Yesterday, our own Ryan offered a look at five obscure Sesame Street songs. Now it’s my turn. But today, I won’t just list any five songs I’ve got a theme!
You see, one of the things I love most about Sesame Street is the way the universe it takes place in is so fully realized — it’s a world where two people can have an entire conversation about sharing or healthy food or the number six, and the audience not only doesn’t question it, they revel in it. How much more exciting is it, then, when the characters are singing instead of talking? Today’s five songs are all examples of the popular music you can only find on the Street.
With Every Beat of my Heart – 1970s Sesame Street
Little Jerry and the Monotones are probably best known for their string of hits about emotions, including “Mad,” “Sad,” and “Proud.” But they were a staple of Sesame Street Top 40 for years, reaching their creative peak here, with a doo-wop song that somehow manages to be both a heartfelt love letter to a girl and an educational lesson on the circulatory system.
The tone is set right away, when Little Jerry proclaims “You know, your heart beats pumping blood to all the parts of your body. I know that my heart beats too, and that my heart is beating FOR YOU!” The Monotones join in, harmonizing on “Boom-thump/Feel my heart ju-u-ump!” The next two minutes are sheer exhilaration. If your heart doesn’t jump just a little bit, it’s possible that you don’t have one.
A final note: “With Every Beat of my Heart” might sound familiar — writer Jeff Moss reused much of it when he wrote “Gonna Always Love You” for The Muppets Take Manhattan a few years later.
Rock and Roll Readers – 1990s Sesame Street
Little Jerry’s primary competition, Little Chrissy and the Alphabeats, shoot back with a song all about the rock star lifestyle on Sesame Street — rather than sex and drugs, it’s full of books. “Sure, it’s lots of fun to be a rock and roll star, but being a rock and roll reader is better by far,” screams Little Chrissy. It says a lot about how things work on Sesame Street — education is all around, and everyone spends all of their time learning, even popular musicians. Looking beyond what it means, though, it’s just a catchy, Jerry Lee Lewis-style tune that you can dance to. And that’s what really matters.
Bert’s Blanket – 1980s Sesame Street
With Ernie staying over at the Count’s, Bert looks forward to a good night’s sleep. He lives on Sesame Street, though, so he doesn’t get to sleep at all — he both gives and gets an education. He and a herd of sheep (led by Jerry Nelson) explain how blankets are made, and they do it in a Shangri-Las-esque fashion. The sheep sing about being sheared, and Bert takes over to explain how wool is spun into thread and finally woven into a blanket. The reason the song works, though, is that the beautiful, almost haunting melody is accompanied by terrific harmonization — some sections have several sheep all taking different parts. It’s staggeringly lovely. Yes, I just called a song about how blankets are made “staggeringly lovely.” I won’t take it back.
In the Doghouse – 1970s Sesame Street
Roosevelt Franklin is apparently a child himself, but he was the teacher at Roosevelt Franklin Elementary back in the 1970s. Here, he gives his students a lesson in respecting the property of others through a parable about two small dogs taking a bone that belongs to a much larger dog. The style of the song is remarkably loose and experimental — it really sounds like a classroom full of students just singing.
What it doesn’t sound like, however, is anything else ever heard on Sesame Street. Without paying attention to the lyrics, it’d be easy to mistake it for an underground soul recording — the students clap, chant, and lay down beats like there’s no tomorrow. When you realize it’s a song about not taking things that aren’t yours, it will blow your mind. On Sesame Street, it’s possible for learning to sound like anything at all, not just mainstream pop music.
Rain Falls – 1970s Sesame Street
Finally, this could have been an adult contemporary hit, if it weren’t about two fellows explaining why they love rain. The first is Oscar the Grouch, and the second is Bob. Oscar, of course, loves to see “trucks roll by splashing mud on everyone”, while Bob praises it for “helping flowers start to grow,” to cite two examples. It’s a great character study — a person who has never encountered either character will know exactly who they are by the end of the song — but it’s also a solid lesson in what rain does.
I went out of my way to bring up the educational content of all these songs, obviously, but that’s because it’s easy to miss if you happen to be an adult. Like so many of the great Sesame Street songs, they play just like any other well-crafted piece of music. In the end, I think that’s the most impressive thing about these songs — adults can not only appreciate them, but actively enjoy them.
If you thought this was a bunch of hogwash, click here for part three and five more choices from Ryan. I’ll be back on Thursday with five more. See you then.
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