Over the years television’s The Simpsons has featured numerous musical guests who contributed their voices and either played the role of themselves or as fictional characters. Music has always been a huge element of the show, be it in the form of musical guests or a hit CD (remember “The Simpsons Sing the Blues”) or as one of the show’s ever-common musical numbers (“See my vest, made from real gorilla chest…”)Some notable musical guests that have made appearances over the show’s 17 year existence include 50 Cent, Paul Anka, Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Johnny Cash, Blink-182, NSYNC, Linda Ronstadt, The Who, James Taylor, Britney Spears, Phish, Tom Petty, The Ramones, Smashing Pumpkins, Sonic Youth, Tony Bennett and Willie Nelson among others. Though entertaining at times, some claim the show’s use of celebrity guests takes away from the shows original intention on focusing on humour that is more realistic and character-driven.
“The Simpsons no longer marks the elevation of the sitcom formula to its highest form,” wrote columnist Chris Suellentrop in a 2003 article titled “Who turned America's best TV show into a cartoon?”
“These days it’s closer to ‘It's Garry Shandling's Show’—a very good, self-conscious parody of a sitcom (and itself),” he added.
Even Simpson’s writer Mike Reiss let his feelings be known about the shows direction when he admitted to the New York Times a few years ago that “much of the humanity has leached out of the show over the years. … It hurts to watch it, even if I helped do it.”
All arguments aside about the shows quality and celebrity guest parade, the Simpsons has featured some highly memorable musical artists. The first being Aerosmith’s guest appearance in season three in the “Flaming Moe” episode where the band performed at Moe’s tavern and were eventually crushed from a falling Homer who was parodying the Phantom of the Opera in the ceiling rafters.
Another humorous guest appearance was when former Police frontman Sting takes part in the “Sending Our Love Down the Well” benefit. With the help of Krusty, Sting writes the “We Are the World” parody and gets involved in the actual rescue of Bart.
Darrell Jones of the Simpsons Archive revealed a few of his favourite musical guests in a recent e-mail. “I liked Sting in Season 3. “Best musical performances, for my money, include Aerosmith in Season 3, Cypress Hill with the London Symphony Orchestra in Season 7, and U2 in Season 9.”
Many credit the U2 and the Lollapalooza episodes as the greatest episodes featuring musical guests. Each have become classics that still offer, even years after there initial debut, hilarious laughs for viewers.
“My favourite musical guests - well definitely my favourite guest had to be Bono and the Edge (of U2) when Homer was the waste manager,” said Simpsons super fan Rob Gettman from Australia. “The episode was epic and who wouldn’t like seeing Homer get beat to ‘Pride in the name of love’.”
Regardless of preference, the show’s ability to remain a vital element of pop culture and a source of satirical social commentary can never be questioned. And it’s these qualities that still entice musicians and celebrities too appear on the show. Heavy metal legends Metallica are going to be the latest prominent guests to appear on the show when they make their debut in an episode slated to air in the spring 2006. The band was in the studio this past September to record their voices for the upcoming episode.
Now that the show has been renewed for a twentieth season and a movie possibly expected by the summer of 2008, The Simpsons will for surly continue to feature celebrity guests, which pleases fans, that despite the criticims, are happy the show will continue to be a part of their lives for a little bit longer.
“The Simpsons have lasted so long because the writers have allowed for the show to progress especially with its characters,” explained fan Rob Gettman. “For example, with Lisa she is no longer the brainy nerd she always was and now she is involved with mischief in certain situations.”
“Most of the musical guests have been memorable,” Gettman said. “Everyone has there preferred characters and whoever’s been the funniest guest is debatable but each of them signify not only a time period of the Simpson television show, but an era in real life as well.”