Music

When ‘The Simpsons’ Sang The Blues And Did The Bartman

The Simpsons has been around for so long, we’ve gotten used to the fact they have so wholly saturated the world we live in. They are in the midst of their 27th season, inching ever closer to having done 600 episodes. They have their own section of Universal Studios, and they have inspired countless bits of paraphernalia and apparel, licensed or otherwise. Back in 1990, though, this wasn’t the case. The Simpsons hadn’t even been on for a full year. They were a pop culture curiosity on the rise, but they were not an institution. However, in December 4, 1990, the show decided to make one of its first major forays into supplemental content in its quest to eventually consume the world whole. They released The Simpsons Sing the Blues.

Yes, a cartoon released an album. Granted, they have released several albums by now. A few of them are considered “soundtrack albums,” as they are albums featuring songs from the show, and The Simpsons have a lot of great songs in their repertoire. On top of that, though, they have released two albums that aren’t considered soundtracks. The Simpsons Sing the Blues is the first of those albums, and the first Simpsons album, period. Time has rendered this unsurprising news, but one imagines, at the time, it felt a bit odd.

The album is a mix of originals and covers. You can hear Marge and Homer sing Randy Newman’s “Love to See You Smile” with New Orleans legend Dr. John on the piano. Bart performs Chuck Berry’s “School Day” with the help of Buster Poindexter. This is all kind of weird. Even if you love The Simpsons, and in a just world, we would all love The Simpsons, this feels patently strange and, admittedly, pointless. Homer Simpson is the greatest character ever created in any medium. What is the point of hearing him sing “Born Under a Bad Sign?” As an ironic joke, it would work vaguely, but this is not an ironic joke.

Fortunately, the album isn’t entirely covers. There are also those aforementioned originals, which make more sense. They serve as an extension of The Simpsons’ universe, and its sense of humor. You’ve got songs like “Look at These Idiots,” which is performed by Mr. Burns and Waylon Smithers, and is co-written by the late Sam Simon. James L. Brooks co-wrote the Bart and Lisa ditty “Sibling Rivalry” which closes the album. However, if we are talking original songs from The Simpsons Sing the Blues, there are two songs that we really need to focus on. Namely, “Deep, Deep Trouble” and, most notably, “Do the Bartman.”

“Deep, Deep Trouble” was co-written by Matt Groening and DJ Jazzy Jeff, the latter of whom also performs on the song. Yes, this is a rap song, and it is performed by Bart Simpson. Now, this is not as bad an idea as it may seem on the surface. Have you seen the mid-period Simpsons episode “Pranksta Rap?” It’s one of the better episodes of the era, and Bart also raps in that. However, it’s more of an Eminem/8 Mile influenced rap, whereas this song could have easily been a Fresh Prince joint. It’s about Bart getting in, well, trouble that is unusually deep, by traditional standards. There is still a sheen of silliness upon it, but it is not an embarrassment. Plus, the song hit No. 7 in the UK and No. 1 in Ireland! As Marge Simpson once said, you can’t argue with results!

Admittedly, “Do the Bartman” feels a little more embarrassing, but that’s probably only because of its prior ubiquity. Also, because there was a dance involved. Novelty songs paired with novelty dances rarely age well. Shout out to Los Del Rio. “Do the Bartman,” as we now all know, was written by Michael Jackson, because he called up the show and said he wanted to write a song for Bart. Even though the King of Pop was behind it, the song hasn’t aged well. Maybe it’s lyrics about Bart doing stuff like “putting mothballs in the beef stew.” Frankly, the humor the show mined in the years following “Do the Bartman” from the song is probably the most worthwhile thing about it.

That being said, “Do the Bartman” was a big hit. It went No. 1 all over the world. It went gold in England. It was not actually officially released as a single in the United States, but it did hit No. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 Airplay chart. It’s also probably “Do the Bartman” that led to The Simpsons Sing the Blues reaching No. 3 on the charts in the United States, and to it being certified platinum.

The Simpsons Sing the Blues is a sterling example of what would become a trend of people buying things just because The Simpsons had its name on it. The soundtrack albums, Songs in the Key of Springfield, Go Simpsonic with The Simpsons, and so on, make sense because they contain songs from the show, songs that are funny and catchy. There isn’t enough of what makes people like The Simpsons in The Simpsons Sing the Blues to make it all that worthwhile for fans of the show, unless they love hearing Homer sing. Had it been all originals, maybe it could justify its existence, even if the originals aren’t anything special, and don’t reach the simple joys of a “See My Vest” or “We Put the Spring in Springfield.” Even if you are the kind of person who, say, owns a figurine of the Blue Haired Lawyer, The Simpsons Sing the Blues only really makes sense to own as a similar piece of kitsch. In short, if you went into John’s store, it would look right at home alongside robot Santa and a TV Guide owned by Jackie O which reveals that she thought Mindy lived with Mark.

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