t find much beyond their own site – scroll down for The Wide Album for the tracks.