Hidden Gems of Sesame Street Music: Part 4

Published: September 4, 2008
Categories: Feature

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Over the past few days, Ryan Roe and I have been sharing some of our favorite obscure Sesame Street songs.

Today, let’s talk about Sesame Street albums. Back in the 70s and into the 80s, the fine people at Children’s Television Workshop released records with alarming frequency. While many of the songs came straight from the TV show, a very large number of them were recorded especially for the audio releases. Many of these albums (you can find a full list at Muppet Wiki) have been out of print for years, so they’re a perfect place to look for obscure songs. I’ll begin today with a few of my favorites:

I’m Square – 1983 (The Gang’s All Here!)

If you’re reading Tough Pigs, chances are high that you’re a big geek, or a big nerd, or even kind of square. Here, Bert celebrates his status as One of Us. He waxes sentimental for his love his boring things, getting more and more excited as the song goes on. Any adult Sesame Street fan can relate to Bert’s frustration at being ridiculed for having unusual interests. The only difference is that in Bert’s case his interests include Kleenex and “pigeons in the news”.

The song is packed with amusing lines, as Bert reels off one nerdy obsession after another. Frank Oz’s performance is typically excellent, of course. When Bert sings about cold mashed potatoes towards the beginning, you can feel the affection in his voice. But by the time he gets to argyle socks at the end, he almost sounds like he needs a cold shower. Again, all geeks probably sound like that sometimes, which only makes it funnier.

Come Along (1978 – On the Street Where We Live: Block Party!)

Yesterday Ryan highlighted “Soul Food”, a Gordon-sung tune from this same record, my no-doubt-about-pick for the best Sesame Street album of all-time. Every song on it is a gem, with great numbers for most of the human cast members, as well as both of Caroll Spinney’s Muppets. It starts out with this track, where Big Bird is impatiently waiting for the party to start. When no one wants to play with him, he does what comes naturally — starts singing about how beautiful a day it is.

In the song, he urges everyone to join him and “Sing a happy song”. They do, conveniently as soon as he gets to the line “Oh, what a lovely sound when we sing this song.” And it’s a lovely sound indeed. This is straight-forward, snark-free happy Big Bird at his finest. I can’t help but feel happier and more energetic just for having heard it. While re-listening to it for this article, in fact, I started pumping my fists in the air and then jogging laps around my apartment. I swear to you that’s the truth.

It also features a reference to John-John. How can you say no to that?

Upside Down, Inside Out (1978 – On the Street Where We Live: Block Party!)

As I mentioned, this album is full of great songs for the human cast members — Gordon, Maria, Susan, Olivia, and David all get memorable numbers. Best of all is this one, sung by Bob and The Kids. The beginning is as understated as can be, with Bob idly playing piano. One of The Kids asks him to play a song, and he does.

It’s a typically upbeat Bob song, and it’s all about how great You are. Yes, You. “You can turn my seams around, put my toes back on the ground, with just the love in your eyes” he says. And don’t think he doesn’t mean it. Would Bob lie to you? No, of course he wouldn’t. If you don’t believe me, listen to the song. Just once. You won’t doubt that you’re more important to Bob than anything else in the entire world.

Too Busy (1978 – Fair is Fair)

Here’s an example of how prevalent Sesame Street albums were in the 1970s — the very same year as Block Party!, CTW put out the also-terrific Fair is Fair. It has a lot of great Muppet songs on it, but its most memorable moment comes from, surprisingly, The Kids. Just one Kid takes the lead here — a boy named Jamie Aff — and he’s pretty far away from the likes of “Sing” or the theme song.

Instead, he’s talking about being ignored by his parents. He painted a picture at school today, it seems. But when he excitedly brought it home, his unspecified didn’t have time for him. It’s slightly unsettling to hear a Sesame Street song address parental neglect so head-on, but this was the 1970s, the era of the latchkey generation. In any case, the song is terrific. Young Mr. Aff really invests in the emotion of his character’s dilemma, and the refrain is relentlessly catchy. As for how the parent-child conflict is resolved… well, I’m not going to spoil it.

Cripple Creek – 1970s Sesame Street

This was never featured on an album, but I couldn’t leave it out of this list. Sung by Buffy (the human cast member who has sadly become mostly forgotten) and Fred the Wonder Horse, it’s an old-fashioned folk song about “going up to Cripple Creek to see my girl”. Buffy doesn’t change the gender-specific lines in the song, by the way. She mentions that she’ll “kiss her on the mouth” and that the girl will “wrap herself around me like a sweet-potato vine”. It’s slightly shocking to the modern listener.

That example of less-restrictive curriculum standards aside, the song is simply amazing. While singing, Buffy also plays a mouth-bow. This lends the song a unique, off-the-cuff vibe like nothing else ever heard on Sesame Street. Meanwhile, Buffy’s and Jerry Nelson’s voices blend together so perfectly that you’ll bemoan the fact that they never recorded a full album together. Say, that would have made an excellent addition to CTW’s release slate.

Well, that’s it for our twenty picks, but that isn’t all we have to say about obscure Sesame Street music. Click here for part five, where you’ll see Ryan and me together! At the same time!

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Written by Anthony Strand

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