Caroll’s Carols: The Music of Caroll Spinney

Published: December 12, 2019
Categories: Feature, Fun Stuff

Caroll Spinney has given us so much amazing entertainment over the years.  Thousands of episodes of Sesame Street, a bunch of specials, a few movies, TV appearances, live appearances, and more.  One of the common themes connecting them is music.

Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch have sung hundreds of songs, and so many of them are fantastic.  They’re toe-tappers, they’re fun, and they’re iconic.  And of course, Caroll Spinney is the performer who brought them to life.

We know that you’re likely familiar with some of his songs: “I Love Trash” or “ABC-DEF-GHI”, so we’re looking at some of our own favorites.  Personally, I find that listening to Caroll’s songs is an excellent way to honor his memory.

Now let’s take a look at Sesame Street musical history with the ToughPigs team’s favorite Caroll Spinney songs!

“Come Along”

Anthony Strand: We’ve written about the 1978 album On the Street Where We Live . . . Block Party! before, and even highlighted this opening track in another article. But this is the best Sesame record ever made, and Caroll Spinney’s characters are the only Muppets on it, so it’s only appropriate to highlight it again. Big Bird gets the party started as only he can, with energy, enthusiasm, and a shout-out to Muff and Jesse and Ben, the puppets Caroll made for his kids in real life.

“The Grouch Anthem”

Matthew Soberman: In a film like Follow that Bird, you’d expect the film to open with… well, Big Bird, or at least something to do with him. Instead, we get this rousing song from Oscar that’s absolutely perfect, reminding us that no matter how pleasant things may be on screen, we should never let ourselves fall to the light side. We need to stand tall and stay true to our grouchy selves. (And if someone decides to talk during the movie, it’s easier done than said.) This feels like it could’ve fallen to the cutting room floor, but it’s just too good to leave out. Instead, it kicks off the first Sesame Street feature film, and rightfully so.

“Going to Kyoto”

Joe Hennes: Big Bird has sung many songs that are curriculum-heavy, and he’s sung a lot that might even bring a tear to your eye.  But I think Big Bird is best when he’s being funny, and “Going to Kyoto” from Big Bird in Japan is one of his funniest.  Between the odd rhymes with “Kyoto” (“Dorothy and Toto”, “300 miles or so-to”, “not rain nor sleet nor snow-to”) and the visual of Big Bird and Barkley trying to fit into a tiny car, it’s all gold.  But nothing beats the lyric, “I’ve got feathers, he’s got fleas, I speak Japanese.”

“Rain Falls”

Anthony Strand: Despite his well-known grouchiness, many of Oscar’s best songs are about the things he loves. This one isn’t as famous as “I Love Trash,” and Oscar is a lot more subdued here than he is in that one. This is a song about a bad day he only gets to experience sometimes, and he seems almost wistful talking about all the effects of rain in lines such as “it’s really kinda neat to hear everybody grumble and complain.” When Oscar wait for the rain to make Sesame Street yucky, you can feel the longing in his voice.

“What a Gift”

Louie Pearlman: Here’s one that’s a bit of a deep cut that I really enjoy, the ecological ballad “What a Gift,” from season 23 of Sesame Street. It’s short, sweet and to the point, featuring Big Bird against a wonderful natural backdrop singing about how important it is to be grateful for every flower and every blade of grass. There is a child-like wonder to Big Bird’s sentiments and also a wisdom as well: a balance that Spinney struck as a performer during his remarkable tenure as the big, yellow bird. This short song has helped me though some sad times and reminded me to practice gratitude at the wonder of the world around me. I hope that it does the same for all of you during this time we’re spending remembering Caroll Spinney’s fantastic impact on the world.

“Honk, Bang, Whistle and Crash”

Ryan Roe: Everyone knows Oscar is cranky, but it was an inspired move on the part of the Sesame Street writers to establish that he also loves things that are annoying to us humans. This song — first heard on the People in Your Neighborhood album and not used on the show until 1993 — is about all the awful sounds that Oscar cherishes. And Oscar lives in the middle of New York City, so there are a lot of them: In addition to the title sounds, there are drills, subways, barking dogs, and honking car horns. Caroll Spinney’s performance is so sincere, it can force you to ask yourself: Is this cacophony of urban noise pollution actually… beautiful? Well, no, it’s not, but you really believe Oscar thinks it is.

“Everyone Makes Mistakes”

Matthew Soberman: We all know Big Bird is a six year-old with a lot to learn, but sometimes he can also be a source of great wisdom, just like in “Everyone Makes Mistakes.” I love how he reminds Captain Vegetable that he loves him just the way he is, and even when he doesn’t get things exactly right, that love never changes. It’s just one of those things I think everyone needs to be reminded of every so often. You’re not perfect, but you’re good enough. That is one smart bird!

“I Don’t Wanna”

Ryan Roe: The TV version of this one surfaced on Sesame Street’s YouTube channel a few years ago, and it’s a delightful Oscar the Grouch song. You know how we always hear that the creators of the show came up with Oscar to let kids know it’s okay to be grouchy sometimes? This song encapsulates that perfectly. Declining an invitation to play with some kids, Oscar clearly states his preferences: He doesn’t want to sing, dance, smile, laugh, or “do anything at all that other people think it’s fun to do.” He just wants to be all by himself, alone, all day. And man, there are some days when I can 100% sympathize with this perspective.

“Surfin’ Bird”

Matthew Soberman: I recently rediscovered Big Bird’s rendition of the 1963 hit by The Trashmen after years of hearing it on a background loop at Sesame Place. (I know, it’s a song about a bird sung by people who associate with trash. It’s literally the perfect song for Caroll.) You wouldn’t think that a frantic song like “Surfin’ Bird” would fit a gentle creature like Big Bird, and frankly, you’d be right. And that’s exactly why I love it, because it is such a different song for Big Bird. I absolutely love hearing Big Bird attack this song with such energy and gusto, like it could all fall apart at any second. It’s crazy, silly fun. And that’s the word.

“Singing in the Shower”

Joe Hennes: I love when Muppet performers play double duty and sing as two different characters in the same song.  Caroll did it a few times, but my favorite is “Singing in the Shower”, as he harmonizes Big Bird with Oscar the Grouch (along with Ernie, and depending on which version of the song you’re listening to, either Olivia or Ruthie).  It’s a perfect example of how we forget that one man is responsible for bringing these two iconic characters to life. They’re so diametrically different from each other, including the ways in which they choose to bathe.

“Happy to Be Me”

Ryan Roe: In Caroll Spinney’s half-century on the street, his characters sang songs written in a number of styles as the show’s musical sensibilities evolved. This song, from a 2011 episode, has a decidedly more contemporary sound than a lot of the old classics on this list, but the theme is a familiar one for Big Bird: taking pride in himself and the things that make him unique. He’s glad to be the way he is. And we’re also glad he is the way he is!

“A Really Good Feeling”

Ryan Roe: Love is a good feeling. I don’t think anyone would argue against that. But it takes a wide-eyed, open-hearted character like Big Bird to express an understanding of love like the one in this song, featured on the classic Bert & Ernie Sing-Along album. It’s a short song, but it’s very sweet. With a jaunty melody — and accompanying himself on bells! — Big Bird sings about love as he knows it. Love is what you feel about somebody who makes you feel good, it’s what you feel about your most favorite things. Come to think of it, love is also how we feel about all these songs, and the characters and their performer who sang them.

“The Grouch Song”

Staci Rosen: For a Grouch, Oscar sure spends a lot of time singing about the things he loves. (Whoa! It looks like Anthony wrote the exact same thing!) While the more famous “I Love Trash” focuses on the things he adores, this one focuses more on the situations that bring Oscar joy–be it finding lumps in his cold oatmeal or watching a garbage truck splash mud on someone’s clean clothes (swap out the garbage truck for a city bus and you have the intro to Sex and the City. Was Oscar driving that bus?!). I’ve heard that the intention with Oscar’s character was for him to be a Grouch in the truest sense of the word, but Caroll seemed unable to perform him without infusing some of himself into him, which ultimately translates into Oscar being a pretty lovable sourpuss. I might not think that “ice cream is as yucky as can be,” but I can still relate to Oscar’s enthusiasm in this song.

“Easy Going Day”

Louie Pearlman: It doesn’t get more joyous than a song sung by Big Bird and two new young friends on a farm. Serving as a bit of a break from the overall action of the thrilling Big Bird adventure caper that is Follow That Bird, this song and this overall sequence is Spinney’s Big Bird at his best: interacting with the world and fellow children with a glee that we can relate too, regardless of whether we’re 3 or 93. This song and this movie were such a treasured part of my childhood. Follow That Bird was Sesame Street pulling out all the stops, and this simple sequence is one of the reasons why we watch it to this day and it makes us all so happy.

“If These Steps Could Talk”

Julia Gaskill: For whatever reason, this song has stuck with me since I was a kid and first saw this episode when it aired. The song is a simple but sweet tune – what would the landmarks in our lives say if they would speak? But in revisiting it in my remembrance of Caroll, I find it so fitting. Big Bird has been a fixture in all our lives for decades, if not entire lifetimes. He’s always been there for us, bringing us together and gifting us great joy. Big Bird is an important landmark in so many of our childhoods, and he’s always been there for us “each step of the way.” Of course, Big Bird could most certainly talk, so the metaphor isn’t quite perfect, but you get the sentiment!

“Tall Enough”

Staci Rosen: It’s hard to imagine Big Bird being anything but, well, a big bird, but according to this song he was once small–or at least small-er (after all, he must have been in a high enough percentile in size as a hatchling to warrant his name). As adults we often remark about how much easier things were when we were children (you know, before we had to worry about taxes, insurance, and mattress rotations), but the reality is that being a kid in a world designed for adults is pretty darn hard. How quickly we forget the helplessness we felt when we couldn’t reach the light switch or the birdseed on the shelf! I love how in this song Big Bird simultaneously achieves three things: he acknowledges this frustration, he assures kids that they will eventually grow, and perhaps most importantly, he comforts children by reminding them that they are exactly where they are supposed to be in their development. I can’t think of a more innocent or sincere Muppet to deliver this message!

“Big Bird, Oh Big Bird”

Joe Hennes: I’m cheating a bit on this one, because it’s not a Caroll Spinney song.  “Big Bird, Oh Big Bird” was written and performed by Mike Pecoriello to be shown as a promo on the Noggin network.  Not only is it a lovely song, but it’s also a terrific tribute to Big Bird and Caroll Spinney. It highlights the generational aspect to Big Bird’s influence, and how he managed to educate and entertain kids over the course of fifty years.  It’s also a lovely sentiment to friendship, and how those we loved as kids can be there for us as adults. Caroll may be gone, but Big Bird will be our friend forever!

Which of your favorite Caroll Spinney songs did we miss?  Let us know on Facebook, Twitter, or the ToughPigs forum!

Click here to sing your feathers off on the ToughPigs forum!

by the ToughPigs Staff

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