Kieran Moore – Having reached the halfway point in my Muppet Show anniversary charts and the massive milestone of 100 lists, I thought it might be fun to take a break and go “old school” for a little while. So we’re putting aside the yearly charts for now and going back to looking at individual characters again. For those keeping score this will be the 3rd wave of my character-based charts.
To kick this new series off I really wanted to feature a character that everyone knows and loves, so who better than our old pal Ernie? He’s been educating and entertaining the world’s children since the very first episode of Sesame Street and his appeal has never waned. So take that banana out of your ear, pick up your rubber duckie and let’s get on with it!
10 – Up Goes the Castle – Every Body’s Record
This is such a fun song! I do hope you’re lying on the floor helping Ernie with his story as it plays. For me this song’s biggest charm is its simplicity. It’s a sweet, gentle piece with a lilting folksy feel. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I really, really enjoy and appreciate Muppet performances that are audio only. I think they’re the purest form of Muppet singing as you can really hear the character in the vocals. This is especially true here for Ernie with Jim Henson putting in a wonderfully understated performance that rings out loud and clear. Every Body’s Record is a neat collection of songs that features some absolute classics, but I feel this is an underappreciated gem. I bet the flute player felt a little dizzy with excitement when he or she first received the sheet music for this!
9 – Don’t Throw That Trash on the Ground – Sesame Street
Could this song be more 1980’s? It sounds like the love child of every TV theme of the decade with its saxophone line. I’m sure there’s some “The Equalizer” in there and it’s almost certainly about 6 parts “Cagney & Lacey”! One of the main reasons I’ve included this song is because it’s significant as the last time Jim performed as Ernie. In some ways I’m a little disappointed that it wasn’t a song with more weight behind it. Ernie can be surprisingly cerebral when he wants and this is literally a throw away piece about litter. I suppose in some ways though it’s nice that this scene is just another day at the Sesame office. The character of Ernie has lived on for just as long without Jim than he did with him so perhaps the fact that Jim’s last song didn’t feel like a full stop is exactly how it should be.
8 – Upside Down World – Sesame Street Presents: Follow That Bird
I love the movie “Follow That Bird”, but as a kid (and even as an adult) one of my biggest problems with it is that Ernie goofing about caused Big Bird to be found and helped later than he should have been. That never sat right with me and has always left a slightly sour taste in my mouth. Ernie is often frustrating, particularly for Bert, but he would never want to cause harm to anyone. Anyway, I’m sure I’m over thinking it. I love this song; I just wish it wasn’t framed in the way it is storywise! I enjoy the fast waltz time signature which gives this piece its carnival feel. It suits the lyrics brilliantly. I’m picturing ferris wheels and balloons and a big top with clowns… On a different note: Bert is so much fun when he lets rip, isn’t he?
7 – Dance Myself to Sleep – Sesame Street
As with my chart all about Bert from last year I’ve tried to give preference on this list to songs that are really all about Ernie rather than the pair of them. I feel it is only fair and gives me some scope for a future list. It is however inevitable that their relationship is going to be a major part of any article about either. This is one of the best examples of Ernie’s ability to prevent Bert from getting a decent night’s sleep I know. It’s a wonder Bert isn’t walking around like a zombie due to the effects of long-term sleep depravation. Poor guy! Surely by now he’d have bought a sofa bed and let Ernie have the bedroom to himself? Jim Henson and Frank Oz are one of comedy’s greatest partnerships – it’s criminal that they aren’t revered as such.
6 – The Honker-Duckie-Dinger Jamboree – Sesame Street
In a chart that’s jam-packed with classic Sesame Street tracks this is yet another! Ernie makes a great farmer and that persona is the perfect fit for the down-home country stylings of this song. As Ernie announces in the very first line of this piece, this is very silly and that trait is certainly one of his trademarks. I genuinely can’t think of a Sesame Street character that embodies silliness to the same level. I’m sure it’s one of the reasons he’s so popular. Kids can really appreciate that side of him and see themselves reflected back. Ernie is a lot of fun and although he often takes it to extremes, I think we’d all like to be a bit more like him in our daily lives. That’s why I’m holding a Honker-Duckie-Dinger Jamboree right now! Whoever you are, wherever you are – you are absolutely invited. I’ve put you down for bean dip and Jello…
5 – I Wonder – Sesame Street
And now for something completely different… One of the things I love about the characters Jim originated (regardless of who performs them now) is their ability to be serious, thoughtful and sensible and yet break out to be crazy and zany too. It’s there in all of them in different ways and to different levels. Kermit has it, Rowlf has it, Cantus has it, the Swedish Chef has it – and as these last two songs have shown Ernie certainly has it too. I appreciate that aspect of these characters so much. It stops them from being one-note and makes easier to love. It also makes songs like this much more powerful as the switch in mood is given more gravitas and grounding. This song was nominated and robbed of (in my opinion) a Daytime Emmy. Steve Whitmire is a performer who is incredibly soulful and we can see that here in abundance.
4 – Do De Rubber Duck – Sesame Street
This is such an awesome song. As we’ve seen from this list Sesame Street isn’t afraid to feature different musical styles – we’ve already had folk, country and 80’s theme tune and now we’re enjoying the Caribbean vibes of Reggae. I can’t help but sway along to this as I listen which I admit makes typing a little tricky! A few things trouble me about this song though. First, I was certain it was older than mid 1980’s. Second, naked Muppets. Third, everyone just popping into Ernie’s bathroom with little regard for privacy and fourth, if Bert and Ernie live in the basement of 123 Sesame Street how does the bathroom have such a big window? Enquiring minds need to know these things. It’s like the “Golden Girls” house where the bedrooms are also in the garage or the upstairs of the Conner’s home in “Roseanne” – one of life’s great mysteries.
3 – Things That I Remember – Sesame Street
This song really sums up Bert and Ernie’s relationship for me. They are truly the very best of friends and have built up almost 50 years of memories together. This piece feels a little bit like the characters saying goodbye. It’s hard not to wonder if back in 1997 with Bert and Ernie’s original performers either no longer around or virtually retired there was some sort of thought to having them only appear in archive footage rather than new sketches. We know this didn’t happen, but if I found out this song was the remnant of such an idea I wouldn’t drop dead from shock. Most of the songs on today’s list are from Ernie’s Jim Henson days so I’d like to give a proper mention to Steve Whitmire and Billy Barkhurst who have kept him a major part of the show over the last few decades. Without either of these guys Sesame Street would seem a little less sunny these days.
2 – Rubber Duckie – Sesame Street
Once again we’re getting full frontal nudity from a Muppet! This is the song most associated with Ernie and is arguably one of the songs most associated with Sesame Street period. It reached number 16 on the Billboard chart (so it’s gone 14 places better here!) and was nominated for a Grammy (losing out to another Sesame Street recording which also featured this song!). It appeared in the very first season of the show and since then has had multiple releases and covers, including a star-studded version that debuted only a month ago. This is a song with staying power! Its nifty ragtime vibe is a style that Sesame Street uses time and time again, but it really lets the fun lyrics of this song shine here. Ernie has a very special relationship with his Duckie and in this song we get to see it at its inception. As I listen to this I can’t help but think back to my favorite childhood toy – the dear departed Sealy. I miss him.
1 – I Don’t Want To Live on the Moon – Sesame Street
Last week I mentioned that not having “Mahna Mahna” as the number one song on one of my charts seemed like an oversight. The fact that this beautiful number has never topped a chart seems like a bigger misdemeanour to me, so I’m glad I’ve been able to finally put it on the pedestal it deserves. If I write a special list for my 150th chart I fully expect this to be ensconced firmly in the top 10. You can quote me on that. I’m going to make a bold statement – I’m fairly certain this is my favorite ever Sesame Street song. Like all the best Muppet music this track speaks to me personally and mirrors exactly how I feel about home and family and the things that I love – I’d wager it does the same for you, which is mind boggling really. How can a song personally resonate with so many different people? I think I know the answer – Jeff Moss and his incredible song writing skills, that’s how. It’s a masterful piece of writing that is matched only by Jim’s beautiful performance. I’m so happy they gave this song to Ernie. As we’ve seen today he can be annoying and antagonizing, but this piece let’s us know that’s ok because he loves Bert and his friends on Sesame Street. They, in return, love him back in spite of his flaws. What an amazing message of love to share with the world.
We’ve seen many sides to Ernie as we’ve gone through this countdown, but I’m really pleased we ended on such a sweet, thoughtful moment. Yes, he’s loud and bombastic, but he’s also sweet and caring and a gentle soul.
I just need to finish by saying thanks to Jim Henson, Steve Whitmire and Billy Barkhurst for their fantastic work, and Frank Oz and Eric Jacobson for being their wingmen as Bert. Also huge thanks have to go to all the songwriters who appeared here – there are too many of you to name individually. Finally, thank you to everyone mentioned here for giving the world such a beacon of joy and hope in Ernie. In the words of the aforementioned Golden Girls – Thank you for being a friend.