The Simpsons – Songs in the Key of Springfield

Released in the spring of 1997, Songs in the Key of Springfield is the first album to feature music that appeared on The Simpsons. The songs span from seasons 2 through 7, with the earliest song being Tony Bennett’s Capitol City from Danicin’ Homer and the latest being In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida sung by church-goers from Bart Sells His Soul.

(Though technically a version of the Itchy & Scratchy theme appeared in the first season episode Krusty Gets Busted, the recording included on the CD is from 2nd season’s Itchy & Scratchy & Marge. Similarly, the Treehouse of Horror theme used on the CD is from season 5, but a version of it was used in season 2.)

At nearly an hour long, the album distills some of the best and funniest music of the franchise’s history. Classics such as the Stonecutters’ song, the Monorail Song, the Oh, Streetcar! and Stop the Planet of the Apes musicals, and Tito Puente’s tale of uptempo retribution: SeƱor Burns never fail to get me singing along.

The highlights for me however, are the nine excellent renditions of the Simpsons’ theme sprinkled throughout the album like toppings on a donut. These versions take their inspiration from the topic of an episode and rework, sometimes radically, the show’s familiar exit music into various styles and tributes. My favorites, just for their sheer creativity, are the Big Band, Afro-Cuban and Australian versions, as well as the “Dragnet” homage. Big kudos to show composer Alf Clausen for those.

There’s not a bad song on this record (though Lisa’s ‘Round Springfield jazz eulogy to Bleeding Gums Murphy can be grating). While listen to Songs in the Key of Springfield, long-time fans will wax nostalgic for the show’s finest days, from when The Simpsons truely was the best thing on T.V. This music goes a long way to cementing that reputation.

Rating: ★★★★★★★★★☆
Tunequest rating: 8.8

Surprisingly though, the album appears to be out of print and not available for digital download. Amazon offers the CD via third party sellers as well as bundled with Go Simpsonic (the sequel album). iTunes doesn’t offer it at all.

The Stonecutters’ Song, which explains all of history’s great mysteries:

The Simpsons Movie: Good Film, Good Music

The Simpsons Movie

This past weekend, I saw The Simpsons Movie and must declare that I thoroughly enjoyed it. I know it’s become a bit of pastime to bemoan the show’s decline, but honestly, you won’t find much cynicism coming from me with regards to the movie. The plot is straightforward, but fittingly expansive and engrossing for a motion picture. The jokes are actually rather good, largely avoiding the Homer-is-so-grossly-incompetent-that-its-not-funny-anymore humor that plagued the show for a long time. The film also resists the temptation to recycle material from the past eighteen seasons worth of shows, injecting new ideas and wit into the franchise.

All the family members receive a fair amount of screen time and character development, and that goes a long way toward helping the movie succeed. The Simpsons has always been at its best when it has shown the family being a family. With a running time that’s the equivalent of four episodes, The Simpsons Movie is afforded the opportunity to linger on that familial interaction. Heck, for the first 25% of the film, the audience is treated to extended scenes of the family members being themselves.

Bart and Homer hang out and the father-son camaraderie is endearing. Lisa campaigns to save Lake Springfield from pollution (and gets a love interest in the process). Marge is a domestic goddess who worries about everything while doing her best to keep the family together. And Grandpa is, well, Grandpa.

Everyone’s favorite secondary characters, Moe, Lenny, Carl, Burns, Smithers, Apu, et al, received their own choice moments and lines throughout. Even the show’s cavalcade of tertiary characters make appearances, but not to the point of distraction; for the most part they’re limited to simply being drawn in the background so that long-time fans can look and say “Hey, there’s that kid Gavin from the episode Marge Be Not Proud.” You’ll know this scene when you see it.

simpsons movie soundtrack

Simpsons theme at itunes simpsons movie music

And the music… I was actually surprised to hear how good it is. I was a little wary when I learned that Hans Zimmer was composing. His music is decent enough, though truthfully I’ve never found it that compelling (exceptions being Gladiator and parts of Mission Impossible 2), and in general, he’s just so… corporate. And safe. Whenever a big-budget hypefest needs some backing tracks, Zimmer seems like the man to turn to for music that’ll be inoffensive to the highest number of people.

Fortunately, my trepidation in this case was ill-founded. Zimmer does an excellent job of taking the “Simpsons sound” (developed by Danny Elfman’s theme and Alf Clausen’s eighteen years of television scoring) and expanding it to fit the big screen. The music, like everything associated with the film, remains in character, just embiggened.

The disc starts with a grand orchestral interpretation of Danny Elfman’s main theme, which at first feels a bit off-putting after nearly two decades familiarity with the original version. But that quickly fades as the new orchestra does it justice. Overall, the album tends to borrow a great deal of inspiration from Danny Elfman’s sense of playful quirkiness. The movie’s main motif is built around uptempo mischievousness, like if the Jetsons were playing a prank.

It’s not all fun and games though. Like any dramatic film, The Simpsons Movie requires its share of suspense and seriousness, which the music delivers effectively without being distracting. One of best moments on the entire album comes at the beginning of the track You Doomed Us All… Again, which features a tender, melancholy duet between piano and flute.

Through and through, this album impresses. The only sour spot of note is the album’s closer, a track called Recklessly Impulsive, which is a high-BPM techno remix of some themes from the film. After 40ish minutes of stellar music, it’s a little bit jarring and major let down.

Despite the somewhat disappointing finale, I look with just a little amazement at how well both the film and album turned out. I went in with an open mind, but I didn’t exactly have high hopes. Combined, the movie and the score might just be the best pieces of culture I’ve run across all year.

The Simpsons Theme (Orchestral Version):

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

James Brown Double-bolted

this bandstand wasn't double bolted

James Brown died of pneumonia on Christmas Day 2006 at the age of 73 in Atlanta Georgia. The obits are all over the net, but here’s one from the AJC. Besides his musical legacy, he leaves behind one of the funniest, catchiest Simpsons’ lines, for its out-of-character absurdity and earnest delivery.

From the fifth season episode Bart’s Inner Child, it’s a heck of a catch-phrase:


Whither TV Themes?

It seems the television show theme song may be dying, or so says this cribbed AP article I ran across in a last.fm user’s journal.

It’s not really surprising, given that show running times are increasingly crunched as the networks try to crap ever-more ads into the broadcasts. And stylistically, many show producers may be trying to “set trends” by breaking away from the decades-long practice of including a show theme.

Then there’s the current practice of using an existing pop song as the show’s main title, as Ed did with Foo Fighters’ Next Year and CSI does with The Who’s Who Are You. That, I say, is an artistically cheap cop-out. If a show wants to omit a theme so it can fit 30 seconds more drama or a couple more ads into its run time, fine. I can respect that. But to borrow someone else’s caché and hope that it rubs off on you stinks of artistic desperation and gives off a whiff of the pathetic. Of course, that doesn’t include established acts that compose original music for TV, as Nerf Herder did with the Buffy theme.

The thing I’ve not seen discussed anywhere though, is how a good, memorable, unique TV theme can add to the appeal of, and build the brand/character of show. The article mentions how hearing the theme to Cheers and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air stirs up nostalgia and memories. But what it doesn’t talk about is how those themes (and related underscore) helped to complete those shows’ universe, filling in the missing atmosphere that dialogue and staging could not. A good TV theme song helps a show build a relationship with its audience and adds to its longevity.

Cheers, Fresh Prince, Night Court, The X-Files, Hill Street Blues, Star Trek, Bonanza, The Simpsons, MacGyver, The A-Team… heck, even Growing Pains, Full House and The Facts of Life. Those are all examples of shows with great theme songs that have endured. In fact, most of those shows still have an active fan base today, partially due to their engaging music.

So, this brings the question: have there been any good, memorable, original theme songs in the past five or so. I must admit that I don’t watch much of the television these day, so I can’t speak for most of the newer shows. Futurama had a nice one and I liked the one for Angel, but both those are late-90s compositions. What’s good today?

p.s., in case you’re wondering, the best tv theme song of all-time is Hawaii 5-0.

this midway island earth

halfway kang and kodos

I reached another tunequest milestone today at 7:48 pm, officially crossing the halfway point of this journey. Pictured above are screenshots of the playlists i use to keep track of my progress. even though the song count is off by 364, you can see that the total time for the played group is slightly higher than the songs remaining. Unless I end up adding significantly more music to my library in the coming months, it should be all down hill from here.

To which I say: Hooray.

and just in case you’re curious, the song that took me over the hump was Alf Clausen’s Kang and Kodos theme from The Simpsons’ Treehouse of horror series.

tunequest week in review

for the week ending may 20, 2006.

stats: a superlative week here at tunequest. 394 songs played over 25 hours and 40 minutes. a further 5 songs were removed from the library for a net progress of 399, a new record. frankly, i'm surprised by the results. an afternoon braves game and a couple of extented meetings cut into my normal office listening time and i didn't really expect saturday's listening to be able to compensate. not that i'm complaining about it. i'm thrilled.

highlights for the week include sharing the chicago symphony's performance of mahler's no 6 with the neighborhood, revisiting some  grunge and post-grunge rock from nirvana's bleach and soundgarden's down on the upside, appreciating the smooth grooves of the well-pollished idm of to rococo rot's hotel morgen, getting funky with morton steven's very compelling tv score to hawaii five-o (best tv theme song ever!), and finally finally finally finally getting through all those babylon 5 scores* (it took 7 weeks, but i did it), as well as enjoying a host of other really great music.

also mixed in this week were a couple of james bond scores (john barry's diamonds are forever and david arnold's die another day. both excellent) and william shatner's has been. now don't laugh at this, but that shatner album is some powerful stuff. he's got a very engaging spoken-word delivery as well as some respectable collaborators. the result is 11 songs that pack more heartfelt sentiment than all the songs on top 40 radio in the past 10 years combined. i mean that.

it was also apparently "records that time forgot week" here at tunequest. i only covered 7 albums in that short-lived series, and 3 of them managed to pop up this week: can's ege bamyasi, louis and bebe barron's score to forbidden planet and martin denny's space-exotica extravaganza exotic moog. as soon as i track down that file, i'll post it.

see this week's complete list of albums in the extended entry.

*technically, i have one album left, a compilation called 'the best of babylon 5.' it's currently not eligible for play because the tunequest-ipod is into the I's and it's not smart enough to ignore the "the" at the beginning of album names. artists yes, albums no.

Continue reading