‘Oh, Have You Not Heard?’: An Appreciation Of The Times ‘Family Guy’ Used Music To Get A Laugh

One of Family Guy’s best recurring gags is when Seth MacFarlane integrates, sometimes at inopportune times, musical numbers. A tried and true song and dance man, MacFarlane has made his love for music known not only on his hit show, but also in his feature films and the release of three studio albums. His other successful animated show American Dad also has some stellar musical moments, if perhaps not as frequently as Family Guy does. Both have memorable, immediately recognizable title sequence numbers (we won’t talk about The Cleveland Show) and MacFarlane even added “Oscar nominee” to his resume with the opening number from his 2012 R-rated comedy Ted with “Everybody Needs a Best Friend,” which was sung by Nora Jones.

This isn’t a love letter to MacFarlane’s overall sing-songyness, though. We’re here to highlight some of the best musical gags that have been featured on Family Guy.

The Broadway Anthem

Sometimes it’s a straight shot Broadway number, like the rousing but questionably relevant rendition of The Music Man‘s “Shipoopi” during season 4’s “Patriot Games,” when Peter celebrates scoring a touchdown as a team member of the New England Patriots. Other times, it’s an ode to a recognizable 11:00 number and some unnatural man/boy love. Either way, MacFarlane gives his regards to Broadway so often that it makes us wonder when his response to Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s The Book of Mormon will be hitting the Great White Way.

To the Tune Of

When Peter and the gang aren’t belting out Broadway tunes word for word, they’re re-writing the lyrics. This proves MacFarlane’s genius as not only a fabulous singer and performer, but also as a lyricist (though I’m sure he has plenty of help.)

Brian’s pro-pot anthem “A Bag of Weed” is just one example. Set to the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang tune “Me Ol’ Bamboo,” Brian rallies the troops in an attempt to legalize marijuana. Side note: don’t try and audition for your school talent show with that one. It won’t go over well.

Other Altered Classics: “Make ‘Em Laugh” (Based on the Singin’ in the Rain tune by the same name), “Pure Inebriation” (To the tune of “Pure Imagination from Willy Wonka), “Gotta Give Up The Toad” (To the tune of “You’re the One that I Want” from Grease), “Republican Town” (To the tune of “The Company Way” from How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying).

The Bad News Barbershop

Sometimes the only way to deliver bad news is through the intoxicatingly blended harmonies of a barbershop quartet (quintet when Peter joins). It’s hard to be sad about anything while listening to those guys sing to you. Whether it’s explaining what a vasectomy is to Peter or delivering the news that a man has AIDS, this harmonious group pops up every so often to sing our troubles away.

The Homage

As a master of parody and pastiche, Seth MacFarlane displays an innate knowledge of not only musical but also visual styles that he incorporates into his original musical numbers. Whether he’s giving Disney a shout out through the Emmy winning number “A Wonderful Day for Pie” as Brian and Stewie travel through the Multiverse, or an ode to old Gene Kelley song and dance numbers in the Emmy-nominated “Down Syndrome Girl” in which Stewie coaches Chris on how to take his crush out on a date, MacFarlane proves he certainly knows the power of a good homage.

Other Homages: “My Drunken Irish Dad,” “Gonna Buy Me a Rainbow,” “Prom Night Dumpster Baby”

The Blatant Rip Off

Sometimes parody isn’t enough and a more direct cultural reference is the way to go. Sometimes it fits perfectly, like when Brian travels back in time a la Back to the Future or even for one of the show’s signature cutaways. Other times the humor comes from simply recognizing the reference, despite it seeming out of place, like when Chris finds himself in the middle of a re-creation of the music video for “Take on Me” and has a major “A-ha” moment in more ways than one.

Other Blatant Rip Offs: “Can’t Touch This,” “Ding! Fries are Done!” “Stewie and Gene Kelly Tap Dance”

And of course…

Sorry not sorry.