“Nobody’s Here” – Beethoven’s Fifth in The Simpsons

March 29, 2010 at 10:03 pm 11 comments

A question posted on the AMS-listserv really demands a quick blog entry in reply.  Since the question has since been withdrawn from the list, here is a public answer:

The inquiry regarded the identification of an answering machine clip in an episode of The Simpsons that uses “Nobody’s Home” sung to Beethoven’s Fifth.

The episode to which you refer is 7F11 (season 2, episode 11): “One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish” (24 January 1991).  It is the  classic episode where Homer eats improperly prepared Fugu (puffer fish) at a sushi restaurant–it’s one of the few early episodes that still shows up on reruns from time to time.  With only 24 hours to live, Homer dives into his “bucket list.”  In the midst of speeding from one task to another he gets pulled over by the cops and subsequently thrown in jail.  I couldn’t find a copy of it on the interwebs, so here is the excerpt from my own copy of the DVD made available here under terms of “fair use” until Fox inevitably makes me take it down:

[Update: Fox took it down within about 45 minutes...try viewing it here.]

I had forgotten the “atmosphere” joke–ha!

Anyway, the answering machine tape that they reference is probably this one: “Crazy Calls” from the mid-1980s.  Beethoven appears 28 seconds in:

That is worth a future blog post in and of itself!

The switch from “Nobody’s Home” to “Nobody’s Here” adds to the spoof while likely avoiding a lawsuit from the answering machine tape folks.  Though, to be honest, I’m not entirely sure they’d have had much ground to stand on!

This isn’t the only instance of Beethoven’s Fifth in The Simpsons:

By coincidence (or fate…knocking at my door–sorry!), just this evening I saw a rerun of “Bart Has Two Mommies” from the seventeenth season–some fifteen years after the answering machine episode.  The “Ode to Joy” theme plays when neighbor kids Rod and Todd Flanders have the blocks removed from their teeter-toter.

In the sixth season, know-it-all Martin Prince plays the disco-inspired “Fifth of Beethoven” during a flash-forward episode called “Lisa’s Wedding” (2F15).

My personal favorite appears in an episode from season fifteen called “Margical History Tour,” whose title succinctly references Marge Simpson and the Beatles.  The episode itself spoofs the movie Amadeus. Just for fun, let’s watch this clip in German:

Nelson, the show’s bully, here playing the part of a young Beethoven transforms–though not by very much–his trademark “Ha ha” laugh into the same opening motif used in the answering machine clip above.  As a side note, every musicologist would be proud of Lisa Simpson’s comment at the end of the episode that the film Amadeus full of inaccuracies.

There are likely more Fifth Symphony references, but I digress.  Back to the dissertation…

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Who Obscures The Job Wiki? Guest Blog by Matthew Mugmon: The Canadian Bess, or Porgy and Brass

11 Comments

  • 1. Zoe Lang  |  March 29, 2010 at 10:21 pm

    It’s not quite Beethoven, but it’s in the same general ballpark. My all-time favorite Simpsons classical music reference in ‘Bart and the Daredevil’ (Season 2/8) when Homer sits through Lisa’s school recital. They are performing Schubert’s ‘Unfinished’ Symphony (part of the brilliance of this scene is the mimicking of the Schubert as played by grade-school orchestra). Homer, who is clearly in pain during the second movement, states loudly, ‘How much longer was Sherbert planning on making this piece of junk?’

  • 2. Michael A  |  March 30, 2010 at 12:04 am

    The Simpsons wiki has been updated accordingly:

    http://simpsons.wikia.com/wiki/One_Fish,_Two_Fish,_Blowfish,_Blue_Fish/References#Trivia

  • 3. PMG  |  March 30, 2010 at 10:25 am

    Matthew Guerrieri aka Soho the Dog is writing “a cultural history of the opening of Beethoven’s Fifth.”

    http://sohothedog.blogspot.com/2009/08/language-is-virus.html

  • 4. Charlie Sweatpants  |  March 30, 2010 at 3:15 pm

    Off the top of my head I can think of two more instances of the Fifth in Simpsons. In “Sweet Seymour Skinner’s Baadasssss Song” (Season 5) we see the recently fired Skinner pretending to conduct the opening in front of a reel to reel machine. In “Home Sweet Homediddly-Dum-Doodily” Homer, who misses Lisa, puts her saxophone up to his lips and blows into it while saying “Sax-a-ma-phone” to the opening. That’s what’s so great about Beethoven’s Fifth, anything with four syllables can be set to it.

    Beethoven’s Sixth symphony gets a star turn in “Itchy & Scratchy & Marge” from Season 2. That’s the one where Marge forces cartoons to be non-violent and all the kids go outside and play while the Sixth plays in the background. Then, when the cartoons become violent again, the kids abandon their outdoor activities and return to the television. We see their former playgrounds, abandoned and sad, while a very melancholy version of the Sixth plays. Fantastic.

  • 5. Jake  |  March 30, 2010 at 7:55 pm

    Aaaannnnddddd…Fox took down your video already! that was quick.

  • 6. Ryan Raul Bañagale  |  March 31, 2010 at 10:40 am

    Thanks for the comments, all!
    Zoe: Seems like we might want to put a conference panel together on classical music and The Simpsons…
    Michael: Thanks!
    PMG: Thanks for the heads up on Matthew’s project. I can’t wait to learn more.
    Charlie: How could I have forgotten “Sax-a-ma-phone”!?!
    Jake: I’m still able to play it, though looks like you are right. I got an email from YouTube a few hours after posting it up. I’ll have to find some other way to make it available…

    Someday I’d like to write a paper/book on musical theatre references in The Simpsons. Watch for a future post on the subject!

  • 7. Reading Digest: Context Edition « Dead Homer Society  |  April 2, 2010 at 4:23 pm

    [...] “Nobody’s Here” – Beethoven’s Fifth in The Simpsons – Sadly there’s some Zombie Simpsons in here, but the main discussion is about Barney’s answering machine when Homer calls from jail in “One Fish Two Fish Blowfish Blue Fish”.  If you weren’t watching US commercials in the late 1980s you might never have known what the novelty answering machine thing was from.  Well, there’s YouTube to finally give you the context.  [...]

  • 8. Dan  |  April 3, 2010 at 3:14 pm

    First thought on watching that infomercial: I can’t believe anyone would pay $14.95 (especially in those days!) for a cassette of seven songs.

    Second thought: Can I still buy it?!

  • 9. Matthew  |  April 9, 2010 at 12:39 pm

    My favorite is “The Seven-Beer Snitch,” from season 16, where Marge spearheads a new Frank Gehry-designed concert hall in Springfield—at the opening concert, the entire audience gets up to leave after the first four bars of the Fifth. “We’ve already heard the duh-duh-duh-dum,” Chief Wiggum explains. “The rest is just filler.” Somewhere, Theodor Adorno nods, sadly and knowingly.

  • 10. Duncan  |  May 15, 2011 at 3:05 pm

    Take a look at this web site, it is amazing. Its about Beethoven’s story. So touching i cried.

  • 11. Duncan  |  May 15, 2011 at 3:06 pm

    Sorry here is the website

    http://6planets.blogspot.com/2011/05/beethovens-story-ebacus.html


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