Debuting to the world in April 19th, 1987, thirty years later, The Simpsons has never been afraid to take a look back at their history and mock the absurdity of it all. While the show has been quite excellent in its formative years, back in 1990, the show reached the height of its popularity to where it had oodles of merchandise. There were dolls, shirts, comic books, books, video games, et al. and the show took the opportunity to mock that period back in the “Behind the Laughter” episode. In it the narrator looks at how obscene the merchandising for the show was to the point where the characters went so far as to release birth control and, yes, two cheesy hit novelty albums.
Hilariously enough in 1990, The Simpsons did release a “legitimate” music album named “The Simpsons Sing the Blues!”
The basic premise of the album is basically the characters singing various covers to classic blues songs. And it’s not as bad as it sounds, if you can appreciate the novelty, and appreciate that Dan Castellaneta and Yeardley Smith have pretty excellent singing voices. “The Simpsons Sings The Blues” was the hot item back in 1991 and when it was released on tape, my big cousin listened to most of it with my brother and I and we just loved it. Back in the nineties, the big move studios made were releasing a music video for a single, and then releasing the album from the artist shortly after. So naturally when music videos were relevant, FOX unleashed the music video for the Bart Simpson song “Do the Bartman!”
It was a song that encouraged you to dance like the series’ bad boy, who delighted in pranks, and didn’t mind being a failure in school. Suffice to say that at their height, Bart Simpson and any evidence of the show were banned at schools. I vividly remember a lot of my teachers lecturing my class and me about how bad “The Simpsons” was for us and that Bart Simpson is not a role model. She even banned him from being drawn by students whenever they doodled in their notebooks. In either case, “Do the Bartman!” is the hit single of the album that is not at all a blues song. But that doesn’t matter because while the single is goofy today, it’s still a fun novelty with Nancy Cartwright committing to a song about Bart Simpson influencing fans to dance like him.
The rest of “The Simpsons Sings the Blues!” is essentially blues music. Homer sings his version of “Born Under a Bad Sign” (with guest guitar work from BB King!) Homer and Marge sing a duet of “I Love to See You Smile,” and Bart sings a cover of “School Day” alongside Buster Poindexter. Yeardley Smith also supplies a riveting cover of Billie Holiday’s “God Bless the Child,” as well as a longer version of her blues song from the episode “Moaning Lisa.”
The album was a huge financial success landing on No. 3 on the Billboard charts in America, and going double platinum, but despite the big names behind the production, was not praised at all. But, really, did anyone ever really think it would be a masterpiece? I think even rabid fans of “The Simpsons” like me loved it for being such a fun novelty, and really nothing more. It’s another of the albums up there with the TMNT movie soundtrack, the “Beverly Hills 90210” soundtrack, and the “Friends” soundtrack.
All the while “Do the Bartman!” is another goofy attempt at a dance craze like “The Urkel,” the former of which was spoofed in later seasons of “The Simpsons” where Bart tries to rally people behind him to “Do the Bartman!” prompting character Ralph to declare derisively “That’s so 1991!” Your enjoyment of “The Simpsons Sings the Blues!” depends on your love of the series, not to mention it was prophetic of future episodes where the writers and producers embraced the musical roots and granted us some great musical moments in future episodes like “The Monorail Song” and “Who Needs the Kwik E Mart?” I’d still love to own a copy of my own someday since the series is still very special to me today, but I understand and see it for what it is: A quick, and cheap cash grab/novelty.
But hell, it’s still a damn fun one, nevertheless.