The entertainment world lost one of its sharpest, funniest pens when Adam Schlesinger died from coronavirus complication on Wednesday (April 1). Although best known as the bassist/songwriter for Fountains of Wayne, he was also an Oscar-nominated and three-time Emmy-winning songwriter. And like the pitch-perfect, tongue-in-cheek “Stacy’s Mom” his band was best known for, the songs he created for various TV and film projects managed to recreate the studio atmospherics of many a bygone era while simultaneously standing on their own as delectable pop treats. Plus, he did something few are capable of: He wrote original comedic songs that are actually funny and enjoyable to listen to.
As a producer and songwriter, he arguably reached his apex with his contributions to Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Over the course of four seasons working with star and co-creator Rachel Bloom, Schlesinger contributed to a brilliant body of work that pays homage to and skewers everything from Broadway to teen-pop to Hi-NRG while confronting themes usually reserved for primetime drama: antidepressants, self-loathing, fraught parent-child relationships and delusion.
In honor of Schlesinger’s indelible talent, here are just some of the best of the 150+ songs from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend that set a new bar for comedic parody.
“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Theme”
TV theme songs that describe a show’s plot went extinct with scrunchies, which is why this furiously paced 34-second show tune is such a breath of fresh air: It’s goofy, informative, self-aware, nuanced and catchy as hell – not to mention Emmy-nominated.
“You Stupid Bitch”
“You ruined everything you stupid, stupid bitch – you’re just a lying little bitch who ruins things and wants the world to burn.” Words you might hear in any number of songs, but in a heartfelt piano ballad that sounds like it’s coming from a powerhouse diva projecting her voice to an adoring arena? And wait, Rachel Bloom’s Rebecca Bunch isn’t singing this to an ex-lover, but to herself? This is Exhibit A of CEG‘s ability to plumb the uncomfortable depths of obsessive self-loathing while still making you belly laugh. And Schlesinger’s production work – complete with a rush of canned applause at the start, as if the ‘live’ audience knows this smash hit and has been waiting for it – demonstrates his attention to the minute details of recorded music history.
“What’ll It Be (Hey West Covina)”
Following Schlesinger’s passing, CEG co-creator Aline Brosh McKenna shared his Billy Joel-styled demo for a season 1 song sung by future Tony winner Santino Fontana that heartbreakingly captures the emotional weight and embarrassment of feeling like your adult life has little meaning or direction (“Am I doomed to stay here pouring my high school friends beer for the rest of eternity?”). But as always, the mordant humor takes the edge off: “I know this town like the back of my hand, but I’m not such a fan of the back of my hand.”
— Aline Brosh McKenna (@alinebmckenna) April 1, 2020
“I’ve Always Never Believed In You”
While “You Stupid Bitch” is self-hating, “I’ve Always Never Believed In You” tackles a subject even more taboo in the history of American balladry: a mother with less-than-maternal feelings. “Not for a second did I think / you wouldn’t end up dead or in the clink,” Donna Lynne Champlin sings, pouring her heart into letting her child know she only expected failure from him all along. “Some people reach for the stars / Some just reach for the panel in the ceiling where they keep their drugs.”
“Settle for Me”
This jaunty, jazzy joint in season 1 demonstrated the powerful pairing of Schlesinger and Bloom. It’s a pitch-perfect throwback to the Cole Porter era of musical comedy, but with an appropriately deflated 21st century twist: This isn’t true love, but it’s a hell of a lot funnier. “Say yes or no before I choke on all this swallowed pride,” croons Fontana. “I have no problem being picked out from the bottom / If he’s your broken condom, I’m Plan B.”
“The Math of Love Triangles”
An almost too-perfect send-up of the ditzy vocal jazz chanteuse archetype, “The Math of Love Triangles” finds Bloom taking a cue from Marilyn Monroe a la “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” while trading math puns with a chorus of dapper gay men: “I’ll be swinging from a hypote-noose”; “We’re tired of all your tangents”; and “Ooh, are you erect?” “No, 90 degrees” all add up to a song that is equal or greater to the vast majority of parody music.
“Where’s the Bathroom”
The perfect introductory number for Bloom’s character’s mother (played by Tovah Feldshuh), “Where’s the Bathroom” is a tour-de-force testament to a mother’s ability to complain about macro and micro global issues while simultaneously grilling you, guilting you and questioning your life choices.
“Let’s Generalize About Men”
One thing that Schlesinger helped bring to the show was a deeply felt affection for the radio pop of previous decades, and on “Let’s Generalize About Men,” the sheen of a pump-up Hi-NRG jam was deployed for a four-way number dedicated to chronicling the ways men do women wrong while also acknowledging the problems inherent in any broad generalization (the show is many things, but myopic is not one of them). “All men only want to have sex / there are no exceptions all 3 billion men are like this,” the cast intones, their quaffed ’80s hairstyles as on-point as their deadpan delivery.
The soundtrack to CEG‘s Beyonce/Taylor Swift parody, “Love Kernels” is a painfully accurate skewering of our ability to hear exactly what we want to in the midst of crushing on someone who truly doesn’t give a shit: “I know you care when you say ‘I’m going to a movie tonight, my friend bailed, wanna come?’ It means I’m the most important person in his life,” Bloom sings, affecting a lovestruck desperation.
“We’ll Never Have Problems Again”
Bloom and Vincent Rodriguez III duet on this disco-soul send-up of two dopey lovebirds convinced a brief spell of happiness means a lifetime of bliss: “We don’t need gasoline / Our car will run on love / Elon Musk is developing that kind of car / The first test failed but that’s ’cause it wasn’t true love.”
“Anti-Depressants Are So Not A Big Deal”
Following La La Land’s unexpected ubiquity, the ensuing parodies (which were really parodies of homages to Michel Legrand, but that’s beside the point) were endless. But not one of them had the savage brilliance of “Anti-Depressants Are So Not a Big Deal” which not only works to destigmatize prescription meds but pokes a needle in the fantasy that anyone is somehow unique in their mental health struggle. Schlesinger justly won an Emmy for this one.
“Remember That We Suffered”
As Bloom’s character rolls her eyes, guest star Patti LuPone (!!) joined Tovah Feldshuh (also !!) to trade verses on this klezmer-laden ode to exasperation that the younger generation isn’t fixated enough on the Holocaust: “Before you celebrate, remember that we suffered”; “Would it be such a crime for the Beastie Boys or Haim to mention in their songs one time remember that we suffered?”; “when I say ‘we,’ you say ‘suffered!'”
“Who’s the New Guy”
In less than a minute and a half, Schlesinger helps spin a wry group sing-speak tune that forwards the plot while also commenting on the fact that the show introduced a new character to boost ratings: “Do we really need a new guy this far into the season? And by ‘far into the season’ I mean it’s almost fall.”
“First Penis I Saw”
During a show at Manhattan’s 54 Below in 2016, Rachel Bloom and Adam Schlesinger compared the strengths of their respective musical acumen: Bloom is a Broadway acolyte, Schlesinger skewed more toward classic radio fare. But thanks to Mamma Mia!, ABBA was a sweet spot for both, which helps explain the hysterically inappropriate exuberance of their parody of the Swedish pop titans for Donna Lynne Champlin’s ode to adolescent experimentation, “First Penis I Saw”: “Not the dirtiest, also not the cleanest – in terms of penis, I really was the greenest.”
“Trapped In a Car With Someone I Don’t Wanna Be Trapped In a Car With”
The song’s title declares its theme, but the real delight here in the production, which perfectly captures the rollicking glee of Beach Boys circa “Fun Fun Fun” before morphing into a spaced-out interlude that gently mocks the countless California artists who went from extolling the virtues of sun and fun to posturing as psych-rock savants within the space of three years… before inevitable returning to MOR commercial fare.
“Gratuitous Karaoke Moment”
One of the more genius moments of the series’ four seasons, “Gratuitous Karaoke Moment” eviscerates the romcom movie crutch of a karaoke scene that starts out rough but wraps in romantic triumph. Half of the fun is Scott Michael Foster, who can legitimately sing, intentionally warbling off pitch at the start, but the incisive lyrics soar too: “Sadly this film does not improve after this gratuitous karaoke moment / In ten years you’ll realize this scene doesn’t hold up.”
“I Want to be a Child Star”
Just because they’re writing for a kid, don’t expect the CEG music masterminds to pull any punches. Set to a pumping teen-pop anthem, this vicious assessment of the effects of child stardom should act as an effective deterrent for any parent convinced their kid is worth millions, as Luca Padovan cheerily declares, “I want to sue my parents for emancipation… I want to be on the set of The Walking Dead when I lose my virginity” and “I want to be a desperate Hollywood has-been, a classic ‘where are they now?'”