The combination of one’s favourite musical artist and the most iconic yellow family on television is always a joy to behold. From the moment Matt Groening’s ramshackle animation about a perfectly imperfect nuclear family called The Simpsons broke out of the Tracey Ullman Show, they became a worldwide smash hit and, ever since, the cartoon has welcomed a host of musical guests to the show.
Below, as part of a celebration of Groening’s unstoppable creation, we are looking back and picking out our favourite musical guest appearances on The Simpsons. Reading the list shows off a reem of stars that would make the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame blush. Including some Beatle royalty, punk princes and one of the greatest classical and hip-hop crossovers we’ve ever seen.
We must also note, this is nowhere near all of the wonderful musical appearances. As time goes on, more and more stars will make their way on to the famous streets of Springfield, but even looking at the show’s golden age there are still some moments which we’ve missed out.
Those famed incidences include the time Homer joined Hullablaooza and spent some of his time on tour with Peter Frampton and Smashing Pumpkins, or when Homer ate an incredibly hot chilli that left him talking to a coyote voiced by Johnny Cash. The Beatles’ George Harrison also showed up to comment on the B-Sharps rooftop concert proclaiming “It’s been done”. There is even the consistent rumour that Michael Jackson appeared to sing the glorious ‘Lisa, It’s Your Birthday’ alongside Bart. The fact remains, there is no better show on television for musical guests to be a part of.
Below, we’ve picked out our ten favourite musical guest appearance son The Simpsons.
Best Simpsons musical guest spots:
By the early 1990s, the show was a massive hit across the globe, merch sales were of the same level as Disney and the plethora of guest stars looking to be immortalised by the animators grew every day. While bands like Red Hot Chili Peppers and Aerosmith had made their debut on the show by ’93, there was still no punk to be seen. Paradoxically, while The Simpsons stock had been steadily growing since the late-eighties, The Ramones were at an all-time low.
Bands like Pearl Jam and Sonic Youth had proclaimed the Ramones as one of their biggest influences, they had also surpassed the punk legends. Grunge had hit it big in the charts while the Ramones were still touring the toilet circuit in a shitty van. That’s when Groening and his set of adoring writers came to the punk quartet with a plan for them to be a part of some special celebrations. Those celebrations were the ones held in their new episode ‘Rosebud’ which would see Springfield’s billionaire villain Mr Burns search for his long-lost teddy bear as his ultimate birthday wish. The Ramones were scheduled to play the animated event.
“Here are several young men that I’m sure are gonna go far,” says Burns’ faithful servant Smithers, introducing the band. “Ladies and gentlemen, the Ramones!” The band set up and seems to offer a slice of reprieve for Burns. “Ah, these minstrels will soothe my jangled nerves.” His happiness doesn’t last long after a snarling performance from the band, Burns orders: “Have The Rolling Stones killed,” to a bemused Smithers.
Paul McCartney and Linda McCartney
On October 15th, 1995, the world watched on as two bastions of pop culture came together when former Beatles man Paul McCartney and his wife, Linda, made a joyous appearance on The Simpsons. Although it may seem like a jovial thing for the couple to do, the episode titled ‘Lisa The Vegetarian’ is all about the theme of vegetarianism which provided Paul and Linda with a platform to discuss the subject in a self-deprecating, humourous fashion to a brand new audience — it spread their message with a smile.
‘Lisa The Vegetarian’ would go down as a stone-cold Simpsons classic episode that featured the hilarious ‘You Don’t Win Friends With Salad’ song and Homer’s disbelief that ham, bacon and pork came from the same ‘magical animal’, on top of the McCartney cameo. It would go on to become the deserved recipient of two awards, an Environmental Media Award and a Genesis Award, for highlighting environmental and animal issues, respectively.
“We were a bit worried that she would be a vegetarian for a week, then Homer would persuade her to eat a hot dog,” McCartney has since told GQ magazine. “The producers of the programme assured us that she would remain that way, and they kept their word,” Macca added.
Appearing on ‘A Tale of Two Springfields’, Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend and The Who made their appearance on Springfield’s streets. The episode sees Homer struggling to deal with a rabid badger before realising, upon dialling for pest control, that Springfield has been split down the middle by a new area code. It’s enough, as one might imagine, to see Simpson pursue a separate city. Soon enough, it all goes horribly wrong, and The Simpsons remain the only inhabitants of New Springfield. However, Homer has a great plan to get some more people on his side; The Who.
The band were due to perform for the other half of Springfield before Homer intersects and ends up putting on a show which sees The Who playing their heavy rock songs from the vantage point of a dividing wall made of rubbish. The division grows to breaking point and, eventually, Daltrey decides that enough is enough and decides to bring down the wall the only way The Who knows how; by kicking up their amps and shaking the wall down with their intense volume.
The outro to ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ slams out of the speakers and as Daltrey’s notorious wail hits the airwaves the wall comes down. The town reunites and rejoices under the comfort of rock ‘n’ roll.
Now, we’d expect to see James Brown make an appearance on our list as he is just the sort of star that found a perfect home on The Simpsons. But still, his performance of his most famous song in the context of Bart Simpson is still enough to make us smile from ear to ear.
The episode sees Mr Brad Goodman, a self-help expert, tell the inhabitants of Springfield to follow the direction of Bart Simpson and “do what they feel like.” It’s a naturally dangerous ethos to live by and the hilarity ensues as quickly as chaos does. But perhaps the best moment of the whole show comes with James Brown’s performance of ‘I Feel Good’, however brief it is.
The performance ends as the stage gives way because the production team ‘didn’t feel like’ constructing it properly. Classic Simpsons meets classic James Brown — a match made in heaven.
Taking Bart and Lisa to the thinly-veiled music festival Hullabalooza is an attempt for Homer to regain his lost youth and show his kids he was still cool. Finding himself within the confines of the festival circuit, Homer inexplicably gets hit by a cannon-like projectile and proves himself an admirable member of the travelling show’s ‘freak section’. It sees him become entwined with the rock stars du jour.
While he fraternises with Sonic Youth and the aforementioned Peter Frampton and Smashing Pumpkins, it is the moment Cypress Hill appear on our screens that we will truly cherish. When the London symphony orchestra show up to the festival performance unannounced a production assistant yells “who ordered the London symphony orchestra? Possibly while high? I’m looking at you, Cypress Hill!”
The hip-hop legends discuss the idea quickly and decide to make good use of the orchestra as they jam ‘Insane in the Membrane’ with the string section. It’s a joyful moment and one that is always guaranteed to make us smile.
We all hate taking the rubbish out, don’t we? Homer Simpson certainly does. So much so that during one particular episode, the family’s father challenges local government so that he can have a more robust collection policy. Naming himself ‘The Garbage Man’, Homer pursue a political role that he was never equipped for.
Ireland’s own U2 make their Springfield appearance which sees Homer sneak into their show by pretending to be the culturally insensitive “potato man.” Homer takes to the stage to grab the audience and deliver his new proposals on garbage collection, but the trouble is, he arrives during the performance of U2’s ‘In The Name of Love’, and is resolutely booed off the stage.
The band make another appearance during Homer’s crescendo song, all of which makes for one of the show’s greatest ever episodes.
Red Hot Chili Peppers
“We want chilli willy, we want chilli willy,” those are the fragrant words of Barney Gumble as Moe’s resident drunk screams for his favourite band. He would have been sadly disappointed to see Red Hot Chili Peppers’ mega-rock outfit take to the ropey stage. The barman had promised Anthony Keidis and co. that the venue held 40,000, but they rely on Bart to help them escape — he tells Moe to look at a wall for a few minutes, which the barman humbly agrees to.
The band are then scheduled to perform on the Krusty the Clown show which also poses some issues. After all, the band’s songs weren’t exactly child friendly. Krusty suggests that they could change “What I would like, I’d like to put it in you,” to “what I’d like, is I’d like to hug and kiss you.” The band deliver a searing rendition of ‘Give It Away’ and encourage the Springfield residents to get down with them.
Some choose to join in more than most. RHCP are performing in their underwear when Moe demands they were clothes. That is until he is met by Dr Hibbert and Chief Wiggum telling the barman to “get with the times,” as they strip off.
When Homer shows Moe his favourite drink — a wildly concocted cocktail called a ‘Flamin’ Homer’ — the barman seizes on the opportunity to make some fast cash and cuts his friend out of the proceeds. The drink’s spreading popularity ensures that Moe’s is the busiest bar in town, and what do all busy bars need? A band.
As it’s The Simpsons, the bar band are no small-time outfit. Instead, we see Steven Tyler and the rest of Aerosmith make their appearance on Springfield’s streets. The band are noticeable reluctant to perform at Moe’s until he ups the ante with the promise of free pickled eggs. “Hello, St Louis!” incorrectly screams Tyler before eventually performing ‘Walk This Way,’ welcoming Moe on to the stage to share the song too.
Eventually, after a scrape with Edna Krabappel, the band spend most of their evening under Homer as he crashes down on the group in the show’s final moments.
Another episode where the story of Moe the barman brings in the heavy-hitting musical stars. This time, as Moe decides to reignite his love of bartending by going back to college, we see the welcomed presence of Michael Stipe and the rest of R.E.M.
Moe returns from his time away from the tavern to reinvent the venue into a modern superclub. It not only provides him with an injection of cash but sees Moe’s regulars be left out in the cold. As a way to counteract this grave injustice, Homer sees fit to create his own bar in his garage at home.
A sign of Homer’s determination to reach the stars, he books R.E.M. for a special performance. The issue is that to sell alcohol, Homer has to name the venue a hunting lodge. It disgusts R.E.M. and, despite it not being “the R.E.M. way,” they threaten him with a broken bottle. Eventually, the band play their hit song ‘It’s The End of the World’, for which Homer provides some unique lyrics.
Keith Richards, Mick Jagger, Tom Petty, Elvis Costello, Lenny Kravitz
We saved the biggest and the best until last.
While most episodes featured above see musical guest stars pop into the story, adding a few flourishes and moving out of the narrative as quickly as they entered it, this episode focuses solely on music as Homer pursues the dreams of becoming a rock star that he dashed in favour of having a family.
His family send him to The Rolling Stones’ Rock N’ Roll Camp and Homer gets to live out his wildest dreams accompanied by Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Lenny Kravitz, Tom Petty, Brian Setzer and Elvis Costello, for easily the most all-star episode of all time. The rock stars teach Homer and other townsfolk how to perform like true rock stars including crotch-stuffing and trying to negotiate cardboard groupies.
There are so many guest stars that the whole list could have been comprised form this one episode but it is The Rolling Stones who steal the show. As well as Jagger leading the charge of the rock stars as they try to hurt Homer following an inevitable stunt, its the image of Jagger and Richards living next to one another and sharing lemonade that really warms the heart.