When I was just a miniature version of myself, I had one of these Sesame Street record players, and more often than not, I used it to play Sesame Street records. (Just to get it out of the way: Yes, vinyl records are an archaic format, blah blah blah, I must be an old man, yada yada yada, hilarious joke about how young people today don’t know what records are because they’re incapable of gaining knowledge of anything before their birth, oogly oogly oogly.)
Some of my best childhood memories are of simply hanging out in my room, listening to Sesame albums… and when they ended, flipping back to Side One and listening all over again. I may have also tried to play a pancake on the record player at one point, but that’s neither here nor there. These days, however, I don’t own a record player. So it’s a good thing there’s such a thing as the iTunes Store, where there are currently 120 Sesame Street albums available for download with just a click of a button (and a few bucks, of course). It’s the perfect way to revisit my old favorites, even if it lacks the endlessly entertaining option of switching from 33 1/3 RPM to 45 RPM and hearing Bob sing like a chipmunk.
By the way: One hundred and twenty albums! Some of those are greatest hits-type compilations repackaging songs from other albums, but any way you look at it (from behind, from above, standing on your head with one eye closed…), that’s quite an impressive discography. During the show’s 1970s glory days, they were releasing albums left and right, and all of them were good! Not even Bob Dylan can say that. So here’s my brilliant idea for a Tough Pigs article series: I’m going to listen to Sesame Street albums, and then I’m going to write about them. It’s Sesame Needle Drop!
For this first installment, I’m starting with one of the records I had as a kid: Love, which was released in 1980. Like most of those Sesame LPs, every track is related to a theme, and as you might guess from the title, all the songs on this one are about Beach Boys singer Mike Love. No, they’re not, but wouldn’t that be something? Oh, and here’s some trivia: The wiki tells me this album was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Recording for Children, but it lost… to In Harmony: A Sesame Street Record. Which means Sesame Street both won and lost that Grammy!
So anyway… Love. Did I understand what love was when I was a Sesame Street-watching toddler? Do I understand what love is now? Did this record have some influence on my understanding of one of the most important human feelings? Let’s find out, starting with track 1. Feel free to listen along with me… In addition to iTunes, Love is available on Amazon, and I’ve been told it’s also on Spotify.
“Love” by Kids of Sesame Street (written by Joe Raposo)
First of all, I’m really glad Muppet Wiki has composers listed for these tracks, because they’re not included in the digital info with the iTunes download. What up with that?
It strikes me as a bold choice to start a Sesame Street album with a song that’s not sung by any of the actual characters from the show, but I guess it didn’t bother me when I was a kid. This is a pleasant-enough if somewhat repetitive ditty sung by a herd of young children, and it effectively introduces the album’s topic: “Love, talk about love, sing about love, all about love for each other…”
Listening with headphones, I can’t help but notice there’s this one little boy who’s just not hitting the right notes at all. What a loser, right? Try to keep up, buddy! It’s not exactly “The Hallelujah Chorus” here, just a Sesame Street song about how everyone should love and care for each other. You dork! HA HA HA—oh. Um. What I mean to say is, I’m sure that little boy is a nice person and there are plenty of good things to love about him.
“Wonderful Me” by Big Bird (written by Tony Geiss and Sam Pottle)
In which Big Bird asks a series of questions, like “Who is a bird who stands out in a crowd?” and “Who is at home when I sit in my nest?” and somehow concludes that he’s wonderful just because he is himself. I know a few people with a similar attitude, but it’s unusually self-centered for Big Bird. There’s even a line that goes, ““Who says I’m right even when I am wrong? Me!” This is why the Me Generation grew up feeling so self-centered and entitled! It’s all Big Bird’s fault!
So here are my first clues about the true nature of love. This song suggests that the best kind of love is the love you have for yourself. Which can only mean one thing: This Big Bird song was the direct inspiration for Whitney Houston’s “Greatest Love of All.”
“The Things I Love” by Oscar (written by Tony Geiss)
This Oscar song includes a reference to “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music, and like that song, it’s a list of things the singer is into. In this case, that includes rusty autos, poison ivy, robins singing out of tune, apple pie with ketchup, and a baby’s face when it’s about to cry. That last one makes me laugh… Does that mean I’m a grouch? Anyway, it must have been fun for Tony Geiss to write this song, coming up with the cruddiest things he could think of and making Oscar rhapsodize about them.
This song’s depiction of love isn’t like that of Big Bird’s song at all. According to this song, love is just how you feel about anything that brings you pleasure. I get pleasure from Cinnamon Toast Crunch, fine-tip pens, and the Kuribo’s Shoe level in Super Mario Bros. 3. Does that mean I love all those things?
“Do You Like Me?” by Ernie and Bert (written by Phillip Namaworth)
This is a classic Ernie and Bert number. It’s nighttime, Bert is about to nod off, and suddenly Ernie jolts him out of dreamland with a song. See, Ernie just can’t get to sleep until he knows whether Bert likes him, despite all his faults. It’s kind of heartbreaking, really. “Do you like me?” he asks. “Am I okay?” Bert thinks it’s a silly question, but he quells Ernie’s fears by assuring him that yes, he likes him. The unspoken twist here is that Bert would probably like Ernie more if he didn’t do things like waking him up to ask whether he likes him.
Does this song have anything to say about love? Ernie never uses the l-word. All rumors/speculation/wishful fan thinking aside, it seems pretty clear that Ernie just wants to know if Bert likes him, not if he likes-him likes-him. It indicates a certain level of clinginess, sure, but sometimes it’s just nice to get confirmation that your friend hasn’t stopped being your friend in the past ten minutes.
By the way, here’s a little Tough Pigs trivia for you: This song was included in the Bert and Ernie puppet show that my little brother and I performed for our parents when I was about 9 years old, in which our puppets lip-synched to a mix tape I had made of B&E stuff. I was Ernie.
“I Love a Waltz” by the Count (written by Paul Parnes)
It was only a matter of time before someone realized that the waltz, with its 1-2-3 time signature, must be the Count’s favorite dance. So he counts 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3, and so on, and invites us to join in. “I’ll lead, of course,” he notes. Count songs are always fun, and this is no exception.
This song reinforces the message of Oscar’s song… If you like a thing so much you want to sing about it, that means you love it. So keep an eye on YouTube for my upcoming rock opera about Cinnamon Toast Crunch.
“The Loveable Monsters of Sesame Street” by the Sesame Street Monsters (written by David Axlerod and Sam Pottle)
I believe this song about the Sesame Street Monsters by the Sesame Street Monsters originally appeared on the album Sesame Street Monsters. That sounds plausible, right? They introduce themselves and explain that although they’re monsters, they’re really nice folks once you get to know them.
The song features a little roll call, where Grover, Herry, Cookie Monster, and Frazzle each get a few lines. But there’s also a female monster present… Who is that? Whose voice is it? Given the era and no other evidence, I’m going to guess it’s Marilyn Sokol singing, and I’m going to call her Sokol Monster.
Not many clues about the true nature of love in this one. But it does make one very interesting point: Sometimes we encounter things that we’re initially repulsed by, only to develop affection for later. I can only assume this song was a childhood favorite of every romantic comedy screenwriter of the past three decades.
“Bert’s Love Song” by Bert (written by Emily Perl Kingsley and Sam Pottle)
Well, what do we have here? It’s a love song by Bert! It’s not even about simple, platonic friendship, because it has the words “Love Song” right there taking up 61.5% of the title.
Bert sings dreamily to an unnamed person about how wonderful it is that they both like pigeons, lumpy oatmeal, marching music, and paperclips. Who is he singing to?! As far as I know, this was never performed on the show, so I guess we have no way of knowing. Could this be the girlfriend he referred to in “I Want to Hold Your Ear?” Maybe they have an on-again, off-again thing… Like their relationship heats up every spring, only to fizzle out when all the pigeons fly south for the winter. Do pigeons fly south for the winter?
This song’s definition of love is clear: Love is when you meet somebody who shares your interests. I wonder how many OkCupid profiles mention paperclips?
“I Just Adore 4” by Big Bird and the Tarnish Brothers (written by Joseph A. Bailey and Sam Pottle)
Big Bird expresses his affection for the number that’s less than five and more than three. Joseph Bailey had fun with these lyrics: “You can have four floors, or four army corps, four dresser drawers, or even four crashing bores.” For years I thought that last line was “four crashing doors,” which didn’t make any sense at all… but you know, I’m still not sure what it means. Still, I gotta say, the Tarnish Brothers have never sounded better. The song ends with Big Bird attempting, not quite successfully, to hold a big, high note: “I just adore four, the number… for MEEEEEEEE!” Why is it so endearing when Muppets sing imperfectly?
So far we’ve learned that you can love a person romantically, you can love a person platonically, you can love physical objects, and you can love a type of dance music, and now we discover that you can love a mathematical concept. I have a little crush on Euler’s Constant, myself.
One last thought on this song: The lyric “I used to fret a lot and fidget/Until I met that dazzling digit” makes me think of Big Bird meeting Digit from The Jim Henson Hour. Can somebody fan-art that up for me?
“I Love When It Rains” by Bob and Oscar (written by Cahn and Kahn. Wait, really? Who are these people?)
FYI, this was the first song on side two of the original record album. On this track we learn that Bob and Oscar both love rain, but for completely different reasons. And man, is this cleverly written, all full of internal rhymes: Bob gets “It’s thrilling when it’s spilling and just filling the drains,” while Oscar sings “Winds whipping and hats ripping and folks slipping outdoors.”
Oscar is disgusted to realize that he and Bob agree on something, but in fact, this was not even the first time they both expressed their adoration for precipitation. The earlier song “Rain Falls” has the exact same premise… I don’t know why it happened twice, but it’s pretty cool that it did.
According to this song, you can love something as simple as a natural weather occurrence. Wow. I’m starting to get the impression that it’s possible to love just about anything.
“A Very Good Feeling” by Big Bird (written by David Korr and Sam Pottle)
This song is taken from the all-time classic Bert and Ernie Sing-Along record, which maybe I’ll write about someday. Big Bird plays the bells and tells us all about love, which is a very good feeling to have.
Okay then, Big Bird: What is love? “Love is what you feel when you feel you want to sing/Love is what you feel about your most favorite thing!” Great! So far, this is reinforcing everything I’ve absorbed from this album so far. Then you get to this line: “When you want to touch somebody, because they make you feel good…” Ohhhh, is that love? So… did I love my sixth grade math teacher?
“I Love a March” by Bert and Ernie (written by Carol Hall and Sam Pottle)
Bert loves marching music. Ernie loves to play the drums. Bert is having a great time singing about marches when Ernie hijacks the song with his jazzy drumming. Incidentally, that old record player I had as a kid was mono, and this song is mixed in stereo, in such a way that Ernie’s vocals and Bert’s vocals are in different channels. So for the longest time, all I heard was Bert singing, followed by jazzy music with no vocals, followed by Bert again. It was not nearly as satisfying as hearing everything.
Say, the Sesame writers were really big on Bert’s marching fetish at this time, weren’t they? It never seems to come up anymore, but they should bring that back. It’s another great example of Bert getting excited about things nobody else cares about. I suppose that means he really loves those things.
“Filling the Air with Love” by Olivia (written by Cozell and Fontana)
One of the many thousand things about Sesame Street that I was too young to appreciate when I was a kid is the fact that Olivia was a fantastic singer. Seriously, I don’t know why she never cut an album.
I can’t find a video online, but I remember this song being on the show. Olivia is walking through Central Park(?) with Maria(?) when they come across a bandshell, so Olivia gets onstage and sings as if she’s performing for an audience. The lyrics confirm this: “Standing here, I can almost feel it/Thousands of eyes are looking at me/Thousands of eyes are waiting to see me/Standing up here, filling the air with love.” But somehow I misremembered the arrangement as being very dramatic and Celine Dion-like, when in fact it’s a low-key, smooth-jazz-style affair with a flute, bass, bells, and an organ, but it works really well. It doesn’t even sound like a kids’ song.
This song carries a “love-you-make-is-equal-to-the-love-you-take” sentiment, with love as a cosmic feeling of joy. Olivia belts it out: “I’ve got something to say/Feelings that won’t go away/I know this is my day/I’m gonna shine/Make the world mine/Filling the air with love!” It’s genuinely uplifting, bordering on transcendent. And then she left the show and appeared in a commercial for bladder control medication.
“Transylvania Love Call” by the Count and the Countess (written by Peter Swet and Lee Pockriss)
We start with an ominous-sounding organ, and the Count begins: “Each night when my castle is gloomy/And the werewolves start howling anew/And a cold mist creeps down from the mountains/My thoughts turn, my darling, to you…” Gosh, that’s romantic.
The Count and the Countess (One of the Countesses, anyway — check out this page on Muppet Wiki for the full, semi-scandalous story of the Count’s many lovers) sing of their desire to be each other’s Transylvania toot-toot-tootsie.
Love, as heard in this track, is when you feel so positively toward a person that everything that puts you in a good mood makes you think of them. For the Count and the Countess, it’s establishing shots from 1930s horror movies, but for you perhaps it’s a sunset or a warm fire or a bacon double cheeseburger that makes you think of your soul mate.
“The Happiest Street in the World” by Big Bird (written by Joe Raposo)
Originally from Sesame Disco, this is the Love album’s only misstep. It’s the longest song on the album at 5:21, and I wonder if they were just running out of songs with the word “love” in the title, and threw this one on to fill out the running time. But why not Bob’s lovely solo “I Get a Nice Feeling?” That one had debuted on vinyl on “Let Your Feelings Show” in 1977, and it’s absolutely a love song.
“The Happiest Street,” like most of the songs from Sesame Disco (the inferior of the two Sesame Street disco records), is pretty boring. There’s really not even anything about love in it… It’s just Big Bird and some backup singers making us jealous that we don’t live on Sesame Street. With disco music.
So what have we learned? There are a lot of different kinds of love. You can love people, places, or things. You can love tangible objects and abstract ideas. You can even love Frazzle, and he’s a hideous, terrifying beast. If there’s anything in your life that constantly makes you really happy, you can say you love it, even if you have no plans to get engaged to it. And if you do love something, the best possible way to express it is to perform a song about it. So wherever you are right now, I encourage you to stand up, think of something you love, and start singing. Preferably with backup singers. I hear the Tarnish Brothers are available.
Stay tuned for more track-by-track looks at classic Sesame Street records in the near future! And click here to tell me how much you loved this article on the Tough Pigs forum!
by Ryan Roe – Ryan@ToughPigs.com