Audio Mixer: Tony Papa.
Liner Note Author: Stephen Thompson.
Photographers: Dennis Keeley; Jon Schwartz; Carl Studna; Kirk Weddle; Michael Blackwell; Mark Seliger; Johnny Buzzerio; Denise Olderr; Sam Emerson; Jay Pope.
More times than not, Columbia/Legacy's Essential collections are stellar overviews. Boasting a two-and-a-half-hour running time and 44 songs handpicked by Al himself, The Essential "Weird Al" Yankovic is yet another well-executed title in the series. Encompassing 12 albums, the triple-disc set starts from the beginning of Al's career, with "Another One Rides the Bus," his live "Another One Bites the Dust" parody from the Dr. Demento show in 1980, and it gradually chronicles his career up to the R. Kelly-influenced "Trapped in the Drive-Thru" from 2006's Straight Outta Lynwood. Most of Al's big parodies are highlighted here ("Eat It," "I Lost on Jeopardy," "Yoda," "Like a Surgeon," "Fat") -- as well as some choice deep cuts, like the ripping accordion medley "Polkas on 45," the opening theme from UHF, and a smattering of absurd originals ("Albuquerque," "Dare to Be Stupid," "You Don't Love Me Anymore," and "The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota"). All of these could be deemed essential for fans, but nitpickers will wonder about the whereabouts of "Ricky," "Money for Nothing/Beverly Hillbillies," and two of Yankovic's best food parodies, "My Bologna" and "I Love Rocky Road." These songs aside, not much is missing, considering the depth of his discography. The exhaustive, four-disc Permanent Record has 50 songs, but it stops at 1994. Al may have hit a rocky patch for a spell toward the turn of the millennium, but he had some of his best work just after, including the geeky rap satires "Amish Paradise," "It's All About the Pentiums," and "White & Nerdy." For nostalgic fans who just want a quick taste of the '80s, Greatest Hits is the best bet, but those seeking a deep-rooted summary that's both comprehensive and extensive should look no further than this. ~ Jason Lymangrover