Kieran Moore – Well what can I say about Sesame Street season 7? I guess it was the year stuff got real. Real good, real fun, real scary, real controversial and perhaps most excitingly, out into the real world. We’ll talk about it in greater detail later, but for those who know their Sesame history (and for those that don’t – I want to be inclusive) this was the year Luis and a select group of friends went to visit New Mexico (for real). That week of shows are some of the most memorable Sesame Street shows ever made and are well worth looking up online if you have some time to spare (perhaps during exploratory surgery or while waiting for a bus).
Equally memorable, but in a very different way, was episode 847 which featured Oz’s Wicked Witch of the West. After scaring the living daylights out of many kids (kind of the point, surely?) the episode became a TV show non grata and has never been repeated. What all this shows us is that in season 7 Sesame Street wasn’t afraid to try something different. In honor of this fact I’m going to write the rest of this chart backwards. !)gniddik tsuJ(
10 – The Fisherman Song
As last week’s appearance from Pete Seeger shows, Sesame Street has a long tradition of featuring not just traditional music but also songs particularly from the folk genre. Here Judy Collins (a real friend of the Muppets) sings a song of the sea accompanied by the autoharp, an instrument that even accordion players won’t touch! Ok that’s not fair – when in the hands of an accomplished player it can sound lovely. I’m not sure this is technically a sea shanty as I don’t see it as a work song, but it could probably become one. There’s something a little rough and ready about this, but I think that’s part of its charm.
9 – Elevator Song
In a chart full of brilliant songs that didn’t make the cut this track kind of snuck in under the radar. I think what elevates this (pun not intended, but pretty cool anyway) is the vocal performances. It’s saying something when Frank Oz as good as he is, is the weakest singer on a song. He’s joined in this quartet by Jerry Nelson, Christopher Cerf and Richard Hunt. Jerry sounds a lot like The Count here, but that’s not a criticism just a note – he and Frank are tackling the low notes with panache. At the other end of the scale, Christopher and Richard are handling the high notes. Richard in particular is showboating, but once again that’s not a criticism just a note.
8 – It’s A Wonderful Place/It’s A Yucchy Old Place
I’ve seen this song credited with both of the names above so I’ve combined them into one. (I’m feeling rebellious today.) This is today’s first journey to New Mexico – we’ll be back and forth a few times so strap in for some frequent flyer miles! To give some background, Sesame Street had filmed a handful of segments out on the streets of New York City prior to this point. These proved very popular so the show decided to take its first proper road trip. New Mexico was ultimately selected because it was so different from New York. The gamble paid off as seeing these real life locations instantly puts Sesame Street into the real world too. It grounds the show in a way that lets kids see how it fits into what they have around them, but doesn’t stifle creativity. The other thing I find interesting is that this predates the Muppet Movie by a few years and makes me wonder why Jim Henson felt the need to record test footage ahead of that. These episodes show how well the Muppets can work when out and about.
7 – Sing
I know I’ve featured this song already, but this is a different version so counts by my longstanding chart rules. Lily Tomlin is another (real) friend of the Muppets – this performance came one year after her memorable turn with Scred on Saturday Night Live, and ahead of any number of other appearances with Kermit in everything from TV specials to audio releases. Sing is such a pretty song and I adore the inclusion of sign language here. Sesame Street has always been keen to discuss disability and provide programming for those who are differently-abled. Season 7 featured a regular slot each Wednesday for those with learning disabilities. With the character of Julia and their charitable work, Sesame Street continues to support children and families who are under represented on mainstream television. Seeing kids sing along to this song warms my heart and I hope yours too.
6 – She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain
Sesame Street pageants are such a staple of the show I’m glad I can feature this one today. I think “Four Seasons” is probably the most famous one, but this is every bit as good. It’s very funny as Cookie Monsters continues to make mistake after mistake and Prairie Dawn gets more and more exasperated. Speaking of Prairie Dawn, I’m especially happy to include this today as I think it might be the first time she’s featured in one of these season charts. That’s shocking! Fran Brill took Prairie (?), Dawn (?) (whatever her first name is) and gave her so much character she quickly exceeded her calling as a little girl who puts up with Muppet madness to become a fully-fledged star. I love that she is able to keep her head when all around are losing theirs.
5 – My Special Place
This is the kind of song that would usually be given to Bob, but New Mexico week was Luis’s chance to shine and as such he got to tackle this sweet little ditty all about what special places our childhood haunts are. I know exactly how he feels. As Emilio Delgado sings this I’m instantly transported to the woods my brother, sister and friends used to play in. It was only small, but seemed huge to us. We knew every inch and I have so many fond memories of my time there. To children this is a nice enough song with pleasant vocals; to the adults watching with them it will have a whole other resonance. It’s a bit like the musical equivalent of the Toy Story trilogy which is filled with nostalgia and longing for those of us old enough to get it. Emilio is a wonderful singer who doesn’t get enough credit for his musical abilities. If one day he is remembered solely for this song I’d say that was pretty good going.
4 – Counting is Wonderful
I’ve cheated on here and used the audio version of this song as I just can’t find a video clip. That does at least allow us to focus on Jerry Nelson’s wonderful vocals. I’m working my way through Jerry’s characters and trying to think if there’s anyone in that band of brothers that has a voice as distinctive as this. Certainly Floyd Pepper has a certain tone, but can it compare in terms of audience recognition? I think not. With Count Von Count, Jerry created a true pop culture icon. Listening to this and really paying attention I’m blown away by how good Matt Vogel is with his recast. I’ve often noticed little vocal ticks in Matt’s performance that didn’t seem quite right, but I’ve just heard them here! I haven’t mentioned Sam Pottle (who wrote this song and many others) yet today so I’m doing it now.
3 – I Want a Monster To Be My Friend
This was such a difficult song to place – at one point it was a real contender for number one. What can I say about this? First, I want to praise Marilyn Sokol. She leant her talents to many Muppets over the years, adding authentic female vocals to a very male-dominated franchise. I also want to say how much I enjoy this song musically. Then I guess we have to look at the lyrics. There has been much controversy over the words to this song after a parent complained they might encourage children to allow child abuse to take place. Because of this the song has been edited or omitted on several occasions since. I’m not sure about the particular claim mentioned above, but these lyrics can definitely be read as “grown up”. I know there are those that say you can make anything risqué if you look at it in the right way, but I find it hard to believe the songwriters weren’t trying to make this play on multiple levels. I’ll let you decide…
2 – I’m an Indian
“I’m an Indian” says the title of the song, but it could also say “I’m an outdated and offensive term”, so apologies in advance. I’m sure Buffy Sainte-Marie wouldn’t have participated if she felt this was offensive at the time. Having Buffy included in this episode lends this whole sequence some authenticity and ensures the subject is handled sensitively (and it is). If you haven’t read Joseph A. Bailey’s autobiographical “Memoirs of a Muppets Writer” you absolutely should. I learnt so much as a Muppet fan and a writer by reading his fantastic book. You must get a copy. Anyway, Joseph dedicates a chapter to the New Mexico shows and says this episode was pretty much rewritten on location a day before filming to make sure they got everything right and were respectful of the Tewa people. Buffy is a fantastic musician, singer and songwriter and we can see that in this clip. One thing we can’t see however is Buffy driving a truck over open countryside. Courtesy of Joseph’s book we know that Buffy wasn’t able film that part and he had to don a hat, turn from the camera and act as stand in!
1 – Bein’ Green
I had to ask myself a few questions when deciding where to place this song as Kermit’s version has already been number one in this series of charts. Is Sesame Street so bereft of good material that I need to repeat myself? Of course not. Can I do it then? Yes, you are a special snowflake who can do whatever he wants. Am I hungry? Starving – let’s have lunch. Occasionally a song just stands up and says “I have to be number one” and today that’s exactly what this did. Lena Horne is another friend of the Muppets (we should totally make that a euphemism for something) and all of her performances with them are stacked with emotion so it should be no surprise that she slays a song like this. On my very first chart several years ago I mentioned Bein’ Green and said I’d never really connected with it. Now I’m almost at chart number 150 (no, I didn’t think it’d last that long either), and I’ve heard it sung several times in several different ways. Slowly, but surely it’s starting to mean more and more. This track is another step in its evolution for me.
And that’s a perfect note to end on. Season 7 has seen Sesame Street continue to evolve and do new things. It’s constantly changing yet somehow staying the same. Once again, this feels like a Muppet-lite list with lots of input from guest stars and humans, but that’s a testament to how good the show is by this point. So I have to end with a Thank You to everyone whose work is included here. You’ve made me count to 10, think about my childhood and look long and hard for innuendo. Thank You.