Late autumn, when periodicals start hitting up music critics for year-end Top Ten lists, fills me with dread. I see no point in handing out

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The album of the year

Late autumn, when periodicals start hitting up music critics for year-end Top Ten lists, fills me with dread. I see no point in handing out such accolades unless the proceedings entail an awards ceremony choreographed by Debbie Allen, Paula Abdul, or Toni Basil, but I am in the minority. A legion of lonely men and women who share dimly lit apartments with just their cats and overflowing CD collections live for this annual shot, when they are not only permitted, but encouraged, to wax prosaic about that Japanese-import Sun Ra box set. Meanwhile, I'm scrambling to excavate the masterpiece by Beck or Sleater-Kinney or Lauryn Hill that'll surely top everyone else's list, realizing too late I sold my copy for beer money.

The pressure feels unbearable. Will colleagues snort derisively at my highly subjective responses? Will furious readers storm my apartment brandishing torches after buying an "essential" disc they despise? The surest way to send me stumbling to the bar for another ounce of barrel-aged courage (aside from handing me drink tickets) is simply to inquire, "What's your Album of the Year?"

But not in 1999. My uncontested appointee to that top slot hit store shelves on November 2nd. Ladies and gentlemen, please put your hands together for . . . Go Simpsonic with The Simpsons: More Original Music from the Television Series (Rhino Records).

If there's one thing I adore on Q13-Fox even more than meteorologist Jim Castillo, it's the fact they broadcast The Simpsons twice daily. My pals know better than to phone between 5:00 and 5:30 or 7:30 and 8:00, lest they incur my wrath for distracting me even momentarily. They're welcome to call during the two-hour block in between; Third Rock from the Sun bores me, and even my crush on goofy David Schwimmer can't carry me though most episodes of Friends (except the Ross-in-leather-pants one). But The Simpsons is sacred. (And I know I'm not alone in this sentiment, because when I attributed a quote from the show incorrectly this summer, several Weekly readers registered their displeasure.)

Thanks to series composer Alf Clausen, The Simpsons has integrated music into a television show better than any other program since the Golden Age of the variety hour (tellingly, Clausen's first break came as music director and conductor on the original Donny & Marie Show) for 10 seasons running. Can you name a plume in the cap of a performer finer than a Simpsons cameo? Although this disc lacks Yo La Tengo's psychedelic rendition of the main title theme, other luminaries abound: The Ramones, Linda Ronstadt, Jackie Mason, Kelsey Grammer, Tito Puente, and Tim Conway. Even the irritating Sonic Youth take on a golden glow in this rarefied setting.

Ultimately, the show's original creations prove most endearing to me. Homer, Marge, Maggie, Bart, and Lisa never fail to recall my own family . . . and not just because our respective matriarchs boast grating voices and artificially colored coiffures. The Simpson clan, and in fact all of Springfield, treasures satire and Broadway musicals, two musical traditions essential to my own upbringing.

Like its 1997 predecessor—Songs in the Key of Springfield—which featured such gems as the Schoolhouse Rock pastiche "The Amendment Song," Go Simpsonic finds Clausen skewering countless genres: James Bond songs ("Scorpio"), TV show themes ("The Love-Matic Grampa," "Chief Wiggum, P.I."), even political campaign commercials ("Quimby for Mayor"). Much as I revile sport utility vehicles, I grin whenever I see one now and the jingle for "Canyonero" ("the country-fried truck endorsed by a clown") runs through my noggin.

Then there are tuneful production numbers that capture everything uplifting about the Great White Way, with none of the smugness or ham-fisted jokiness bloating current monstrosities like The Scarlet Pimpernel. As many times as I've watched the episodes "Bart After Dark" and "Trash of the Titans," I'll always stick around to hear the bawdy "We Put the Spring in Springfield" and "The Garbageman." "Underwater Wonderland," a blatant jibe at The Little Mermaid, only points up the paucity of memorable melodies in today's Disney dreck. And if anybody's seeking backers for a full-length stage version of Kickin' It: A Musical Journey Through the Betty Ford Center, source of my all-time fave "You're Checkin' In," this checkbook is at the ready.

I'd like to thank Alf Clausen, Rhino Records, and everyone at The Simpsons for sparing me hours of hand-wringing and delivering my Album of the Year just in time. From here, filling up the rest of my Top Ten list with also-rans at the last minute is a downhill ride. It's like governess Shary Bobbins sings in "Cut Every Corner": "If there's a task that must be done/Don't turn your tail and run/Don't pout, don't sob/Just do a half-assed job."

 
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