Part 1 – Part 2 – Part 3 – Part 4 – Part 5
This is the third installment in a five-part article about really great Sesame Street songs that are not as well-known as they should be. Part one is here, and part two (by Anthony Strand) is here. And now, more words about songs.
On the Street Where We Live: Block Party!, 1978
I’ve always loved the humans of Sesame Street nearly as much as the Muppets. I never owned a Bob doll or a Maria PEZ dispenser, but they’ve taught and entertained me for years, so the 1978 Block Party record is right up my alley: Big Bird and Oscar are present, but the spotlight is really on the less fuzzy residents on the street.
Of course, there’s no Sesame Street character less fuzzy than Gordon, who offers this groovy, timbale-infused musical invitation to check out his food booth at the titular block party. When I hear the song, I can practically smell Gordon’s dishes, including shrimp & rice, po’ boys, birdseed ice cream, and enchiladas — with meat AND cheese! “Everybody’s got soul food/Would you like to buy some?” he asks, then warns “Don’t say no till you try some!” Which, now that I think about it, kind of sounds like he’s selling drugs, but I’m pretty sure he’s not.
I would certainly get in line for some of Gordon’s soul food… although I’m not sure I have any cash. Are there any ATMs on Sesame Street?
Count von Count’s Continuous Country Cooking Downhome Diner
Sesame Country, 1981
As it turns out, Gordon’s not the only skilled chef on Sesame Street. If, as this song says, you like home cooking, “try it Transylvanian style!” Everyone is welcome to “come inside and open wide” at the Count’s restaurant, which is presumably the world’s only Transylvanian-Southern fusion eatery.
The title of this track alone is fun to say, and the song is all banjos and fiddles. The Count’s friends place their orders (by number, of course), although none of them sound especially “country”… Cookie Monster orders a cookie sandwich, while Ernie ultimately decides on cereal, but I’ll assume those are authentic Nashville corn flakes. (Or perhaps authentic Romanian Rice Chex). Grover, meanwhile, orders “a number 5: the business monster’s lunch,” which is fairly adorable.
As far as I know, this is the only time the Count has ever done a country song, so that’s pretty cool. I think this is also the only time we ever heard about the Count owning a restaurant, which makes sense… He probably got so caught up counting every single plate, glass, and utensil in the kitchen that he forgot to serve the food.
A Very Unhappy Birthday to You
For the First Time, 1982
This song should not be confused with Disney’s “Very Merry Unbirthday” song from Alice in Wonderland, which does not mention chocolate pickle juice.
Oscar is at his best when he’s at his worst. That contradiction defines the entire grouch culture that exists in Sesame Street‘s world: To a grouch, anything awful is wonderful. This song explains the goings-on at a grouch birthday party, and Oscar is beautifully nasty, wishing horrible things on the birthday boy or girl.
It’s really rude to hope your friend gets a tummy ache from eating his cake, but for a grouch, anything nicer would be much more offensive. (Do you suppose grouches ever suffer from cognitive dissonance, what with all that “feeling good makes me feel bad, which makes me feel good” stuff?)
I didn’t know about this song until recently, but I sure hope somebody sings it to me on my next birthday.
late 80s/early 90s Sesame Street
Remember when I said I was impressed that Sesame Street composers can work in any style? Well, you might wonder, can they do a capella? And can they come up with an a capella song including parts for Twiddlebugs, Martians, and cows?
The answer, of course, is yes. Kermit takes the lead vocal on this toe-tappin’, finger-snappin’, yup-yup-yuppin’ doo-woppy number, which carries the message that we can all get along if we just get together and sing. You know, they make it look so easy on Sesame Street, but when I try to start a sing-along on the subway or in Burger King nobody ever jumps in. Maybe I just need to move to a city with more Martians…
Best Friend Blues
late 80s Sesame Street
There are so many great Sesame Street characters that it’s impossible for all of them to interact with each other. Which is why it’s pretty exciting to see this Snuffy/Ernie team-up. Those guys are usually seen in the company of Big Bird and Bert, respectively, which just happens to be what the song is about.
As the song begins, Bert has just abandoned a kite-flying session and gone home after suddenly falling ill. (At least that’s what he told Ernie. It’s altogether possible he’s faking it so he can watch his oatmeal soap operas or whatever without being disturbed.) Meanwhile, Big Bird has up and gone to Granny Bird’s without notifying his big brown friend, leaving both Ernie and the snuffleupagus with an acute case of the titular blues.
Hoots the Owl contributes some fine sax-blowing as Ernie makes a medical breakthrough: the cure for the best friend blues! He reminds Snuffy “we’re buddies too!”, which doesn’t quite seem accurate, as I’ve never seen them talk to each other before or since, but whatever. He then suggests that the two of them can play together — they can play in his room, he says, though that sounds problematic given Snuffy’s girth. I do like the idea of Bert in bed trying to sleep off his 24-hour flu, when suddenly Snuffy stomps in and knocks over all the furniture. That’ll teach him to be sick!
This song makes me wish for more rare character pairings. What about a Mumford/Rosita song? Or a Grover/Stinky the Stinkweed duet? The possibilities are so many they could even keep the Count busy for a few days.
So there you go — five more delightful but lesser-known Sesame Street songs. And believe it or not, there are still more, five of which Anthony will tell you about in part four, which you can find right here. Oh, boy! You can hardly wait!
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