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March 05, 2015

This Joint Is Jumpin!

At Bob's Burgers, original songs are a signature of the animated hit.

Christy Grosz

It all started with a thrift-store ukulele.

Bob's Burgers creator-executive producer Loren Bouchard was looking for the perfect theme song for his animated Fox series, so he began noodling around with the diminutive instrument.

"It's so playable, so friendly, especially for people who always wanted to play guitar but never could quite wrap their hands or their head around it," Bouchard explains. "I took to it really quickly."

While Bouchard's short-and-sweet melody doesn't have any accompanying lyrics, his quirky Belcher family often finds time to belt out a verse or two while running the neighborhood burger joint, and music has become a signature part of the series.

It could be teenage daughter Tina (voiced by Dan Mintz) singing the ridiculously catchy ode to delinquency, "Bad Girls," or mother Linda (John Roberts) warbling the now classic "Thanksgiving Song."

The fifth-season opener, "Work Hard or Die Trying, Girl," merged movie-musical versions of Working Girl and Die Hard.

"It's a guilty pleasure," Bouchard says. "Putting music in is an excuse to keep going back to this thing that I love. There's a long history of music and animation going together, this incredible chocolate-and-peanut-butter quality, so we're just piggybacking on that, in a way."

Musical ideas can come from the writers' room or the performers themselves.

"Thanksgiving Song," for example, was improvised by Roberts.

"We'll take them any way they come," Bouchard says. "Sometimes we craft the music at the same time we're writing the script. Other times we are throwing in a piece of music the night before we deliver the show to Fox for air that week. The lyrics that we work on earlier are better. If we're doing something in post, usually we'll just repeat a silly word over and over again."

Yet for every "Butt Song" — in which just that word is repeated during a Fantasia-like sequence — many of the numbers that stand out from the past five seasons have surprising depth.

Last season's "Electric Love" set to music the story of Thomas Edison and the execution of Topsy the elephant, which was staged to demonstrate the dangers of alternating current. Not exactly the stuff of ballads, but it is precisely in the Bob's Burgers wheelhouse. Bouchard also has two teams of composers on staff who score alternate episodes.

"They have a hard job. I have an easy one. I get to pick and choose which songs I write — they've got to carry the rest of the weight," he says of L.A.- based composer John Keats and the New York team of Chris Maxwell and Phil Hernandez, who often write 20 or 30 music cues each week,

The show's homey imperfections and off-the-wall lyrics have garnered the attention of notable musical acts, such as The National and St. Vincent, who have recorded their own versions of songs. And a CD release is anticipated.

"I'm proceeding as if it's going to come out any minute," Bouchard says, "We're prepping the tracks."

Meanwhile, the tunes will play on at Bob's Burgers.

"Music can send a couple of volts of electricity through the system and remind you that the feeling you're feeling, that's what we want you to feel," Bouchard concludes. "It's almost a cheap trick, but we enjoy doing it, cheap or not."

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