Homer's Barbershop Quartet
"Homer's Barbershop Quartet" is the first episode of The Simpsons' fifth season. The episode was written by Jeff Martin and directed by Mark Kirkland. It features The Be Sharps, a barbershop quartet founded by Homer Simpson. The band's story roughly parallels that of The Beatles. George Harrison and David Crosby guest star as themselves, and The Dapper Dans provide the singing voices of The Be Sharps.
The episode begins with the Simpson family as they attend a swap meet. There, Bart Simpson and his sister Lisa notice a picture of their father, Homer, on the cover of an old LP album. Homer explains to his family that he, Principal Skinner, Barney Gumble, and Apu Nahasapeemapetilon recorded a barbershop quartet album in 1985, which catapulted them to national fame. He narrates to his family the story of how the band formed, reached the pinnacle of success, and eventually folded. At the end of the episode, the group reunites to perform a concert on the roof of Moe's Tavern, singing their number-one hit "Baby on Board".
Throughout the episode, several references are made to The Beatles and other popular culture icons. In its original American broadcast, "Homer's Barbershop Quartet" finished 30th in ratings, with a Nielsen rating of 12.7. It was praised for its The Beatles cameo, despite being a leftover episode from the previous season. Reviews that criticized the episode's inconsistent humor blamed it on the change of writers before the episode's creation.
At the Springfield Swap Meet, Bart and Lisa Simpson notice Homer on the cover of an LP album. Homer explains that he, Principal Skinner, Barney, and Apu recorded a barbershop quartet album in 1985, which catapulted them to national fame. He then tells his family the story of how the album came to be. While performing at Moe's Tavern, an agent offered to represent the group as a band, but only on the condition that they expel Chief Wiggum, who was the band's fourth member at the time. After an audition during which the band rejected candidates to fill Wiggum's position, the trio returned downheartedly to Moe's Tavern, where they recruited Barney after hearing him sing in a beautiful Irish tenor voice. The four members then brainstormed on a name for the group, eventually settling on The Be Sharps, there being no such note in the typical chromatic scale.
In the present, Homer brags that he sold his car's spare tire at the swap meet. On the way home, one of their tires blows out. While Marge walks to a gas station to get a new tire, Homer continues his story. He tells Bart and Lisa that after Marge bought a Baby on board sign, Homer wrote a song inspired by the fad. The song "Baby on Board" appeared on the group's first album, Meet The Be Sharps, and the song became a hit. The Be Sharps performed the song at the Statue of Liberty's centennial in 1986, and they later won a Grammy Award for Outstanding Soul, Spoken Word, or Barbershop Album of the Year for Meet The Be Sharps.
Back in the present, the Simpsons are at home, where Homer explains that The Be Sharps became so popular that they were featured on merchandise, including lunch boxes, mugs, and posters. The band later released their second album, Bigger than Jesus. While The Be Sharps grew in fame, creative disputes arose when Barney dated a Japanese conceptual artist, which eventually led to his leaving the group. Barney and his girlfriend recorded a song in which his girlfriend repeatedly says "Number 8" over tape loops of Barney's belches (a parody of The Beatles' "Revolution 9"). Ultimately, the group realized they were no longer popular. The latest issue of Us Weekly's What's Hot and What's Not confirmed this, noting that the band was no longer "hot". The band then split up; Principal Skinner returned to the Springfield Elementary School, Apu to the Kwik-E-Mart, Barney back to Moe's Tavern, and Homer to the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant. Returning to present day, the group reunites to perform a concert on the roof of Moe's Tavern, singing their number one hit "Baby on Board". Pedestrians stop and listen to them singing their comeback concert, including George Harrison of The Beatles, who dismissively remarks, "It's been done."
One of the writers for The Simpsons suggested that they should create an episode that focuses on Homer in a barbershop quartet and "a big parody of The Beatles". The episode was written by Jeff Martin, who was an "obsessive" Beatles fan, making him "a natural to write [the episode]". Mark Kirkland, a "huge" Beatles fan, directed the episode, and ensured that The Beatles' references were accurate. Kirkland enjoyed directing the episode because unlike other episodes he directed, he did not experience any trouble animating "Homer's Barbershop Quartet". The animators liked creating The Beatles' gags and enjoyed the barbershop music. After the animators synchronized the audio track, music, and animation, they "just fell in love" with it. They also enjoyed working on the choreography of The Be Sharps and trying to match the characters' movements with the music. They were inspired by The Beatles' film Let It Be, including the shots of the band in the recording studio where they decide to break up. Kirkland did not think there was anything "spectacular" in the episode's animation, but he and his animation team "just loved" working on it.
In a scene in the episode, Lisa sees a man selling an original Malibu Stacy doll from 1958 that has big, pointed breasts. The man, nicknamed "Wiseguy" by the show's staff, tells Lisa that "they took [the doll] off the market after some kid put both his eyes out." The joke received a censor note from the Fox network's censors because they did not want such jokes on the show, but the producers ignored the note and the joke appeared in the episode when it aired.
The Be Sharps's singing voices were provided by the four members of The Dapper Dans, a barbershop quartet that performs at Disneyland in Anaheim, California. Before working on the episode, Martin had seen one of the quartet's performances and enjoyed it. When the episode's production began, he contacted the quartet, and they agreed to make a guest appearance in the episode. The Dapper Dans's singing was intermixed with the normal voice actor's voices, often with a regular voice actor singing the melody and The Dapper Dans providing backup.
George Harrison guest stars in the episode as himself. He was the second Beatles' member after Ringo Starr (in "Brush with Greatness") to appear on The Simpsons. When Harrison arrived at the recording studio in West Los Angeles to record his lines, the casting director told the episode's show runners, Al Jean and Mike Reiss, that Harrison was coming and that they were not allowed to tell anybody about it because it was intended to be a secret to the staff. Jean, Reiss, and the show's creator Matt Groening went to see Harrison in the studio, and when they returned to the writer's room, Groening said, "Guess who I just met? George Harrison!", not knowing that it was supposed to be a secret. Harrison arrived at the studio by himself without any entourage or bodyguards. Groening recalls that Harrison was "pretty glum", and he was unenthusiastic when the staff asked him questions about The Beatles. However, when Groening asked Harrison about the Wonderwall Music album, he suddenly "perked up" because it was one of his solo albums that he was rarely questioned on. Harrison's guest appearance was one of Groening's favorites because he was "super nice" and "very sweet" to the staff. Jean said it was a "huge thrill" to have him appear. David Crosby also makes a guest appearance in the episode as himself, and appears in the scene in which he presents a Grammy award to The Be Sharps.
"Homer's Barbershop Quartet" was a hold-over episode from the season four production line. It was chosen to air as the fifth season's premiere episode because it guest starred Harrison. The Fox network executives wanted to premiere with Conan O'Brien's episode "Homer Goes to College" because of its parody of the 1978 comedy film National Lampoon's Animal House, but the writers felt "Homer's Barbershop Quartet" would be a better choice because of Harrison's involvement. The episode originally aired on the Fox network in the United States on September 30, 1993. It was included in a 2002 video collection of selected musical-themed episodes titled The Simpsons: Backstage Pass. The episode was also included in The Simpsons season five DVD set, which was released on December 21, 2004.
The episode makes several references to The Beatles. Their first album, Meet the Be Sharps, is a parody of the Meet the Beatles album. Moe's Tavern changes its name to Moe's Cavern, a reference to the Cavern Club in Liverpool where The Beatles frequently performed in the early 1960s. Chief Wiggum, thrown out of the band because he was "too Village People", mirrors Pete Best. Best was an early member of The Beatles but was replaced by Ringo Starr. The cover of Bigger Than Jesus, The Be Sharps' second album, features the group walking on water, which is a direct parody of the art on The Beatles' album Abbey Road. The name is a reference to a controversial quote made by John Lennon in 1966. Bart references this by asking, "What did you do [to lose your popularity]? Screw up like The Beatles and say you were bigger than Jesus?", to which Homer replies "All the time. That was the title of our second album." At the end of the episode, the album's back cover is revealed, on which Homer is seen turned away from the camera, as opposed to the rest of the band. This is a parody of the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band LP reverse, in which Paul McCartney is in the same position. Barney's Japanese conceptual artist girlfriend is a parody of Yoko Ono. Their song repeats the phrase "Number 8" and a burp by Barney, a reference to The Beatles' "Revolution 9". The group performing atop Moe's Tavern at the end of the episode is a parody of The Beatles' impromptu concert on the Apple Corps rooftop during their Get Back recording sessions in 1969, hence George Harrison's line, "It's been done." In addition, The Be Sharps are wearing the same outfits as The Beatles during the rooftop concert scene: Barney in a brown fur coat (John), Homer in a bright red coat (Ringo), Skinner in a black suit (Paul), and Apu in a black coat with green trousers (George). After the performance, Homer says, "I'd like to thank you on behalf of the group and I hope we passed the audition", paraphrasing a quote by John Lennon at the end of The Beatles rooftop performance.
At the swap meet, Mayor Quimby says "Ich bin ein Springfield Swap Meet Shopper", a parody of John F. Kennedy's famous Cold War quote. Homer browses through a box with items that cost five cents each. These include the United States Declaration of Independence, a copy of Action Comics #1, a complete block of Inverted Jenny misprint postal stamps, and a Stradivarius violin. Principal Skinner tries on a prison mask with the number 24601, notable as Jean Valjean's prison number in Les Misérables. Homer buys Grampa a pink Cadillac, just as Elvis Presley did for his mother. One of the late night television shows Chief Wiggum watches is Johnny Carson doing his Carnac the Magnificent routine. Homer mentions that 1985 was the year that Joe Piscopo left the NBC sketch show Saturday Night Live. Moe sells oyster shells at the swap meet that resemble Lucille Ball. Homer begins telling the story of The Be Sharps by saying, "Rock and roll had become stagnant. 'Achy Breaky Heart' was seven years away; something had to fill the void. That something was barbershop." At the Grammy ceremony, Spinal Tap, Michael Jackson (Leon Kompowsky) and George Harrison are all at the post awards reception and MC Hammer in the audience. While Bart and Lisa browse through LP albums at the swap meet, they find a recording of "Yankee Doodle" by Melvin and the Squirrels, a band that spoofs Alvin and the Chipmunks as well as a Spinal Tap album.
In its original American broadcast, "Homer's Barbershop Quartet" finished 30th in the ratings for the week of September 27 to October 3, 1993, with a Nielsen rating of 12.7, translating to 11,963,400 households. Since airing, the episode received generally positive reviews. DVD Verdict gave the episode a Grade A score. DVD Movie Guide's Colin Jacobson felt that the episode "kicks off [the season] with a terrific bang". He appreciated the episode's parodies of a mix of subjects, and its ability to bring them together into a coherent story. Noting that the episode focused on spoofing Beatlemania, Jacobson praised George Harrison's cameo as "probably the best" Beatles cameo in the series. Giving the episode a score of 5 out of 5, DVD Talk praised the "four-part harmony of hilarity [that] gets a flawless mop top modeling", complimenting the references to pop culture icons as being "right on the money". TV DVD Reviews commented on how the episode "hit all the right notes", and was pleased with Harrison's cameo. Despite the episode being a "leftover from last season", The Washington Post still applauded the episode's humor, saying, "Who cares? It's funny." The Courier-Mail found "Homer's Barbershop Quartet" an entertaining episode. Asserting that the series hit its peak with season five episodes such as "Homer's Barbershop Quartet", the Sunday Tasmanian called the episode a "first-class offering". Although it appreciated the story and use of the main characters, Current Film was not enthused about the episode, claiming that it was not consistently funny. The Age called "Homer's Barbershop Quartet" an awful episode, with a "weak, unfunny parody of The Beatles", blaming the series change of writers before the episode was written.
IGN ranked The Beatles' appearances on The Simpsons series—in episodes such as "Lisa the Vegetarian", "Brush with Greatness", and "Homer's Barbershop Quartet"—10th on their list of the Top 25 Simpsons Guest Appearances, and the Toronto Star ranked the band fifth on a list of the 11 best cameos on The Simpsons. Andrew Martin of Prefix Mag named George Harrison his fourth favorite musical guest on The Simpsons out of a list of ten.
- Groening, Matt (1997). Richmond, Ray; Coffman, Antonia, eds. The Simpsons: A Complete Guide to Our Favorite Family. Created by Matt Groening; edited by Ray Richmond and Antonia Coffman. (1st ed.). New York: HarperPerennial. ASIN 0006388981. LCCN 98141857. OCLC 37796735. OL 433519M. ISBN 0-00-638898-1, 978-0-00-638898-2. p. 120.
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- Groening, Matt (2004). The Simpsons season 5 DVD commentary for the episode "Homer's Barbershop Quartet" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
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- Bromley, Judge Patrick (2005-02-23). "The Simpsons: The Complete Fifth Season". DVD Verdict. Retrieved 2009-01-24.
- Jacobson, Colin (2004-12-21). "The Simpsons: The Complete Fifth Season (1993)". DVD Movie Guide. Retrieved 2009-01-24.
- Gibron, Bill (2004-12-21). "The Simpsons - The Complete Fifth Season". DVD Talk. Retrieved 2009-01-24.
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- Shales, Tom (1993-09-30). "Return of 'The Simpsons': Still the Best on the Block". The Washington Post. p. B1.
- Melloy, Neil (2002-07-25). "The Simpsons: Backstage Pass". The Courier-Mail. p. 6.
- Miller, Craig (2005-03-27). "DVD Releases". Sunday Tasmanian. p. 22.
- "DVD Information". Current Film. Retrieved 2009-01-24.
- Schembri, Jim (1995-07-06). "My life as Lisa". The Age. p. 10.
- Goldman, Eric; Iverson, Dan; Zoromski, Brian (2006-09-05). "Top 25 Simpsons Guest Appearances". IGN. Retrieved 2009-01-24.
- Jones, Arnold Wayne (2007-05-20). "Producer speaks out on cartoon cameos". The Toronto Star. p. C05.
- Martin, Andrew (October 7, 2011). "Top 10 Best Musical Guests On 'The Simpsons'". Prefix Mag. Retrieved October 8, 2011.
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- "Homer's Barbershop Quartet" at The Simpsons.com
- "Homer's Barbershop Quartet" at the Internet Movie Database
- "Homer's Barbershop Quartet" episode capsule at The Simpsons Archive