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! 

Hey, it’s October! That means it’ll be Halloween soon. And what’s the first thing you think of when you think of Halloween? There’s only one obvious answer: candy!

Unfortunately, there are no Sesame Street records devoted to candy. But there is one devoted to monsters, and monsters are also associated with Halloween, so that’s what I’m going to talk about.

This album was originally released as The Sesame Street Monsters! back in 1975, and it’s since been re-issued as Monster Melodies with some track changes. I bought Monster Melodies on iTunes, but for the purposes of this Needle Drop, I’m listening to the songs in their original order.

“The Lovable Monsters of Sesame Street”

The album opens with the sound of monsters cackling and chortling. For a second, it seems like this could be a track from one of those “Haunted House Sound Effects” records. But just as I jump out of my chair and start dashing away from my record player in utter terror, the monsters plead with me to come back. “We’re not gonna hurt ya!” Herry insists.

Well, okay. I sit back down, and listen to a cute song about how these monsters are actually nice people once you get to know them. That’s pretty much the whole purpose of the monsters on Sesame Street, and it’s the theme of this whole album: You’ll notice that these folks might look and act differently from you, but they still deserve your respect.

Grover, Herry, and Cookie Monster get to introduce themselves like rappers on a collab track, and even Frazzle gets a spotlight. “See, don’t you agree?/We’re terrific, aren’t we?” the monsters ask, just before a rousing key change. Okay, guys. You’ve convinced me. You’re pretty terrific.

“I, Grover”

Grover starts out telling us how he managed to put his shoes on the right feet, and to take cereal off the shelf without spilling it. He then proceeds to brag about how big and tall and smart and cute and wonderful he is. Jeez, Grover, easy on the self-aggrandizing!

But seriously, I can see how this song would be useful for encouraging kids. Today you can successfully do this little thing? Well, tomorrow you’ll be able to do even more! Heck, even I could use this kind of encouragement from time to time.

It’s also so charming to hear Grover warble confidently even though he’s clearly not the greatest singer. Or… perhaps it’s Frank Oz who’s not the world’s greatest singer? Either way, I love it.

“Five Monsters in My Family (Five People in My Family)”

It’s the classic Sesame Street tune, but with monsters instead of people! As the song goes on, the monsters count additional family members until they end up with eleven. They’re going to have trouble getting a table at Olive Garden!

There’s not much else to say, although listening close to the arrangement reminded me once again of how much I love the old-school Sesame Street house style. I guess the children of the dubstep era don’t respond to Tin Pan Alley sounds as much as the children of the disco era did, but also I don’t know what I’m talking about and I’ve probably gone on about this before so who cares?

On the digital album I got, this track was moved to the #4 spot on the album. Why on earth didn’t they move it to #5?

“I Can’t Help It”

Poor Herry Monster. He knows he’s big, scary, dumb, and clumsy, but he can’t help it, and he just hopes people will love him anyway. Was this the inspiration for Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way?” Considering the fact that Gaga’s fans are called “Little Monsters,” I assume the answer is yes. On this track, there are sound effects for the trail of destruction Herry leaves in his wake, including a hilariously long crashing sound at the very end. When this song was on the TV show, you could actually see all the stuff Herry was breaking, but I think I prefer having it left to my imagination.

The intention behind this song is consistent with the album’s theme of not being so quick to judge others. But I wonder if any clever little kids ever exploited it to evade responsibility for their actions – “I know I’m supposed to keep my room clean, Mommy. But I can’t help it!”

“I Want a Monster to Be My Friend”

This is the most notorious track on the original album. If you’re a Sesame Street geek, you already know all about it, but here’s the deal: A little girl, credited as “A Little Girl” and voiced by Marilyn Sokol, sings about how much she wishes she had a monster to be her playmate and pal. Which is all great in the world of Sesame Street. But then she gets to the verse that goes “If I could make friends with a friendly monster/I’d let him bounce me on his knee/I’d let him do whatever he wants to/Especially if he’s bigger than me.”

It was obviously intended as just another monster joke, but it’s not hard to infer some unpleasant things from it. The song was cut from most re-issues of the album (including the one I got on iTunes) and removed from the show. I don’t actually know if the Sesame Street people withdrew this song because they were worried about sending the wrong message to kids, or if they just realized it was an ill-advised lyric, but it was a sound decision.

Other than that, the song is pretty good. On the Monster Melodies album I got from iTunes, it was replaced with “Furry Blue Mommy of Mine,” Herry’s jazzy, soulful spoof of “Silver-Haired Daddy of Mine.”

“Frazzle”

I love this song. First of all, the music rocks, and there are some great vocals by Chris Cerf, Richard Hunt, and Jerry Nelson. The Frazzletones introduce us to Frazzle, a monster who “looks so mean that he could scare a crowd” but is really just a regular guy who experiences emotions like the rest of us. At least half of the running time here is devoted is devoted to Jerry Nelson as Frazzle going “AUUUBBBBLLLLLGHHH!” That’s the noise he makes when he’s happy, and when he’s sad, and when he wants to say “Thank you for the dinner but it’s getting very late and now I really must go.”

Just imagine Jerry in the recording studio, going “AUUUBBBBLLLLLGHHH!” for take after take. What a great job.

“We’ll Do It Together”

Side 2 of the record opens with a track that’s not just a song, it’s a whole drama in three. Act I: Cookie Monster is thrilled to find a cookie tree in the park, but how will he get the cookies from its high branches? Act II: Herry and Grover help Cookie form a human monster ladder to reach them, and Cookie prepares to eat all the cookies himself. Act III: Grover and Herry remind that greedy jerk Cookie Monster that they helped him, and he agrees to share the cookies. The moral of the story is that cooperation is good. And SO ARE COOKIES.

Two years after this song was written, the book Cookie Monster and the Cookie Tree came out, but it’s not the same story. That’s interesting. To me, anyway.

“Fur”

What can you say about one of the all-time catchiest, peppiest Sesame Street songs, the original 1975 clip of “Fur?” That guy Stuie Monster (Richard Hunt) sure is proud of his fur, and it makes for a song that makes me want to get up and dance onstage in a vaudeville theater. I especially love that it seems like it might be over at the 1:38 mark, but then it keeps going with more monsters singing along.

Oh, but what’s up with that weird echo on “All right, boys, take me home!” Seems like somebody would have fixed that before they released it.

“Cookie’s Rhyming Song”

“Okay, it time to rhyme with Cookie!” Cookie Monster sings a series of rhyming couplets, and somehow each verse ends with a word that reminds him of cookies. You can guess how it ends.

This is not the baby monster from “Monster Lullaby.” This is Cookie Monster’s cousin, Cousin Monster. There was no puppet built for the young monster from this next track.

“Monster Lullaby”

A young monster (Richard Hunt) doesn’t want to go to sleep because he’s afraid there’s a little girl hiding in the closet. “She’s really scary-looking,” he says. “She’s only got hair on the top of her head, and the rest of her is all covered with skin!” It’s a funny reversal of the scenario we’ve heard so far, where we’ve learned that people shouldn’t be afraid of monsters. And it sounds like it’s going for the same end result. Surely Mommy Monster will inform her little one that little girls are actually nice, even though they look different.

But that’s not what happens! Instead, Mommy Monster (Marilyn Sokol) assures the kid that there’s no such thing as little girls. What? Sesame Street monsters interact with humans all the time. Why is this monster lady denying her child the knowledge that they live in a world of diversity and that humans can actually be pretty nice?

It’s an odd note to start on, but the song that follows that is lovely and full of good monster jokes (“Dream of what you love the best/Things that baby monsters do/Eating bricks, saying BOO!”), and Marilyn Sokol turns it into a genuinely soothing lullaby. In fact, it’s so relaxing I think I… just… might… zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

“Games Monsters Play”

“Hey, you! You, listenin’ to this record! Wake up!” How did Herry know?! Anyway, I’m awake now, and I’m very excited about Herry and Grover’s offer to show me how to be a monster. Apparently it involves pointing my fingers in various directions, putting my hands on my head, and moving my limbs in assorted other ways. Well. I’m glad Herry and Grover trusted me with their insider monster info, but I can’t say it seems especially exciting.

“Be Kind to Your Neighborhood Monster”

Grover spells out everything we’ve just learned about monsters, and then the whole gang comes back to remind us to be nice to them. Among other things, we should offer monsters some salami. I don’t like salami, so that sounds good to me.

This is not the catchiest or most sing-along-able song on the album, which is too bad, but it’s fun to hear from all our monster pals before the record ends.

And that’s it! A nifty album with lots of fun stuff from Muppet monsters both familiar and otherwise — although listening to it in post-1980s reality, it’s striking to hear an entire album of Sesame Street monsters that’s completely devoid of Elmo. This is also a fine showcase for David Axelrod and Sam Pottle, who write or co-write the majority of the songs on the album. It’s so good, in fact, that I’m going to go buy a bunch of physical copies of this album to toss into kids’ trick-or-treat bags on Halloween.*

*Note: This would have been a perfect closing line if we weren’t in a pandemic. Don’t go trick-or-treating during a pandemic. Thank you.

Thanks as always to Muppet Wiki for image help! Click here to go “AUUUBBBBLLLLLGHHH!” on the Tough Pigs forum!

by Ryan Roe – Ryan@ToughPigs.com

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