Pop and Rock Songs Inspired by ‘The Simpsons’
At its peak, The Simpsons drew in as many as 33 million viewers, so odds are at least a few of them were going to be talented. Songwriters are inspired by all kinds of things — love, death, Captain Chelsey “Sully” Sullenberger — so why not one’s favorite animated sitcom? In fact, it turns out that The Simpsons has plenty of musically inclined fans, including some of the most famous in the world.
‘Ralph Wiggum’ by The Bloodhound Gang
The Bloodhound Gang is, of course, best known for rapping about doing it like they do on the Discovery Channel in literal monkey suits, and this is not a case of a group of tortured artists making one joke song that haunts them for the rest of their careers. Considering that the 2005 album on which it appears begins with an ableist slur and continues with songs like “Farting With a Walkman On” and “Diarrhea Runs in the Family,” “Ralph Wiggum” may be one of their most mature efforts.
That’s mostly because it consists almost entirely of lines spoken by the character on the show, which is somewhat impressive insofar as they kinda, sorta rhyme occasionally, which is about the most artistic flair you can expect from the Bloodhound Gang. (Special recognition to “That’s where I saw the leprechaun/Fun toys are fun!”) The only exceptions are “Ralphie, get off the stage, sweetheart,” which is spoken by Ralph’s dad on the show, and Party Posse’s infamous “Yvan eht nioj.” Lead hound Jimmy Pop later recalled that the song “took a long time (to write) because we went through all the Ralph Wiggum scripts,” so bless their hearts. They deigned to read.
‘Let’s Get Rocked’ by Def Leppard
1992 was a tough year for Def Leppard. Their guitarist had just died the year before, big-haired arena rock was no longer resonating with the youths and they were probably pretty bummed about Hurricane Andrew. Surely, they’re not that self-absorbed.
But they did manage to score a respectable hit that year with “Let’s Get Rocked,” a song from the point-of-view of your average Gen X slacker who they were definitely too old to really relate to at that point. It was accompanied by an animated music video featuring a sideways-capped boy eerily reminiscent of everyone’s favorite animated punk, albeit slightly older and way dirtier.
That was no coincidence, nor much of a secret. Singer Joe Elliott admitted the song was “a bit of a nod of the head or tip of the hat to The Simpsons” that “lyrically summed up the whole character of Bart Simpson.” It wasn’t a cynical cash grab, either. The guys genuinely loved the show, and it got them through some rough times in the recording process. “I think we’d been having such a miserable time in the studio that whenever it came on the telly, we just ran right out and watched it,” Elliott explained. That earnestness may be what led Get X to overlook the song’s cheesy roots and embrace it with varying levels of reluctance. We hear they love a lack of irony.
‘Let’s Save Tony Orlando’s House’ by Yo La Tengo
Unless you’re very cool, you probably don’t know who Yo La Tengo are. They don’t get a lot of mainstream radio or TikTok play, but like, do you remember the Night Ranger cover band who all dressed as Bobby Knight for the Pawnee-Eagleton Unity Concert on Parks and Rec? That was Yo La Tengo. Yeeeeah, we knew we’d have you there.
It turns out that’s not where the band’s comedic appreciation ends. Bassist James McNew is a huge Simpsons fan, to the point that he often selects random lines from the show as placeholder titles for new songs. For one of them, he chose “Let’s Save Tony Orlando’s House,” famously a telethon Troy McClure once appeared on.
This time, however, McNew chose not only to keep the title but to devote the whole song to imagining what tragedy might have befallen the 1970s icon to endanger his ability to knock three times on any part of his dwelling. What had previously been a throwaway joke became a bittersweet paean to Orlando sacrificing a state fair performance because a (rather unfairly maligned) jealous and pyromaniacal Frankie Valli has set his house on fire in a misguided bid to win back Dawn.
God, Yo La Tengo is so cool.
‘Do the Bartman’ by Bart Simpson
If you didn’t realize “Do the Bartman” was inspired by The Simpsons, we have a lot of questions for you — firstly but least importantly what you’re doing here? But that doesn’t make it any less bonkers that Michael Jackson was involved in any capacity in a cartoon character’s gimmick rap song. The story — and there’s lots of them, but this is from the show’s producers — goes that Jackson called them up, because he was Michael Jackson and he could just do that, informed them he was a superfan and offered to do a guest appearance on what is now an infamous episode. It was even his idea for the episode to include Bart telling everyone Michael Jackson was coming to his house, which is dark as actual hell in retrospect. He was reeeeally into Bart.
In fact, he was so into Bart that he insisted on taking it even further, begging to write a “number-one hit” for the boy he didn’t seem to realize wasn’t real who we nevertheless want to retroactively assign a chaperone. It’s unclear whether Jackson actually wrote the song — Matt Groening says he did and it was only credited to Bryan Loren because Jackson’s record contract prohibited it, while Loren says Jackson only made minor contributions. Whatever the case, everyone agrees he provided backing vocals, came up with the title and generally spearheaded the whole campaign. He also probably used it to make connections with children, some of the producers believe, so the whole thing is kind of a sore spot for them. This is why we can’t have nice early ‘90s. (Michael Jackson is why.)