Kieran Moore – According to a famous proverb, every day is a school day. I guess if you live on a particular street in New York that’s certainly true. Whether you’re learning about sharing or waiting your turn or the number three, you’re never far away from an important lesson on Sesame Street.
Since 1969 the show has been an educational opportunity for countless people. Sesame Street was a revolution in children’s television when it was first shown and has since gone on to become a worldwide institution. Its philosophy of repetition and quick cuts (copying TV advertisements) was incredibly clever and made the show an instant hit. Another reason for this success was the show’s wonderful music.
Aside from every day being a school day, I’m personally hoping over the next 10 weeks to learn lots about our favorite educational show. You see, I wasn’t around when Sesame Street began so I admit I have some gaps in my knowledge of its early years. This new series of charts will give me the chance to fill them in. So let’s get learning!
10 – Brotherhood of Man
Co-operation, friendship and interpersonal skills are one of the cornerstones of the lessons Sesame Street teaches, so it seems wholly appropriate to start this series with a song called Brotherhood of Man, however I briefly have something I’d like to talk about first. Sadly missing from today’s list is “Song of Three”, which despite having song in the title I decided was more of a sketch so ineligible for a spot here. It wasn’t an easy decision to make as the piece (and its numerical brothers) is hugely iconic. Who doesn’t picture a baker falling down some steps whenever Sesame Street is mentioned? “Song of Three” officially has “Honorable Mention” status today. Brotherhood of Man may be less recognisable, but is no less fun. This jazzy piece is like a musical festival that just makes me want to dance and clap along. I know Jim Henson is performing as the father here, but does anyone else think he looks suspiciously like Jerry Nelson?
9 – Consider Yourself
This whole sketch is worth watching as it explains the philosophy behind the Anything Muppets that have become such a huge part of Sesame Street. I’d never really considered the difference between Anything Muppets and Whatnots before – figuring the term was pretty interchangeable, but they are in fact two separate groups. Anything Muppets appear on Sesame Street and have distinct shapes such as “Fat Blue”. Whatnots are much more the basic Fraggle style of Muppet and appeared on The Muppet Show. So now we all know. This sketch and song is from the very first episode of Sesame Street and works as a brilliant introduction to the real unsung heroes of the show. It’s bold and bright and sure to raise a smile.
8 – One of These Things
This might seem a little slight against some of the songs on today’s list, but it certainly is “like the others” because it’s also an iconic TV moment. This short song spawned a host of other incarnations. Susan’s trailblazing vocals paved the way for everyone from Oscar the Grouch to Jay Leno to perform their own versions. It almost feels like a rite of passage for a cast member to sing it. Susan is clearly the matriarch of Sesame Street and has been a huge presence on the show since day one. As a trained educator, Dr. Loretta Long has taught children all over the world, both as herself and her Sesame counterpart. You can see as she performs this song that she clearly knows how to connect with kids. This is hands down the best kids’ song to indirectly influence a Foo Fighters track!
7 – ABC-DEF-GHI
I love the slightly different vocal performance Caroll Spinney gave Big Bird in the early days of Sesame Street. It’s slightly less innocent and perhaps a bit dumber instead. I’m glad they changed it, but it does kind of suit this piece as Big Bird makes a classic howler by confusing the alphabet for an actual word. This is the first appearance on today’s chart by one of the main Muppet characters on the show. Big Bird, – along with Bert, Ernie and Oscar the Grouch and a handful of other Muppets really made the show what it is today. Kids latched on to them instantly and Big Bird in particular became the first big Sesame Street star. Nowadays he shares the spotlight with a larger cast, but I’m still not sure Big Bird will ever really be knocked off his perch.
6 – The People in Your Neighborhood
This is another song that has been hugely influential on Sesame Street itself. Performed here brilliantly by Bob McGrath, Jim Henson and Frank Oz; this song set the template for countless other versions over several decades. For many years this song was exclusively the province of Bob and a handful of Anything Muppets, but over time it came to be performed more and more by a larger cast of characters. It also spawned merchandise such as jigsaws and books! When you think of classic Sesame Street songs it’s unlikely this springs to mind, but in terms of impact on the show it really is huge. Teaching kids about the people they are likely to meet (especially in a professional capacity) is easily as important as learning the alphabet or numbers up to 10, but rarely as much fun as this.
5 – I Love Trash
Orange Oscar is one of those fun facts we Muppet fans all know about, but never fails to raise an eyebrow when party conversations turn to outdoing each other with trivia. When the know-it-all in the corner swears it’s an urban myth, you can dig out this clip and literally tell them they’re talking trash. The lilting waltz timing of this song doesn’t necessarily suit the lyrics, but I kind of like that – it somehow seems fitting for a grouch. It’s also made this feel truly timeless. A lot of the music during this era of the show is very of its time period. The Beatles were used on many occasions, with everything from Yellow Submarine to Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds featuring, and musicals from the period regularly popped up too. This song feels a million miles from that. Caroll was hitting it straight out of the park with Oscar and both his vocal and puppetry performances are as good here as they’ll ever be.
4 – Good Morning Starshine
Speaking of songs from 60’s musicals this wonderful number hails from “Hair”. Around the same time as this aired, everyone from The Supremes to The Osmonds were recording or performing their versions so it made sense for Sesame Street to follow suit. It’s a true easy listening classic. The song’s nonsense lyric and instantly recognisable tune made it perfect for Sesame Street. This scene is one that I must admit I wasn’t familiar with previously. Here in the top 5 of this list with so many iconic songs it might seem like it’s punching above its weight, but I was instantly bowled over by this gentle performance and Bob’s soothing voice. We all know Bob McGrath can sing – he’s released countless albums since Sesame Street started and had a successful career as a recording artist before he joined the show, but I’m still in awe of this song. Sesame Street season 1 can be a little loud and rough, but moments like this hint at the soul within.
3 – Sesame Street Theme
It’s easy to forget that season 1 of Sesame Street was where its theme song debuted to a large viewing audience (it previously also appeared in the pilot shows shown only in Philadelphia). It’s also easy to overlook just what a fantastic song it is. I’ve used the words iconic and classic a lot today, but this really would be the epitome of those terms. Even non-Muppet fans (apparently they exist) could name this song after only a few notes. Joe Raposo wrote the music and co-wrote the lyrics with Jon Stone and Bruce Hart. All 3 of them seem to have caught lightning in a bottle. This is an elegantly simple song that works perfectly. The visuals and lyrics invite us into the fantasy world of the show and tell us it’s a trip worth taking. For people of my generation this opening is perhaps less memorable than some of those that followed, but the basic template stood for decades and has only changed relatively recently.
2 – Rubber Duckie
We’re really hitting the big time now. As someone who came late to the show (thanks to international airdates), even I was aware of this song as a kid. It was one of the early breakout hits from the show and as such released several times as a single. It eventually peaked at number 16 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. It was also nominated for a Grammy award, but lost to itself on another recording. I wonder if that has ever happened before. It’s been performed by Ernie in Spanish and featured in the movie Three Men and a Little Lady (which was filmed a couple of miles from my house). Ernie is yet another Sesame Street star in a chart full of them. His friendship with Bert could fill countless volumes as people pontificate on its whys and wherefores, but I think it can be summed up in just 5 words. Frank Oz and Jim Henson. I know their sketches are carefully written, but you can’t underestimate the value of their performances in creating these enduring characters. Their genuine friendship permeates everything Bert and Ernie do – even to this day with Eric Jacobson and Peter Linz under the felt instead.
1 – (Bein’) Green
I couldn’t believe that Kermit’s version of this beautiful song had never been number 1 before. Today it joins Rowlf and Big Bird’s covers in pole position on one of my charts. It’s true that I’ve often struggled to connect with this piece, but that makes it no less effective and affecting. Maybe the reason I don’t get this song so much is because of the song itself? This track and the Muppets’ message of acceptance meant faith in my own being was something I didn’t have to worry about – someone always had my back no matter how weird I was. Songs like this always make me introspective and I often wonder if my love of Muppets was nature or nurture… For me, this is the best Kermit version of this song. It’s not a sing along number by any stretch of the imagination and the lyrics don’t always fit perfectly, but this is Kermit’s most musical performance and I love it for that. Good music transcends its origins and this song has done that in spades. It’s pure Muppet magic.
Sesame Street in season 1 was an eclectic mixture of elements all coming together to create a show that changed the planet. While I think this list is unlikely to hit those heights, it still an eclectic mix of what made Sesame Street work right out of the gate. Most of the major Muppets and humans have been featured today (along with the Anything Muppets) and the songs range from straight up educational to purely for fun. We’ve got loud and raucous, quiet and thoughtful and a slew of musical styles. As the years continue it will be fun to see this expand further. In the meantime though, I need to thank everyone who worked on Sesame Street during season 1; with a special mention going to Joan Ganz Cooney who worked incredibly hard to create The Children’s Television Workshop and Sesame Street itself. Thank You all for your pioneering efforts.