Over its staggering near-three-decade run The Simpsons has won 32 Emmys, 34 Annie Awards, a People’s Choice, was the first animated series to win a Peabody and been recognized with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Currently in its 28th season, today it was announced The Simpsons will reach another milestone: longest-running scripted TV show of all time. In season count The Simpsons surpassed Gunsmoke – which aired from 1955 to 1975 – seven years ago. But with Gunsmoke’s longer seasons the western still has the record for episode count with 635. Not for long however. The Simpsons has been renewed for Season 29 and Season 30, which will push it pass Gunsmoke’s 635 episodes.
With this latest milestone in mind, let’s take a moment to remember the importance of music to the series. Outside of talk and variety shows – Ed Sullivan, Late Show, et al – there’s no television program that has had as many musical guests as The Simpsons. It helps that the sitcom was certified by Guinness World Record as having the “Most Guest Stars Featured in a TV Series.” While those 600-plus cameos weren’t all musicians, many were. Tony Bennett was the first guest to appear as himself – as well as The Simpsons‘ first musical cameo – in the 1990 episode “Dancin’ Homer.” Ringo came next…then on through both of the remaining ex-Beatles alive during the show’s run, to Ted Nugent, Alison Krauss and Union Station, David Byrne, and Lady Gaga (all last season), and on and on. Add to that memorable music moments without guests (i.e. last spring Hot Chip’s “Boy From School” and Animal Collective’s “Winter’s Love” soundtracked the episode “A Totally Fun Thing That Bart Will Never Do Again;” in season 10’s “D’oh-in in the Wind” Homer flashes back to attending Woodstock as a child with Abe heckling Hendrix, “bring on Sha-na-na“). There’s also guests without moments (Yo La Tengo played the end credits – ala Jimi – to the same episode, but didn’t appear in it). Johnny Cash guested, but not musically – rather as the voice of a coyote (a role originally offered to Bob Dylan). Other guests never got their chance to appear, such as Frank Zappa (who became too sick to fulfill the show’s plans before his untimely death) – or remained just rumors (Joanna Newsom was speculated to appear in 2010, sparked by Matt Groening’s drawing of the singer-songwriter-harpist for the ATP festival). On the flip, several legends that have since passed appeared in their final years (i.e. James Brown, The Who’s John Entwistle). Springsteen and Dylan have rejected numerous requests. Paul Anka has appeared twice. So has David Byrne, the Nudge, Aerosmith’s Joey Kramer, Weird Al, Shawn Colvin, NRBQ, Baha Men, David Crosby, and Tony Bennett. It’s a toss-up whether Tito Puente’s appearance on both halves of the two-part episode “Who Shot Mr. Burns?” counts as a repeat guest slot. Some lesser remembered appearances include Hank Williams Jr, The Moody Blues, Cyndi Lauper, Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, Bachman Turner Overdrive, Kid Rock, Sir Mix-a-lot, and Eartha Kitt. From The B-52s to Blink 182, the list seems to endless.
In its own way, The Simpsons has become a premier musical “institution” of sorts. Check the guestlist – from Tom Jones, Linda Ronstadt, Barry White and Bette Midler (all in season 4), to Britney Spears, N’Sync, and Katy Perry. The King of Pop infamously appeared in the “Stark Raving Dad” episode under the pseudonym “John Jay Smith.” In fact, Michael Jackson’s character – Leon Kompowsky – was also played by Kipp Lennon (when singing) and Hank Azaria (when speaking in his graveling “normal” voice) – Jackson only did the lines in which Leon “impersonated” Jackson. MJ also co-wrote “Do the Bartman,” the biggest hit from The Simpsons’ two original records (that’s in addition to another four soundtrack albums, a testament to how much new, original music the show produces). If you watched the show in the ’90s chances are that now, two decades later, “We Do (The Stonecutters Song),” “Who Needs the Kwik-E-Mart?,” “The Monorail Song,” “See My Vest,” ‘We’re Sending Our Love Down the Well,” and “Mr Plow Theme” are imprinted in your brain as much as any unforgettable radio hit of the period. There’s not too many shows that build an improvised sax solo into the opening music but that’s bested by the end credits – for which it’s been re-arranged in the style of Dragnet, Hill Street Blues, The Addams Family and covered by Yo La Tengo, Sonic Youth, Los Lobos, Chris Turner, Tito Puente, NRBQ, and Fall Out Boy (not to mention Green Day in The Simpsons Movie). Then there’s the the music for the shows within the show, like the Itchy & Scratchy and Eye on Springfield themes, or the School House Rocks spoof “An Amendment to Be”.
Aerosmith has the distinction of being the first band to appear on the show – in 1991’s “Flaming Moe’s” – and Red Hot Chili Peppers followed in the next season’s “Krusty Gets Kancelled.” For rock fans though, there’s three episodes that stand out most. First, The Beatles-parodying season 5 premiere “Homer’s Barbershop Quartet” (with David Crosby’s second appearance and George Harrison’s first). The Simpsons went “alternative” (kind of) with season 7’s finale “Homerpalooza” in 1996 (Sonic Youth, Smashing Pumpkins, Cypress Hill, and, uh, Peter Frampton – way to drop the ball on the latter). The most star-studded episode however remains “How I Spent My Strummer Vacation” – season 14’s intended premiere (bumped to episode 2 by the Halloween special) with Tom Petty, Elvis Costello, Lenny Kravitz, Mick Jagger & Keith Richards, and Brian Setzer.
Season 24 alone featured Carrie Brownstein, The Decemberists, Tom Waits, Max Weinberg, Sonny Rollins, Justin Beiber, Sigur Rós and Björk. The latter two appeared in the season finale, “The Saga of Carl Carlson,” in which Carl, Homer, Moe, and Lenny travel to Iceland. After 24 seasons the show was still breaking new ground, as this episode was the first to be soundtracked by “outside band.” Sigur Rós‘ website called it “an unprecedented musical collaboration between the show and a band,” according to the website of the group in question, Sigur Rós.
Below is a list of the 30 all-time, most memorable Simpsons’ episodes featuring a musical guest. What’s your favorite? And who hasn’t been on the show that you’d like to see? Sound off in the comments below.
Episode 5 “Dancin’ Homer” – Tony Bennett;
Episode 18 “Brush With Greatness” – Ringo Starr
Episode 1 “Stark Raving Dad” – Michael Jackson (one of Leon Kompowsky’s three voices)
Episode 10 “Flaming Moe’s” – Aerosmith;
Episode 13 “Radio Bart” – Sting;
Episode 22 “The Otto Show” – Spinal Tap
Nigel Tufnel: [to the crowd] We were told they knew how to rock in Shelbyville.
The Crowd: [boos]
Derek Smalls: But nobody rocks like…[looks at back of his guitar] . . . Springfield!
Episode 21 “Marge in Chains” – David Crosby;
Episode 22 “Krusty Gets Kancelled” – Red Hot Chili Peppers and Bette Midler
Krusty the Clown: Now, boys, the network has a problem with some of your lyrics. Do you mind changing them for the show?
Anthony Kiedis: Forget you, clown.
Chad Smith: Yeah, our lyrics are like our children, man. No way.
Krusty the Clown: Well, okay, but here where it says, “What I got you gotta get and put it in ya,” how about just, “What I’d like is I’d like to hug and kiss ya.”
Flea: Wow. That’s much better.
Arik Marshall: Everyone can enjoy that.
Episode 1 “Homer’s Barbershop Quartet” – George Harrison;
Episode 4 “Rosebud” – The Ramones;
Episode 7 “Bart’s Inner Child” – James Brown;
Episode 15 “Deep Space Homer” – James Taylor
George Harrison: Hello, Homer, I’m George Harrison.
Homer: Oh my God! Where did you get that brownie?
Episode 5 “Lisa the Vegetarian” – Paul and Linda McCartney;
“Homerpalooza” – Sonic Youth, Smashing Pumpkins, Cypress Hill, Peter Frampton
Peter Frampton: Oh, this is just great. First Homer Simpson wrecks my pig, then Cypress Hill steals my orchestra, and now Sonic Youth’s in my cooler. Get out of there!
Thurston Moore: But you’re not going to eat all that watermelon, Mr. Frampton.
Billy Corgan: Billy Corgan, Smashing Pumpkins.
Homer: Homer Simpson, smiling politely.
Episode 22 “Trash of the Titans” – U2
Episode 14 “I’m With Cupid” – Elton John
Episode 8 “Take My Wife, Sleaze” – NRBQ
Episode 2 “A Tale of Two Springfields” – The Who
Homer: Now, these are the tunes I want you boys to play.
Roger Daltrey: Wait a minute. Homer, a lot of these are Grand Funk Railroad songs.
John Entwistle: We don’t know “Pac-Man Fever.”
Homer: Oh come on, it plays itself.
Episode 3 “Homer the Moe” – R.E.M.;
Episode 16 “Weekend at Burnsie’s” – Phish
Episode 2 “How I Spent My Strummer Vacation” – Tom Petty, Elvis Costello, Lenny Kravitz, Mick Jagger & Keith Richards, Brian Setzer; Episode 7 “Special Edna” – Little Richard;
Episode 18 “Dude, Where’s My Ranch?” – David Byrne;
Episode 20 “Brake My Wife, Please” – Jackson Browne
Episode 1 “The Mook, the Chef, the Wife and Her Homer” – Metallica;
Episode 2 “Jazzy and the Pussycats” – The White Stripes
Jack White: Hey, kid! Why don’t you watch where you’re going?
Bart: Sorry, White Stripes. No hard feelings?
Meg White: Let’s kick his ass!
Episode 11 “Million Dollar Maybe” – Coldplay
Episode 1 “Elementary School Musical” – The Flight of the Conchords
Episode 7 “Day the Earth Stood Cool” – Carrie Brownstein, The Decemberists;
Episode 9 “Homer Goes to Prep School” – Tom Waits
Episode 24 “The Saga of Carl Carlson” – Sigur Rós, Björk