In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. As part of Simpsons Week, we’re picking our favorite songs from the show.
As the most recent season of The Simpsons illustrates, the show has a sense of reality—cartoonish reality, but reality all the same—that can not only be bent, but broken. There’s a line between, for example, the glimpse into the near future that is “Lisa’s Wedding” and the gang from Futurama showing up just because. There’s a line between the ridiculousness of Homer suddenly becoming an astronaut (or any of the other jobs he’s held down while somehow maintaining a steady gig at the nuclear power plant) and the utter indifference toward even the flimsiest story logic of his suddenly being whisked into space by Kang and Kodos outside the anything-goes structure of a Halloween episode. And in The Simpsons’ heyday, few were able to toe that line like John Swartzwelder.
Swartzwelder was responsible for many of The Simpsons’ best, yet most outlandish concepts, ranging from Bart suddenly getting a pet elephant, to the whole town being caught up in a snake-whacking contest, to Homer being recruited by a living James Bond villain. Looking at them on paper, it’s hard to imagine how any of those concepts would fare in the hands of contemporary Simpsons writers. But somehow, Swartzwelder was always able to explode the world of The Simpsons without totally demolishing its center. And possibly no episode demonstrates what the deft touch it requires than Swartzwelder’s “Homer The Great,” which suddenly reveals that many of Springfield’s most familiar residents belong to an ancient, mystical society that controls not only the town but—as revealed in its musical centerpiece, “We Do (The Stonecutters Song)”—the entire world.
Of course, Swartzwelder can’t take all the credit for “Homer The Great,” which was originally producer David Mirkin’s idea. Nor is he solely responsible for “We Do,” which was proposed by Matt Groening, filled in with lyrical suggestions from the writers’ room, and completed with composer Alf Clausen. But the song reflects his way with balancing the outsized with the small and silly, as Patrick Stewart’s Number One leads the Stonecutters in a beery chantey about how they’re responsible for everything from rigging the Oscars to hiding the existence of Martians to giving Steve Guttenberg his acting career. Somehow “We Do” lost at the 1995 Emmys to some Barbra Streisand number—evidence of another secret society at work, no doubt—but it endures as a prime example of The Simpsons at its most preposterous without being totally stupid, a sweet spot that is not always so easy to find.