Musical Borrowing
An Annotated Bibliography

Individual record

[+] Orosz, Jeremy W. “‘Can’t Touch Me’: Television Cartoons and the Paraphrase of Popular Music.” Contemporary Music Review 33 (April 2014): 223-40.

The composers of long-running animated sitcoms The Simpsons and Family Guy often utilize the technique of copyphrase, or copyright-paraphrase, to unmistakably call to mind specific pieces of music while avoiding charges of copyright infringement. Alf Clausen, series composer for The Simpsons, developed a default copyphrase procedure in the mid-1990s that has served as a model for later television composers. Clausen’s procedure involves preserving the rhythm and phrasing of the target melody but altering the pitches, often inverting the contour. This can be seen in his mock-up of Alan Menken’s Under the Sea in the episode “Homer Badman” (1994) and See My Vest, a copyphrase of Menken’s Be My Guest in “Two Dozen and One Greyhounds” (1995). Family Guy composers Walter Murphy and Ron Jones, influenced by Clausen, frequently use comparable copyphrase techniques in early seasons. The season two premiere alone contains three distinct examples of copyphrase, including an extended parody of I Think I’m Gonna Like It Here (from the musical Annie). A copyphrase parody of MC Hammer’s U Can’t Touch This in the episode “E. Peterbus Unum” even has a direct admission of borrowing when Peter Griffin declares “Hammer, you can’t sue!” mid-song. Two unsuccessful lawsuits brought against Family Guy in the mid-2000s—the first dismissed and the second ruled in the show’s favor—apparently emboldened the producers of The Simpsons and Family Guy to include sharper musical satire in later episodes. In later seasons, the two shows have diverged in their approach to music. A 2008 episode of The Simpsons, “That 90’s Show,” demonstrates the show's continuing engagement with (relatively) recent musical materials with two copyphrases of 1990s grunge songs. Family Guy, on the other hand, has largely abandoned copyphrase in favor of original music. Although The Simpsons could feasibly license existing music, the technique of copyphrase still serves an important aesthetic function maintaining the show’s escapist tone.

Works: Alf Clausen: soundtrack to The Simpsons (224-27, 231-34); Walter Murphy and Ron Jones: soundtrack to Family Guy (227-32)

Sources: Alan Menken (composer) and Howard Ashman (lyricist): Under the Sea (224-25), Be Our Guest (225-26); Falco, Rob Bolland, and Ferdi Bolland: Rock Me Amadeus (226); Charles Strouse (composer) and Martin Charnin (lyricist): I Think I’m Gonna Like It Here (227); Karl Jenkins: Palladio (227); John Williams: score to Star Wars (227-28); MC Hammer: U Can’t Touch This (229); Robert B. Sherman and Richard M. Sherman: It’s a Small World (After All) (229-30); Leigh Harline (composer) and Ned Washington (lyricist): When You Wish Upon a Star (230); Joe Hamilton: Carol’s Theme (230-31); Frank Churchill (composer) and Larry Morey (lyricist): Heigh Ho! (231); Kurt Cobain, Nirvana: Rape Me (232-33); Gavin Rossdale, Bush: Glycerin (233)

Index Classifications: 1900s, 2000s, Popular, Film

Contributed by: Matthew Van Vleet

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