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"The Simpsons" At 30: A Complete History Of Every Band That's Ever Rocked Springfield
From Lady Gaga to Little Richard, scores of musicians have popped up on the beloved animated show over the last three decades
Following a Dec. 17 Christmas special, January 14 will mark 30 years since the official season premiere of "The Simpsons." Today, the show still holds the trophy as the longest-running primetime TV series. If you look back on the 670-plus episodes of the animated series, you're likely to find a few constants: Homer will undoubtedly cause a catastrophe, Lisa will voice her opinions on issues important to her, Bart will get into trouble and a musical guest or two will appear in nearly every season. In fact, since the series premiered, music has played an integral role in many of the storylines and has arguably helped "The Simpsons" become as venerable of a show as it is today.
As evidence of music's permanent place in "The Simpsons," we learn in multiple episodes that Homer is often regretful of not having lived out his dream to become a rock star; Lisa can often be found playing her baritone saxophone when not studying; the now-popular theme song was composed by GRAMMY winner Danny Elfman, and countless bands, artists and musicians have lent their voices to tons of episodes, often playing themselves but sometimes other characters.
What is it about music and "The Simpsons" that make the two pair so well together, and what has helped the show, after 30 years and counting, remain as popular and influential today? To help us understand the continued cultural impact of "The Simpsons," we asked a few of the guest stars, and one of the individuals behind the show, about the everlasting impression that Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, Maggie and the rest of the cast have made on all of us.
"There's something so compelling about them," says supervising director Mike Anderson, who's been with the show for 30 years and was the one who made Sigur Rós' participation in season 24 happen. "I think somehow the Simpsons—the yellow Simpsons—represent all of us. I think we are them, we have seen the experiences, somehow, we understand them. And they're a part of us that we love. And also, we can watch from the safety of our homes as Homer bashes his head between a ship and a pier post or saws himself in half [Laughs]."
Peter Frampton, who appeared in the season seven episode "Homerpalooza" says it’s the juxtaposition of pairing artists who reach different demographics. "I’m on the same show as the Smashing Pumpkins, who started out much later," he says. "Everything put together makes the most impact for the script."
Read More: Peter Frampton On His Farewell Tour, Living With I.B.M. & Reclaiming 'Peter Fking Frampton'
Shawn Colvin, who appeared in two episodes as the lead singer of a church band named Rachel Jordan, adds, "'The Simpsons' has a certain edge and sophistication and irreverence in its humor and content, while still being silly and fun, thus making it relevant to all ages. The characters are so lovable and well-developed, not to mention well-played. They are relatable. Ultimately, it’s an intelligent show that also succeeds in being kind of stupid, in the best possible way."
Randy Bachman of Bachman Turner Overdrive, who appeared with the band in season 11, says having music play such a large role on the series has "made the Simpsons a very hip and relevant contemporary show. Besides the continuing family adventures of Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, Maggie and all the other characters, it was unique to see musicians cartooned and hear their music integrated into the shows. It was a win-win-win for all."
Welsh singer/songwriter Judith Owen, who appeared in two episodes of the show, says, "One of the charms of 'The Simpsons' is that it actually has a foothold in reality. The fact that you've got this father, who's doing a really boring job in a factory but feels the regret of having given up his dream to be a musician, how many people are like that in real life? These are real experiences that people feel, which is having to give up their youthful dreams because they can’t pursue it because they have a family or obligations. Those are things that make the show pertinent and real."
Owen adds, "The music acts, like it so often does in life, as being the thing that connects you to humanity, and that is what music does anyway. Whether it be artists, or the very nature of the characters being musical, it connects the viewer to them in a very human way because even though it’s all make-believe, it has real things that we all understand."
Anderson adds that what makes "The Simpsons" so relevant 30 years later, is that we can find ourselves in one of the characters. "They hold up a mirror to the craziness in the world going on, but they make fun of it. It's a safe way to look at problems."
As far as the impact "The Simpsons" as had on all of us, the viewers, Anderson posits, "It's in our DNA now. It’s hard to imagine a world without the Simpsons."
To celebrate the 30th anniversary since the show's premiere, we've compiled a complete list, with some highlights, of every musical guest appearance on the show. Take a walk down memory lane and see if you can imagine a world without "The Simpsons."
Episode 6—Ron Taylor: "Moaning Lisa"
In the inaugural season of "The Simpsons," Lisa is struggling to find purpose in the world. She finds solace in her saxophone, but characters, like her music teacher Mr. Largo, get in the way. Then, one night as she’s sulking in her room, feeling down and defeated, she hears the soulful sax sounds of "Bleeding Gums" Murphy, played by the late actor, singer and writer Ron Taylor. Lisa sneaks out of her room, follows the music and eventually meets "Bleeding Gums," who teaches her how to express her feelings through music. Together, they write "Moanin' Lisa Blues."
Episode 5—Tony Bennett and Daryl Coley: "Dancin' Homer"
Episode 31—Ringo Starr: "Brush With Greatness"
In Season 2 episode "Dancin' Homer," Homer and family attend a baseball game to see the Springfield Isotopes. "Bleeding Gums" Murphy makes another appearance to perform the National Anthem, and this time his voice is supplied by the late singer Daryl Coley. As the title suggests, "dancin' Homer" fires up the crowd with a spur-of-the-moment performance, impressing the baseball big shots so much that they promote him to work for the Capital City Capitals. As the Simpsons arrive in Capital City, a song of the same name, performed by GRAMMY winner Tony Bennett, plays as Bennett himself makes a quick cameo with the line, "Hey, good to see you."
Adding more star—er, Starr?—power to the second season, the former Beatles drummer appears in episode 31 as Marge's once-upon-a-time art muse. When Homer is looking for his athletic gear in the attic—after deciding he’s going on a diet when he gets stuck in a tube slide during a trip to Mount Splashmore — he comes across several portraits of Starr painted by Marge. Lisa becomes interested in her mother's hidden talent, which sends Marge back in time, recalling how she sent her paintings to Starr a long time ago but never received a response. When Marge is encouraged to pick up painting again, the episode travels to England where we see Starr responding to fan mail seemingly from decades past. He picks up Marge's package out of the pack and finds her paintings. Impressed by her work, he sends a letter to Marge thanking her for her "fab" painting, which he "hung on me wall."
Episode 1—Michael Jackson and Kipp Lennon: "Stark Raving Dad"
Episode 10—Aerosmith: "Flaming Moe's"
Episode 13—Sting: "Radio Bart"
Episode 17—Terry Cashman: "Homer At The Bat"
Episode 20—Beverly D'Angelo: "Colonel Homer"
Episode 22—Spinal Tap: "The Otto Show"
In the season opener, Michael Jackson guest stars as the voice of an institutionalized man: Leon Kompowsky of New Jersey, who looks nothing like the real Jackson but claims to be the King Of Pop. Due to contractual obligations with his label at the time, Jackson couldn’t sing the songs in the episode, including "Happy Birthday Lisa," which Jackson wrote, so the singing parts were done by musician Kipp Lennon, a founding member of the folk/rock band Venice.
"Singing for the Simpsons over the years has always been a pleasure and a joy," Lennon tells the Recording Academy. "I always know that whatever they are calling me for it’s going to be clever and fun... It's quite a legacy to be a part of... a true icon of American pop culture that set the bar so very high indeed."
Meanwhile, Aerosmith make their "Simpsons" debut in episode 10 as the featured musical guest at the grand reopening of "Flaming Moe's," where the famous Moe joins them onstage for a rendition of "Walk This Way."
Sting appears in episode 13 as part of a campaign to raise awareness about a young boy who had allegedly fallen down a well in Springfield. However, the audience knows that there really isn’t a boy in the well; instead, it’s Bart who throws a radio transmitter microphone down a well and tricks the town into thinking a little boy is stuck. In an ironic turn of events, Bart falls down the well and Sting helps dig him out.
Later, in "The Otto Show" episode, Bart attends a concert by Spinal Tap—a parody band who appeared in the 1984 mockumentary film This Is Spinal Tap—and decides he wants to be a rock star. The episode guest stars Harry Shearer, a regular "Simpsons" cast member who reprises his role as Derek Smalls from This Is Spinal Tap.
Episode 7—Tom Jones: "Marge Gets A Job"
Episode 9—Linda Ronstadt: "Mr. Plow"
Episode 20—Barry White: "Whacking Day"
Episode 21—David Crosby: "Marge In Chains"
Episode 22—Barry White, Bette Midler and Red Hot Chili Peppers: "Krusty Gets Kancelled"
Season four features an episode that fans and critics would go on to name one of the best in the animated series' history: "Mr. Plow." In the episode, Homer starts a snowplow business and calls it "Mr. Plow." In an attempt to get more customers, he creates a commercial to advertise his new business. When Barney sees how successful he is, he starts his own snowplow business, getting an even bigger snowplow and creating his own commercial, which features a jingle sung by Linda Rondstadt.
Barry White appears as the Grand Marshall for "Whacking Day"— a day created to drive snakes into the town's square and club them to death. David Crosby appears in episode 12 as the 12-step sponsor for Lionel Hutz; the episode references the Crosby, Stills And Nash song "Teach Your Children," when Crosby tells Hutz "and know that I love you."
Episode 22 features an all-star cast including White, Bettle Midler and Red Hot Chili Peppers, who come together to perform on Krusty's comeback special. It features the Red Hot Chili Peppers singing "Give It Away" in their underwear, and Krusty and Midler singing "Wind Beneath My Wings."
Episode 1—David Crosby, George Harrison and the Dapper Dans: "Homer's Barbershop Quartet"
Episode 4—The Ramones: "Rosebud"
Episode 7—James Brown: "Bart's Inner Child"
Episode 10—Robert Goulet: "$pringfield (Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Legalized Gambling)"
Episode 15—James Taylor: "Deep Space Homer"
In episode one of season five, viewers are reminded that Homer once had a promising career as a member of The Be Sharps, whose hit song "Baby On Board" won a fictitious GRAMMY. In a flashback, Homer meets George Harrison at the GRAMMY after-party, and David Crosby presents The Be Sharps with their GRAMMY. The Be Sharps end up reuniting for a performance at Moe's Tavern, with the signing voices provided by the Dapper Dans.
One of the most memorable episodes of season five is episode four, which featured The Ramones performing at Mr. Burns' birthday party. After the band sings happy birthday to Mr. Burns, which ends with them saying "go to hell you old bastard," Mr. Burns, mistaking the Ramones for the Rolling Stones, orders Smithers to "have the Rolling Stones killed."
James Brown appears in episode seven of the show for a performance of his 1965 song "I Got You (I Feel Good)" at the Do What You Feel festival. GRAMMY winner James Taylor appears in episode 15 to serenade Homer and fellow astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Race Banyon on their space shuttle mission.
Episode 22—Ron Taylor: "Round Springfield"
Episode 25—Tito Puente: "Who Shot Mr. Burns? (Part One)"
In episode 22, Ron Taylor reprises his role as "Bleeding Gums" Murphy and lends his saxophone to Lisa for a school recital when she bumps into him at a hospital. Before Lisa could return the sax, "Bleeding Gums" dies. Lisa is the only one to attend his funeral and vows to make sure everyone in Springfield knows who "Bleeding Gums" Murphy is.
In the final episode of the season—part one of the two-parter "Who Shot Mr. Burns?"—Lisa convinces Principal Skinner to hire Tito Puente as a music teacher, but Puente quickly loses his job when the school loses an oil opportunity to Mr. Burns. Puente would appear again in part two of "Who Shot Mr. Burns?"
Episode 1—Tito Puente: "Who Shot Mr. Burns? (Part Two)"
Episode 5—Paul & Linda McCartney: "Lisa The Vegetarian"
Episode 6—Paul Anka: "Treehouse Of Horror VI"
Episode 24—Cypress Hill, Peter Frampton, Smashing Pumpkins and Sonic Youth: "Homerpalooza"
The highlight of season seven is an episode that many "Simpsons" fans consider to be their favorite: "Homerpalooza." In the episode, Homer, in an attempt to prove to Bart and Lisa how cool he is, takes them to the Hullabalooza music festival where he’s hired as a sideshow freak who can withstand the force of a cannonball blast. The episode features appearances by Cypress Hill, Smashing Pumpkins, Sonic Youth and Peter Frampton, who Homer upsets when he accidently sends Frampton's stage prop (an inflatable pig he apparently purchased at a Roger Waters yard sale) flying into the air.
Recalling when he received the phone call from "The Simpsons" crew asking him to be on the show, Frampton remembers saying, "I think you want me to play the old, crusty rock star that’s done everything, been there and is a little bit fed up with everything, and [the crew] said, 'nailed it.'"
But for his part on "The Simpsons," Frampton didn’t simply read his lines, he also contributed to the story by adding one of his own. As Homer gets ready to be shot in the belly with a canon, Frampton walks by and quips, "25 years in this business and I’ve never seen anything like it."
As far as being "Simpson-ized," a.k.a. drawn like a "Simpsons" character, Frampton recalls that seeing himself as that way was iconic. The legendary guitarist even has a backstage pass of his character hanging from his speaker in his music room. "I'm very proud of it," he adds. "It's like getting a GRAMMY.
Episode 2—Sally Stevens: "You Only Move Twice"
Episode 3—Sally Stevens: "The Homer They Fall"
Episode 9—Johnny Cash: "El Viaje Misterioso de Nuestro Jomer (The Mysterious Voyage of Homer)"
In episode nine of season eight of "The Simpsons," Homer eats several hot chili peppers and hallucinates, leading him on a mysterious voyage where he meets the "Space Coyote," played by Johnny Cash.
Episode 15—Hank Williams, Jr.: "The Last Temptation Of Krust"
Episode 22—U2: "Trash Of The Titans"
In season nine, Hank Williams, Jr. sings the song "Canyonero," which was used in a commercial for the SUV of the same name.
In the "Trash of the Titans" episode, Homer runs for the position of Springfield's Sanitation Commissioner, but his campaign gets off to a bad start when he's beaten up after interrupting U2's PopMart Tour concert by inserting himself on the stage screens to promote his campaign.
Episode 6—Yo La Tengo: "D'oh-in In The Wind"
Episode 10—The Moody Blues: "Viva Ned Flanders"
Episode 11—Cyndi Lauper: "Wild Barts Can't Be Broken"
Episode 12—Dolly Parton: "Sunday, Cruddy Sunday"
Episode 14—Elton John: "I'm With Cupid"
Episode 15—Hank Williams, Jr.: "Marge Simpson in: Screaming Yellow Honkers"
Episode 20—NRBQ: "The Old Man And The 'C' Student"
In a star-stacked season, "The Simpsons" welcomed musical guests for six episodes of season 10, including Elton John, who ends up at the Springfield airport when the chandelier on his private jet needs repairing and leads to an emergency landing. After John exits the plane, Homer greets him and tells him he’s his biggest fan. John responds by handing Homer one of his GRAMMYs. John later ends up performing a special Valentine's Day private concert for Apu and his wife.
This season also features Homer running into the Moody Blues in a casino, Cyndi Lauper performing the national anthem at a Springfield Isotopes game, and Dolly Parton helping Homer and others get out of "Super Bowl jail" with her "extra-strength makeup remover." Yo La Tengo appear in episode six of the season as one of only a few artists invited to rework "The Simpsons" theme song, giving it a psychedelic touch.
Episode 5—The B-52's: "E-I-E-I-(Annoyed Grunt)"
Episode 8—NRBQ: "Take My Wife, Sleaze"
Episode 9—Clarence Clemons: "Grift Of The Magi"
Episode 12—Britney Spears: "The Mansion Family" Episode 13—Bachman Turner Overdrive: "Saddlesore Galactica"
Episode 14—Shawn Colvin: "Alone Again, Natura-Diddly"
Episode 19—Joseph "Joe C." Calleja and Kid Rock: "Kill The Alligator And Run"
Episode 22—Willie Nelson: "Behind The Laughter"
In episode 12, Britney Spears hosts the Springfield Pride Awards with Kent Brockman and accidentally kills Springfield’s oldest resident, Cornelius Chapman, when she kisses him on the cheek after handing him an award. Canadian rock band Bachman Turner Overdrive performs at the Springfield state fair as Homer shouts for them to play their hit "Takin' Care Of Business.” Shawn Colvin returns as Rachel Jordan, the lead singer of a Christian rock band Kovenant, and Ned is attracted to her. In the final episode of the season, Willie Nelson performs at the Phony Awards show, as a request from his longtime friend, Dr. Hibbert.
On playing the character of Rachel Jordan, Colvin says, "Playing Rachel was a blast. I recorded the song in Austin and they built the animation around my performance, but I did some overdubs in L.A. to the animation itself of Rachel, making grunting noises as she lifted her sound equipment back into her van. That was a first for me."
Episode 2—The Who: "A Tale Of Two Springfields"
Episode 14—'NSYNC: "New Kids On The Bleech"
Episode 19—Shawn Colvin: "I'm Goin' To Praiseland"
The Who perform in Springfield to destroy the wall that separates "Olde Springfield" from "New Springfield" with Roger Daltrey and John Entwistle voicing themselves. 'NSYNC appear in episode 14 to prevent L.T. Smash—who manage the short-lived boy band (featuring Bart) Party Posse—from destroying part of New York City. Colvin again reprises her role as Christian singer Rachel Jordan.
Episode 3—R.E.M.: "Homer The Moe"
Episode 5—Judith Owen: "The Blunder Years
Episode 16—Phish: "Weekend At Burnsie's"
In episode three of Season 13, Homer tricks R.E.M. into playing a concert in his garage bar, which he opened to steal regulars from Moe's Tavern. The band plays their hit song "It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)." Judith Owen appears in episode five as herself, playing piano and singing at the Pimento Grove. Jam band Phish appear in episode 16 to play a rally in support of the benefits of medical marijuana, which Homer enjoys.
Recalling seeing herself animated for the first time on "The Blunder Years" episode, Welsh singer/songwriter Owen says, "It was absolutely hysterical. I had an enormous and mouth, and massive eyes, and it was just fantastic."
Episode 2—Elvis Costello, Lenny Kravitz, Mick Jagger, Tom Petty, Keith Richards, Brian Setzer: "How I Spent My Strummer Vacation"
Episode 3—Tony Bennett: "Bart vs. Lisa vs. 3rd Grade"
Episode 4—Baha Men: "Large Marge"
Episode 6—Sally Stevens: "The Great Louse Detective"
Episode 7—Little Richard: "Special Edna"
Episode 11—Blink-182: "Barting Over"
Episode 17—"Weird Al" Yankovic: "Three Gays Of The Condo"
Episode 18—David Byrne: "Dude, Where's My Ranch?"
Episode 20—Jackson Browne: "Brake My Wife, Please"
In one of the most rockin' seasons of "The Simpsons," the creators managed to get some of music's biggest stars to appear in "How I Spent My Strummer Vacation.” In this episode, viewers are again reminded of Homer’s long-lost rock star dreams, and the Simpsons family, realizing how they may have contributed to his dreams never becoming reality, send him to a Rock 'n Roll Fantasy Camp run by the Rolling Stones. At the camp, Homer and other Springfield residents learn about rock music from instructors such as Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Elvis Costello, Lenny Kravitz, Tom Petty and Brian Setzer. The campers end with a mock rock concert that features Homer on guitar and vocals.
Also, Blink-182 appear in episode 11, performing at a party being thrown by skateboard legend Tony Hawk, who Bart happens to be neighbors with when he temporarily moves into a downtown loft.
Episode 7—Jim Gilstrap: "Tis the Fifteenth Season"
Episode 15—Brave Combo: "Co-Dependent's Day"
This season of "The Simpsons" featured appearances by singer Jim Gilstrap and polka band Brave Combo, who series creator Matt Groening learned about when he was a college radio DJ in the 1980s.
Episode 9—50 Cent: "Pranksta Rap"
Episode 18—Fantasia Barrino: "A Star Is Torn"
Episode 19—Baha Men and Los Lobos: "Thank God It's Doomsday"
In episode nine, Bart sneaks out of the house to attend a rap concert featuring hip-hop artist “Alcatraaz.” After Alcatraaz drops his microphone during the concert, it lands in Bart’s hands and the hip-hop artist challenges him to a rap battle. Bart wins and gets to ride home with Alcatraaz in his limo, meeting 50 Cent along the way. In episode 18, "American Idol" winner Fantasia Barrino plays the role of Clarissa Wellington, who is one of the contestants of Krusty the Clown's Lil'l Starmaker singing contest.
Episode 19—Jim Gilstrap: "Girls Just Want To Have Sums"
Episode 22—Mandy Moore: "Marge And Homer Turn A Couple Play"
Mandy Moore plays the role of pop star Tabitha Vixx—the wife of Springfield Isotopes' Buck "Home Run King" Mitchell. After Tabitha embarrasses Buck by stripping down to lingerie during one of his games, he asks Homer and Marge for help with his marriage in exchange for season tickets. After a few hiccups in the relationship, Tabitha and Buck are able to patch things up.
Episode 1—Metallica: "The Mook, The Chef, The Wife And Her Homer"
Episode 2—White Stripes: "Jazzy And The Pussycats"
Episode 4—Sir Mix-A-Lot: "Treehouse Of Horror XVII"
Episode 14—Stephen Sondheim: "Yokel Chords"
Episode 22 — Ludacris: "You Kent Always Say What You Want"
In the opening episode of season 18, Otto is driving the kids to school when he sees Metallica’s tour bus broken down on the side of the road. Otto pulls over to talk to them and Bart hijacks the school bus, forcing Metallica to hitch a ride with Hans Moleman.
This season also features appearances by The White Stripes, who performed a parody of their video "The Hardest Button To Button" with Bart. When Bart’s drum kit crashes into theirs, Meg White says she’s going to kick Bart’s "ass," but before she has a chance, the band falls off a bridge into a landfill.
Ludacris, who plays himself as "Luda Crest," a toothpaste that’s "the enemy of the cavity." Luda Crest appears in an informational video Lisa watches while at the dentist's office called "Menace Tooth Society."
Episode 1—Lionel Richie: "He Loves To Fly And He D'ohs"
Episode 2—Plácido Domingo: "The Homer Of Seville"
Episode 4—Ted Nugent: "I Don't Wanna Know Why The Caged Bird Sings"
Episode 7—Jack Black: "Husbands and Knives"
Episode 11 — "Weird Al" Yankovic: "That's '90s Show"
Episode 16 — Dixie Chicks and Beverly D'Angelo: "Papa Don't Leech"
Episode 17 — Zooey Deschanel: "Apocalypse Cow"
The 19th season of "The Simpsons"—the first produced after "The Simpsons Movie"—opened with a guest appearance by GRAMMY winner Lionel Richie. When Homer saves Mr. Burns from nearly drowning in a fountain, Burns rewards him with a trip to Chicago on his private jet for some deep-dish pizza. On the plane, Homer gets serenaded by Richie, who sings him a song about beer upon his request.
In the second episode of the season, an injury Homer sustained when accidentally falling into an open grave (after he and family snuck into a wake for some food) gives him a powerful opera voice and he stars as Rodolfo in La bohème at the Springfield Opera House, subsequently giving advice to GRAMMY and Latin GRAMMY winner Plácido Domingo.
This season also features Jack Black as the character Milo, the hipster owner of the comic bookstore Coolsville Comics & Toys—a rival to Comic Book Guy, the return of Beverly D’Angelo as Lurleel Lumpkin, and the Dixie Chicks.
Episode 11 features a cameo by MTV talking head Kurt Loder, and during a flashback we see another glimpse of Homer reminiscing on the early days when he could have become a rock star. The flashback involves his 1990s band Sadgasm inventing a new musical genre called "grunge.” In a sign that the band gained some popularity, "Weird Al" Yankovic covered their hit "Shave Me" as "Brain Freeze."
Episode 9—Fall Out Boy: "Lisa The Drama Queen"
Episode 14—Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova: "In The Name Of The Grandfather"
Episode 19—Weezer: "Waverly Hills 9-0-2-1-D'oh"
A special version of the end credits theme for episode nine was performed by GRAMMY-nominated rock band Fall Out Boy, whose name was directly inspired by a character in the "Radioactive Man" comic book series. Episode 14 was inspired by a New York Times article on the effects of Ireland's smoking ban on pubs, and featured Irish singer/songwriter Glen Hansard as a street musician and Markéta Irglová—the other half of the Swell Season—as an Eastern European woman.
Though not technically an appearance, a reworked version of Weezer's classic "Beverly Hills" played during the credits for "Waverly Hills 9-0-2-1-D'oh."
Episode 8—Smothers Brothers: "Oh Brother, Where Bart Thou?”
Episode 10—Anne Hathaway and Eartha Kitt: "Once Upon a Time in Springfield"
Episode 11—Chris Martin: "Million-Dollar Maybe"
Episode 16—Yael Naim: "The Greatest Story Ever D'ohed"
Though technically known as an actress rather than a singer, Anne Hathaway appeared in episode 10 of season 21 and sang as "Princess Penelope," and her appearance ranks as one of Mike Anderson's most memorable.
"Anne Hathaway showed up at a table read and when she sang as Princess Penelope everyone at the table had their mouth hanging open just staring," he recalls. "The whole place was silent as she sang her part because it was so beautiful. Those are the memories I take away from the show."
Season 21 also featured Coldplay performing a private gig for Bart and Homer after Homer wins a million dollars in the lottery (the band must stop performing when Bart gets up to go to the bathroom).
Episode 1—Flight Of The Conchords and "Glee" cast: "Elementary School Musical"
Episode 8—Katy Perry: "The Fight Before Christmas"
Episode 22—Joey Kramer: "The Ned-Liest Catch"
Season 22 of "The Simpsons" opened with appearances by Flight Of The Conchords' Bret McKenzie and Jermaine Clement, who play hipster camp counselors Kurt Hardwick and Ethan Ballantyne at an art camp that Lisa attends. When she returns, Lisa has trouble acclimating to normal life and runs away to "Sprooklyn," described by the counselors as the "artistic hotbed of Springfield," but she quickly realizes it’s not as cool as they made it out to be. She returns home and the camp counselors create a mural in her honor.
GRAMMY-nominated pop star Katy Perry also appears in a live-action episode of season 22, the holiday special "The Fight Before Christmas." In the episode, Perry appears with the Simpsons as puppets and plays the part of Moe's girlfriend.
Episode 10—Ted Nugent: "Politically Inept, With Homer Simpson"
Episode 11—The Tiger Lillies: "The D'oh-cial Network"
Episode 14—Alison Krauss: "At Long Last Leave"
Episode 15—Nick McKaig: "Exit Through the Kwik-E-Mart"
Episode 22—Lady Gaga: "Lisa Goes Gaga"
Proving just how diverse the artists who guest star on "The Simpsons" are, the 23rd season featured the return of Ted Nugent, who is chosen by Homer to be the Republican candidate for the next presidential election, and an appearance by GRAMMY winner Lady Gaga. GRAMMY winner Alison Krauss and her band Union Station recorded a bluegrass version of the theme song over the closing credits in episode 14, and Nick McKaig—known for his covers on YouTube—performed "The Simpsons" theme over the closing credits in episode 15.
In the final episode of the season, "Lisa Goes Gaga," Lady Gaga visits Springfield, where everyone is in a state of depression, with Lisa being arguably the most depressed after having been voted the most unpopular student by her peers. Gaga attempts to lift her spirits, but instead Lisa unleashes her anger on Gaga, prompting her to realize that bottling up her feelings has been her problem all along. She apologizes to Gaga and the two sing a duet called "Super Star" together. In the end, Homer can be heard singing "Poker Face" over the credits.
Episode 1—Zooey Deschanel and Anne Hathaway: "Moonshine River"
Episode 4—Marvin Hamlisch and Anika Noni Rose: "Gone Abie Gone"
Episode 7—The Decemberists, Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein: "The Day The Earth Stood Cool"
Episode 9—Tom Waits: "Homer Goes To Prep School"
Episode 12—Zooey Deschanel and Max Weinberg: "Love Is A Many-Splintered Thing"
Episode 19—Sonny Rollins: "Whiskey Business"
Episode 20—Justin Bieber: "The Fabulous Faker Boy"
Episode 21—Sigur Ros: "The Saga Of Carl"
Season 24 featured a plethora of guest artists, including singer Zooey Deschanel who appears in two episodes, including the season opener wherein she reprises her season 19 role as Bart's girlfriend, Mary Spuckler.
Episode seven of the season was packed with guest stars as Homer goes hipster after meeting a goateed food truck proprietor played by musician, actor and comedian Fred Armisen. The episode also featured guest star, and Armisen’s "Portlandia" co-star, Carrie Brownstein and the Decemberists, who were hired to replace M.I.A. music teacher Dewey Largo.
Justin Bieber plays himself in episode 20 when he tries to get into a talent show that Bart is performing in and gets turned away. "The Simpsons" head to Iceland in episode 21 of the season when Carl attempts to connect with his roots. Mike Anderson commissioned Icelandic band Sigur Rós to participate, and the band’s music was featured in the episode, along with their interpretation of the opening theme.
Episode 9—Rob Halford: "Steal This Episode"
Rob Hilford appeared in episode nine of season 25, an appearance that the Judas Priest lead singer would eventually call the "biggest thrill" of his life. In the episode, Homer gets involved in illegal film downloading, which leads the FBI to launch an anti-piracy investigation. When the Simpsons family seek refuge in a Swedish consulate, Halford ends up singing a parody of the band's classic "Breaking The Law" in an effort to get Homer out of the foreign building.
Episode 6—Katey Sagal and Billy West: "Simpsorama"
Episode 8—Sammy Hagar: "Covercraft"
Episode 13—Pharrell Williams: "Walking Big & Tall"
Episode 15—Richard Branson: "The Princess Guide"
Episode 17—Cat Deeley: "Waiting For Duffman"
Episode 20—Carice van Houten: "Let’s Go Fly A Coot"
Episode 21—Johnny Mathis: "Bull-E"
In another point in "The Simpsons" where we catch a glimpse of Homer's long-lost rock star dreams, he starts a band in episode eight with Springfield dads and calls it Covercraft, featuring Apu on vocals. Apu is discovered by the famous (fictitious) '80s glam metal band Sungazer and they recruit him to replace their lead singer, who has passed away. Apu admits to Homer that he's feeling lonely and homesick, so Homer decides to take revenge on Sungazer by poisoning them with Kwik-E-Mart hot dogs, and is later arrested. In jail, he and Apu listen to a story from a Hawaiian shirt-wearing Sammy Hagar. This wasn’t the first time Hagar’s likeness has appeared on the show: in season 11 Hagar was spotted in the crowd at a pseudo-VH1 awards show next to Willie Nelson.
Season 26 also features appearances by Pharrell Williams, who offers to write a city anthem for Springfield in episode 13; Recording Academy Special Merit Award recipient Richard Branson, who plays himself as the neighbor of Mr. Burns, greeting him daily in a Ned Flanders way by saying "hey-dibbley-do, neighboroonie," to which Burns replies, "stupid Branson."
Finally, Johnny Mathis appears in Smithers' dream in which Groundskeeper Willie is returning to Scotland and will be replaced by the standards singer.
Episode 1—Zosia Mamet and Allison Williams: "Every Man's Dream"
Episode 3—Yo-Yo Ma: "Puffless"
Episode 14—Natalie Maines: "Gal Of A Constant Sorrow"
Episode 16—Jon Wurster: "The Marge-ian Chronicles"
GRAMMY-winning cellist Yo-Yo Ma makes a cameo as himself to help Mr. Burns serenade Mrs. Bouvier. He also performed the show’s theme song, which played over the closing credits. Dixie Chicks' Natalie Maines returns as the singing voice of a homeless woman with a secret singing talent named Hettie Mae Boggs, who Bart and Lisa house in their closet.
Episode 4—Donald Fagen and Judith Owen: "Treehouse Of Horror XXVII"
Episode 12 & 13—Jim Beanz, Common, Dawnn Lewis, RZA and Snoop Dogg: "The Great Phatsby Parts 1 & 2"
Episode 18—Brian Posehn: "A Father's Watch"
Episode 20—Jennifer Saunders: "Looking For Mr. Goodbart"
In the 600th episode of "The Simpsons," Judith Owen sings the song "600" in "Treehouse Of Horror XXVII," and a quick cameo from Donald Fagen performing with Steely Dan at Duff Stadium, annoyed at the drunks in the audience. In the two-part, hip-hop-themed, Great Gatsby-inspired episode titled "The Great Phatsby," Common, RZA and Snoop Dogg play themselves. The hour-long special tells the story of a condemned friendship between Mr. Burns and a cryptic hip-hop mogul named "Jay G." Original songs for the episode were created by Jim Beanz, a producer on Fox's hip-hop drama "Empire."
Episode 1—Billy Boyd: "The Serfsons"
Episode 2—Rachel Bloom and Martin Short: "Springfield Splendor"
Episode 8—Kipp Lennon: "Mr. Lisa’s Opus"
Episode 9—Shaquille O'Neal: "Gone Boy"
Episode 10—Ed Sheeran: "Haw-Haw Land"
Episode 14—Damian Kulash and Tim Nordwind (OK Go): "Fears Of A Clown"
Episode 17—Trombone Shorty: "Lisa Gets The Blues"
Martin Short (of the Steep Canyon Rangers with Steve Martin) guest stars as theatrical director Guthrie Frenel, who wants to make Marge and Lisa’s comic book, Sad Girl, into a stage musical. Shaquille O’Neal (part retired basketball player, part rapper) searches for Bart when he falls down a manhole. GRAMMY winner Ed Sheeran plays the voice of a crooning jazz pianist that Lisa falls for named Brendan Beiderbecke. In a New Orleans-flavored episode, the Simpsons end up in the Crescent City and stumble upon a group of jazz musicians, including Trombone Shorty, playing under a banner that said "celebrate." Marge asked Trombone Shorty what he was celebrating, and he replied with "humidity at 98 percent."
Episode 1—Jonathan Groff: "Bart's Not Dead"
Episode 2—George Segal (also a musician): "Heartbreak Hotel"
Episode 12—Patti LuPone: "The Girl On The Bus"
Episode 18—Awkwafina: "Bart vs. Itchy & Scratchy"
Episode 19—Dave Matthews: "Girl's In The Band"
Episode 20—Okilly Dokilly and Josh Groban: “I'm Just A Girl Who Can’t Say D’oh”
Episode 21—Awkwafina: "D'oh Canada"
GRAMMY winner Dave Matthews lends his voice to a bartender named Lloyd in "Girl's In The Band" and gives Homer advice to kill his family; fortunately, Homer didn’t take it. Josh Groban plays the singing voice of Professor Frink in episode 20 after his songs "You Are Loved (Don't Give Up)," "So She Dances" and "In Her Eyes" were played in the season 20 episode "Lisa The Drama Queen." Rapper/actress Awkwafina appears in two episodes of the 30th season, as Carmen, sixth grade student and member of the gang Bossy Riot, in episode 18, and Canadian doctor, Dr. Chang, who treats Lisa after she goes over Niagara Falls in episode 21.
Episode 3—Dawnn Lewis: "The Fat Blue Line"
Episode 5—Dawnn Lewis: "Gorillas On The Mast"
Episode 6—Jill Sobule: "Marge The Lumberjill"
On the current season of "The Simpsons," singer/songwriter Jill Sobule wrote and sang the song "Lumberjill" for the episode "Marge The Lumberjill." In the episode, Marge takes up lumber-jacking when she realizes everyone thinks she's boring. (As if that were even possible.)
And there you have it: The last three decades of music on "The Simpsons." Now go get a donut and a can of Duff. You've earned it.
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Photo: Rachel Kupfer
A Guide To Modern Funk For The Dance Floor: L'Imperatrice, Shiro Schwarz, Franc Moody, Say She She & Moniquea
James Brown changed the sound of popular music when he found the power of the one and unleashed the funk with "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag." Today, funk lives on in many forms, including these exciting bands from across the world.
It's rare that a genre can be traced back to a single artist or group, but for funk, that was James Brown. The Godfather of Soul coined the phrase and style of playing known as "on the one," where the first downbeat is emphasized, instead of the typical second and fourth beats in pop, soul and other styles. As David Cheal eloquently explains, playing on the one "left space for phrases and riffs, often syncopated around the beat, creating an intricate, interlocking grid which could go on and on." You know a funky bassline when you hear it; its fat chords beg your body to get up and groove.
Brown's 1965 classic, "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," became one of the first funk hits, and has been endlessly sampled and covered over the years, along with his other groovy tracks. Of course, many other funk acts followed in the '60s, and the genre thrived in the '70s and '80s as the disco craze came and went, and the originators of hip-hop and house music created new music from funk and disco's strong, flexible bones built for dancing.
Legendary funk bassist Bootsy Collins learned the power of the one from playing in Brown's band, and brought it to George Clinton, who created P-funk, an expansive, Afrofuturistic, psychedelic exploration of funk with his various bands and projects, including Parliament-Funkadelic. Both Collins and Clinton remain active and funkin', and have offered their timeless grooves to collabs with younger artists, including Kali Uchis, Silk Sonic, and Omar Apollo; and Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus, and Thundercat, respectively.
In the 1980s, electro-funk was born when artists like Afrika Bambaataa, Man Parrish, and Egyptian Lover began making futuristic beats with the Roland TR-808 drum machine — often with robotic vocals distorted through a talk box. A key distinguishing factor of electro-funk is a de-emphasis on vocals, with more phrases than choruses and verses. The sound influenced contemporaneous hip-hop, funk and electronica, along with acts around the globe, while current acts like Chromeo, DJ Stingray, and even Egyptian Lover himself keep electro-funk alive and well.
Today, funk lives in many places, with its heavy bass and syncopated grooves finding way into many nooks and crannies of music. There's nu-disco and boogie funk, nodding back to disco bands with soaring vocals and dance floor-designed instrumentation. G-funk continues to influence Los Angeles hip-hop, with innovative artists like Dam-Funk and Channel Tres bringing the funk and G-funk, into electro territory. Funk and disco-centered '70s revival is definitely having a moment, with acts like Ghost Funk Orchestra and Parcels, while its sparkly sprinklings can be heard in pop from Dua Lipa, Doja Cat, and, in full "Soul Train" character, Silk Sonic. There are also acts making dreamy, atmospheric music with a solid dose of funk, such as Khruangbin’s global sonic collage.
There are many bands that play heavily with funk, creating lush grooves designed to get you moving. Read on for a taste of five current modern funk and nu-disco artists making band-led uptempo funk built for the dance floor. Be sure to press play on the Spotify playlist above, and check out GRAMMY.com's playlist on Apple Music, Amazon Music and Pandora.
Say She She
Aptly self-described as "discodelic soul," Brooklyn-based seven-piece Say She She make dreamy, operatic funk, led by singer-songwriters Nya Gazelle Brown, Piya Malik and Sabrina Mileo Cunningham. Their '70s girl group-inspired vocal harmonies echo, sooth and enchant as they cover poignant topics with feminist flair.
While they’ve been active in the New York scene for a few years, they’ve gained wider acclaim for the irresistible music they began releasing this year, including their debut album, Prism. Their 2022 debut single "Forget Me Not" is an ode to ground-breaking New York art collective Guerilla Girls, and "Norma" is their protest anthem in response to the news that Roe vs. Wade could be (and was) overturned. The band name is a nod to funk legend Nile Rodgers, from the "Le freak, c'est chi" exclamation in Chic's legendary tune "Le Freak."
Moniquea's unique voice oozes confidence, yet invites you in to dance with her to the super funky boogie rhythms. The Pasadena, California artist was raised on funk music; her mom was in a cover band that would play classics like Aretha Franklin’s "Get It Right" and Gladys Knight’s "Love Overboard." Moniquea released her first boogie funk track at 20 and, in 2011, met local producer XL Middelton — a bonafide purveyor of funk. She's been a star artist on his MoFunk Records ever since, and they've collabed on countless tracks, channeling West Coast energy with a heavy dose of G-funk, sunny lyrics and upbeat, roller disco-ready rhythms.
Her latest release is an upbeat nod to classic West Coast funk, produced by Middleton, and follows her February 2022 groovy, collab-filled album, On Repeat.
Shiro Schwarz is a Mexico City-based duo, consisting of Pammela Rojas and Rafael Marfil, who helped establish a modern funk scene in the richly creative Mexican metropolis. On "Electrify" — originally released in 2016 on Fat Beats Records and reissued in 2021 by MoFunk — Shiro Schwarz's vocals playfully contrast each other, floating over an insistent, upbeat bassline and an '80s throwback electro-funk rhythm with synth flourishes.
Their music manages to be both nostalgic and futuristic — and impossible to sit still to. 2021 single "Be Kind" is sweet, mellow and groovy, perfect chic lounge funk. Shiro Schwarz’s latest track, the joyfully nostalgic "Hey DJ," is a collab with funkstress Saucy Lady and U-Key.
L'Impératrice (the empress in French) are a six-piece Parisian group serving an infectiously joyful blend of French pop, nu-disco, funk and psychedelia. Flore Benguigui's vocals are light and dreamy, yet commanding of your attention, while lyrics have a feminist touch.
During their energetic live sets, L'Impératrice members Charles de Boisseguin and Hagni Gwon (keys), David Gaugué (bass), Achille Trocellier (guitar), and Tom Daveau (drums) deliver extended instrumental jam sessions to expand and connect their music. Gaugué emphasizes the thick funky bass, and Benguigui jumps around the stage while sounding like an angel. L’Impératrice’s latest album, 2021’s Tako Tsubo, is a sunny, playful French disco journey.
Franc Moody's bio fittingly describes their music as "a soul funk and cosmic disco sound." The London outfit was birthed by friends Ned Franc and Jon Moody in the early 2010s, when they were living together and throwing parties in North London's warehouse scene. In 2017, the group grew to six members, including singer and multi-instrumentalist Amber-Simone.
Their music feels at home with other electro-pop bands like fellow Londoners Jungle and Aussie act Parcels. While much of it is upbeat and euphoric, Franc Moody also dips into the more chilled, dreamy realm, such as the vibey, sultry title track from their recently released Into the Ether.
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Photo: Steven Sebring
Living Legends: Billy Idol On Survival, Revival & Breaking Out Of The Cage
"One foot in the past and one foot into the future," Billy Idol says, describing his decade-spanning career in rock. "We’ve got the best of all possible worlds because that has been the modus operandi of Billy Idol."
Living Legends is a series that spotlights icons in music still going strong today. This week, GRAMMY.com spoke with Billy Idol about his latest EP, Cage, and continuing to rock through decades of changing tastes.
Billy Idol is a true rock 'n' roll survivor who has persevered through cultural shifts and personal struggles. While some may think of Idol solely for "Rebel Yell" and "White Wedding," the singer's musical influences span genres and many of his tunes are less turbo-charged than his '80s hits would belie.
Idol first made a splash in the latter half of the '70s with the British punk band Generation X. In the '80s, he went on to a solo career combining rock, pop, and punk into a distinct sound that transformed him and his musical partner, guitarist Steve Stevens, into icons. They have racked up multiple GRAMMY nominations, in addition to one gold, one double platinum, and four platinum albums thanks to hits like "Cradle Of Love," "Flesh For Fantasy," and "Eyes Without A Face."
But, unlike many legacy artists, Idol is anything but a relic. Billy continues to produce vital Idol music by collaborating with producers and songwriters — including Miley Cyrus — who share his forward-thinking vision. He will play a five-show Vegas residency in November, and filmmaker Jonas Akerlund is working on a documentary about Idol’s life.
His latest release is Cage, the second in a trilogy of annual four-song EPs. The title track is a classic Billy Idol banger expressing the desire to free himself from personal constraints and live a better life. Other tracks on Cage incorporate metallic riffing and funky R&B grooves.
Idol continues to reckon with his demons — they both grappled with addiction during the '80s — and the singer is open about those struggles on the record and the page. (Idol's 2014 memoir Dancing With Myself, details a 1990 motorcycle accident that nearly claimed a leg, and how becoming a father steered him to reject hard drugs. "Bitter Taste," from his last EP, The Roadside, reflects on surviving the accident.)
Although Idol and Stevens split in the late '80s — the skilled guitarist fronted Steve Stevens & The Atomic Playboys, and collaborated with Michael Jackson, Rick Ocasek, Vince Neil, and Harold Faltermeyer (on the GRAMMY-winning "Top Gun Anthem") — their common history and shared musical bond has been undeniable. The duo reunited in 2001 for an episode of "VH1 Storytellers" and have been back in the saddle for two decades. Their union remains one of the strongest collaborations in rock 'n roll history.
While there is recognizable personnel and a distinguishable sound throughout a lot of his work, Billy Idol has always pushed himself to try different things. Idol discusses his musical journey, his desire to constantly move forward, and the strong connection that he shares with Stevens.
Steve has said that you like to mix up a variety of styles, yet everyone assumes you're the "Rebel Yell"/"White Wedding" guy. But if they really listen to your catalog, it's vastly different.
Yeah, that's right. With someone like Steve Stevens, and then back in the day Keith Forsey producing... [Before that] Generation X actually did move around inside punk rock. We didn't stay doing just the Ramones two-minute music. We actually did a seven-minute song. [Laughs]. We did always mix things up.
Then when I got into my solo career, that was the fun of it. With someone like Steve, I knew what he could do. I could see whatever we needed to do, we could nail it. The world was my oyster musically.
"Cage" is a classic-sounding Billy Idol rocker, then "Running From The Ghost" is almost metal, like what the Devil's Playground album was like back in the mid-2000s. "Miss Nobody" comes out of nowhere with this pop/R&B flavor. What inspired that?
We really hadn't done anything like that since something like "Flesh For Fantasy" [which] had a bit of an R&B thing about it. Back in the early days of Billy Idol, "Hot In The City" and "Mony Mony" had girls [singing] on the backgrounds.
We always had a bit of R&B really, so it was actually fun to revisit that. We just hadn't done anything really quite like that for a long time. That was one of the reasons to work with someone like Sam Hollander [for the song "Rita Hayworth"] on The Roadside. We knew we could go [with him] into an R&B world, and he's a great songwriter and producer. That's the fun of music really, trying out these things and seeing if you can make them stick.
I listen to new music by veteran artists and debate that with some people. I'm sure you have those fans that want their nostalgia, and then there are some people who will embrace the newer stuff. Do you find it’s a challenge to reach people with new songs?
Obviously, what we're looking for is, how do we somehow have one foot in the past and one foot into the future? We’ve got the best of all possible worlds because that has been the modus operandi of Billy Idol.
You want to do things that are true to you, and you don't just want to try and do things that you're seeing there in the charts today. I think that we're achieving it with things like "Running From The Ghost" and "Cage" on this new EP. I think we’re managing to do both in a way.
Obviously, "Running From The Ghost" is about addiction, all the stuff that you went through, and in "Cage" you’re talking about freeing yourself from a lot of personal shackles. Was there any one moment in your life that made you really thought I have to not let this weigh me down anymore?
I mean, things like the motorcycle accident I had, that was a bit of a wake up call way back. It was 32 years ago. But there were things like that, years ago, that gradually made me think about what I was doing with my life. I didn't want to ruin it, really. I didn't want to throw it away, and it made [me] be less cavalier.
I had to say to myself, about the drugs and stuff, that I've been there and I've done it. There’s no point in carrying on doing it. You couldn't get any higher. You didn't want to throw your life away casually, and I was close to doing that. It took me a bit of time, but then gradually I was able to get control of myself to a certain extent [with] drugs and everything. And I think Steve's done the same thing. We're on a similar path really, which has been great because we're in the same boat in terms of lyrics and stuff.
So a lot of things like that were wake up calls. Even having grandchildren and just watching my daughter enlarging her family and everything; it just makes you really positive about things and want to show a positive side to how you're feeling, about where you're going. We've lived with the demons so long, we've found a way to live with them. We found a way to be at peace with our demons, in a way. Maybe not completely, but certainly to where we’re enjoying what we do and excited about it.
[When writing] "Running From The Ghost" it was easy to go, what was the ghost for us? At one point, we were very drug addicted in the '80s. And Steve in particular is super sober [now]. I mean, I still vape pot and stuff. I don’t know how he’s doing it, but it’s incredible. All I want to be able to do is have a couple of glasses of wine at a restaurant or something. I can do that now.
I think working with people that are super talented, you just feel confident. That is a big reason why you open up and express yourself more because you feel comfortable with what's around you.
Did you watch Danny Boyle's recent Sex Pistols mini-series?
I did, yes.
You had a couple of cameos; well, an actor who portrayed you did. How did you react to it? How accurate do you think it was in portraying that particular time period?
I love Jonesy’s book, I thought his book was incredible. It's probably one of the best bio books really. It was incredible and so open. I was looking forward to that a lot.
It was as if [the show] kind of stayed with Steve [Jones’ memoir] about halfway through, and then departed from it. [John] Lydon, for instance, was never someone I ever saw acting out; he's more like that today. I never saw him do something like jump up in the room and run around going crazy. The only time I saw him ever do that was when they signed the recording deal with Virgin in front of Buckingham Palace. Whereas Sid Vicious was always acting out; he was always doing something in a horrible way or shouting at someone. I don't remember John being like that. I remember him being much more introverted.
But then I watched interviews with some of the actors about coming to grips with the parts they were playing. And they were saying, we knew punk rock happened but just didn't know any of the details. So I thought well, there you go. If ["Pistol" is] informing a lot of people who wouldn't know anything about punk rock, maybe that's what's good about it.
Maybe down the road John Lydon will get the chance to do John's version of the Pistols story. Maybe someone will go a lot deeper into it and it won't be so surface. But maybe you needed this just to get people back in the flow.
We had punk and metal over here in the States, but it feels like England it was legitimately more dangerous. British society was much more rigid.
It never went [as] mega in America. It went big in England. It exploded when the Pistols did that interview with [TV host Bill] Grundy, that lorry truck driver put his boot through his own TV, and all the national papers had "the filth and the fury" [headlines].
We went from being unknown to being known overnight. We waited a year, Generation X. We even told them [record labels] no for nine months to a year. Every record company wanted their own punk rock group. So it went really mega in England, and it affected the whole country – the style, the fashions, everything. I mean, the Ramones were massive in England. Devo had a No. 1 song [in England] with "Satisfaction" in '77. Actually, Devo was as big as or bigger than the Pistols.
You were ahead of the pop-punk thing that happened in the late '90s, and a lot of it became tongue-in-cheek by then. It didn't have the same sense of rebelliousness as the original movement. It was more pop.
It had become a style. There was a famous book in England called Revolt Into Style — and that's what had happened, a revolt that turned into style which then they were able to duplicate in their own way. Even recently, Billie Joe [Armstrong] did his own version of "Gimme Some Truth," the Lennon song we covered way back in 1977.
When we initially were making [punk] music, it hadn't become accepted yet. It was still dangerous and turned into a style that people were used to. We were still breaking barriers.
You have a band called Generation Sex with Steve Jones and Paul Cook. I assume you all have an easier time playing Pistols and Gen X songs together now and not worrying about getting spit on like back in the '70s?
Yeah, definitely. When I got to America I told the group I was putting it together, "No one spits at the audience."
We had five years of being spat on [in the UK], and it was revolting. And they spat at you if they liked you. If they didn't like it they smashed your gear up. One night, I remember I saw blood on my T-shirt, and I think Joe Strummer got meningitis when spit went in his mouth.
You had to go through a lot to become successful, it wasn't like you just kind of got up there and did a couple of gigs. I don't think some young rock bands really get that today.
With punk going so mega in England, we definitely got a leg up. We still had a lot of work to get where we got to, and rightly so because you find out that you need to do that. A lot of groups in the old days would be together three to five years before they ever made a record, and that time is really important. In a way, what was great about punk rock for me was it was very much a learning period. I really learned a lot [about] recording music and being in a group and even writing songs.
Then when I came to America, it was a flow, really. I also really started to know what I wanted Billy Idol to be. It took me a little bit, but I kind of knew what I wanted Billy Idol to be. And even that took a while to let it marinate.
You and Miley Cyrus have developed a good working relationship in the last several years. How do you think her fans have responded to you, and your fans have responded to her?
I think they're into it. It's more the record company that she had didn't really get "Night Crawling"— it was one of the best songs on Plastic Hearts, and I don't think they understood that. They wanted to go with Dua Lipa, they wanted to go with the modern, young acts, and I don't think they realized that that song was resonating with her fans. Which is a shame really because, with Andrew Watt producing, it's a hit song.
But at the same time, I enjoyed doing it. It came out really good and it's very Billy Idol. In fact, I think it’s more Billy Idol than Miley Cyrus. I think it shows you where Andrew Watt was. He was excited about doing a Billy Idol track. She's fun to work with. She’s a really great person and she works at her singing — I watched her rehearsing for the Super Bowl performance she gave. She rehearsed all Saturday morning, all Saturday afternoon, and Sunday morning and it was that afternoon. I have to admire her fortitude. She really cares.
I remember when you went on "Viva La Bam" back in 2005 and decided to give Bam Margera’s Lamborghini a new sunroof by taking a power saw to it. Did he own that car? Was that a rental?
I think it was his car.
Did he get over it later on?
He loved it. [Laughs] He’s got a wacky sense of humor. He’s fantastic, actually. I’m really sorry to see what he's been going through just lately. He's going through a lot, and I wish him the best. He's a fantastic person, and it's a shame that he's struggling so much with his addictions. I know what it's like. It's not easy.
Musically, what is the synergy like with you guys during the past 10 years, doing Kings and Queens of the Underground and this new stuff? What is your working relationship like now in this more sober, older, mature version of you two as opposed to what it was like back in the '80s?
In lots of ways it’s not so different because we always wrote the songs together, we always talked about what we're going to do together. It was just that we were getting high at the same time.We're just not getting [that way now] but we're doing all the same things.
We're still talking about things, still [planning] things:What are we going to do next? How are we going to find new people to work with? We want to find new producers. Let's be a little bit more timely about putting stuff out.That part of our relationship is the same, you know what I mean? That never got affected. We just happened to be overloading in the '80s.
The relationship’s… matured and it's carrying on being fruitful, and I think that's pretty amazing. Really, most people don't get to this place. Usually, they hate each other by now. [Laughs] We also give each other space. We're not stopping each other doing things outside of what we’re working on together. All of that enables us to carry on working together. I love and admire him. I respect him. He's been fantastic. I mean, just standing there on stage with him is always a treat. And he’s got an immensely great sense of humor. I think that's another reason why we can hang together after all this time because we've got the sense of humor to enable us to go forward.
There's a lot of fan reaction videos online, and I noticed a lot of younger women like "Rebel Yell" because, unlike a lot of other '80s alpha male rock tunes, you're talking about satisfying your lover.
It was about my girlfriend at the time, Perri Lister. It was about how great I thought she was, how much I was in love with her, and how great women are, how powerful they are.
It was a bit of a feminist anthem in a weird way. It was all about how relationships can free you and add a lot to your life. It was a cry of love, nothing to do with the Civil War or anything like that. Perri was a big part of my life, a big part of being Billy Idol. I wanted to write about it. I'm glad that's the effect.
Is there something you hope people get out of the songs you've been doing over the last 10 years? Do you find yourself putting out a message that keeps repeating?
Well, I suppose, if anything, is that you can come to terms with your life, you can keep a hold of it. You can work your dreams into reality in a way and, look, a million years later, still be enjoying it.
The only reason I'm singing about getting out of the cage is because I kicked out of the cage years ago. I joined Generation X when I said to my parents, "I'm leaving university, and I'm joining a punk rock group." And they didn't even know what a punk rock group was. Years ago, I’d write things for myself that put me on this path, so that maybe in 2022 I could sing something like "Cage" and be owning this territory and really having a good time. This is the life I wanted.
The original UK punk movement challenged societal norms. Despite all the craziness going on throughout the world, it seems like a lot of modern rock bands are afraid to do what you guys were doing. Do you think we'll see a shift in that?
Yeah. Art usually reacts to things, so I would think eventually there will be a massive reaction to the pop music that’s taken over — the middle of the road music, and then this kind of right wing politics. There will be a massive reaction if there's not already one. I don’t know where it will come from exactly. You never know who's gonna do [it].
Living Legends: Nancy Sinatra Reflects On Creating "Power And Magic" In Studio, Developing A Legacy Beyond "Boots" & The Pop Stars She Wants To Work With
Graphic: The Recording Academy
Hear All Of The Best Country Solo Performance Nominees For The 2023 GRAMMY Awards
The 2023 GRAMMY Award nominees for Best Country Solo Performance highlight country music's newcomers and veterans, featuring hits from Kelsea Ballerini, Zach Bryan, Miranda Lambert, Maren Morris and Willie Nelson.
Country music's evolution is well represented in the 2023 GRAMMY nominees for Best Country Solo Performance. From crossover pop hooks to red-dirt outlaw roots, the genre's most celebrated elements are on full display — thanks to rising stars, leading ladies and country icons.
Longtime hitmaker Miranda Lambert delivered a soulful performance on the rootsy ballad "In His Arms," an arrangement as sparing as the windswept west Texas highlands where she co-wrote the song. Viral newcomer Zach Bryan dug into similar organic territory on the Oklahoma side of the Red River for "Something in the Orange," his voice accompanied with little more than an acoustic guitar.
Two of country's 2010s breakout stars are clearly still shining, too, as Maren Morris and Kelsea Ballerini both received Best Country Solo Performance GRAMMY nods. Morris channeled the determination that drove her leap-of-faith move from Texas to Nashville for the playful clap-along "Circles Around This Town," while Ballerini brought poppy hooks with a country edge on the infectiously upbeat "HEARTFIRST."
Rounding out the category is the one and only Willie Nelson, who paid tribute to his late friend Billy Joe Shaver with a cover of "Live Forever" — a fitting sentiment for the 89-year-old legend, who is approaching his eighth decade in the business.
As the excitement builds for the 2023 GRAMMYs on Feb. 5, 2023, let's take a closer look at this year's nominees for Best Country Solo Performance.
Kelsea Ballerini — "HEARTFIRST"
In the tradition of Shania Twain, Faith Hill and Carrie Underwood, Kelsea Ballerini represents Nashville's sunnier side — and her single "HEARTFIRST" is a slice of bright, uptempo, confectionary country-pop for the ages.
Ballerini sings about leaning into a carefree crush with her heart on her sleeve, pushing aside her reservations and taking a risk on love at first sight. The scene plays out in a bar room and a back seat, as she sweeps nimbly through the verses and into a shimmering chorus, when the narrator decides she's ready to "wake up in your T-shirt."
There are enough steel guitar licks to let you know you're listening to a country song, but the story and melody are universal. "HEARTFIRST" is Ballerini's third GRAMMY nod, but first in the Best Country Solo Performance category.
Zach Bryan — "Something In The Orange"
Zach Bryan blew into Music City seemingly from nowhere in 2017, when his original song "Heading South" — recorded on an iPhone — went viral. Then an active officer in the U.S. Navy, the Oklahoma native chased his muse through music during his downtime, striking a chord with country music fans on stark songs led by his acoustic guitar and affecting vocals.
After his honorable discharge in 2021, Bryan began his music career in earnest, and in 2022 released "Something in the Orange," a haunting ballad that stakes a convincing claim to the territory between Tyler Childers and Jason Isbell in both sonics and songwriting. Slashing slide guitar drives home the song's heartbreak, as Bryan pines for a lover whose tail lights have long since vanished over the horizon.
"Something In The Orange" marks Bryan's first-ever GRAMMY nomination.
Miranda Lambert — "In His Arms"
Miranda Lambert is the rare, chart-topping contemporary country artist who does more than pay lip service to the genre's rural American roots. "In His Arms" originally surfaced on 2021's The Marfa Tapes, a casual recording Lambert made with Jack Ingram and Jon Randall in Marfa, Texas — a tiny arts enclave in the middle of the west Texas high desert.
In this proper studio version — recorded for her 2022 album, Palomino — Lambert retains the structure and organic feel of the mostly acoustic song; light percussion and soothing atmospherics keep her emotive vocals front and center. A native Texan herself, Lambert sounds fully at home on "In His Arms."
Lambert is the only Best Country Solo Performance nominee who is nominated in all four Country Field categories in 2023. To date, Miranda Lambert has won 3 GRAMMYs and received 27 nominations overall.
Maren Morris — "Circles Around This Town"
When Maren Morris found herself uninspired and dealing with writer's block, she went back to what inspired her to move to Nashville nearly a decade ago — and out came "Circles Around This Town," the lead single from her 2022 album Humble Quest.
Written in one of her first in-person songwriting sessions since the pandemic, Morris has called "Circles Around This Town" her "most autobiographical song" to date; she even recreated her own teenage bedroom for the song's video. As she looks back to her Texas beginnings and the life she left for Nashville, Morris' voice soars over anthemic, yet easygoing production.
Morris last won a GRAMMY for Best Country Solo Performance in 2017, when her song "My Church" earned the singer her first GRAMMY. To date, Maren Morris has won one GRAMMY and received 17 nominations overall.
Willie Nelson — "Live Forever"
Country music icon Willie Nelson is no stranger to the GRAMMYs, and this year he aims to add to his collection of 10 gramophones. He earned another three nominations for 2023 — bringing his career total to 56 — including a Best Country Solo Performance nod for "Live Forever."
Nelson's performance of "Live Forever," the lead track of the 2022 tribute album Live Forever: A Tribute to Billy Joe Shaver, is a faithful rendition of Shaver's signature song. Still, Nelson puts his own twist on the tune, recruiting Lucinda Williams for backing vocals and echoing the melody with the inimitable tone of his nylon-string Martin guitar.
Shaver, an outlaw country pioneer who passed in 2020 at 81 years old, never had any hits of his own during his lifetime. But plenty of his songs were still heard, thanks to stars like Elvis Presley, Kris Kristofferson and Waylon Jennings. Nelson was a longtime friend and frequent collaborator of Shaver's — and now has a GRAMMY nom to show for it.
Graphic: The Recording Academy
Listen: All Of The Latin Music 2023 GRAMMY Nominees In One Playlist
Ahead of Music's Biggest Night on Feb. 5, 2023, celebrate with this immersive playlist of every Latin Field nominee at the 2023 GRAMMYs.
The Latin GRAMMYs may have just honored the genre's trailblazers in Las Vegas on Nov. 17, but the celebration will continue at the upcoming 65th GRAMMY Awards ceremony in February. There are five categories in the Latin Field of the 2023 GRAMMY nominations — and you can hear all of the nominees in one playlist.
In the Best Latin Pop Album category, are Christina Aguilera's Latin GRAMMY-winning AGUILERA will compete with Rubén Blades & Boca Livre's Pasieros, Camilo's De Adendro Pa Afuera, Fonseca's VIAJANTE, and Sebastián Yatra's Dharma+. Channeling their lively Latin roots while traversing pop landscapes, these albums all magnetically merge tradition and modernity.
Reggaeton, dancehall, hip hop, and funk coalesce in the nominated works for Best Música Urbana Album: Rauw Alejandro's Trap Cake, Vol. 2, Bad Bunny's Un Verano Sin Ti, Daddy Yankee's LEGENDADDY, Farruko's La 167, and Maluma's The Love & Sex Tape.
The genre-blending jubilation continues with the Best Latin Rock or Alternative Album category. This year's nominees are Cimafunk's El Alimento, Jorge Drexler's Tinta y Tiempo, Mon Laferte's 1940 Carmen, Gaby Moreno's Alegoría, Fito Paez's Los Años Salvajes, and Rosalía's MOTOMAMI.
For Best Regional Mexican Music Album (Including Tejano), 2021 winner Natalia Lafourcade's Un Canto por México - El Musical is up against Chiquis' Abeja Reina, Los Tigres Del Norte's La Reunión (Deluxe), Christian Nodal's EP #1 Forajido, and Marco Antonio Solís' Qué Ganas de Verte (Deluxe).
As for Best Tropical Latin Album, Marc Anthony — a two-time winner in the category — returns as a nominee with Pa'lla Voy, alongside pioneers Tito Nieves (nominated for Legendario), La Santa Cecilia (Quiero Verte Feliz), Víctor Manuelle (Lado A Lado B), Spanish Harlem Orchestra (Imágenes Latinas), and Carlos Vives (Cumbiana II).
Listen to all of the above albums in this comprehensive, 338-song playlist of the Latin music GRAMMY nominees at the 2023 GRAMMYs.
Check it out on Pandora, Spotify, Apple Music, and Amazon Music — and we'll see you at Music's Biggest Night on Sunday, Feb. 5!