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Mar 11

THE SIMPSONS – “Do The Bartman”

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#660, 16th February 1991

Like The Beatles and the Daleks, The Simpsons were a craze before they were a cultural fixed point. “Do The Bartman” is the 1991 equivalent of a moptop wig, part of a deluge of merchandising which might have killed a lesser show off. Instead, the Simpsons books, toys, shampoos, clothes, beer steins, records et al. simply accelerated Bart and Homer’s brand recognition.

Which was particularly important in Britain where most people couldn’t actually watch the thing. The Simpsons was the most unusual of crazes, where the merchandise and spin-offs were far more accessible than the actual product. If you didn’t have Sky – and in the pre-Premiership days you almost certainly didn’t – you waited for a video copy to circulate your way, an episode or two at a time. Once you did see it, the show was so instantly, obviously terrific that this slow spread actually boosted the merchandise’s appeal: if you couldn’t get hold of Simpsons TV, something like “Do The Bartman” at least provided a way to join in. (One effect of this is that Simpsonsmania in the UK was utterly Bart-centric – it was presented as his show, not as the family’s show, and the episodes which seemed to get most play when it did arrive on terrestrial TV were “Bart Gets An F” and “Bart The General”)

When Matt Groening revealed that this song was actually written by Michael Jackson – and we’ll take his word for it – he said he’d been amazed people hadn’t realised before. To be fair, though, “Bartman” isn’t exactly a standout entry in Jackson’s canon: it’s a pleasant, breezy bit of pop-funk with some nice bass noises and lots of space for catchphrases, sound effects, and Nancy Cartwright rapping. Even the chorus is unassuming, sounding like its main aim is to get itself out of the way so we can fit in more of Bart himself. So stripped of its temporary mystique of Being About The Simpsons, “Do The Bartman” stands or falls on what Bart gets to do.

And that is… not much. Cartwright actually nails exactly (whether she means to or not) the enthusiastic clumsiness of kids trying to rap – but what’s striking about “Bartman” is that it’s not funny. It doesn’t even seem to be aiming for funny. Perhaps that’s not a shock – the humour in The Simpsons and the humour of comic songs don’t really feel related – but it makes the record a pointless thing to return to, however endearing it is. Like the moptop wigs, it’s a triumph of aura over use.

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Comments

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  1. 51
    Mark G on 22 Mar 2011 #

    Oh, I remember the Impossibles, I thought I was one.

    (I am.)

  2. 52
    a few quick links « echo&sway on 23 Mar 2011 #

    [...] 2.  Everyone already knows that Tom Ewing’s Popular, his rundown of the complete history of the UK #1 singles, is a must-read, but his latest post (the #1 single during the week of 17 February 1991) is particularly amusing for reminding me of the existence of this. [...]

  3. 53
    Ed on 24 Mar 2011 #

    @49 Seconded. The Simpsons is (are?) the Beatles of cartoons, not just because they started as a craze, but because they bring artistic and commercial achievement into perfect alignment.

    The way that every subsequent TV comedy has measured itself against The Simpsons, as Punctum points out, is the same way that bands used to measure themselves against the Beatles. And saying your favourite cartoon is, say, Ren and Stimpy, is like telling people that the best band of the Sixties was The Action, or John’s Children.

    I can see why people would think that way: the greatness, and the ubiquitous consensus about the greatness, can feel oppressive.

    But sometimes, just like with the Beatles, I can let go of that, and find myself thinking: “this really is brilliant.”

  4. 54
    Erithian on 24 Mar 2011 #

    True – and I stand to get shot down by people here, but my wife is a big fan of “Family Guy” and every time I catch a couple of minutes of it I think “it’s like The Simpsons with everything good about it taken out”.

  5. 55
    Tom on 24 Mar 2011 #

    In terms of voting w/my wallet I own four King Of The Hill box sets and no Simpsons. (Not that I think the Simpsons is bad, far from it, if someone gave me a Simpson’s set I’d be delighted.)

    Family Guy is unwatchable, but I suspect also I’m too old for it.

  6. 56
    swanstep on 24 Mar 2011 #

    Hate to be a grouch but:

    South Park movie – completely phenomenal.
    Simpsons movie – unwatchable garbage/boring, Phantom Menace level-atrocity.

    Right?

  7. 57
    sükråt tanned rested unlogged and awesome on 24 Mar 2011 #

    Wrong as usual!

    But not completely: the Simpsons movie is perfectly watchable but it’s minor and very inessential. South Park the non-movie is the real challenge I think to the dominance of Simpsons the non-movie, on a weekly basis. The underpants gnomes business strategy is an invaluable contribution to political discussion.

  8. 58
    Tom on 24 Mar 2011 #

    Not to mention actual business discussion!

  9. 59
    Steve Mannion on 24 Mar 2011 #

    Never seen the Simpsons movie. Amazing how you can go from loving a show more than most things out there to complete contempt for it over just a few years.

  10. 60
    Izzy on 24 Mar 2011 #

    The film’s alright but it suffers for its length, by which I mean something like: the extended story arc (both in length and in broadening of its concerns) is more than the show can bear. If they’d tried another tack and gone for a domestic kitchen-sink drama with jokes, I wonder if that’d’ve worked better?

    It was marvellous to see on the big screen though, they made it look fantastic.

    Also: I never seek it out anymore because I am old and have spent too many years gorging on it and am vaguely aware that it’s supposed to be rubbish now, but any time I do catch a modern episode I’m enthralled. The quality seems as high as ever.

  11. 61
    thefatgit on 24 Mar 2011 #

    I quite like Family Guy. I think Seth McFarlane is fully aware anything he does will be scrutinised against The Simpsons, so there’s inevitably going to be some bleed-through.

    Pete Griffin = Homer Simpson
    Lois Griffin = Marge Simpson
    Stewie Griffin = Bart Simpson
    Brian The Dog = Lisa Simpson
    Chris Griffin = Abe Simpson/Bart Simpson hybrid?
    Meg Griffin = Snowball II/Santa’s Little Helper

  12. 62
    ciaran10 on 24 Mar 2011 #

    Had to contribute “my two cents” (tm kent brockman) to this one

    Re: the Simpsons – as a child I first encountered the craze in 1991 and a bit a myth was gathering that many pubs use to show it on sunday evenings and adults would be glued to it.Can remember attenting a big sports match the same year on a hot day with many rather older large gentlemen wearing extra large dont have a cow man t-shirts that were on sale on the way to the match. A bit odd that many adults were following it considering it was a cartoon but even more strange was that by then it could only have been in season 2 which by then looking back was fairly mediocre compared to the greatness of later years.Indeed most of us in school only moved on to the Simpsons once the hysteria about the hero/ninja turtles faded around 1992.

    First episode that I watched was the itchy and scratchy movie episode which was sublime.One of the greatest ever made better by the crafty Bart outwitting Homer for most of it.This was really when the show was in its its “imperial phase” (season 4-6 the best years imho).No matter how many times you watched it you always discovered a new joke, a new pop culture reference and greatly added to its appeal.Only Fools and horses used to throw as many pop culture references aswell but it did seem a little forced and flat especially towards the end.

    Still rank those episodes of the mid-90s as some of the finest tv ever made and is still my all time favourte show.Then again if
    I was older I may have avoided it entirely like a do with the american dads and to a lesser extent south parks of today.Lost its way around Septemeber 1998. I put it down more to the animation change which is very noticeable in the episodes where homer joined the marines or something like that to the one where (no pun intended) lisa kudrow was the voice of a fashionista much to Lisa’s annoyance. Things would never be the same again after it.Altough you cant help but think that the shark-jumping stared around the time of the 2 principal skinner episodes.Similar to the fools and horses miami twice episode when there was 2 david jasons.

    It’s only a shadow of its former self of course but there is still a few laughs to be had every episode. A programme will have on average 2-3 years of greatness before it becomes stale anyway.

    Re: the simpsons film – I was very disappointed with it.One big cash-in with a poor predictable script that wouldnt have been suited to 30 minutes never mind 90.Couldnt wait for it to end to be honest.Actually the movie and the publicity reminded me of some of the hype that spawned do the bartman back in 1991.

    Re the simpsons musical numbers – had “sing the blues” but didnt buy it.Didnt hate it too much.Liked homer singing born under a bad sign but grew to hate deep deep trouble.The album recieved a lot of play along with a zig n zag album released in Ireland around this time aswell.Anyone here listen to the movie soundtrack from 2007.Havent heard it myself.

    Hard to know what my favourite tv musical moment was. Under the sea springs to mind but more so for homers return to reality than anything.See my vest would probably clinch it the more I think about it.Brilliantly performed by Mr Burns the 2nd best character and full of implausible scenarios.

    Re:do the bartman – hard to listen to it as a single in its own right. A tongue in cheek cross between 80s rock and rap.Maybe even the missing link between Bad and Dangerous.Not a bad tune but Bart’s singing does get a bit irriitating after a while.Not great but not terrible as far as novelty hits go.A lot worse was to follow it.Better be careful though not to upset mr hunny bunny though.I’ll meet it halfway.5

  13. 63
    Ed on 24 Mar 2011 #

    #57 South Park = The Rolling Stones
    I am with you there.

    Family Guy is loved by my kids, but I too find it pretty unbearable. It has a curdled sour undertone that somehow manages to feel cynical and naïve at the same time.

    As for the Simpsons movie, it is of course not the right way to enjoy them. A feature film is mot their medium, any more than it was the Beatles’.

  14. 64
    Tom on 24 Mar 2011 #

    If we’re sticking with the 60s analogies then King Of The Hill = The Byrds: opportunists turned craftsmen with a sappy country & western heart.

  15. 65
    sükråt tanned rested unlogged and awesome on 24 Mar 2011 #

    Ren and Stimpy = Zappa
    Beavis and Butthead = The Monkees
    The Archies = The Archies

  16. 66
    lonepilgrim on 24 Mar 2011 #

    Rugrats = Small Faces!

  17. 67
    thefatgit on 24 Mar 2011 #

    Pinky & The Brain = Simon & Garfunkel

  18. 68
    Snif on 25 Mar 2011 #

    Rocky and Bullwinkle = Elvis

  19. 69
    wichita lineman on 25 Mar 2011 #

    Re 67: Tom & Jerry = Simon & Garfunkel

    Do I get a prize?

  20. 70
    Jimmy the Swede on 25 Mar 2011 #

    Nice one, Lino!

  21. 71
    Mark G on 29 Mar 2011 #

    Has “Everyhit” website been mothballed?

    There’s not been any updates since February.

  22. 72
    Tom on 29 Mar 2011 #

    They went a long time without updating it last year too. I think the people doing it have run out of money/lost interest/etc.

  23. 73
    Ed on 14 Apr 2011 #

    And, switching musical genres, this is the cartoon equivalent of ‘The Takeover’ or ‘Roman’s Revenge”:

    http://www.southparkstudios.com/clips/103666/idea-balls

  24. 74
    Mark G on 14 Apr 2011 #

    DESERT ISLAND DISCS WATCH:

    (I guess not)

  25. 75
    Kinitawowi on 9 Feb 2013 #

    That is so 1991. [/Ralph Wiggum]

    As a proud owner of all six Simpsons albums to date – including the soundtrack to the execrable movie (ten years too late and basically amounting to three episodes back to back – and not particularly good episodes at that; the South Park film stands head and shoulders above it in showing what you can actually do with a movie format) – I can speak on the music; and yeah, this isn’t great. Several people have mentioned it’s Simpsons Sing The Blues album-mate, Deep Deep Trouble, although the Yellow Album’s closer, an extended version of Hail To Thee Kamp Krusty, remains a highlight.

  26. 76
    Auntie Beryl on 23 Mar 2013 #

    Whilst this was peaking, the Best Single Ever – that being “You Got The Love (Eren’s Bootleg Mix)” was at 4.

    1991 was a great year for music for me, so this doesn’t even feel like a travesty. But I think it is, a bit. What a record.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3n4enuTkVZc

  27. 77
    swanstep on 23 Mar 2013 #

    @Auntie Beryl, 76.’You Got The Love’ is new to me, so thanks for that link. The arpeggiating synth part on the track seems like it might have been an influence on Robyn’s Hang With Me from 2010 (which I loved).

  28. 78
    Auntie Beryl on 23 Mar 2013 #

    That’s lifted from Frankie Knuckles, “Your Love”, also a decent record.

  29. 79
    Lazarus on 27 Oct 2013 #

    Seems the appropriate place to bid adieu to Mrs Krabappel, Bart’s long-suffering teacher, the actress Marcia Wallace having died earlier today. The character will now be retired.

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