John Boylan: We had a lot of people volunteer. I can’t remember who it was that was a big fan of the New York Dolls, but everyone liked David Johansen, and he fit that one song that we worked on, so we brought him in as a guest. I had to go to Toronto to record him because he was working on Car 54, Where Are You? at the time. [Matt Groening] co-wrote a rap tune that we did with DJ Jazzy Jeff, “Deep, Deep Trouble,” which became the second single.
DJ Jazzy Jeff: If my memory serves me, I just got a call that “The Simpsons were going to do an album,” and this was the high point of Simpson-mania. “They’re doing an album, and they want you to do a song.” Wow. Of course, it’s a little weird because someone tells you a pretty-much cartoon character is making an album, you don’t know what the approach of that is. I remember going out to L.A., and I sat down and went to Matt Groening’s house, and he shared a lot of The Simpsons’ structure. Then we went into the studio, and I pieced together something at the studio in Philly and played it for them. They were kind of blown away. It was cool, because at that time, I never knew that Bart Simpson was [voiced by] a woman.
It was cool, because at that time, I never knew that Bart Simpson was [voiced by] a woman. —DJ Jazzy Jeff
John Boylan: My daughter Amy was 8 or 9, and I would have her come to the studio. She wanted to meet Bart and was flabbergasted that Bart was a woman. I had to explain carefully, “You see with cartoons, you have to have a woman playing an adolescent boy. If you have an adolescent boy, he’s going to grow-up and his voice will change.” “Oh, I see, Daddy, I get it.” But she wanted to meet all of The Simpsons, which she did, and she learned all the words to the songs and could sing along with the record.
DJ Jazzy Jeff: I remember going in the studio, and they had a song up. It was kind of a sample in the song that wasn’t fitting right. I remember watching this guy come in, and he pulled out this machine. And they started putting in all these numbers and turning these knobs. I remember just kinda sitting there with a scowl on my face, and after about 15 minutes I just couldn’t take it any more. I was like, “Can I try something?” I walked over to the sampler, and I dialed in the speed, and I basically tuned it by ear and got it to the point where it fit right, and everyone in the room was like, “Oh my God, that’s great!” I could tell these weren’t music people because something you can tell by ear whether it’s right or wrong, they were using machines to do it. I’ve been used to trusting my ears for things like that. It’s funny looking at different people’s approaches to getting the job done. It wasn’t just a super natural progression of going into the studio for making a record.
They pretty much wrote it, came in, and recorded it, and we came in and mixed it down. That process was extremely simple because we worked on our song; we didn’t work on the other songs. I remember being out there for two, maybe three days. We may have went into the studio twice and knocked it out. You don’t realize the process other people may do, but this was a time when we were making records every week, so you’re in a flow. It wasn’t a difficult process for me at all.
John Boylan: We got some of the best musicians on the planet playing on that thing. B.B. King played on it. We did “Born Under a Bad Sign,” and the track came out really great. We wanted to get an authentic bluesman. The original “Born Under a Bad Sign” was a blues guy named Albert King, but unfortunately he had passed away. I’m sitting around thinking there’s only one other name fits in that category and that’s B.B. King. I called his manager in New York, and he said “B.B.’s on tour in the Pacific Rim.” So, I got the tape, I put a scratch vocal on it myself—I hope no one ever hears it—and I took the 24-track tape. I had done four albums down in Australia with the Little River Band, so I had a lot of contacts in Australia. I called Ernie Rose, one of the engineers I used in Melbourne, and I said, “B.B. King’s on a tour of the Pacific Rim. He’s coming into Melbourne for three days. I’m sending you the tape. Overdub a guitar solo, he’s going to know the song forwards and backwards, I’m sure he’s played it before. Would you just do three or four takes, send it back, and I’ll compile it?” We expressed the tape down there, he overdubbed it, expressed it back, and I compiled the solo and mixed it in L.A. Not many people know that particular story, but that’s a true story. That was only a case of 4-5 days, and it was early on. We were still working on other stuff.
Al Jean: We went and saw Yeardley sing, and it was great. She was really good. There were additional lyrics that we wrote for the album. Everything from the show, people say, “Wow, that’s a great song,” but they’re usually like a minute or less, so it’s a hard thing for someone to have to listen to for radio play. It’s so funny. It did come out on vinyl, and so many things have changed from then that it’s insane.
John Boylan: Dan Castellaneta is a really good singer, and Yeardley Smith, who plays Lisa, is a really good singer. So, no problem there. Julie Kavner [voice of Marge Simpson], who couldn’t sing, but she acted her way through it.
Al Jean: Julie is always a little more reluctant to sing. She’s afraid that singing isn’t what she’s known for, and it’s always a little more effort on her part to do it.
John Boylan: The hardest thing we had to get them to do was to be good singers and put their character voices on. Can you imagine how hard that is for an actor? I mean, it’s bad enough to sing, but now you have to sing doing a character voice. Danny had to put on the Homer voice and sing, and Yeardley had to do the Lisa voice, which isn’t really conducive to singing. It’s like an extra layer. It’s like I said to you, “Do an impression of Jack Nicholson.” You could work on it for a while, now I say to you, “OK, now do an impression of Jack Nicholson doing an impression of Stephen Colbert.” It’s hard. And, boy, those people were incredibly intelligent and hard workers. It was a really nice experience because they were so professional. Harry Shearer was the most musical. He’s, as you know, part of Spinal Tap.
Harry Shearer was the most musical. He’s, as you know, part of Spinal Tap. —John Boylan
Bill Merryfield: We didn’t create all the art ourselves, even though we came up with some of the ideas. Matt Groening’s staff created the art. We just sort of put it together as a package and designed the typography and part of the logo and came up with the overall look. For me as an art director, it was kind of an easy job. There was no photo shoot, I wasn’t working with a band. It was a pre-assembled package. We had to use the characters, and they were already created. They gave us cels that were already drawn, and we cropped it the way we did.
I do remember it was very fast. Sometimes packaging takes a long time, especially if there’s photoshoots, but this one we did in a week, week-and-a-half maybe. It wasn’t necessarily simple, but it was a fast one. There was a ton of approvals that had to be done for Geffen Records, approvals by Matt Groening’s team, but it was a pretty easy process. I don’t think he even made any changes. I think the first set of design was pretty much picked. There were a few options, but not that many, where with some packaging you have 20 options. Everyone was pretty much on the same page. Everyone agreed on the cover, and we went with it.
Al Jean: The thing that I think really pulled the sales from the first one was the Michael Jackson-inspired one.