The 15 Coolest (and Weirdest) Musician Cameos on TV Shows - Rolling Stone
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The 15 Coolest (and Weirdest) Musician Cameos on TV Shows

From the concert stage to the small screen: Here are the best and most bizarre musical guest appearances on television

the ramones the simpsons Musician Cameos On TV Shows

The Ramones appeared on an episode of 'The Simpsons.'

Everett Collection

“Every actor wants to be a musician,” Lance Bass once said, “and every musician wants to be an actor.” While the former ‘N Sync member won’t be dropping by the Parks and Recreation season finale on April 24th, plenty of other musicians will: The episode, which revolves around a benefit concert held in Pawnee, will feature cameos by the Decemberists, Ginuwine, Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, Yo La Tengo (playing a Night Ranger cover band), and Ben Wyatt’s favorite Nineties alt-rockers Letters to Cleo. (Oh, and First Lady Michelle Obama will be making an appearance as well, because why not?)

Rock stars, singer-songwriters and R&B crooners making guest appearances on their favorite sitcoms and teen dramas, however, is nothing new; it’s been a semi-regular occurence since the Seventies. (Remember Rerun bootlegging a Doobie Brothers concert on What’s Happening?) So as we gear up for Parks and Recreation‘s virtual Coachella, here’s a quick look back at some of TV’s best — and most improbable — musician cameos. By Amy Plitt

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Devo on ‘Square Pegs’ (1982)

New Wave music permeated this series about two dorky teen girls, played by Sarah Jessica Parker and Amy Linker. (Its theme song: The Waitresses' "I Know What Boys Like.") So when the producers needed a band to play Muffy's bar mitzvah, it's no surprise that they called on consummate postpunk weirdos Devo to fill the spot. The band played "That's Good" from its 1982 album Oh, No! It's Devo!, clad in its spud-uniform of the day: all-black outfits accented with a white plastic collar. You can pick out the hardcore "Devo-tees" from the audience by their red Energy Dome hats, made famous thanks to the band's Freedom of Choice album cover and video for "Whip It."

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Stevie Wonder on ‘The Cosby Show’ (1986)

Producers typically have to invent some kind of reason for a musician to wind up in a sitcom setting — if they have to stretch the limits of plausibility to make a cameo work, so be it. This is one of those cases: Theo (Malcolm-Jamal Warner) and Denise (Lisa Bonet) get into a minor car accident with Stevie Wonder, who offers the Cosby family a chance to visit his studio as appeasement. (Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson has gone on record saying this episode was a pivotal moment for the evolution of hip-hop, due to the fact that Wonder demonstrates how to use this new techno-gizmo called a "sampler.") The visit culminates in a group sing-along of Wonder's hit single "I Just Called To Say I Love You." 

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The Ramones on ‘The Simpsons’ (1993)

The mighty Queens quartet was not the first band to appear and perform on the hit animated show — both Aerosmith and the Red Hot Chili Peppers kicked out the jams during the show's first four seasons — but this  cameo from the Ramones remains a personal favorite. The punk icons are hired to play Mr. Burns' birthday bash meant in an effort to cheer up the town's resident ancient curmudgeon. They then kick off the gig by yelling "Up yours, Springfield" and bash out "Happy Birthday," prefacing it with snotty asides about how much the gig stinks. "Have the Rolling Stones killed," sneers a displeased Mr. Burns.

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Boyz II Men on ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’ (1993)

Both the chart-topping R&B band and Fresh Prince star Will Smith were hitting their stride in the mid-Nineties, and both hail from the City of Brotherly Love. Their Philly connection is played up in this episode, in which Will tries to get the band to play his cousin Nicky's christening on Christmas Eve. Despite an initial setback — Will finds out that he stole Nathan Morris's girlfriend back in West Philly, and slams the band in the process (whoops!) — the Boyz eventually show up at the baptism to sing "Silent Night." 

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The Flaming Lips on ‘Beverly Hills 90210’ (1995)

It doesn't seem that odd for Wayne Coyne and co. to show up and play on, say, the perpetually head-trippy kids' program Yo Gabba Gabba! But it still seems mind-bendingly bizarre to watch the Oklahoma band performing "She Don't Use Jelly" at the Peach Pit After Dark for the denizens of 90210, who treated the Lips like a cross between a circus act and a car wreck. Still, after the gig, Steve Sanders (Ian Ziering) exclaims, "I've never been a big fan of alternative music, but these guys rocked the house!" (Seriously, who says rocked the house.)

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Luscious Jackson on ‘Clueless’ (1997)

Cher Horowitz doesn't exactly telegraph alt-rock geekiness (especially after calling Radiohead "crybaby music"), though the 1995 film's soundtrack was filled with mid-Nineties gems from Cracker, Supergrass and Luscious Jackson. Once Clueless became a TV show, the latter group started getting name-dropped a bunch — Cher even has their poster hung in her locker, the ultimate sign of devotion for a teenage music fan — and they returned the favor by showing up and performing its Buzz Bin hit "Naked Eye" at a concert. (The performance starts at the 9:42 mark.)

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Bob Dylan on ‘Dharma and Greg’ (1999)

When the legendary folk-rocker guest-starred on this ABC sitcom, the show's producers played up the mystery of his appearance, not announcing it ahead of time and obscuring his face in promos. The reason he's there is flimsy at best — after playing in a teen's garage outfit, Dharma (Jenna Elfman) auditions for a gig with Dylan's band — but no matter. Bob seems to be having a good time, leading the group (which includes longtime collaborator T-Bone Burnett) through a polka and a bluesy tune, and riffing a little with a clearly star-struck Elfman. 

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Grant Lee Phillips on ‘Gilmore Girls’ (2001–2007)

Quirky characters abound in Stars Hollow, Connecticut, including a self-appointed town troubadour played by the former Grant Lee Buffalo singer. It was never quite clear if Phillips was meant to be portraying himself or a random drifter-musician type, although he did perform a few Grant Lee Buffalo songs in character. Either way, his folksy singer could be counted on to inject some levity — or keen insight — into the surroundings. (His troubadour battle with Freaks and Geeks character actor Dave Allen is also pretty priceless — that's at the 1:36 mark.)

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Death Cab for Cutie on ‘The O.C.’ (2005)

If it weren't for Seth Cohen, legions of mopey kids in the mid-Aughts may never have heard of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, the term emo, or indie-rock bands like Bright Eyes, the Shins and Death Cab for Cutie. The latter group was famously Cohen's favorite, and appeared as themselves in the show's second season, performing a few songs at the Bait Shop. Tragically, Cohen missed their set because he was busy at a meeting about his comic-book series. (Because of course he has a comic-book series.)

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Sleater-Kinney on ‘The L Word’ (2006)

Six months before the late, great post-riot-grrrl band called it quits, Sleater-Kinney graced Showtime's lesbian drama (their introduction: "These sisters are bad to the bone!"), though their performance is mostly peripheral to the main plot. (To wit: Tennis star Dana finds out that — spoiler alert!—her cancer diagnosis is far more serious than she thought.) But the band delivers a blistering version of "Jumpers," the intensity of which matches the moment of the show's other characters discovering the severity of their friend's health issues. 

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David Bowie on ‘Extras’ (2000)

Celebrity encounters were a staple of this short-lived Ricky Gervais series, with Kate Winslet and Patrick Stewart among the famous folks who played bizarro-world versions of themselves. Bowie's cameo was particularly brilliant: Gervais's character, Andy Millman, is depressed about selling out on a crappy sitcom, and unloads onto the legendary musician at a VIP club. The Thin White Duke uses that as an opportunity to improvise a song about Millman, getting the whole bar singing along with brutal lines like "pathetic little fat man" and "he's banal and facile, he's a fat waste of space." Ouch.

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Sonic Youth on ‘Gossip Girl’ (2009)

After helping indie-rockers reach the mainstream on The O.C. (see Death Cab for Cutie), Josh Schwartz peppered his new bratty-rich-kids series with cameos from alt-rockers like Lisa Loeb, No Doubt, and Sonic Youth. That last one was a mutual-admiration thing: At the time, Thurston Moore told Rolling Stone that he and Kim Gordon were "fanatical" about the show. They showed up for the wedding of socialite Lily van der Woodsen and ex-frontman for the generically named band Lincoln Hawk, Rufus Humphrey, with Gordon officiating. They then kick into a slow-burning take on "Star Power" from EVOL.

Aimee Mann and Sarah McLachlan on ‘Portlandia’ (2011)

Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen’s hipster-skewering series is filled with musician cameos (St. Vincent as herself; Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme as Brownstein’s gay brother), but Aimee Mann appearance in the show’s first season remains one of the funniest guest spots. The duo hires the “Save Me” singer-songwriter to clean their house, but spend the entire time finding ways to annoy her, including requesting she play a show once she finishes for the day. When Brownstein and Armisen smash a piñata of MacLachlan, however — the Lilith Fair stalwart just so happens to be their gardener — Mann storms out. 

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Prince on ‘New Girl’ (2014)

Considering how reclusive His Purple Majesty is, his appearance on a post-Super Bowl episode of this Fox show seemed completely out of left field. Zooey Deschanel and the gang somehow end up at a party at Prince's Los Angeles mansion (sadly, not Paisley Park), with Deschanel crooning "FALLINLOVE2NITE" alongside the legendary singer. Bonus: We get to see Prince cut loose a little, playing Ping-Pong, offering Jess relationship advice while serving her pancakes, and giving her a makeover — all in purple, of course. 

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Sigur Ros on ‘Game of Thrones’ (2014)

Nothing good can happen if you hear "The Rains of Castamere" during an episode of Game of Thrones — not even if the song, dedicated to the cruel, powerful House Lannister, is performed by Icelandic indie-rockers Sigur Ros. The band's cameo as minstrels in Season Four's "The Lion and the Rose" precedes the brutal (and kind of awesome) poisoning of a major character — and at his own wedding, no less. The trio's spare cover perfectly encapsulates the tense mood at the doomed nuptial celebration.

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