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The Secret of Bart Simpson's Success [February 10th, 1991]
That time Michael Jackson had a secret Number One
Number One: “Do The Bartman”, The Simpsons
In 1991, Michael Jackson secretly wrote a novelty song for a cartoon character.
How weird is that? Imagine if there was a big PAW Patrol record and, years later, you discovered it had been written by Beyonce.
In 1991, The Simpsons were something of a cultural phenomenon, despite the fact that few people had ever actually seen the show. The Simpsons was exclusive to premium cable and satellite viewers. Terrestrial TV wouldn’t see the show for several years.
But there was a weird kind of cultural osmosis that happened in those pre-internet days, and somehow people just knew about The Simpsons. Personally, I had an “Eat My Shorts” t-shirt at age 12, long before I finally got my teenage hands on a grainy bootleg of The Simpsons season 1. And I loved “Do The Bartman” because I was in the target demographic, and very dumb. I didn’t buy the single. I did record it off the radio.
“Do The Bartman” is a pretty good for a novelty song. Which is to say that it’s pretty bad, but not there-is-no-God bad. It’s not Jive Bunny. The new jack swing backbeat and harmonies might not be Jackson’s finest work, but it’s still the King of Pop in his imperial phase. Nancy Cartwright’s rapping is… of its time. Look, she was hired to voice acting, give her a break.
Of course, the irony of it all is that The Simpsons were on the bring of becoming a true cultural collosus, while the 90s would end with Jackson in disgrace and heading towards ruin. Jackson guested on an episode in 1992, the magnificent “Stark Raving Dad”. In 2019, the episode was withdrawn from syndication in light of Jackson’s alleged child sex abuse.
Another irony: Jackson was (and perhaps still is) the King of Pop. He sold a billionty records in the 80s. Most of the rest of this week’s chart is full of people who wish they could be Michael Jackson.
The Simpsons, however, with their low-fi scuzziness, detatched irony, and in-your-face authenticity, predicted the emerging zeitgeist of the 90s. If the timing had been slightly different, “Do The Bartman” could have been a Grunge song .
Elsewhere in the charts
“Do the Bartman” dethroned the mighty The KLF with their trance opus “3AM Eternal”, which drops to Number 2. One of the best books I’ve ever read about pop music is John Higgs’ The KLF: Chaos, Magic and the Band That Burned a Million Quid. It’s a great story.
Nancy Cartwright isn’t even the worst rapper in this week’s Top 20. Vanilla Ice is at Number 13 with “Play That Funky Music”, filled with dope rhymes like, “Now you're amazed by the VIP posse/Steppin' so hard like a German Nazi.” I know it’s cliche to dunk on Vanille Ice, but dear god.
Much better lyrics in “Hippy Chick” by Soho: “I stopped loving you since the miner’s strike.”
Rick Astley’s “Cry For Help” falls to Number 11. We will never again see him in the top 20. I always had a soft spot for Rick, who seems very graceful, even when he’s the punchline to a dumb internet joke. I hope he’s well.
One of many versions of “You Got The Love” by The Source appears this week at Number 12. It first appeared in 1986, but the 1997 version is the one you probably remember. This story about Candi Staton’s vocal is wild: “The original Candi Staton track had been recorded for a direct-to-video 1980s documentary about an obese man who was trying to lose weight. Staton said she couldn't remember having recorded a song called ‘You Got the Love’. It was only later that she realised she had performed the song years earlier for the documentary.”
We’ll look at “All Right Now” by Free and wonder how Levi’s became a major music industry promoter. Subscribe to find out.