OK! Head clear, body & mind rested, batteries recharged. Let’s kick off the 2nd year of SIMPSONS MUSIC 500 with a quick look back at the end of season 23. The season that included the historic 500th episode came to a close with the surprise that Ned & Edna are now married and with visits from the star of “Breaking Bad”, Bryan Cranston, and from the biggest pop star in today’s known universe, Lady Gaga.
First came PABF13 “The Spy Who Learned Me”, where Homer gets romantic advice from his concussion-induced imaginary friend, movie action-superhero Stradivarius Cain (voiced by Cranston). Cain can easily out-James-Bond James Bond with all his gadgets and abilities, but he’s even able to boost Homer’s way with the ladies (especially Marge) with some well-placed and well-timed advice.
The “B” story had Bart tricking Nelson into eating himself into morbid obesity, giving Bart the ability to simply outrun Nelson in order to avoid the usual bullying.
The music for this episode was mostly, of course, a loving homage to John Barry’s “Bond” scores, deftly and expertly impersonated by Alf Clausen and our orchestra. Extra musical treats for the episode included Alf’s take on “O Fortuna” during the “documentary” about the evils of Krusty Burger, an original Argentine tango by Alf, and the NFL on FOX theme for Homer’s imaginary meeting with Cletus, Fox’s football robot mascot.
Sidebar: A couple of interesting observations about the robot – FOX Sports gave us permission to use the music and the likeness of the robot as long as we clearly addressed him by name: Cletus. Now you know. Also, a tip of the cap to the animation of Cletus. He acts very sassy and proud while he dances, but looks downright despondent when Homer tells him, “…nobody likes you!”. Amazing the emotions a talented animator can evoke from a character with no dialogue or facial expressions.
Of course, we had to have some classical music in the show, right? This episode included snippets of “Gymnopedies” and “Claire de Lune” by French composers Erik Satie and Claude Debussy respectively. And in a pop-classical crossover, we hear a few bars of the “Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano Trio” by another French composer Claude Bolling and performed by French flutist Jean-Pierre Rampal (I guess it was our night to pay tribute to French music).
Second Sidebar: I had a lot of fun hosting my new buddies Karma Waltonen & Denise DuVernay, authors of THE SIMPSONS IN THE CLASSROOM: Embiggening the Learning Experience with the Wisdom of Springfield, at the voice recording session for this episode. They didn’t know anything about the story in advance of arriving at the studio. They are both huge BREAKING BAD fans and both plotzed when Bryan Cranston walked into the studio to record his dialogue with Dan Castellaneta.
Next up was PABF15 “Ned & Edna’s Blend Agenda”. Nedna drops the bomb on Springfield that they were recently married and that Edna now lives at Ned’s house and is step-mothering Rodd & Todd. This episode didn’t have a “B” story, it was all about Ned & Edna adjusting to married life and to the town (and the Simpsons) adjusting to Ned & Edna being married.
The episode is set up by Homer usurping Ned’s usual role as Jesus in the town’s annual Passion Play. Homer is too heavy for the cross he’s hanging on, and the whole thing topples over, crushing Ned and sending him to the hospital. When Edna hops in the ambulance to ride with Ned, that’s when she has to come clean that they are married and she is his next-of-kin. This opening brought back one of my favorite recent secondary characters, director Chazz Busby. In case you don’t get the reference, this character is based on the Joe Gideon character which was based on the real-life director/choreographer Bob Fosse in his semi-autobiographical movie “All That Jazz”. See?
This was another episode that was rather light on music with the exception of the long, beautiful cue during the Passion Play. All original, played the emotion of the scenes without a hint of humor in the music which, in turn, heightens the humor in the dialogue. We did sneak in three quick classical pieces. During the flashback to Ned & Edna’s wedding ceremony we hear a few bars of Pachelbel’s “Canon in D”, a recent favorite at weddings rather than the old chestnut Wedding March by Richard Wagner. We do get to hear a little bit of the Wagner and also the Wedding Recessional music during the bridal shop scene. The Wedding March (“Here Comes the Bride”) by Wagner is from his opera “Lohengrin”. The Wedding Recessional is by Felix Mendelssohn and is from his incidental music for Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”.
The featured sequence of the episode was Ned’s nightmare animated in the stop-motion claymation style of “Davey and Goliath”. The animation was produced by Chiodo Bros. Productions who were also responsible for the puppet sequence with Katy Perry in MABF22 “The Fight Before Christmas”.
We closed season 23 with PABF14 “Lisa Goes Gaga” with über-guest star, Lady Gaga. Gaga has a vision that there is a town full of people with low self-esteem and she considers it her duty to visit that town and remedy that situation. When she arrives in Springfield she hones in on Lisa as being the one person most in need of her help. When hey form a bond and Lisa’s self-image improves, then Gaga’s work is done and she moves on to the next town.
This was the show that not only received the most media attention last season, it also received the most producing attention. Lots of writing and recording until it was just the way everyone wanted it to be.
The two songs in the show “Monster” and “Super Star” were written by Rex Promise (one of Lady Gaga’s writer/producers, music) and Tim Long (lyrics). Another modern miracle of computer/Internet assembly. Instrumental portions were recorded first, then Lady Gaga added her vocals at a later date, then Yeardley Smith added her vocals to “Super Star” at yet another date. All tracks were sent to me for assembly and there you have it.
Lady Gaga was (I was told) a dream to work with when recording her dialogue. She took direction exceptionally well, did multiple takes with grace and humor, and actually pleasantly surprised everyone with her acting skill. She even tweeted all her monsters about how excited she was to be a part of the show.
Third Sidebar: It’s pretty interesting to note that two of the most famous females in pop music these days – Lady Gaga & Katy Perry – have both been featured performers on our show after having been pretty much banned by their parents from watching the show as children.
The start of season 24 for viewers is only 33 days away (as of this writing) but your music team has been back at work since August 10. We have already spotted two episodes: PABF21 “Moonshine River” which is the season premier that airs on FOX on Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012 and PABF17 “Treehouse of Horror XXIII” which airs before Halloween this year on FOX on Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012. Scoring for PABF21 is already “in the can” and we score PABF17 next week. All the gory details will be in the next blog post.
Thanks to all my loyal readers for hanging in there over the summer. To any newcomers, welcome and I’m glad you found me. Please spread the word and I’ll try to make the blog even more interesting, cover more aspects of the show’s musical production, and add the occasional video or audio podcast along the way.
Until next time…