Perhaps more than any other artist, Michael Jackson’s legacy stretches beyond record sales and number of chart-topping singles and albums. Of course, both are astonishing and barely believable. But more than mere numbers, he was the King of Pop, a global superstar and a musical genius who revolutionised the music video. And as this highly-acclaimed exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery makes clear (neatly titled On the Wall), he was an inspiration even to those far outside of music.
I’ve always been a huge fan of the music video. It’s such a great form of expression and when done well, really adds extra dimensions to the song. Here are eight of my favourite videos from well known artists that took imagination to new levels.
I had planned on doing a wider description of Dublin’s Wax Museum, especially after I previously did an introductory style piece. But although the museum includes information about Irish history, its politics and its many famous writers, it will always be a very visual place and so my post will focus on that too. Below are a mix of musicians and very fictional entertaining characters, including the fifth James Bond, a boy wizard, the King of Pop and a very hairy Wolfman. How good do you think they are?
It’s close to midnight and something evil’s lurking in the dark
Under the moonlight you see a sight that almost stops your heart
You try to scream but terror takes the sound before you make it
You start to freeze as horror looks you right between the eyes
Taken from the astonishingly successful song Thriller by Michael Jackson, from the album of the same name (1983), which is still the bestselling album of all time. Later voted the most influential music video of all time, it highlighted the possibilities available in the exciting new medium of the music video.
Amidst traditional classics, Christmas Day also provides the chance for completely non festive songs to top the charts. And there have been plenty down the decades. Here are eight of the best.
Moon River – Audrey Hepburn (1961)
Used in the much-loved film Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Moon River wonderfully captures Holly Golightly’s adventurous and caring spirit and became a huge hit. The fact it came close to not even being in the film just goes to show how many strange decisions there can be behind the cameras.
Bohemian Rhapsody – Queen (1975 and 1991)
No matter how many times I hear it, I still can’t help but be amazed at just how brilliant this song is. Innovative doesn’t even begin to cover it. Spending 9 weeks at number one, after Freddie Mercury’s untimely death in 1991, it became number one again for five weeks as a double A-side with ‘These are the Days of our Lives’.
Another Brick in the Wall – Pink Floyd (1979)
The single and album are so interlinked it’s tempting not to distinguish them, but the seminal album’s leading track sold over 4m copies worldwide and even topped the US chart. Christmas is an unlikely time for a protest against education, but then again all the schools are closed at that time of year.
Always on my Mind – Pet Shop Boys (1987)
Elvis already had one Christmas number one with ‘Return to Sender’ in 1962, but a cover of his 1972 classic gave the Pet Shop Boys their only UK Christmas Number One. One of the rare times it’s possible to rate a cover as well as the original. A slightly peculiar video mind.
I Will Always Love You – Whitney Houston (1992)
Considering the song was Number One for 10 weeks, there was always a good chance this would be a Christmas chart topper. Though originally sung by Dolly Parton who composed it, this is Whitney Houston’s song through and through. Best avoided on a karaoke machine.
Earth Song – Michael Jackson (1995)
It’s not just anybody who could get a Christmas Number One with a song about how we are failing the environment, as well as keeping the first new song released by The Beatles in 25 years off the top spot. But Michael Jackson reigned in his musical genius stratosphere, and this is still his biggest selling song here.
Mad World – Gary Jules (2003)
I’m hugely fond of the original by Tears for Fears, but there’s something so haunting about this stripped-down Gary Jules cover. Used in the film Donnie Darko, the sombre tone reflected the mourning the world still had trying to come to terms with the 9/11 attacks.
Killing in the Name – Rage Against the Machine (2009)
The first song to reach the UK Number One on downloads alone, there’s plenty more distinguishing features for this song, not least it’s colourful language and supremely aggressive guitar riffs. The anger in the song capture’s a lot of the attitude against the possibility of another X-Factor contestant getting a Christmas number one for a fifth straight year.
Britney may have remained immune to a bad boy when she sang Womanizer but then again, she never met any of these modern day Don Juan’s. A look at eight artists of seduction, capable of charming any bird out of a tree before making them fly off the morning after…
CHARLIE HARPER – TWO AND A HALF MEN
Charlie Sheen’s personal life is so scandalous it’s hard to know where his on screen persona ends and his personal life begins, making him a perfect choice for a wealthy playboy with no kids and a disposable attitude to women. For some, with his one night stand lifestyle, regular gambling, continuous drinking, and expensive sports cars, Harper lived the bachelor dream. As he himself said, “If I can’t eat it, bang it or bet on it, it’s not in my phone”. An endless carousel of bimbos would quickly succumb, falling for a mixture of his Hollywood looks, luxurious beach house, alcohol and idle promises of commitment. When he wanted things to move even faster, Harper was openly content to pay hookers. Proud of his lifestyle, the Malibu lothario always found it amusing that his twice divorced brother Alan rarely got any female attention and never even got close to matching his sexual prowess. The character was saved from being unlikeable by taking in rent-free his annoying cheapskate brother, his caring for his nephew Jake, several genuine attempts at serious relationships and a poor influence from his self-absorbed mother.
Sam Malone – Cheers
The loveable rogue himself. A pitcher for the Boston Red Sox before alcoholism ravaged his career, Sam Malone seems to be born with womanising in his veins. A teetotal bar owner (and then just a barman when he lost all his money buying a boat which soon sank), Malone has few interests other than getting into a girl’s pants. Particularly successful with airline stewardesses in town for a short time, Malone is legendary in the Cheers bar for his exploits, with his prolific strike rate livening up the otherwise mundane lives of the regulars. So proud is he of his ladies man talents, and so confident in himself, that the former baseball star is happy to take on the toughest challenges of chatting up and sleeping with any attractive female who walks into the bar. Never hooking up with anyone married or emotionally vulnerable, Malone is still drawn to a challenge, with long pursuits of Diane Chambers and then his boss, Rebecca Howe. Though frustrated at long intervals with both, he refuses to quit, consoling himself about Diane: “She better be damn good in bed”. He may be far too obsessed with his hair (getting it insured!), used far too much Cologne and been a bit of a showman, but it was near impossible not to like him.
Barney Stinson – How I Met Your Mother
Michael Jackson wasn’t singing about Barney Stinson with his 1987 classic, but in the world of dating conmen, the How I Met Your Mother star is most definitely a Smooth Criminal. With his “Suit up” appearance and completely immoral dating techniques, Stinson is the ultimate sweet-talking salesman who will use any line to get a woman into bed. This temporarily comes back to haunt him in the legendary episode ‘The Bracket’, when Stinson has to work out which of the women he has had a one night stand with had the most reason to try to sabotage him. Before he was tamed in later series of the show, Barney was the ultimate lothario, even once managing the “Perfect Week” of sleeping with seven different women on consecutive nights. With his “Legendary” and “True story” anecdotes, his creation of the “Hot/Crazy” scale and constantly updated “Rule Number One”, he certainly has the gift of the gab. Even more remarkable then that Stinson started late to the game, being a syrupy lovestruck puppy in his early twenties until his girl dumped him for a successful guy in a suit.
Joey Tribbiani – Friends
Not just any ladies man gets their own catchphrase, let alone one of just three words. But then “how you doin’?” seemed to almost sum up Joey Tribianni: unthreatening, irresistible and almost far too fun to turn down. The struggling actor may have trouble counting, reading and let’s be honest, acting, but Tribbiani had an effortless charm that seemed to work on any female. Even long time friends Rachel, Monica and Pheobe are temporarily smitten when he turns his attention on them. Though comfortable in any environment, he is particularly successful hitting on the interns at the Days of Our Lives studio where he works. Loyal, caring and endearingly honest, Tribbiani is an uncomplicated New Yorker who has two ultimate passions: sex and food. When put by Chandler if he would prefer the Xerox girl naked (represented by his right hand) or a tub of jam (represented by his other hand), Tribbiani replies with a knowing smile: “Put your hands together”. Even when seeing the others in the group settle down, the idea of married life or even a settled girlfriend never appealed. This Italian stallion was always set to roam free, even when not going ‘Commando’.
Don Draper – Mad Men
Slick, debonair, sophisticated, aloof, cynical, mysterious and the ultimate heartbreaker, there are seemingly an infinite number of ways to describe Sterling Cooper’s finest. The ad executive extraordinaire has a lethal combination of looks, wealth, style, a silent intensity and a detached air that make any female resistance futile. Quite simply, Draper has no need for lies, games or any form of manipulation. Though hiding a troubled past, Draper is the man most guys dream of being. Married to the beautiful Betty, but always being tempted through the attractive women he meets through work, Draper is able to pick and choose only the ones that capture his attention the most. So much so, that Draper can afford to go beyond looks, going for ladies who have an aura that meet his high standards. Rather than just connecting with them sexually, the ambitious New Yorker is able to get inside their head, making them fall for his spell and leaving them destroyed when walking away. For a man who can pretty much convince you to buy anything, he really doesn’t leave much behind.
Hank Moody – Californication
Not all rock stars end up on stage. With his liberal attitude to sex, drug use, swearing, authority and parental responsibility, Hank Moody is the New Yorker turned Californian who gets the groupies without even needing a band. He gets offered sex even as he is getting a vasectomy! A jaded and cynical author who writes with the colourful passion of Bukowski or Palahnuik, Moody could never work in a job that needed any kind of routine or responsibility. Though in an on again off again relationship with long-term girlfriend Karen with whom he has a daughter Becca, Moody seems to stumble into temptation without breaking sweat, usually with dramatic or comical results. His fearless attitude to any likely consequences to his casual romantic encounters adds to his laconic charm, but it hides a man struggling professionally and emotionally to deal with the world he lives in.
Chuck Bass – Gossip Girl
The Upper East Side’s Prince of Darkness, Chuck Bass is the bad boy that stands out even in a society where scandal, deceit and debauchery are a pre-requisite. Indeed, the man described as ‘the big bad wolf’ even has a private investigator on speed dial. The descendant of financial royalty, Bass’ wild antics actually help his father’s hotel gain the notoriety that drives business. Being a tortured soul is no publicity stunt though. Bass has a strained relationship with his father, his mother died giving birth to him, he sees nothing wrong with hiring multiple prostitutes at any one time and his only friend is the easy-going Nate. That is without mentioning the intense on-off relationship with Blair, who understands him better than anyone but who he feels would be happier without him. He may frequently lose control when drunk, use all kind of underhand tactics to get what he wants and be a discerning snob, but for all his many faults, he will go way out of his way to help those he cares about. He does have a heart of gold buried deep under there somewhere.
Dennis Reynolds – It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
It isn’t just any ladies man who uses their first name as an acrostic system to seduce a woman, but then Dennis Reynolds is one of your more narcissistic types. Not beneath pretending to be disabled, manipulating a hot girl at her grandfather’s funeral or hitting on women at an abortion rally (both pro-choice and pro-life), Reynolds is a ruthless dating predator. His strength is in his complete lack of morals, being completely willing to sell anyone out for a chance of sex, especially his two best friends, Mac and Charlie, and his twin sister Dee. Vain to the point of taking his shirt off for the most tenuous of reasons, Reynolds has long convinced himself he is good looking though curiously that masks a strong insecurity of his looks when a particular feature is criticised. Arguably his lowest point was sleeping with Charlie’s dream girl before discarding her the morning after. Unsurprisingly regret was minimal and he was perfectly happy to lead her on again when it suited him. But then that would be forgetting he videotapes his bedroom exploits without asking their permission. And brags to his friends about it. And rates their performance too…
For a show so groundbreaking, iconic and influential, and the ultimate in social, cultural and political satire, it can be easy to forget just how humble the beginnings of Springfield’s finest dysfunctional family were.
This was no long and thought out process or a culmination of a life’s dream. What was to become America’s longest ever scripted tv show came about from a hurried idea of Matt Groening while waiting for a meeting with The Tracy Ulman Show’s producer James L. Brooks. Suddenly realising his original idea would require the rescinding of publication rights for his ‘Life is Hell’ Comic series, Groening instead came up with the idea of Homer and Marge, and their three children, Bart, Lisa and Maggie.
And the rest, after three series making up 48 short animated sketches, was history.
‘The Simpsons’ fully launched on 17 December 1989 with its first episode, ‘Simpsons roasting on an open fire’. Its ugly, crude animation could not betray a touching storyline about Homer struggling to afford to buy presents for the family after his work bonus is taken away. As Hunter Phillips pointed out in his shortly lived bloghttp://500daysofhomer.wordpress.com/, it was pretty rare for a sitcom at that time to focus on the financial struggles of a regular family. This was a cartoon that even at the very beginning was always going to be different and would reinvent the cartoon wheel.
This was no simple one dimensional comedy. The writers fully exploited the possibilities a cartoon could develop, with its visual gags, outdoor settings and wide supporting cast. And in turn, reminded everyone that there are no age restrictions with cartoons. There were jokes about everything. About Homer’s laziness at work, his glutinous love of food and his general stupidity, Bart’s pranks and rebellious attitude and Lisa being the know it all, precocious child who struggles to fit in at school and even in her own family. Not to mention all the film references, government and religious hypocrisy and social comment on mob mentality and petty neighbourhood squabbles.
Setting itself in Springfield, a name represented in 22 different US states, was no coincidence. With such a common name, it wasn’t about creating a magical world where viewers had their own entry into Narnia, Wonderland or Neverland. This was about being in a place where we could all relate to, with characters we could all recognise. Jaded teachers, deceitful politicians, unmotivated cops and unfulfilling and underfunded environments. It was all there.
And boy, when the jokes started, it was always worth watching more than once to pick up on all the film references, social questioning and character gags.
It’s hard to watch Patten with a straight face after Abe Simpson parodies the famous scene of America’s legendary war general smacking a soldier suffering from nerve damage. “You can push them out of a plane, you can march them off a cliff, you can send them off to side one some godforsaken rock, but for some reason you can’t slap them.”
It’s spoof of Indecent Proposal is up there too. When Marge’s old boyfriend Artie Schiff tries to rub his wealth in Marge’s face, Homer replies: “I’ll bet you’d trade it all for one night with my wife.” When Artie admits he probably would, Homer starts to consider the deal.
And its use of celebrities, long before it became tedious and forced in later episodes, was amazing.
In the earlier series were countless notable examples. Dustin Hoffman playing Lisa’s ideal teacher and father figure Mr Bergstrom, Harvey Fierstein starring as the wonderful Karl alongside a hair-filled Homer (in the wonderfully titled Simpson and Delilah), Danny Devito playing millionaire and Homer’s half brother Herb Powell are just some of the more obvious ones. Not to mention the legendary Michael Jackson one. And there were examples of celebrities voicing more than just one, or like with Herb Powell, being brought back for another episode. The much missed Phil Hartman provided the voice for host Troy McClure, and the legendary ambulance chasing lawyer Lionel Hutz, who later becomes an estate agent as most of his clients “end up losing their house anyway”. Frasier legend Kelsey Grammer uses his sumptuous voice to star as the erudite but undervalued Sideshow Bob who aims to take down Krusty the Clown. Joe Mantegna stars as mob boss fat Tony, revealing the shadier side of Springfield, and the even more inept side of the local police.
And with the gags continuing, and the character development expanding, it wasn’t long before lazy careless idiot Homer, his sympathetic homemaker wife Marge, mischievous 10 year old Bart, precocious eight year old Lisa and baby Maggie took over the world.
Its blend of imagination, cynicism, realism and most of all humour, soon meant that we the viewer were brought into their world. Homer’s continuous struggle to motivate himself at the power plant, Marge having to worry, Lisa’s constant issues in being smarter than everyone else and Bart’s skills in being the class clown and trying to avoid getting beaten up by the school bully. Not to mention all their problems as a family and within the wider society.
Not that everyone saw that as a good thing. In a world where Ren and Stimpy, Beavis and Butthead and South Park were to follow, it’s amazing to think there were teachers and parents who fiercely campaigned against Bart’s influence. Bart’s catchphrases like “Eat my shorts”, “Get bent”, and “Don’t have a cow man”, as well as his lack of respect for authority was seen to glamorise the rebellious lifestyle. And it wasn’t just sensitive parents.
In early 1992, then President George Bush (senior), made his famous comment of “We are going to keep on trying to strengthen the American family, to make American families a lot more like the Waltons and a lot less like the Simpsons”. The show’s creators got their own back with a changed intro to their next shown episode before getting their full revenge in “Two Bad neighbours”, where George Bush Senior incurs the full ire of Homer and Bart.
Of course, it could never stay as its peak. The wheels had faltered slightly in series 8, with episodes started to fall off and run out slightly of energy and ideas, but it noticeably went off track with its first real nadir, “The Principal and the Pauper”. The second episode from the ninth season brought headteacher Seymour Skinner to the fore, revealing that Skinner was not who we were lead to believe, but in fact was an imposter called Armin Tamzarian. Believing the actual Skinner to be dead, he assumed his identity and had happily got away with it for 20 years. By the end, it is all supposed to go back to normal as the town prefers to the fake Skinner and the genuine one who spent five years in a prison of war camp, and then in a Chinese Sweatshop, goes away. There’s supposed to be message in that probably.
While that may have been when the “show got stupid”, as Guardian critic Ian Jones noted, episodes would continue to falter, before season 11 when it all got consistently poor and with few to any saving graces. As the quality has dropped, so the number of celebrity voices has grown and animation become more computerised. The less said about later storylines about Marge’s boob job, Homer as a Kurt Cobain style grunge rocker, Ricky Gervais’ attempt to write a wife-swapping episode and a device that means lorries can drive themselves, the better. Joking about how bad an episode is (“Worst show ever” t-shirt”) was neither cute or clever and just insulting to a far too loyal audience.
Rather than focus on the celebrities desperate to get on a backwards moving carousel and how there are now more bad series than good ones, sometimes it is just about acknowledging the greatest don’t always know when to stop raging against the dying of the light.
And what a success it has been. Beyond its 27 primetime Emmy Awards, the Hollywood walk of fame star, the merchandising, D’oh and all the other catchphrases it spawned and its financial film success, and countless fan forums, it can never be forgotten just how many great moments they have provided us with, and how it has inspired so many adult-oriented animated sitcoms.
For making Homer miss the canyon, getting both his arms stuck in vending machines, destroying a polygraph machine by his inept lying, and all the other incredible moments from Homer and co, thanks. Walt Disney may have said “A man should never exploit your family for business”, but when there is so much to exploit, it makes one heck of a show.
Mr Burns: If you’re not going to come in on Friday, don’t bother coming in on Monday
Homer: Woo hoo! Four day weekend
Homer: Lord help me, I’m just not that bright
Homer: Marge? Since I’m not talking to Lisa, would you please ask her to pass me the syrup?
Marge: Dear, please pass your father the syrup, Lisa.
Lisa: Bart, tell Dad I will only pass the syrup if it won’t be used on any meat product.
Bart: You dunkin’ your sausages in that syrup homeboy?
Homer: Marge, tell Bart I just want to drink a nice glass of syrup like I do every morning.
Marge: Tell him yourself, you’re ignoring Lisa, not Bart.
Homer: Bart, thank your mother for pointing that out.
Marge:: Homer, you’re not not-talking to me and secondly I heard what you said.
Homer: Lisa, tell your mother to get off my case.
Bart: Uhhh, dad, Lisa’s the one you’re not talking to.
Homer: Bart, go to your room.
Homer: I think I got promoted because of my motivational skills. People are always saying they have to work harder when I’m around.
Bart: Aren’t we forgetting the true meaning of Christmas? You know, the birth of Santa.
Marge: Homer, is this how you pictured married life?
Homer: Yeah, pretty much, except we drove around in a van solving mysteries.
Homer: So I said, “Look buddy, your car was upside-down when I got here. And as for your grandmother, she shouldn’t have mouthed off like that.”
Bart: Mr Hutz, when I grow up I want to be a lawyer just like you
Lionel: (sincerely) Good for you son, if there’s one thing America needs, it’s more lawyers
Homer: Son, if you really want something in this life, you have to work for it. Now quiet! They’re about to announce the lottery numbers.
Bart: What’s really amazing is this is exactly what Dad said would happen!
Lisa: Yeah, Dad was right!
Homer: I know, kids, I’m scared too!
Ned: It’s times like this I used to turn to the bible, but even the good book can’t help me now.
Homer: Why not?
Ned: I sold it to you for 7 cents
Homer: It was one of the worst days of my life when I realised I could do most things better than my father. Bart had that feeling when he was 4.
Homer: Where do you want to go?
Lisa: Anywhere that isn’t hamburgers, pizza or fried chicken.
Homer: Fine! We’ll go to Mars!”
Marge: You will find her [Selma] a man!
Homer: All right.
Marge: And not just any man.
Marge: He should be honest, and, and caring. And well-off. And handsome.
Homer: Hey! Why should she have a better husband than you do!?
Cast and Awards
Dan Castellaneta as (among others) Homer Simpson, Abe Simpson, Barney Gumble, Krusty
Julie Cavner as Marge Simpson, Patty and Selma
Nancy Cartwright as (among others) Bart Simpson, Nelson Muntz, Ralph Wiggum
Yeardley Smith as Lisa Simpson
Hank Azaria as (among others) Moe Syzlak, Chief Wiggum, Apu, Carl
Harry Shearer as (among others) Mr Burns, Smithers, Ned Flanders, Lenny
Years: 1989 –
Created by: Matt Groening
Number of Series: 24 (ongoing)
Number of Episodes: 522 (ongoing)
Emmys: 27 out of 74