Sunday, July 21, 2013

Nostalgia Theater: Doing the Bartman!

This past week we got word that Fox animation mainstays The Simpsons and Family Guy are due for a crossover episode sometime next year. Interestingly, while you'd think folks would be excited by this news, the general reaction I've seen has been something to the effect of, "Eh, who cares about The Simpsons anymore?" Sad, but true. And that in turn got me thinking about a time long, long ago when Bart, Homer, et al, were so ubiquitous that everyone cared about them.

Back when the show was first picking up steam in the early '90s, you couldn't turn your head without seeing Bart Simpson dolls, Bart Simpson T-shirts, Bart Simpson you-name-it as far as the eye could see. I'd argue that ubiquity reached its most fevered peak with the release of The Simpsons Sing the Blues, a concept album with the characters singing tunes reflecting their characters, in December of '90. To tie in with the album, we also got this music video for "Do the Bartman," the first single:


The background on how the song even ended up happening is that avowed Simpsons fan Michael Jackson, who loved Bart, contacted the show's producers early in its run and told them he wanted to a) guest-star on an episode (which he did, in the third season premiere "Stark Raving Dad" under the pseudonym John Jay Smith), and b) write a hit single for Bart (which he did, anonymously, with co-writer Bryan Loren -- thus all the Michael refs in the song). Jackson's contribution went unheralded until the late '90s, when creator Matt Groening let it slip.

I remember seeing this thing everywhere back then, as it got plenty of airplay on MTV (back when they used to air videos...remember?), but before digging it out for this piece, it'd been twenty-plus years, and it's a bit jarring now -- dated references, dated animation, and all. And while I doubt we'll ever see its kind again, the mere existence of "Do the Bartman" serves as a welcome touchstone for those bygone days when that the cartoon clan could command the nation's (nay, the world's) rapt attention simply by singing a few catchy novelty tunes.

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