There are few constants in this world. Tim Burton will make obnoxious and unnecessary remakes, The Wonder Years will never be released onto DVD, and the Sesame Street characters will always break into spontaneous sing-alongs. And what better time for a sing-along than Christmas?
In 1984, Ernie, Bert, Cookie Monster, Big Bird, Oscar, Grover, Bob, Susan, Gordon, and Olivia got together to belt out a few Christmas carols in the Sesame Street Christmas Sing-Along LP. (Note for the yung’uns: LPs were kinda like CDs [Note for the really yung’uns: CDs were kinda like MP3s]).
Unlike Bert & Ernie’s Sing-Along and Sesame Street Sing-Along, this album doesn’t have a narrative running through it. There’s no road trip to Bert’s uncle’s house, there’s no party in Bert’s bathroom, just some boring old Christmas cheer. Bah humbug.
The first track on the album starts off with a bang. The whole cast joins in on “Christmas Sing Along”, which is a Christmas song about singing a Christmas song. Double meta! We also get to hear Caroll Spinney and Frank Oz jump back and forth between their characters as if Big Bird and Oscar and Grover and Bert and Cookie Monster were all actually in the room together. When the song segues into “Deck the Halls”, we get our first glimpse at the lack of a story: Oscar sings a verse! That’s right, two minutes into this record and Oscar’s already in the Christmas spirit. So much for character growth!
The Muppets keep those old Christmas standards (which, I admit, I often find boring) interesting by playing with the musical styles. For example, in “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”, the song ends on a jazzy kick-line. I can totally picture all the characters linking arms and kicking high into the air. Y’know, the ones who have legs.
Here’s a question: Why isn’t “Counting the Days” played on the radio amongst the likes of “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” and “Do They Know It’s Christmas”? This song rocks hard. Well, it doo-wops hard, but either way it’s already way hipper than “Jingle Bell Rock”. In the song, Big Bird, Ernie, and Cookie Monster lament the fact that they have to wait for Christmas, while Oscar can’t wait for it to be over. But once again, story arcs are tossed out the window as Oscar changes his mind and joins everyone else for the final chorus without explanation. His inconsistency drive me crazy! Which is probably exactly the sort of response he’d love to get.
One of the real highlights of the album is “Let It Snow”, which is remarkable for the instrumental bridge when Bert can be heard saying things like “Mercy mercy!”, “Right on, right on!”, and “This is a wonderful type of tune!” By Odin’s beard, do I love that nerdy Muppet!
The low point for me is “The Twelve Days of Christmas”. The Muppets have done this song a few times, and some of them stand out as the most memorable renditions of that song ever. Who doesn’t love Miss Piggy’s “Ba-dum-dum-dum” and Bert’s “Five Argyle Socks”? Unfortunately, this version is totally straight-forward, using the common lyrics and lacking anything to compare it to what they did before. Christmas fail!
I don’t know why, but I enjoyed Bert and Ernie’s “Silver Bells”. It’s played down, so it ends up being a sweet duet between the two roomies. But Bert’s voice slowed down and low like this makes him sound like he’s yawning through the whole song. Which is kinda hilarious if you choose to picture him doing that. And it makes sense, what with his love of the boring.
“Frosty the Snowman” is another genre-flipping song, as Gordon sings it as a calypso. It’s a fun ditty, but the highlight is at the end when the cast says goodbye to Frosty, and Oscar says, “Goodbye! I hope you melt!” And then Frosty sank into a deep depression and fell into a sewer grate, never to be seen again.
You can’t have a Sesame Street Christmas sing-along without Bob breaking into “Keep Christmas With You.” Well, maybe you can, but we’ll never know. I love this song, and I’ll never get tired of it (especially when it’s sung by Bob McGrath). It’s funny how the song suggests that you keep Christmas with you all through the year, but then the song is only sung at Christmastime. Maybe people would find it easier to keep Christmas in July if Bob sang this song more often as a reminder.
The album ends with “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”, and somehow the characters miss the point of the song and make it all about figgy pudding. Bert likes frosting on his! Oscar demands his figgy pudding right now! Cookie Monster something something cookies! You get the idea.
These old records really make me miss the old days when we honestly believed that our good friends from Sesame Street were inside our record players. There’s an energy to the performances and a down-to-earth quality that I haven’t heard in years. And when it comes to Christmas, these are the people (and birds and grouches and monsters) I want to celebrate with. Especially if that celebration comes in sing-along form.
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by Joe Hennes – Joe@ToughPigs.com
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