Sesame Street has released well over a hundred albums in its four-decade history. 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!
It’s Christmas time! I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but a ton of singers have released Christmas albums. Frank Sinatra, Andy Williams, Julie Andrews, and I’m pretty sure one or two others. They’ve all recorded their takes on the holiday classics. Oh, and Hanson. They did one too.
But why would you listen to any of those no-talent hacks when there’s a perfectly good LP from 1975 with the jolly happy title Merry Christmas From Sesame Street? For some reason, you can’t buy this album digitally on Amazon or iTunes right now, but it’s still listed on Google Play. Grab a jar of figgy pudding (I think it comes in jars) and join me!
Sesame Street Christmas Overture
The album opens with the whole gang warming up their voices, then singing a few lines of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” then there’s a warm orchestral overture. A lot of it is a Christmas-sounding arrangement of the Sesame Street theme song. I didn’t have this album as a kid, but this combination of Sesame Street and Christmas already makes me feel all cozy, like I’m sitting in my childhood home drinking hot chocolate. I hope I don’t spill any.
We Wish You a Merry Christmas
It’s the familiar song, but with slightly different lyrics, mostly so all our pals can remind us what their names are. “It’s David and Mr. Hooper/Big Bird, Prairie Dawn and Herry/Who wish you a Merry Christmas/And a Happy New Year!” Thanks, guys! “It’s Gordon and Bob and Grover/And Susan, Luis and Grover/Maria, the Count and Grover/And a Happy New Year!” Wow, it’s the whole gang! This is just like being at the neighborhood holiday party! And Grover!
Medley (Deck the Halls/Jingle Bells/White Christmas/Winter Wonderland)
As the music begins, Herry is thrilled: “Oh, my favorite! Wreck the Halls!” Fortunately, David corrects him before he can destroy anything. A series of Sesame Street Muppets each sings a line of “Deck the Halls,” just like when they show up in A Muppet Family Christmas. After “Jingle Bells,” Herry sings “Crashing through the snow –” until David rudely interrupts him. Herry is an agent of chaos, determined to turn the joy of Christmas into a symphony of destruction, and David is an agent of order, determined to stop him.
The first line of “White Christmas,” of course, goes to the smoothest crooner on the block. No, not Cookie Monster. It’s Bob! Soon the whole group joins in. Even Mr. Hooper gets a solo line. It’s always charming when Mr. Hooper sings, despite the fact that Will Lee was clearly not hired for his musical ability. Finally, Big Bird kicks off “Winter Wonderland,” but it fades out as Oscar the Grouch leads us into the next track…
I Hate Christmas
This song should be better-known by the general public. It’s certainly the best composition I know dedicated to insulting the biggest holiday of the year. “I can’t think of anything that’s dumber/To a grouch, Christmas is a bummer,” Oscar sings. When did people start using the word “bummer” like that, anyway? I think of it as an ‘80s surfer-lingo thing, but I guess I’m off by at least a decade.
Oscar goes down the whole list of things that are happy about Christmas, all of which he hates. “Here comes Santa, girls and boys/So who needs that big red noise?/I’ll tell him where to leave his toys/I hate Christmas!” Man, Oscar is great. He’s one of the few Sesame characters who can get away with a joke that sounds like it borders on the inappropriate. I understand the argument that he has a good heart beneath all his grouchiness, but I’ll take misanthropic Oscar any day.
And while I don’t agree with him, I can’t fault him for taking this position. Sometimes Christmas music does goes on too long!
A Christmas Story
This variation on “The Gift of the Magi” would later make its way to television as part of Christmas Eve on Sesame Street. But this audio version came first! Isn’t that mildly interesting?
Mr. Hooper tells the story of two friends named Ernie and Bert and their journey to buy each other some decent Christmas presents. Perhaps my favorite part of the whole thing comes when Bert realizes he doesn’t have a present for Ernie yet, and exclaims “Golly-wonkers!” Is this something people say? I don’t think so, but please incorporate it into your holiday this year. “Golly-wonkers, that’s a pretty Christmas tree! Golly-wonkers, these mashed potatoes are delicious! Golly-wonkers, thanks for the motor oil!”
Just like in the Christmas Eve special, neither roommate has any money, so Bert gives Mr. Hooper his paperclip collection in exchange for a soap dish for Ernie’s Rubber Duckie, and Ernie gives Mr. Hooper his Rubber Duckie in exchange for a cigar box for Bert’s paperclip collection.
Also just like in the special, Bert breaks my heart when he tearfully asks Mr. Hooper if he can visit his paperclips, although it goes by quicker here. Sadly, this earlier version ends with Mr. Hooper selling the paperclips and Rubber Duckie to his next customer, so Bert and Ernie never see them again.
Just kidding. The generous shopkeeper saves the day by gifting the guys’ prized possessions back to them. I wonder: Does this resolution render their noble sacrifices moot? Or does it reward them for performing a good deed to benefit their respective best friend? Either way, I’m just as happy as Mr. Hooper to see that everybody gets exactly what they wanted for Christmas.
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
Bert and Ernie commemorate their perfect gift exchange with a song. The familiar bells and flutes of the Sesame Street house orchestra add a lot to it.
The Twelve Days of Christmas
The interminable ode to receiving presents is given new life with some cute, customized lyrics delivered by the Sesame Muppets. Most noteworthy, there are two of Roosevelt Franklin’s friends in this: Hardhead Henry Harris (voiced by Roscoe Orman) and Smart Tina. This, despite the fact that Roosevelt was on the verge of being phased out of the show at this point, and Loretta Long is voicing Smart Tina even though Sonia Manzano, who dubbed Tina’s voice in the sketches, was presumably present for these recording sessions.
I appreciate that when it’s Oscar’s line, he doesn’t say “my true love sent to me.” He says “someone sent to me.” Oscar ain’t got no time for love. Meanwhile, what is Bert going to do with the five argyle socks? That’s an odd number of socks!
And hey, Snuffy is in this. Does that mean all the Muppets in the song can see him as far back as 1975?
Medley: It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas/Silver Bells/The Christmas Song/Santa Claus Is Coming to Town
Kicking off Side 2! Gordon and Susan sound great on “Silver Bells,” even better than Ernie and Bert on the other Sesame Christmas album from 1984. Sorry, is that rude?
When Grover sings “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” the arrangement is agreeably jazzy, and Grover delivers the song as a casual and friendly but firm warning about the bearded guy watching us. Thanks for the heads up, man.
The Night Before Christmas on Sesame Street
David gifts us with a groovy poem about his experience last December 24th. The language is certainly different from the Clement Moore poem, with talk of “checking the scene out” and “digging this cat.”
Hearing a commotion, David looks out his window to see a man who resembles Santa Claus, who has crashed into a tree on Sesame Street, ruined his sleigh and boots, and dropped his toys. Fortunately, David wears the same shoe size, so he gives the big man some boots, and a sled. David is suspicious about whether the guy will bring his sled back, especially after he flies away. It’s funny that David doesn’t get to go help Santa deliver the toys, which is often how these stories go.
The next morning, David finds a shiny new sled under his tree. He concludes, “That’s how I helped Santa on one Christmas visit/And it’s only a story I made up… or is it?” And that’s the end of this track… or is it?
This is a lively song by Maria and Luis. I wish I had retained more of my high school Spanish, because the lyrics are all en español. I know “saludo” is a greeting, and the internet tells me “aguinaldo” means “Christmas bonus.” With that translation and the up-tempo arrangement, I’m pretty confident the Fix-It Shop folks are having a merry Christmas.
This one is also by Maria and Luis, and also in Spanish. I’ve gathered that it’s a lullaby, and I caught a reference to “niño Jesus” in there, so this seems to be a rare example of a Sesame Street Christmas song that acknowledging the religious meaning of the holiday. (If I’m wrong about anything in these Spanish songs, please let me know.)
All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth
The Count enjoys numbers, and he only has two teeth, so this is the perfect Christmas song for him. He learned it from his dentist.
Gosh oh gee, how happy he’d be if he could only whistle! “And if I could whistle,” he says, “do you know what song I would whistle?” And of course the answer is the song he’s currently singing. The Count is getting meta.
A Christmas Pageant
This is a delightful, Christmas-themed take on the Prairie Dawn-led pageants from the TV show. The Muppets avoid the obvious – this will not be a pageant about the first Noel, or even a retelling of A Christmas Carol. Bert is excited when Ernie tells him he’s playing the lead, and demands to know who he’s playing “Who who who who who?” The answer: A tree. “I knew it,” Bert grumbles, and all is as it should be.
Prairie and Herry march through the forest, in search of a Christmas tree. They find Bert, and Prairie instructs Herry to chop him down with an axe. Fran Brill’s timing is impeccable here. Next, Herry stuffs Bert in a flower pot and waters him. And by the way, Bert has to hold his arms up like tree branches this whole time, and he gets mud in his saddle shoes. This is all funnier to imagine than it would be if we could actually see it. I think I’d start to feel sorry for Bert if I could see him suffering all these indignities.
Speaking of which, Grover hangs decorations on Bert, including on his nose. The ornaments go on, and the lights, but not the popcorn strings, because Cookie Monster ate those. Finally, they put the star on Bert’s pointy head, turn off the lights, and turn on the tree. It’s beautiful.
Wouldn’t it be funny if Bert had been electrocuted?
Keep Christmas With You (All Through the Year)
Here’s another item that made its way to the Christmas Eve special. It’s a moving song, and a great reminder that whether it’s March or May or July, you can always treasure the memory of Bert getting stuffed in a flower pot.
Muppet Wiki tells me that later reissues of this album include a version of this song recorded in 1995 that includes Hoots the Owl and Elmo, but excludes David. I like Elmo and Hoots, but it feels wrong to hear characters who weren’t even around in 1975 pop up on this record. With the new Sesame Street Records deal announced, I hope Santa brings us a restored reissue next year.
We Wish You a Merry Christmas (Reprise)
Our friends from Sesame Street wish us a merry Christmas! Again! At least, I assume that’s what happens on this track. I thought I had this entire original album, but I’m missing this one, and it’s entirely absent from the recent releases.
So that’s kind of an anti-climactic way to conclude this record. Still, this is a great album for a Sesame Street fans to include in their holiday rotation, especially given its connections to Christmas Eve on Sesame Street. And I didn’t even spill any hot chocolate!
Okay, I only spilled a little hot chocolate.
Click here to spread season’s greetings and golly-wonkers on the Tough Pigs forum!
by Ryan Roe – Ryan@ToughPigs.com