Out There

More than a bunch of 'toons

Songs in the Key of Springfield
Original music from the TV series
Rhino Records

Back in 1990 there were two shows on the Fox network that turned the sitcom on its ear. Married: With Children and the brand-new The Simpsons presented the American family as grotesquerie. Both have softened since--as all popular shows must--but while the aging Bundys seem more and more contrived (just how the hell old is Kelly Bundy supposed to be, anyway? 28? 35?) The Simpsons, freed from time's constraints by their animated format, just gets sharper and sharper, often mentioned in the same breath as other classic TV cartoons that could entertain kids and adults alike. Songs in the Key of Springfield, however, demonstrates just how much more ambitious The Simpsons is.

Although the series theme song was written by Danny Elfman, (drawing inspiration from a "flavors" tape that creator Matt Groening gave Elfman that included The Jetsons theme, Nino Rota, Esquivel, a shaver jingle by Frank Zappa and a teach-your-parrot-to-talk record) much of the rest of the album's songs were penned by Simpsons composer and songwriter Alf Clausen. Although the "untrendy audacity" of Elfman's theme is captured perfectly on the disc-opening extended version, the rest of the album is a tribute to the wit and acuity of Clausen.

The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show was a great combination of kid and adult appeal, but Moose and Squirrel never mustered up anything like the Stonecutters' anthem of world domination ("We Do") or the hilarious spoofs of theater ("Oh, Streetcar!" and the Stop the Planet of the Apes, I Want to Get Off! medley, including Troy McClure's star turn on "Chimpan A to Chimpan Z") or tributes to predecessors that turn up in the various "End Credit Suites": homages to The Addams Family, It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, and Hill Street Blues, not to mention "Flaming Moe's" dead-on take-off of the theme from Cheers: "Where liquor in a mug/Can warm you like a hug."

All your favorites are here: Lurleen Lumpkin (Beverly D'Angelo) singing her two hits "Your Wife Don't Understand You" and "Bagged Me a Homer"; the Itchy and Scratchy Show theme song, and "The Amendment Song"'s Schoolhouse Rock-style analysis of American politics, which should be required listening in every government class. Much was made of The Simpsons' surpassing The Flintstones recently as the longest-running prime-time cartoon series, but Songs in the Key of Springfield makes a undeniable case for the show simply as the best, sharpest animated series ever.

--Matt Weitz