Kieran Moore – Here in the UK we don’t really do the whole high school tier system thing – when I was a student we had lower school and upper school and that was it. So I was quite excited to use the term “sophomore” in today’s introduction – it’s quite exotic for me. That is, until I researched the term a bit and found that it can actually be seen as a bit of an insult. This dictionary definition is as follows:
“…intellectually pretentious, overconfident, conceited, etc., but immature.”
So now I don’t think I should use it to describe Sesame Street Season 2. The show was far from intellectually pretentious – Jim’s famously not safe for work letter to Mr. Dionne shows how he viewed such things (Google it if you dare). Sure, Sesame Street was confident at this point, but not without reason so we can forget overconfidence. Conceited – nope. Immature – you say that like it’s a bad thing! No, season 2 of Sesame Street was definitely not sophomoric. It was, however, going from strength to strength…
10 – Have You Ever Been to the Farm?
Although last week I tried to cover as many aspects of Sesame Street as possible I just couldn’t get everything into 10 songs. That meant I couldn’t feature the wonderful live action documentary sequences the show is known for. These fascinating mini movies are brilliantly filmed and accompanied by some very memorable music. The best ones are every bit as iconic as the Sesame Street character moments. Even though I came late to the show many of these segments can take me back to my childhood in an instant. This particular featurette is insanely cute and informative – for a lot of city kids this kind of setting would be very alien indeed. The song is fun and folksy and kind of calming too.
9 – Over, Under, Around and Through
Once again, we’re in “icon” territory! One of the things Sesame Street knew, even this early on, was that children learn in lots of ways. Visual learning (luckily enough for a TV show) is hugely effective for lots of kids, and the show’s writers and education team were, and are, able to make full use of this. Over, Under, Around and Through is quite possibly the best example of visual learning Sesame Street has ever produced. Even the youngest of viewers should be able to grasp the message – particularly coming from the unbelievably cute and fuzzy Grover. Who doesn’t love this guy? Frank Oz is well known and lauded for a slew of the best-loved fictional characters ever to grace a TV screen, but he definitely deserves more recognition for Grover. This guy is rarely off everyone’s list of favorite Sesame Street characters – and that’s for good reason.
8 – Mad
Little Jerry and the Monotones are an overlooked gem. They never achieved the status of characters such as Bert, Ernie or even Farley; but they were a substantial part of the early years of Sesame Street. Thanks to their musical leanings they are very fondly remembered though. It’s fair to say they’re a fan favorite! I suspect this is largely influenced by Jerry Nelson’s virtuoso vocal performances. He was made for this kind of music and shines as Little Jerry. The band sadly released just one single, which is not enough. I feel the same way about them as I do The Electric Mayhem – they deserve their own album as soon as possible. In these days of digital downloads it shouldn’t be that hard to put together an iTunes exclusive release. Come on, Sesame Workshop…
7 – Everyone Makes Mistakes
In his second year Big Bird was a little less country bumpkin and a bit more childish. This song illustrates an interesting point in the character’s evolution. In later years, as Big Bird’s character was truly cemented as being a youngster, the likelihood of someone singing this to him (rather than the other way around) grows. As I remember the character from my Sesame Street viewing days, Big Bird would be much more likely to learn this lesson than teach it. As a child himself, Big Bird is easy for kids to identify with which that makes this really interesting. As well as taking away the main message of this particular song, young viewers also see they can be instructors and have the ability to lead by example. It’s very clever!
6 – The Inch Worm
I’ll happily admit to being biased about this particular song because I love it in any incarnation. I first came across it when I was in my school choir aged about 9 or 10 and it always takes me straight back to my school hall rehearsals with Mrs. Belcher at the piano. The Muppets’ rendition (as part of the Danny Kaye episode of The Muppet Show) is one of my series highlights and this similarly soft version isn’t far behind. Once again, Jerry Nelson is astounding, but this time he’s sharing the lead with Fran Brill. Fran is a Sesame Street legend and an all round puppeteering great. She’s probably best known for Prairie Dawn, but so many of her characters (even the one hit wonders) are hugely memorable. She is wickedly funny and knows exactly how to make her mark on whatever song or sketch she is performing – sometimes with just the tiniest of movements or beats.
5 – King of 8
Both this song/sketch and its companion piece “Queen of 6” were eligible for this week’s list. King of 8, however, has taken the crown today (pardon the pun) as it has a near perfect combination of music, visuals, story and humor. The rhythmic vocal is basically a beat poem which transports me as I listen to a basement jazz club filled with beret clad hep cats (that just happen to like number-based performance pieces). This is quintessentially Jim Henson. Since his very early days on Sam and Friends he beatniked his way through just about everything he did. It’s very reminiscent of “Tick Tock Sick”, a single he released in 1960. The puppetry/animation is eye-catching and full of character – the King himself is a joy to watch. The final joke – which I won’t spoil – is the cherry on the top of the cake that is this sublime segment.
4 – Up and Down
Alongside Big Bird, several other Sesame Street characters found their personalities becoming more defined during season 2. Cookie Monster was one of those (though he still had a little way to go). Joining him in this song is one of season 2’s debut characters – Herry Monster. (I’m avoiding an Avenue Q. moment by resisting the temptation to ask if these two are related!) Herry’s introduction marks a moment where Sesame Street properly started to get to grips with what its monsters should look like and how they fit with their visual style. Up to that point they had mostly been using existing Henson puppets such as Beautiful Day Monster. Herry and his contemporaries are a bit softer and more child-friendly. The Sesame monsters are still unmistakably Henson, but becoming a little more stylistically autonomous. Jim is playing Herry here with gruff abandon which is fun to see though Jerry Nelson as his long term performer really made him the guy we know and love today.
3 – I Whistle a Happy Tune
Like The Inchworm, this is another song the Muppets have tackled in many forms. It’s perfect for Grover though. He’s a real bundle of contradictions – going from self-assured to unsure in the blink of an eye. This song shows that side of his personality brilliantly. I mentioned earlier that everyone loves Grover and I think that’s because we can see ourselves in him. At least I think that’s the case… maybe it’s just me. It’s fantastic that he’s not afraid of Cookie Monster (once he knows who it is) because it shows us that monsters aren’t scary, but also it makes this play like a musical version of “The Monster at the End of this Book”. That title is one of the best pieces of literature ever written in any genre and I’ll argue that point with anyone who dares to disagree.
2 – High, Middle, Low
Once again, I have to admit my own personal predispositions are coming into play. You see I sing as part of an a cappella trio just like these guys. Because of this, it’s virtually impossible for me not to love this wonderful song. I usually sing the high part in my group so I’m naturally drawn to Jerry Nelson’s vocals. The middle and low voices are performed by two of Sesame Street’s most influential contributors – Joe Raposo and Jeff Moss, respectively. Although they are better known as songwriters (with everything from “Bein’ Green” to “I Love Trash” in their repertoire), here they show just how talented they are as performers too. Joe has a lovely tone and I’m always in awe of anyone who can hit low notes with the clarity Jeff does. I absolutely love this piece. One day I hope it makes it to number one, but sometimes even the best songs just can’t compete with a juggernaut…
1 – Sing
***Sadly, the version of this song shown during season 2 of Sesame Street seems to have disappeared into the annuls of time so I’ve included the album version to illustrate it instead. ***
Sometimes when I write my charts, it seems like I open the “Big Book of Hyperbole” and get all my adjectives from there – after all I am writing about something I love. However, every so often a song/character/performer comes along that truly deserves every wonderful word that’s ever been invented. Sing is one of those things. Legendary, iconic, transcendent – every word describes it perfectly. Joe Raposo (him again) has written a song so beautifully simple it’s simply beautiful. It’s perfect for kids to sing, yet The Carpenters (who had a huge hit with it) and several other artists have proved it has the chops to stand on its own two feet away from Sesame Street. The “La La La” chorus might be one of the catchiest things ever written. This isn’t just a great song by Muppet/Henson standards (which are pretty high already); this is truly one of the greatest songs ever.
So as you can see, Sesame Street Season 2 was anything but sophomoric (according to the definition above). And even if it was, that’s only because it deserved to be. At this point, the show knew what was working and built on that knowledge to become the institution we know and love today. If season 1 was finding its feet, season 2 was definitely up and running. It’s incredible to see how together and assured the show was already, considering just one year ago it was basically creating its own genre. I have to say a huge Thank You to everyone who worked on Sesame Street’s second season. You’re responsible for so many happy memories. Thank You.