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How Danny Elfman Created The Simpsons' Iconic Theme Song In The Most Inconvenient Place

When it comes to the world of film music, you'd be hard-pressed to find a name quite as revered as Danny Elfman. The composer and former frontman of new wave wonder Oingo Boingo has, after all, earned credit on well north of 100 film projects throughout his career. He's also worked with some of the biggest filmmakers in the game, including Sam Raimi ("Spider-Man"), Gus Van Sant ("Good Will Hunting"), David O. Russel ("Silver Linings Playbook"), Brian De Palma ("Mission: Impossible"), Peter Jackson ("The Frighteners"), Noah Baumbach ("White Noise"), and Tim Burton, who's been Elfman's most frequent collaborator over the years. 

So prominent has the music of Danny Elfman become in the world of cinema, it's almost easy to forget the four-time Oscar nominee also penned one of the most iconic theme songs in television history. We're speaking of the intro music to the smash hit animated series "The Simpsons," which continues to reign as the longest-running scripted program of all time (per Entertainment Weekly). Once you hear the how's and where's of Elfman writing the series' iconic theme, you'll have a new understanding of just how profoundly talented he really is.

Elfman wrote The Simpsons theme in his own car

It's worth noting that Danny Elfman was relatively early in his career as a composer when he got the call to write music for "The Simpsons," though he'd made a bit of a name for himself working on films like "Pee-Wee's Big Adventure," "Midnight Run," and "Scrooged." As Elfman told Noise11 in a 2021 interview, he didn't think much would come of his work when he first met with "Simpsons" mastermind Matt Groening, offering, "I said 'no-one is going to see this thing. It's just for fun.'" 

Elfman still pitched his retro concept for the theme song to Groening, who promptly gave it a thumbs up. He apparently wasted little time getting started on the piece, and even less time finishing it up, stating, "I wrote it in the car on the way home from that meeting. By the time I got home, it was done." Assuming the meeting happened in Los Angeles, that trip home might've taken a while traffic-wise, but that's still an astonishing feat. Elfman goes on to claim he set about recording the beloved theme song on an old 4-track tape player when he got home and sent Groening the demo soon after. "The next day I sent Matt the demo and he called me back and he just said 'Yeah'.That's it," Elfman adds, noting, "I have never done anything that went that easy."

All in, "The Simpsons" theme song clocks in at just under a minute-and-a-half (though there's an extended version that goes 1 minute and 37 seconds). It may well be the most singularly identifiable piece of music that's ever hit television airwaves, and it all came together in the space of a car ride home.