30 Rock, the critically acclaimed but famously ratings-challenged NBC comedy, gave us quite a lot in the seven years it was on the air. The jokes came so fast that you needed TiVo or the DVDs to catch ‘em all, and the show gifted the world with countless iconic quotes, catchphrases, made-up words and extremely detailed fictional media.
Stellar writing aside, creator Tina Fey assembled one of the most versatile television casts of all time — which meant even the least significant characters and one-off celebrity guest stars had their moments. Within that cornucopia of comedy gold, most of the cast got to be part of a hilarious musical moment, ranging from EGOT-hopeful Tracy Jordan’s novelty song “Werewolf Bar Mitzvah” to the dance pop classic “Muffin Top” by the attention-seeking (and often-singing) Jenna Maroney.
Fey’s husband Jeff Richmond served as the show’s composer, and thus he is the genius behind most of these gems, while co-showrunner Robert Carlock and writers like Donald Glover and Tami Sagher also had a hand in many of the most enduring songs (see: “Werewolf Bar Mitzvah”). Some of these tunes appear on the 30 Rock Original Television Soundtrack released in 2010 (though it only covers the first four seasons, blerg), while others only live on the Interweb.
When Liz, Jack, Jenna, Tracy, Kenneth and the rest of the gang return to our screens during the 30 Rock special on Thursday (July 16) for the first time since 2013, we won’t be mad if there’s a brand new musical moment — besides the show’s timeless, jazzy instrumental theme song, that is — but just in case there isn’t, it’s as perfect a time as any to revisit the masterworks.
Listen up, Fives, and behold the best musical moments from 30 Rock, ranked from
worst best to most best.
8. “That’s Her,” S1 E1: “Pilot”
The peppy “That’s Her” — the very first song heard on 30 Rock — plays over a scene of Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) buying all the hotdogs and distributing them to the good people of New York City. It also doubles as the theme for “Pam,” a sketch from the in-universe The Girlie Show whose “overly-confident, morbidly obese” subject is portrayed by Jenna Maroney (Jane Krakowski). It’s also Liz Lemon’s leitmotif throughout the series.
7. “Chunk Of My Lung,” S3 E7: “Señor Macho Solo”
Jenna Maroney’s ill-fated role in a Janis Joplin biopic provided comedy fodder for multiple episodes. One of the best moments to come from the ordeal is the parody of “Piece Of My Heart,” which Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) had to write himself because SheinhardtUniversal wanted to avoid purchasing Joplin’s life (and music) rights: “I’d like you to come on, Come on, come on/And take it! Break another little chunk of my lung now mister!” (Side note: the final title of the not-Janis-Joplin biopic was Sing Dem Blues, White Girl: The Jackie Jormp-Jomp Story. Beautiful.)
6. “Tennis Night,” S4 E1, “Season 4”
“Tennis Night” is one of many times 30 Rock made fun of its IRL parent company NBC, in this case allowing Krakowski to show off her vocal chops in the form of an NBC Sunday Night Football-type theme. It all starts when Jenna Maroney suggests that she can “go country” in order to boost TGS with Tracy Jordan‘s ratings. Cut to a pitch-perfect parody of Faith Hill’s SNF theme, as Jenna wears a cowboy hat and sings into a gas pump (?) for a promotion of NBC Sport’s Tennis Night. Yee-haw!
5. “The Rural Juror” song, S7 E13, “Last Lunch”
Jenna Maroney’s last song doubles as the emotional finale of 30 Rock and of the show-within-a-show. It’s a callback to one of 30 Rock’s funniest fake-media jokes, a movie called The Rural Juror based on the Kevin Grisham novel (John’s brother). Jenna plays Constance Justice in the film, the title of which no one on the TGS staff can pronounce. “These were the best days of my flerm,” Jenna sings on the equally nonsensical song. It’s the end of an era, and it’s hard not to laugh and cry at the same time.
4. “Midnight Train to Georgia,” S2 E10: “Episode 210”
Beloved page Kenneth Parcell (Jack McBrayer)’s turn in the musical spotlight comes during the second season, when he gets addicted to caffeine, despite his initial belief that coffee is “the devil’s temperature,” and decides to return to his native Georgia because New York has changed him too much. What better to soundtrack his dilemma than Gladys Knight & the Pips’ No. 1 hit “Midnight Train to Georgia”?
In the span of a few minutes, Kenneth leaves to catch the train, but misses it, because it actually left at 11:45 (“Misinformed about the time/ Didn’t even get to stand in line”). With Grizz and Dotcom as the Pips, the cast performs an epic and somewhat random number that proves 30 Rock could have easily pulled off an entire musical episode, should they have wished to do so. As a bonus, Knight makes an appearance at the end and doesn’t sing a note. After all, she was just “trying to take a nap!”
3. “He Needs A Kidney,” S3 E22: “Kidney Now!”
Adam Levine, Sara Bareilles, the Beastie Boys, Sheryl Crow, Elvis Costello, Michael McDonald, Mary J. Blige, Clay Aiken, Steve Earle, Wyclef Jean, Norah Jones, Talib Kweli, Cyndi Lauper and Moby came together for one the most underrated television moments ever: “He Needs A Kidney,” the best super-chorus charity single to have been recorded since 1985’s “We Are the World.”
When Jack’s newly discovered father Milton Greene (Alan Alda) needs a kidney and Jack isn’t a compatible donor, he uses his contacts to stage a ridiculous, star-studded benefit called Kidney Now, and the celebs sing some very Milton Greene-specific lyrics. There’s even some rapping. It is MUCH better than that “Imagine” video.
The musical performance video was eventually made available for digital download on iTunes, with all the proceeds from the sales going to the National Kidney Foundation. Doesn’t that just warm the heart?
2. “Muffin Top,” S1 E5: “Jack-Tor”
Another recurring joke on the show is Jenna Maroney’s infamous “dance pop/techno hybrid” song, which went No. 1 in Israel. Memorable lyrics: “I’m an independent lady. So do not try to play me. I run a tidy bakery. The boys all want my cake for free, But if you can’t shake your fakery, then kiss my muffin toooop.”
When Jenna performs the song on TGS, there’s a brief cameo from Ghostface Killah, who raps a few lines before shouting “Peace to the Middle East!” Shoulda been a No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, if you ask us.
1. “Werewolf Bar Mitzvah,” S2 E2: “Jack Gets in the Game”
The top spot on this list is a no-brainer: Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan)’s Halloween/Bar Mitzvah anthem, which features the ageless chorus “Werewolf Bar Mitzvah, spooky scary/ Boys becoming men, men becoming wolves.” Only eight seconds of the song was in the actual episode as a cutaway joke, but of course the 30 Rock crew wrote and recorded a full version that thankfully lives online.
Most of the vocals in the extended version are of then-30 Rock writer Donald Glover impersonating Tracy Morgan, who was not available to record that day. “If only I knew that I would be producing Childish Gambino,” co-showrunner Robert Carlock has said. It is gold from start to finish; check out both versions above.