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Saturday, August 07, 2010

Some things are inevitable
Posted by Jill | 8:45 AM
Sometimes it seems that America's national pastime is mocking show tunes. Everyone loves to mock the idea of people on a stage bursting into song for no reason at all. Of course what we think of as "show tunes" today are, at their best, the successors of Tin Pan Alley songs with names like "The Little Good for Nothing's Good for Something After All", and the mythical song that the New Lost City Ramblers once threatened to sing, "I'm So Miserable Without You (It's Almost Like Having You Here". But scratch the surface of any of the pop songs that lodge in your head for days, and you'll find the influence of Tin Pan Alley and Broadway. No more unlikely a candidate for such influence is Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong, who freely admits to hearing, and singing, a lot of show tunes as a kid. Armstrong isn't exactly possessed of the greatest voice in the world, and wasn't even at 15, when he sang in a Christmas show:

But how many people would ever dream that someone who rose to fame singing about getting high and masturbation would have even been caught dead doing such a thing? When "American Idiot" came to Broadway, it seemed shocking, unless you knew about who Armstrong's influences were.

An even less likely aficionado of show tunes is snarky Seth MacFarlane, the creator of the most twisted animated show in the history of television, Family Guy. It hardly seems likely that the same mind that created the initially homicidal but now only cynical baby Stewie, the idiotic, repulsive, id-driven Peter Griffin, a dog that's the only intelligent creature in the house, and the date-rapist Glenn Quagmire, apparently saw all that as a stepping stone to his real love -- the American songbook:
Seth MacFarlane, below, the pop-cultural polymath who created and provides many of the voices on the Fox animated comedy “Family Guy,” will be lending his pipes to an album of 1940s and ’50s-era show tunes for Universal Republic Records, the label said on Friday. The album, which will be produced and arranged by Joel McNeely (whose credits include Mr. MacFarlane’s series “American Dad”) will include standards by Rodgers and Hammerstein, and Lerner and Loewe, as well as a song called “She’s Wonderful, Too” that Mr. McNeely wrote for the television show “The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles.” Universal Republic said in a news release that Mr. MacFarlane would sing to the accompaniment of a live orchestra and a big band, using vintage equipment and analog tape to replicate the sound of classic records by artists like Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole and Rosemary Clooney.

It seems ridiculous, sort of like an album of Pee Wee Herman singing selected numbers from Der Rosenkavalier -- unless you've ever heard MacFarlane actually sing.

Here's MacFarlane as both Brian the dog and Stewie at the 2007 Emmy Awards. The song is an adaptation of the hilarious "The Freakin' FCC", by the incomparable Walter Murphy:

...and MacFarlane as "Peter Griffin" with "Lois" voice actor Alex Borstein on Jimmy Kimmel in another Murphy masterpiece:

So these are all songs in the Family Guy vein. But if you are still thinking that this is just a vanity project by someone with enough money to buy himself a record contract, take a gander at MacFarlane singing "I Like Myself" from MGM's It's Always Fair Weather" (music by André Previn, lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green):

...or "You're Sensational" from High Society:

If you, like me, watch Family Guy for the music (and I'm sure there are one or two of you out there who do), you know that this project was out there waiting for someone to do it. Because some guys, like the reluctant bridegroom in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, would rather....just....sing!

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Blogger Batocchio said...
He's got a fine and versatile voice. The Simpsons also works in a ton of music and singing.