A theme and introduction so beloved and so iconic that you’re probably humming the theme tune in your head whilst reading this, hearing Lisa’s saxophone solo and the sound of tires screeching before Homer’s yelp of fright.
Like so many of the best aspects of TV, the theme music and opening animation for The Simpsons has been so omnipresent in so many of our lives that it has become like an old friend. But it hasn't stayed exactly the same over the decades and a few facts about its origin and evolution may surprise you. Here’s ten facts about The Simpsons’ theme song and intro that you may not have known.
10 The Theme Song Was Written By Danny Elfman
The famous composer – who created legendary themes for Batman, Spider-Man and a host of other classic movies – created the original theme music for The Simpsons. Albeit a little begrudgingly, Elfman has admitted that it may be his most lasting legacy as a composer.
The theme would be reworked by composer Alf Clausen in season two of the show, with the final version that most of us know today being introduced at the beginning of the third season. In a stunning tenure, Clausen would go on to serve as the sole composer for The Simpsons from 1990 to 2017.
9 The Main Intro Has Only Changed Twice
With thirty years of episodes, it seems bizarre to think that the famous intro has remained mostly unaltered across that time. But the fact is that there have only been three versions of the main introduction that we know by heart. (With the opening shot of the clouds moving down to Springfield elementary and Bart’s chalkboard gag.)
Considering all of the small variations of the opening’s recurring gags, like the couch configuration at the end, it’s kind of amazing within itself that the rest of the animation stayed exactly the same for so long. It went unchanged for nineteen years at one point.
8 Banksy Made A Version Of The Intro
The elusive UK-based street artist showcased his guest-directed Simpsons opening on the 2010 episode “MoneyBart”. The sequence starts out relatively normal but, once the Simpsons sit down for the couch gag, the scene transforms into something very dark.
The frame zooms out to reveal an Asian sweatshop full of forlorn workers creating the animation cells for The Simpsons. It pans down to reveal a dungeon filled with enslaved animals, including a mass of caged kittens being shredded for stuffing to put into Bart Simpson dolls. Not everyone was a fan, though. The founder of the animation company that The Simpsons uses in South Korea, Nelson Shin, called its depiction of Asian animators “degrading”.
7 Hans Zimmer Arranged His Own Version Of The Intro Song
When the time came for the Simpson family to finally make their big screen debut, no expense was spared. Long-time producer James L. Brooks got frequent collaborator, and friend, Hans Zimmer to score the movie and Zimmer arranged his own orchestral version of the famous theme music just for it.
The legendary movie composer described his final product as “a mix of Prokofiev and ‘The Jetsons’” and the Oscar-winner certainly elevated the movie into a truly cinematic experience. The creator of so many iconic pieces of movie music himself, Zimmer didn’t take his role lightly despite working on several other movies at the same time. Most fans agree that he pulled it off better than anyone else could have.
6 Guillermo Del Toro Directed His Own Version Of The Intro
The Oscar-winning auteur movie director oversaw the creation of one of the shows many Halloween themed intros for their Treehouse of Horror series. Guillermo del Toro’s, naturally, contained homages to all of the major horror icons you could think of from throughout cinematic history as well as a few of his own creations.
Interspersed with the expected references to Hitchcock and Harryhausen, del Toro’s take on Blade makes an appearance as does his haunting ghoul the Pale Man from Pan’s Labyrinth. (This time in the form of Mr. Burns.) He described his horror mashup homage as “pure joy” and we have to agree with him.
5 The Intro Didn’t Appear Until Episode Two
The introduction to The Simpsons has become so integral to our collective memory of it that it’s hard to imagine an episode without it. But one does exist. The very first one, to be exact. The series premiere episode, entitled “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire”, was the only episode to be aired in the 1980s (airing in December 1989) but did not have the honor of being the first to showcase the famous opening.
That honor went to the second episode to be aired, “Bart the Genius”, in January 1990 which also holds the title for the first appearance of Bart’s much-used catchphrase “eat my shorts”.
4 Somebody Made A Live-Action Version Of The Intro
In 2006, the TV channel Sky One in the UK commissioned a live-action version of the Simpsons intro to be used for promotional purposes and it turned out pretty well. The short got a lot of mileage on the channel and would even be used as the intro on the 2006 episode “Homer Simpson, This Is Your Wife”.
The version is a recreation of the original opening with approximate actors and locations being used to mimic the sequence of events in the animated original. Set to Danny Elfman’s original theme music, the recreation – while not perfect – does a very good job of syncing up with the pace of the animated version.
3 There’s A Chalkboard Gag That References How The Simpsons Predicted Trump
Of all the Simpsons ideas that eventually became a reality, the least welcome was their prediction that Donald Trump would one day be president of the United States in the episode “Bart to the Future”. The episode famously showed a grown-up Lisa Simpson becoming president herself and inheriting the office from Trump.
The prediction did not escape fans in the aftermath of the 2016 presidential elections and the show itself acknowledged its own foresight in the form of a chalkboard gag in the opening for the 2016 episode “Havana Wild Weekend”, the first episode to air after Trump’s victory. Bart’s message simply reads “Being right sucks”.
2 The Theme Was Created In A Few Days
Though it would go on to become not only one of the most significant TV themes of all time but potentially one of the most memorable pieces of music ever written, Danny Elfman’s original Simpsons theme was put together in a matter of days.
Creator Matt Groening commissioned Elfman back in 1989 to create a grand theme for the TV show in the spirit of the big orchestral numbers from TV’s yesteryear. The resulting 12-note motif would go on to be covered by artists as prolific and diverse as Yo La Tengo, Green Day, Sigur Rós and, of course, Sonic Youth; as featured in the 1996 episode “Homerpalooza”.
1 The Most Unique Version Of The Intro Is Set To “Tik Tok” By Ke$ha
The intro opened the 2010 episode “To Surveil with Love” and it stands apart from other Simpsons intros for a number of reasons but most noticeably because it was the first episode to not feature the famous musical theme in any way.
Instead, the opening is set entirely to the popular Ke$ha song and features various characters lip-syncing to the lyrics. The intro was created as part of the promotional ‘Fox Rocks’ week that was going on at the network at the time and features a number of bizarre depictions including God dancing with the devil while Dr. Hibbert break dances in the middle of the street.