The irreverent animated comedy Family Guy follows the exploits of the dysfunctional Griffin family.
Seth Macfarlane, the creator of the show, says that the ultimate goal of Family Guy is to make the viewers laugh as much as possible in each episode. One of the main ways he accomplishes this is through the music.
Can you believe Seth had to fight for his musical vision?
FOX executives did not think that Family Guy’s mostly male teenage viewers would appreciate the high level of music or the lengthy musical numbers in the show.
For example, the network executives were against the idea of an opening theme song. They reasoned that the audience would grow bored of sitting through the same song at the beginning of each episode.
However, Family Guy’s opening song has become iconic, to the point where most of our younger American generation would recognize it. This upbeat, catchy theme song grabs the audience’s attention just before the show starts and provides a preview of one of the most defining elements of the show.
We will first talk about how music plays a significant role in the show.
As a knowledgeable and talented musician himself, Seth respects and understands music and realizes that, if so much of the show’s comedy hinges on the music, it must be done well.
To this end, Seth ensures that the show’s musicians have ample resources at their disposal. The music budget is proportionally large compared to the rest of the show. Family Guy has its own large orchestra for each episode. The 35-40-piece ensemble has grown to an impressive 40-60 musicians, depending on what is required for a particular episode. Such a large orchestra allows for a full, distinctive sound.
Composers in the house
In addition to the large orchestra, Family Guy has two composers on hand: Walter Murphey and Ron Jones. Both composers have their own unique styles and each lends his talents to different episodes.
Seth allows his composers a lot of freedom, and they often have two weeks to put the music together. This is a luxury, as most TV shows only allot two or three days for the music.
Awards for music
Musical amenities as mentioned above are uncommon in other modern television series.
As music has become a less important component of television, Family Guy stands out.
It is no wonder that the show has won several music awards: it was nominated for a Grammy in 2012 for the song “Christmastime is Killing Us” (S9/E7) and won an Emmy in 2002 for the song “You’ve Got a Lot to See” (S3/E17).
Family Guy draws from a huge variety of styles and artists. The show uses all kinds of musical inspirations—from big band, to pop, to classical styles—to make the viewers laugh.
Music is a vehicle for many of the most important comedic elements of the show, including its extremely irreverent humor, over-the-top musical numbers, and its extensive use of parody.
Below we’ll take a look at six memorable songs or episodes that exemplify the diverse and meaningful use of musical parody in Family Guy.
“You Have AIDS”: Barbershop Quartet
Family Guy is known for its crude humor.
Because the show is animated and often uses music as a means to deliver its twisted sense of humor, the writers are able to get away with jokes that would otherwise not be funny or allowed to air on television.
From songs like “Down’s Syndrome Girl” (S8/E12), to “Prom Night Dumpster Baby” (S5/E12), the writers of Family Guy strive for shock value and deliver it in droves.
One particularly twisted song is “You Have AIDS” (S4/E5).
When Dr. Hartman asks Peter to tell a patient that he has AIDS, Peter replies that he is great at giving bad news. In Peter’s typical insensitive fashion, he delivers the news in one of the worst ways imaginable: through an upbeat barbershop quartet.
As the patient lies despondently in his hospital bed, the absurd lyrics fly in the face of his tragic situation, and it is this disturbing juxtaposition that makes the joke funny.
The song captures the essence of a barbershop quartet with its vocal style, harmonies, and matching costumes. Through this irreverent yet well-composed song, Family Guy succeeds in creating a catchy, memorable musical number that both shocks the viewer and lightens up an incredibly sensitive topic.
“SHIPOOPI”: THE MUSIC MAN
Another popular musical trait of Family Guy is its fully orchestrated and choreographed large-scale works.
Like the theme song, these pieces capture the viewer’s attention with some truly impressive music. Songs such as “All I Really Want for Christmas” (S9/E7) and “This House is Freakin’ Sweet!” (S2/E1) employ the full scale of Family Guy’s musical resources.
A particularly memorable musical spectacle is Peter’s rendition of “Shipoopi,” from The Music Man, a 1957 musical composed by Meredith Wilson.
In the episode “Patriot Games” (S4/E20), Peter finds himself on the New England Patriots team. When his teammates tell him not to showboat, Peter does the exact opposite, and on a grand scale.
Peter performs a full-length rendition of “Shipoopi” as a ridiculously elaborate post-touchdown celebration. The song is fully choreographed and makes use of the show’s entire orchestra. Peter’s musical fireworks get the entire stadium involved, and the spectacle grows increasingly larger.
This over-the-top musical number is a hilarious and absurd example of showboating that is not easily forgotten, and the catchy melody can leave the viewer humming for days.
“Shipoopi” is just one example of the numerous musical parodies found in Family Guy. Parody is another staple of the show’s humor, and the songs can stand on their own as jokes that reference all sorts of styles, genres, and artists.
As with Family Guy’s theme song, Seth Macfarlane had to convince FOX to let him include “Shipoopi” in the episode. Again, the network was concerned that the song wouldn’t hold the audience’s attention, and again, they were wrong.
The day after the episode aired, “Shipoopi” was one of the most popular Internet searches. The show’s ability to interest an unlikely audience of teenage boys in traditional musical theater attests to Family Guy’s musical genius.
“I Need a Jew”: Disney’s “When You Wish Upon a Star”
The song “I Need a Jew,” from the episode “When You Wish Upon a Weinstein” (S3/E22), parodies Disney’s “When You Wish Upon a Star.” As Peter stares out the window, he longs for someone to magically appear and help him with his financial troubles.
“It’s a Wonderful Day for Pie”: “Snow White”
“It’s a Wonderful Day for Pie” is another Disney parody, complete with Disney-style animation.
In the episode “Road to the Multiverse” (S8/E1), the Griffin family traverses through different dimensions, coming to rest for a while in a world that seems to be right out of “Snow White.”
In a small cottage, the Griffins sing a mundane little song about pie. Other characters from the show, animated as animals, witches, and household appliances, chime in. The writers throw in a joke about anti-Semitism, and then the Griffins are off again to explore other crazy but recognizable dimensions in space.
“Take On Me”: 1980s music video
Moving away from Disney and into more bizarre dimensions, Chris Griffin is grocery shopping with his family in the episode “Breaking Out is Hard to Do” (S4/E9), when he is suddenly sucked into the animated music video of the 1980s song “Take on me,” by the Norwegian band “a-ha.”
This scene is funny not only because Chris is randomly sucked into a portal in the dairy section of the grocery store, but also because the song is a quintessential example of a notoriously outdated 1980s music video. When Chris is spewed back into real life, he is understandably confused and afraid.
“Into Harmony’s Way”: A duo á la Simon and Garfunkel
The episode “Into Harmony’s Way” (S12/E7) is almost entirely based on musical parody.
When Peter and his friend Quagmire discover that they have a knack for making music together, they decide to take their show on the road in search of fame and glory. The musical duo outwardly resembles the folksy style of Simon and Garfunkel, though the lyrics and quality of the music say otherwise.
Peter and Quagmire break into the spotlight with songs such as “Have you Ever put Butter on a Pop-Tart?” “Everyone from Florida is Stupid,” “Train on the Water, Boat on a Track,” and “I Can’t Poop in Strange Places.”
The duo makes it to the top with these musical gems, but when success and fame get to them, Peter and Quagmire disband. They eventually end up “Homeward Bound” and return to their old lives.
Though the show draws upon many different musical traditions and styles, Family Guy uses music in a truly unique way. The show exposes viewers to a wide variety of musical styles that they might not otherwise hear. Whether it is a song with absurdly irreverent lyrics, an over-the-top musical spectacle, or an outrageous musical parody, there is plenty of music for all to enjoy.
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