Thirty years ago today, America’s favorite animated family made their debut on Fox. To celebrate, Consequence of Sound is re-broadcasting live from Springfield by revisiting Philip Cosores’ ranking of the 10 best songs from the show’s history.
The Simpsons has literally been on for as long as a decent portion of Americans can remember. From its impressive list of guest stars to its often timely critique of politics and social values, the cartoon has become more than a TV show. Books have been written on it. College courses have studied it. Children bear names of popular characters featured on it. You get the idea.
The music featured on The Simpsons is an integral component to the show. Like most television programs, it opens with a theme song — an iconic theme song most of us have heard as many times as such classics like “Happy Birthday” and “The Wedding March”. Show creator Matt Groening has made his mark on the indie community through his work with ATP. The show has also had numerous music-themed episodes and some completely musical episodes. It has even spawned the release of a series of soundtrack albums, which include Songs in the Key of Springfield, Testify, The Yellow Album, and more.
Musical guests are also commonly featured on The Simpsons, beginning with Ringo Starr in an episode about Marge’s devotion to the Beatle and continuing through the years to include R.E.M., Aerosmith, Sonic Youth, Green Day, and a festival lineup’s worth of others. But, it’s the original numbers that are the most memorable (not to say that the melodies aren’t parodies of other songs, but the content of the songs is original). These are 10 musical moments that capture The Simpsons at their best.
10. “Homer’s Hat Dance”
There are many moments like this throughout The Simpsons — brief musical interludes of common songs with hilarious alternate lyrics courtesy of Homer (also of note: “Nacho Man” sung while wearing a delicious-looking nacho hat, Bart and Homer’s conga-style declaration that “you don’t win friends with salad”). Watching Homer’s excitement to hear “The Mexican Hat Dance” as a ringtone is a weird reminder that ringtones used to be a new thing; hell, even cellphones used to be a new thing. The Simpsons has run through the rise of both and manages to incorporate whatever technology is current into its episodes on a weekly basis.
09. “Monorail Song”
Perhaps the most famous song to ever feature on The Simpsons, and it’s not hard to see why. Lyle Lanley shows up to a town meeting deciding what to do with three million dollars that Mr. Burns has paid in fines. Lanley is a smooth talker, noting that his monorail is probably more of a Shelbyville idea, and uses his song to quickly convince the Springfield audience to spend their money on his transportation system. The song’s best moment, though, comes at its conclusion, when everyone has stopped singing, except Homer who lets out one last “mono.” D’oh indeed, my friend.
08. “Who Needs the Kwik-E-Mart?”
This number runs the full emotional spectrum, beginning as a fun number and ending with Apu’s heartbreaking realization that he does need the Kwik-E-Mart. Bart’s “let’s hurl a brik-e-mart” line and Homer’s inability to insert a line that rhymes provide laughs in an episode that also features James Woods as Apu’s Kwik-E-Mart replacement. But this is Apu’s time to shine, an opportunity that The Simpsons has bestowed on countless supporting characters. The show also manages to do something quite unique in that it often begins characters as obvious stereotypes only to slowly expand on them until they are much more than just an “Indian convenience store owner” or “Jewish clown” or whatever. I guess that’s one of the benefits of having 20 years under your belt.
07. “Mr. Plow Rap”
In the season nine episode about a plow business war between Homer and Barney, several plow commercials run, and each of them provides the charm that anyone who has ever watched late-night local cable advertising can appreciate. But, when Homer attempts this rap, he takes bad taste to a new level that anyone who has ever had parents can appreciate. Commercial jingles can be completely annoying and infectious at the same time, and the Mr. Plow/Plow King songs are reminders of both. Also, Linda Ronstadt is featured in Barney’s song, a throwback to your mom’s (mine, at least) favorite singer.
06. “We’re Sending Our Love Down the Well”
The boy-stuck-in-a-well prank got an update this year with the balloon boy, so maybe it’s time the celebrity sing-along gets an update, too. In the style of “We Are the World”, the song features an all-star group headed by Krusty and Sting. McBain and the mascot for the Isotopes also contribute this charity number. Hilarity ensues.
05. “See My Vest”
Sung to the tune of “Be Our Guest” from Beauty and the Beast, this Mr. Burns show-stopper is both an ode to animal cruelty and a tribute to the sacrifices for high fashion. Or maybe it is anti-animal cruelty. Who knows? Either way, the fun comes through the reaching rhymes (“see my loafers, former gofers”) as Mr.Burns tries to go all Cruella De Vil on the Simpsons’ puppies. This is also featured during a very strong season nine.
04. “Lisa’s Birthday Song”
Trying to find information about the Michael Jackson episode of The Simpsons is like trying to uncover truths about the Kennedy assassination. The story goes that Jackson agreed to do the show under a pseudonym but would not voice the singing parts. Others say that he voiced all of the episode. Still, others say it was all performed by a Jackson sound-alike. Whatever the truth, the song is an adorable tribute from a brother to a sister, and the episode stands as one of the more normal and endearing parts of the Michael Jackson mystique.
03. “Dr. Zaius”
A true nerd-pleaser. This number from Planet of the Apes: The Musical is sung to the tune of “Rock Me Amadeus” and is only slightly less awesome than the original. I didn’t mean for this list to be all sentimental, but we have another fallen celebrity featured on this song, Phil Hartman. Not as iconic as Michael Jackson, Hartman was a frequent contributor to the show whose death was sudden and tragic. A side note, why has there not been a real Planet of the Apes: The Musical. One ticket sold right here, guaranteed!
02. “We Do! (The Stonecutter’s Song)”
Before there was The Da Vinci Code, there were the Stonecutters, a secret organization of Springfield’s elite. Well, actually, not elite, just a bunch of the dudes. And, an alien. This song was nominated for an Emmy in the original music category and is featured on a sixth season episode that is considered a classic by most Simpsons aficionados. If you are looking for a hip Simpsons-related tattoo, the Stonecutters’ symbol might be a good choice.
01. “Talkin’ Softball”
A parody of Terry Cashman’s song “Talkin’ Baseball”, this number was featured as the closing number to an episode that featured big league baseball players as softball ringers. The lineup consisted of now-legends (Ozzie Smith, Wade Boggs), now-coaches (Mike Scioscia, Don Mattingly), and now-jokes (Daryl Strawberry, Jose Canseco). This song captures two American staples and in, sepia-tone, immortalizes them both with a childlike sense of wonder.