Kieran Moore – “Feelings, nothing more than feelings…” If watching The Muppet Show taught us nothing else, Beaker’s wonderfully memorable solo song showed us that feelings (or “Mee Mees”) are incredibly important. They can shape your day, your life or even your Play-Doh; and they can certainly make a fantastic children’s television show even better. And we see that in Season 5 of Sesame Street.
All through its 130 episode run, the show explored the theme of feelings and how kids should work with and react to them, but in Season 5 Sesame Street’s education team put a real focus in that part of the curriculum. As such, the 10 songs on today’s chart all have that theme running through them. They either explore feelings or memorably create them. It’s going to be an emotional rollercoaster. Let’s strap in and enjoy the ride!
10 – Frog Struggle Song
Is there anyone reading a Muppet fansite who doesn’t like frogs? I suppose statistically there must be someone here who suffers from ranidaphobia, but having one of your major fandoms center around an anthropomorphic version of your greatest fear would seem weird. If that’s the case, the feeling this song deals with is fear and anxiety, but otherwise it’s all about determination and satisfaction at getting a job done. Thankfully for all concerned this is a live action sequence. In a Muppet piece I’d half expect our froggy friend to be either eaten or blown up once he reached the summit of that tree! Instead, we get a neat little wink from him and a huge smile from us!
9 – There’s a Bird on Me
Here we are with another superb song to go with a very fine nature film. These pieces definitely don’t get enough praise. Often we put our focus on the Muppet segments, classic street stories, iconic animations and guest stars from all over the world. In the meantime, these animal sequences and other live action strands are quietly being the unsung heroes of Sesame Street. This jazzy tune features a several put upon mammals – I think we all know how that feels! Joe Raposo wrote and sung this number. He conveys just the right amount of weariness to make this fun.
8 – X Marks the Spot!
This isn’t just Sherlock Hemlock’s debut on my Sesame Street Season charts – I think it’s also his debut proper. Coming in after almost 150 lists, I’m pleased to finally welcome him to the family! I guess you don’t need to be a famous detective to work out that Sherlock Hemlock is a spoof of a famous detective. Yes, you’re right – his similarities to Miss Marple are astounding! Jerry Nelson played Sherlock with relish (and ketchup – I’m here all week) and seemed to love playing the archetypal British gent. As a British gent myself, I can honestly say his accent is better than Dick Van Dyke’s, but that’s not saying much! (It is genuinely pretty good.) This song sounds just like what you might imagine a detective song would sound like – you can almost hear someone creeping through the shadows!
7 – Clap, Clap, Clap
I’ve seen this song billed several ways, but I’m going with Clap, Clap, Clap, as that seems to be the backbone of this addictive track. I defy anyone to A) not be thoroughly won over by its charms and B) not be singing and dancing along by the end of it. Isn’t it just the way that sometimes the simplest things are the most effective? It really doesn’t get much more basic than this, but it’s all the better for it. The other thing I like about this song is that it exists purely the joy of making music. There’s no big lesson to be learned about the alphabet or how to count to 9 or be friends with someone who’s different – this is just for fun and sometimes that can be educational enough. I guess if you really had to put a label on it you could say the theme is cooperation, but then you’d probably be one of those people that like to label things and unless you work as a pickle packer where’s the fun in that?
6 – I Want to Hold Your Ear
I must admit I have a soft spot for seeing the “Count” puppet when it’s not the Count. It’s such a well known design it’s gone well and truly beyond the point of being an anything Muppet template now, however here in Season 5 it’s still fair game. The Muppets have capitalized on the fact that they can change faces on a whim several times over the years and have employed the tactic to brilliant comic effect. This isn’t necessarily the finest example, but it is still a humorous watch that doesn’t fail to raise a smile. It’s a very strange piece though and I must say it feels a bit odd to see a man put his lover’s face together then take it off. I guess we can forgive it since this is played as oddball and off-center rather than in a straight, sensible manner. At least Frank Oz’s put upon female Muppet gets the upper hand in the end.
5 – The Alphabet Song
I wish the Muppets gave out “Legends” awards like Disney do. Not only could they honor all the amazing Muppet performers, writers, directors, designers and creatives; they could also celebrate those celebrities who have worked so well, so often with the Muppets. Of course people like John Denver and John Cleese would both be honorees and so would Lena Horne. As a guest on The Muppet Show she pioneered the “female guest star sings something soulful to Gonzo” genre and made several fantastic appearances on Sesame Street. This is perhaps the most modest, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t fantastic. So many stars have sung the Alphabet on Sesame Street – it’s a simple song you can really play with, so there’s lots of scope for people to tailor it to their style. Lena makes it a jaunty number that is heavy on percussion and features a snazzy honky-tonk piano line. It’s gloriously of its era, yet timeless too.
4 – How Do You Do?
You wait five seasons for a Lena Horne song and then two come along at once! This song shows off her voice much better than the last one does. There’s an effortless quality to her singing – it’s smooth and clear with an old school vibe. There’s an indefinable something about Lena that just draws me in. It’s what makes a good singer a great one. She duets so well with Grover at the end of this track I wish I could hear more of them together. Frank Oz is lovable (once again) as Grover and this clip shows the yin and yang of his character. At the start of this track Grover is feeling shy; by the end he’s confident enough to tell Lena she’s a great kisser. That’s certainly some turn around!
3 – Fat Cat
This brilliant word song is a spiritual cousin of Mahna Mahna. Most casual viewers would be forgiven for assuming it features the same protagonist, but we Muppet fans know better. This is of course the one and only Bip Bippadotta. The two have very similar origins and could probably be described as “brothers” or at the very least “cousins” themselves. Although technically Mahna Mahna is a Disney Muppet and Bip is a Sesame Workshop guy, I’d love to see a skit with the two of them going home for a family reunion. Seeing their parents and siblings and how they interact would be comedy gold. In the meantime, we can still enjoy this song which is also very funny. I love Bip’s outbursts. There’s a hint of the Convincing John about them. For anyone who hasn’t seen it, you should also check out the live action version on YouTube. It was obviously a labor of love and is brilliantly done.
2 – Doin’ the Pigeon
Speaking of a labor of love – that’s exactly what Bert is “doin’” here! He loves pigeons almost as much as he loves oatmeal. Personally, I’ve never seen the appeal of oatmeal and pigeons can be so-so, but this song is definitely worth getting excited about. First, we see Bert take the limelight which is something that doesn’t happen enough. Then, we have his wonderful singing (provided by Frank Oz – who is storming today’s list) and the vaudeville style song that suits him so much. On top of that, we get to revel in Bert’s hat that was surely stolen direct from the head of a German folk dancer. Finally, and maybe most importantly, there’s his fantastic dancing and the sublime puppetry that accompanies it. I love it when Muppets do something different puppetry-wise. This is hardly groundbreaking – they do full body puppets all the time, but it’s still rare enough to stand out. This kind of setting allows the Muppets to break free of their little TV proscenium – even though they are well and truly within it.
1 – The Alphabet Song
The Alphabet Song has appeared on my charts so many times (including once already today) and yet it’s never ever been as good. If this doesn’t cheer up your day, I honestly don’t know what will. Joey’s laughter alone is enough to melt the heart of even the most evil James Bond villain. Over the last few weeks I’ve featured some truly great moments of television, and songs that are iconic in every sense of the word. This might just beat them all. Any Sesame Street “best of” list that doesn’t include this clip shouldn’t be believed. At its heart, this is the absolute ethos of the show. It’s educational, yet fun; has Muppets and humans living in harmony; and is hilarious while having an ending that could legitimately bring you to tears. Kermit’s frustration is perfectly in character while never going too far. It’s pitched brilliantly. This scene is said to be unscripted and I have no reason to disbelieve that assertion. With that in mind, this is a master class in improvisation from Jim Henson – a puppeteer who after years of working as an entertainer knew exactly what to do and say and when to do and say it. Joey Calvan is cute as a button. You can’t help but laugh along with her as she says “Cookie Monster”, but it melts my heart when she tells Kermit she loves him. It’s a wonderfully emotional moment.
And that’s the perfect way to finish a chart all about feelings. We’ve gone from the plight of one frog who struggled to climb a tree to the plight of one frog who struggled to sing the alphabet. Who says I don’t offer variety on these lists?! Once again we’ve experienced a huge range of Sesame Street emotions, so it only remains for me to thank everyone who has contributed to today’s chart and Sesame Street Season 5 as a whole. We didn’t get to feature any animation or street scenes, but that doesn’t mean those elements don’t deserve some praise today. Thank you everyone for all your hard work. You truly made me feel for that fat cat when he sat on a hat…