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Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Nino Rota and The Simpsons Theme

I'd meant to do a piece today on Nino Rota and his soundtrack for Fellini's Juliet of the Spirits, but I couldn't find any clips of it online, and got sidetracked by another shiny musical info-nugget. I'll review Juliet of the Spirits tomorrow. Instead, here's a quote from Matt Groening about The Simpsons theme song (via Retrocrush, get an mp3 of The Simpsons theme here if for some reason you can't just play it in your head while you read this):
"The trend in TV themes for the previous 15 years had been this namby-pamby synthesizer schlock, modest in both ambition and execution. These noodly, ersatz-sentimental themes all seemed to whimper, "We can't offer you much, but please like our pathetic little show!" I wanted a big, fully orchestrated, obnoxious, arrogant theme that promised you the best time of your life.

We approached Danny Elfman, whose career I'd been following since I saw him perform as the leader of The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo (best described as an avant-garde Cab Calloway-on-Mars vaudeville ensemble) at the Whisky-a-Go-Go on the Sunset Strip in the late 70's. Elfman had recently composed the soundtrack to Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, and I knew he'd be perfect.

I gave Elfman what I called a "flavors" tape, featuring the kind of sound I wanted for The Simpsons theme. The tape included The Jetsons theme, selections from Nino Rota's Juliet of the Spirits, a Remington electric shaver jingle by Frank Zappa, some easy-listening music by Esquivel, and a teach-your-parrot-to-talk record.

Elfman gave it a listen and said, "I know exactly what you're looking for."

A month later we were recording the now-famous Simpsons theme on the 20th Century Fox lot with a huge orchestra. I think all the producers were a little nervous and fidgety about the untrendy audacity of the music. But then-executive producer James L. Brooks came in, listened a bit, then said, "My God! This is great! This is lemmings-marching-to-their-death music!"
As someone obsessed with musical pattern-recognition, I find the list of music on Groening's tape for Elfman particularly interesting. Elfman's score for Pee-Wee's Big Adventure was clearly influenced by the Juliet of the Spirits soundtrack, so it makes sense that Groening would turn to him if that was what he was looking for.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

The theme of the Simpsons is practically a copy of the Gallop from Fellini's Orchestra Rehearsal. I find that everything Elfman does is almost a rip off of Rota.

9:16 PM  

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