The Maestro of 'D'oh!' Makes a New Soundtrack Over the last 16-plus seasons, Alf Clausen has written the music behind the animated TV series The Simpsons. Now, on the eve of the program's 19th season, a new CD gathers some of Clausen's greatest hits, complete with cameos from famous guest musicians.
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The Maestro of 'D'oh!' Makes a New Soundtrack

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The Maestro of 'D'oh!' Makes a New Soundtrack


The Maestro of 'D'oh!' Makes a New Soundtrack

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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LIANE HANSEN, host: Two weeks from tonight "The Simpsons" begin their 19th season of dysfunctional family adventures, pointed social satire, and music.

(Sound of music)

Ms SHY FOLDEN (Singer): (Singing) So when your soul has gone astray, just let God be your triple-A, he'll tow you to salvation and he'll overhaul your heart.

HANSEN: Yes, Shy Folden has sung with the Simpsons. That's her on His the Man. It's one of 41 of the Simpsons' greatest hits on the new CD, "The Simpsons Testify." Bad Boy Nelson makes an appearance as Yentl(ph).

(Sound of music)

Ms. NANCY CARTWRIGHT (Voice Talent): (As Nelson) (Singing) Papa are you near me? Papa can you hear me? Papa, can you help me not be frightened? Looking at the skies, I seem to see a million eyes. Which ones are yours?

Ms. CARTWRIGHT: (As Bartholomew "Bart" Jojo Simpson) I got to do something about him.

HANSEN: There's a commercial for Krusty Burger.

(Sound of music)

Unidentified Man#1: (Singing) Like a rib, it tastes like liberty. Like a rib, with a bun of sesame.

Unidentified Man#2: We start with authentic leather grated meat and process the hell out of it so it's good enough for Krusty.

Mr. DAN CASTELLANETA (Voice Talent): (As Krusty the Clown) Try my new Krusty Ribwich. Mmm. I don't mind the taste.

HANSEN: There are even some bonus tracks that never made the final cut. One features Kelsey Grammer as Sideshow Bob.

(Sound of music)

Ms. KELSEY GRAMMER (Voice Talent): (As Sideshow Bob) (Singing) Hollabaloola(ph), hollabale(ph). I can't wait to kill Krusty today. (unintelligible) while I get away. Hollabaloola, hollabale.

HANSEN: Since season 2, episode four ,Alf Clausen has been the musical maestro for The Simpsons. He's the man behind the full Broadway and TV shows, the fake commercials, and the famous artists doing parodies of their own work. Clausen has composed for jazz artists, movies, and taught at Berkeley College of Music.

Before working on The Simpsons he had just finished up four years of work on ABC's Moonlighting and The Alf series. No relation, he says. Clausen told us he always thought of himself as a dramatic composer and had no interest in working on an animated comedy series, but friends convinced him to go in for an interview anyway.

Mr. ALF CLAUSEN (Composer): And I met with Matt Groening and Sam Simon and some of the other producers, and my music editor, Chris Ledesma. And at one point in the conversation, Matt Groening said to me, we look upon our show as not being a cartoon but we look upon it as being a drama where the characters are drawn and that's the way we like to have it scored. Do you think you can do that? And of all of a sudden the light bulb lit up and I said, well, I look upon myself as being a drama guy and I really think I could do that.

And he says, well, why don't you take a crack at it and see how you do. And they like what I did and they kept me.

Ms. YEARDLEY SMITH (Voice Talent): (As Lisa Marie Simpson) You wanted to see me?

Ms. MARCIA WALLACE (Voice Talent): (As Ms. Krabappel) Actually, Lisa, I wanted you to see you. You're our president now, but you look like the first lady of yawn.

Ms. SMITH: (As Lisa Marie Simpson) What would you change?

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Groups: (Singing) Eyes, pearls, smile, hairpoints, dress, voice, shoes, Swatch watch.

Ms. SMITH: (As Lisa Marie Simpson) I may be the new girl, but you can't brainwash me. Just Oshkosh B'Gosh me and then leave me be. To fight for kid power, I must be heard, not seen. I have to lead wisely, not just primp and preen.

Unidentified Groups: (Singing) Nails, dimples, ears, scrunchie, pearls, lunchbox, teeth, Milhouse.

HANSEN: When do you get the assignment for the episodes? Do someone come to you and say we need a (unintelligible) parody and, let see, Lenny is going to sing to it. Can you do that for us? Which doesn't exist by the way.

Mr. CLAUSEN: Not yet.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CLAUSEN: It works in a couple of different ways. From an underscoring perspective, which is all of the background music, the turn around time for me is usually exactly one week. I'll look at the episode on Friday. I'll score the episode the following Friday having composed about 30 to 35 cues in that short amount of time. We'll mix the show on the following Monday and Tuesday and it goes on the air on Sunday. That's how close we are to deadline. It's a little bit daunting.

HANSEN: Yeah. What about - say you're doing a big number for one of the characters?

Mr. CLAUSEN: Well, the other part of the scenario is when I'm involved in writing the originals songs. The process is quite different. I get script pages from the writes who have usually written the lyrics as part of the script to move the story ahead. I compose the songs to the lyrics. I don't think we've ever done it the other way around. I record a demo of my song with a small instrumental group of piano, bass guitar, and drums and studio singers. Once the demo is done, if there are cast voices to go on the tracks, we then record the cast voices to that track, make a composite mix of all that, and send it to the animators. And the animators actually animate to those tracks, and then it comes back to me seven to eight months later in the final episode, which I described previously. And then once it comes back and I hear the song in the final episode then I throw away the small instrumental track and I replace it with a full orchestra to make you think that you're hearing the entire Broadway vibe.

Mr. DAN CASTELLANETA (Voice Talent): (As Groundskeeper Willie) (Singing) All I want is a place somewhere

Ms. YEARDLEY SMITH (Voice Talent): (As Lisa Marie Simpson) And?

Mr. CASTELLANETA: (As Groundskeeper Willie) That's it.

Ms. NANCY CARTWRIGHT (Voice Talent): (As Bartholomew "Bart" Jojo Simpson) Maybe you could aim a little higher.

CASTELLANETA: (As Groundskeeper Willie) Oh, let see.

(Singing) Oh, to have me shack rebuilt, Get my rotten teeth all drillt, something on underneath my kilt, oh, wouldn't it be adequate? Matching shoes for…

Mr. CLAUSEN: We have several medleys. The My Fair Laddy medley.

HANSEN: Groundskeeper Willie.

Mr. CLAUSEN: Groundskeeper Willie and there are numerous characters involved in these medleys and I have to know the ranges of all of those character voices.

Mr. CARTWRIGHT AND Ms. SMITH: (As Bartholomew "Bart" Jojo Simpson and Lisa Marie Simpson) (Singing) Adequate. Adequate.

Mr. CASTELLANETA: (As Groundskeeper Willie) (Singing) Wouldn't it be adequate.

Mr. CLAUSEN: It was really an honor for me to do this particular homage because I saw the original "My Fair Lady" production with Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews on Broadway in the early '60s, and it's on of the musicals that changed my life forever. So for me to able to come back many, many years later and revisit that and do an homage to it is really treat for me.

Mr. CASTELLANETA: (As Groundskeeper Willie) What flows from the nose does not go on my clothes.

Ms. SMITH: (As Lisa Marie Simpson) Say it again.

Mr. CASTELLANETA: (As Groundskeeper Willie) (Singing) What flows from the nose does not go on my clothes.

Ms. SMITH: (As Lisa Marie Simpson) (Singing) I think he's got it. Oh yeah, he's got it.

Mr. CASTELLANETA: (As Groundskeeper Willie) (Singing) What flows from the nose does not go on my clothes.

Ms. SMITH: (As Lisa Marie Simpson) (Singing) Where is that ghastly flow?

Mr. CASTELLANETA: (As Groundskeeper Willie) (Singing) The nose. The nose.

Ms. SMITH: (As Lisa Marie Simpson) (Singing) And where should it not go?

Mr. CASTELLANETA: (As Homer Simpson) (Singing) Blue pants. Blue pants.

Ms. SMITH: (As Lisa Marie Simpson) Dad, get your own song.

Mr. CASTELLANETA: (As Homer Simpson) Fine.

(Singing) I'm getting blue pants in the morning, ding dong, the zipper's got to shine.

Mr. CLAUSEN: I've actually written a couple of musicals and it's really fun to be able to work on a television production where I get the opportunity to practice that craft.

HANSEN: Really? You have your own Broadway musical in your back pocket?

Mr. CLAUSEN: Now, we all have a trunk, you know.


Mr. CLAUSEN: Yeah.

HANSEN: Are you - you're casting, you know, yellow people with blue pants.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CLAUSEN: Not yet. But you'll never know, do you?

HANSEN: Wow, wow. Let me ask you then. Do you think your work with "The Simpsons" has enhances your credibility in your field?

Mr. CLAUSEN: Well, there's no question about that. The visibility of this series is just amazing. I don't think that any television series in history has really left it's mark on the general public like "The Simpsons" has, and all of us, kind of, get carried away by the success of that, whether we deserve it or not is another story. But, of course, we get carried away by it, so it's almost very interesting.

A friend of mine has the - what he calls the janitor and "Rocky" theory. And I said, what's that? And he said, well, there's this guy who works as a janitor at MGM. And his friend says to him one day, what are you workin' on? And he says, oh, I work over at MGM. And the guy says, oh, really? And he says, you work in a movie studio. What do you do? And he says, well, I'm the janitor. And he says, really? And he says, what do you do? And he says, well, I sweep the cutting room floor at the end of the day when all the film editors are gone. And the guy says, well, what have you been working on lately? And he says, oh, I've been working on "Rocky." And the guy says, oh, wow. So that's the janitor and rocky theory.

(Soundbite of Laughter)


Mr. CLAUSEN: And we all, kind of, get carried along by the success of the success, and it's a beautiful thing.

HANSEN: Certainly. There you are. Have they animated you yet? You're not Lisa's troubled, man-hater(ph) teacher are you?

Mr. CLAUSEN: You know, they did animate me several seasons ago. I didn't realize that until one of the animators told me. And that was the good news. The bad news was that the show run long and I ended up on the cutting room floor.

(Soundbite of Laughter)

HANSEN: So go find the janitor.

Mr. CLAUSEN: Exactly. I heard that one coming.

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: Alf Clausen is the chief composer and arranger for "The Simpsons," the CD, "The Simpsons Testify" is due out on September 18th. Alf Clausen spoke with us in studio's KCSN in Northridge, California. Thank you so much.

Mr. CLAUSEN: My pleasure.

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: To hear more from "The Simpsons Testify" and to discover other new music, visit

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

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