Weird Al Yankovic, the undisputed king of song parodies who has been spoofing radio hits since he was a teenager, usually has artists tell him they’re honored by his renditions.
“Lady Gaga called it a ‘rite of passage,'” Yankovic tells PEOPLE. “Kurt Cobain said you haven’t really made it until there’s a Weird Al spoof.” But not all musicians have been on board with the jokes.
The one who consistently said no, time and time again?
“It’s too bad,” says Yankovic. “I hadn’t approached him in about 20 years because he always said no, but I had this fantasy that he’d come out with a new song, I’d have a great idea, he’d finally say yes and it would erase decades of weirdness between us. But that’s obviously not going to be the case.”
Yankovic, who got the blessing of every other artist he’s ever parodied, from Michael Jackson (“He had a great sense of humor about it!”) to Kurt Cobain (“He asked if it was going to be a song about food”) says he approached the Purple One many times over the years, but always got a no.
“I had a parody of ‘Let’s Go Crazy’ that was about The Beverly Hillbillies,” he says. “And I wanted to do something funny with ‘When Doves Cry,’ and ‘Kiss.’ For ‘1999,’ I wanted to do an infomercial where you could get anything you wanted by dialing 1-800-something-1999.”
But despite the setback with Prince, Yankovic has had an astounding career that began 40 years ago, with his first spoof making its way to radio in 1976.
“I’ve been coming up with parodies since I was a kid,” he says of how he fell into the career. “I would just change the lyrics to songs to amuse my friends, and it’s a phase I never grew out of!”
A cover of The Knack’s “My Sharona,” which he turned into “My Bologna,” earned Yankovic a record deal in the early ’80s, and his version of Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust” (“Another One Rides the Bus”) brought him even more fame – but it wasn’t until 1984’s “Eat It,” a spoof of MJ’s “Beat It,” hit the charts that he knew he’d made it big.
“It was No. 1 in Australia,” he says. “The actual ‘Beat It’ only went to No. 3 there!”
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He also credits MTV for the song’s success. “Michael Jackson wasn’t just cool about my parody of ‘Beat It,’ but he also loved my version of ‘Bad,’ which was ‘Fat.’ He even let me use the actual ‘Bad’ subway set for the ‘Fat’ video. He was very supportive, which was huge with opening the doors with other artists. Because if Michael Jackson signed on, you couldn’t really say no.”
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“They talk to their parents, like ‘Hey mom, have you heard of this Weird Al guy? And they roll their eyes, like, ‘Yeah yeah, we’ve heard of him!'”