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!

 

Sesame Street 1 record
Sesame Street
is currently celebrating its 45th anniversary.  There have been thousands of records, cassette tapes, CDs, VHS tapes, and DVDs in those four and a half decades, but for this Sesame Needle Drop I’d like to go back and look at the earliest Sesame Street media tie-in: The 1970 album Sesame Street 1: Original Cast Record.

Sesame Street Book and RecordOr at least that’s what I always thought it was called.  Muppet Wiki tells me that this album was originally released as The Sesame Street Book & Record, and as you might expect, it came with an illustrated booklet.  When I was a kid, I owned it under the 1974 re-release title, Sesame Street 1: Original Cast Record.  That version didn’t have illustrations, but that wasn’t a problem — I could always just draw my own pictures of Big Bird and Bob if I wanted to look at them while I listened to the record.  Although with my drawing skills at that age, Big Bird and Bob probably looked identical.

If you want to listen along, this album is on iTunes — sort of.  For some reason, Side 1 of the record is listed as one album, and Side 2 is listed as a separate album, and they’re both called Sesame Street: Sesame Street 1 Original Cast Album.  I don’t know how these things happen, but if you’re looking for it, there it is.  And with that, let’s begin.

“Sesame Street Theme” by “The Entire Cast” (actually a bunch of kids)

I think this was the incarnation of the theme song used on the show in those earliest seasons, and it may still be the best version, with that funky guitar twanging along as kids sing the familiar lyrics.  I got this record for my third or maybe fourth birthday, and somewhere there’s a video from my birthday party of my friends and me standing on the couch dancing to this recording.  I suggest you do the same on the couch nearest you.

ABC-DEF-GHI Big Bird
“ABC-DEF-GHI” by Big Bird

Gordon: “Hey, Susan! Look who’s here!”

Susan: “Well, hello there! Welcome to Sesame Street. Gee, we’re glad you could drop by.”

One thing that makes this record so much fun is that it’s built like an episode of the show. So after the theme song there’s the opening scene on the street, starting with the traditional greeting. Susan and Gordon — that’s Gordon #1, Matt Robinson — tell us everybody’s going to be here today, including Big Bird, whose entrance is preceded by a loud crash. Remember, Big Bird was still a dumb, clumsy oaf rather than a young, innocent kid at this point.

This is a clever song, of course, and I’m sure it’s helped a lot of kids learn the alphabet over the years.  Big Bird starts out utterly confused by this crazy word, ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ.  But once he finishes singing and Gordon and Susan inform him that it’s not a word, it’s the alphabet, he grasps the truth surprisingly quickly.  It occurs to me that the grown-ups probably could have told him anything and he would have accepted it as fact.  “Oh, sure, Big Bird, that’s a country in Europe where the alpaca population outnumbers the humans.”  Or “Actually, Big Bird, that’s a rare disease that turns your skin plaid.”  I don’t suppose that would have been very helpful to the kids at home, though.

I've Got Two Bob Susan
“I’ve Got Two” by Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch plus everybody including Mr. Hooper

Oscar: “Okay, everybody, get over here! It’s time for something important!”

Gordon: “Well, you know who that is, don’t you?”

Susan: “That’s Oscar the Grouch, who lives in the trash can. Hi, Oscar, how are you today?”

Oscar: “Rotten, thanks.”

Susan: “Mm.”

Susan’s unamused “Mm” is perfect.  Her delivery tells you right away that she’s known Oscar long enough to know how this crap goes. Oscar wants to sing a song now, but Gordon rudely cuts him off, because Bob and Mr. Hooper just showed up, and they have a very important message.  Their message: “This part of The Sesame Street Record is brought to you by the number two.” Then they go right into “I’ve Got Two,” with Bob instructing everyone to sing when it’s their turn. Guys, Oscar just said he wanted to sing his own song!  He called dibs, and now you’re doing your own thing just to please a corporate sponsor?  No wonder he’s grouchy.

Bob starts off by singing about his two eyes.  Then it’s Susan’s turn, and Gordon is very excited about that.  “I want my Susan to sing for me!” he exclaims, and I can see why.  She probably sounds cooler and more soulful singing about her two ears that help her hear than anyone ever has before.  Also kind of… sexy?  But perhaps I’ve said too much.

Anyway, in case you’re wondering: Gordon (“I wanna do some twos!”) has two arms, Mr. Hooper has two hands, and Oscar has two knees. Which is a weird verse to give Oscar, because we almost never see his knees. Oh, and Big Bird has two feet.  There’s a moment at the end of this song that I love so much, when the music and singing stop completely for several seconds, and you think it might be over…

…and then BOOM!, “I’ve got two eeeeyes, and they’re both the same size!”  The written word doesn’t do it justice.  You have to hear it with your own two ears (one, two).

Goin' for a Ride
“Goin’ for a Ride” by The Anything People

Oscar really wants to sing his song, but nope, Gordon shuts him down AGAIN. It’s time to go for a ride with “the Anything People,” which is what they called the assorted ensemble-cast Anything Muppets during that first season.  This would be the part of the TV episode where they cut to an insert, and in those days they still had the cast do segues into what was coming up next.

In the song, three Muppets played by Frank Oz, Caroll Spinney, and Jim Henson describe the vehicles they’re riding in, before revealing in the last line of each verse what vehicle it is. Can you guess what kind of vehicle sails the ocean blue and has a captain and a crew before Jim tells you?  Without being able to see the puppets, this sounds a lot like Bert, Big Bird with a funny accent, and Rowlf the Dog.

What Are Kids Called
“What Are Kids Called?” by Bob and Susan

Bob: “Hey, Susan!”

Susan: “Uh-huh?”

Bob: “Let’s sing a song all about what different baby animals are called!”

Man, I want to live on Sesame Street, where that kind of exchange is a normal occurrence.

This is one of those songs that was played on the show over film of real baby animals doing their thing.  I don’t think they do much of that anymore, which is kind of a shame, although I guess children can now just click on the Baby Animals YouTube channel at any time if they want to see a piglet or a lamb.

Hey, did you know that peacocks have chicks?

Everybody Wash Ernie
“Everybody Wash” by Ernie and Bert

Ernie calls Bert into the bathroom, where he’s taking a bath. He doesn’t need help scrubbing or finding a towel, he just needs a hand with this song. Here’s the deal: Ernie or Bert will tell us a part of our body to wash, and we’ll pretend to wash the specified part.  It’s good clean fun!

Ernie has us wash our ears, our hands, and so on.  Then he throws it to Bert, who is delightfully Bert-like, even this early in the show’s history.  “Everybody wash your heels!” Bert says, and “Everybody wash your kneecap!”  Next is “Everybody wash your thumbs!”, to which Ernie takes exception because “We did that when we did the hands there, Bert!”  Was that ad-libbed?  I have no idea, but it’s fun to think so.

The whole thing concludes with “Everybody wash your everything!”, which reminds Bert that he has to wash his socks.

Susan One of These Things
“One of These Things” by Bob and Susan

Technically, this version is “One of These Sounds,” because on a record you can’t really point to three circles and a triangle and ask which one is different. The sounds are: A hollow coconut, another coconut, another coconut, and Ernie’s rubber duckie. Can you guess which one is not like the others?

By the way, where did the rest of the cast go while Bob and Susan are singing these songs?  They were all hanging out on the street just a few tracks ago.

Up and Down Herry Cookie
“Up and Down” by Two Monsters

This song is credited to “Two Monsters.” One of them sounds just like Cookie Monster, although he tosses the first-person pronoun “I” around all over the place — “I look up and see the sky,” whereas Cookie Monster would definitely say “Me look up and see the sky.”

The other monster is performed by Jim Henson. Muppet Wiki tells me that this song was recorded for the album before being taped for the TV show, where the Jim Henson voice was given to an early version of Herry Monster:

The premise here is that Cookie Monster is sad because he dropped his cookie, but Jim-Herry is confused about why Cookie is looking up instead of down. Doesn’t he know the difference between up and down? The two of them sing a groovy song about the two directions, and then comes the twist: Cookie Monster was looking up because when he dropped his cookie, a bird picked it up and flew away with it. In the TV version, Cookie runs off to chase the bird, and Herry simply holds out his hand to let the cookie drop into it. Then he eats it. Jerk.

beingreenkermit
“Bein’ Green” by Kermit the Frog

This is an okay song, I suppose.  But did you ever notice that Kermit starts by saying he’s going to tell us about the color green, but then he doesn’t really tell us anything about it other than the fact that he’s green? This song fails completely on the educational level!

Somebody Come and Play
“Somebody Come and Play” by The Kids

That orangutan appears in the original TV show version of this song, but regrettably, the orangutan does not appear on this record.

The little girl singing the lead part on this recording has some trouble hitting all the notes, but it’s still a charming song.  I had never really thought about it until Michael Davis pointed it out in Street Gang, but there’s a hint of melancholy present as the singer wishes for a playmate to bring some joy to the day. I think this listen-through was the first time I ever noticed that Joe Raposo himself sings on the last verse.

Oscar
“I Love Trash” by Oscar the Grouch

“Okay, okay,” says Oscar, “I’ve waited long enough, and now the time has come!” Well, it took until Side 2, but Oscar finally gets to sing his signature song, an ode to all kinds of refuse. He prepares by throwing all his trash on the sidewalk. You know, I see people throw trash on the sidewalk in New York City all the time, but not once have I seen them follow it up with a musical number.

“ABC-DEF-GHI,” “Bein’ Green,” “I Love Trash.”  So many Sesame Street perennial favorites, all from the first year!  How many times do think Caroll Spinney has sung this one in his Sesame career? Also, does anyone wrap fish in newspaper anymore?

Bob Sesame Street sign
“A Face” by Bob

Oscar confesses that singing about trash made him feel a little bit happy, and Bob’s like, “Yeah, duh, I knew that.” See, you can tell how people are feeling by looking at their faces, which is what this song is about.  Bob is all over this album, isn’t he?

This is a sweet song.  It’s really as much about how nice it is that everyone has a face as it is about deciphering expressions. With its laid-back vibe and moderate tempo, it’s something of a breather in between more energetic songs.

J-Jump

“J-Jump” by The Kids

And this is a pretty energetic song.  This track starts with Big Bird reading a poem about one of his favorite letters, the one that’s shaped like a hook. Then a bunch of kids start singing about J-words.  It kind of sounds like they actually invited all these kids to just play around in the recording studio. There’s a lot of giggling and shouting things in between verses, like “CHINESE CHECKERS! HOPSCOTCH!”, and some of the kids don’t really get all the words right.  But they sure ae having a good time, with the jumpingest J around!

Bob People in Your Neighborhood
“People in Your Neighborhood” by Bob and the Anything People

No, but seriously, Bob kind of hogs this whole record, ’cause here he is with another spotlight. The best thing about this one, of course, is Jim and Frank as the Anything Muppets who become a postman and a fireman, respectively, as Bob sings about what those people do. (“You know who you could be if I gave you this shiny red hat?” Bob asks, and Frank guesses “Santa Claus! Little Red Riding Hood!”)

Sesamstra?eSesamstra?eSesame Matt Robinson Gordon
“Rub Your Tummy” by Gordon

Gordon wants us to rub our tummies.  The music on this track is so funky and infectious, I’m powerless to do anything but comply. After some vigorous tummy-rubbing, we pat our heads — “but not too hard!” — and then Gordon shows great faith in our coordination skills by asking us to do both at the same time. Finally, we clap our hands. This song is so catchy, it makes up for the fact that it’s Gordon’s only solo on the record.

Numerosity 5
“Number Five” by The Kids

This is the audio from one of Jim Henson’s “Numerosity” counting films. How many is five? Five horns, five dogs, five coconuts. And that’s our song of five.

I don’t have access to the original vinyl record, so I’m listening to the aforementioned iTunes version of this album.  Did the original vinyl release have more than just those three fives?  I notice that they’re different than the ones on the TV show version, and it doesn’t end with the baker’s five ice cream cakes.  I could have sworn the record I listened to as a kid had the baker… but it could be a faulty memory.  Can anyone confirm or deny?  Please answer my question while falling down a flight of stairs.

Five People in My Family
“Five People in My Family” by the Anything People

A Muppet dad introduces us to his family.  There were so few performers in the early seasons that everyone had to pitch in on everything, which is why you have Loretta Long doing the voice of the mother on this song.  Jim is the pop, Frank is the sister, Caroll and I think Frank again are the brothers. [UPDATE: The other brother is actually Bob McGrath.] I always liked this song because my own family also had a sister, and two brothers, and a mother, and a pop.

Is the dad in the picture wearing a collar and tie over his bare skin?

Susan Sesame Street sign
“Nearly Missed” by Susan

“Lookin’ at my feet, at a crack in the sidewalk/An old tin can by the side of the road/I nearly missed a rainbow/I nearly missed a sunset/I nearly missed a shootin’ star going by.”

This song is about how you shouldn’t look down at the ground when there’s pretty and inspiring stuff to be seen above you… but what if you’re looking up, hoping to see a rainbow, and you miss seeing a really cool-looking bug? Or you trip on a fire hydrant and fall on your face? That’s not worth a sunset. There should be a song about “Look up, but not all the time, just make sure you look down regularly, okay?”

Remember in Elmopalooza when they had Rosie O’Donnell do a rap version of this?  That was an odd choice.

Ernie Rubber Duckie
“Rubber Duckie” by Ernie

This song hit #16 on Billboard’s Hot 100!  No other song recorded in a bathtub has ever reached those heights.  There’s a reason this tribute to a squeaky toy is an all-time classic… It’s not particularly educational, but it’s tons of fun to sing along with.  Has Sesame Workshop ever sold replicas of Ernie’s rubber duckie?  I’d buy one!

And that brings us to the end, more or less.  The iTunes version of the album is missing the closing tag, in which our Sesame Street friends say goodbye, and, if memory serves, tell us we can come back and visit them anytime just by playing the record again.  [UPDATE: I’ve been informed that the version of this album included in the Sesame Street Old School Volume 1 CD set has the closing tag intact.]  These days, kids can watch all kinds of Sesame content at any minute of any day, but back in the pre-modern era, this was the closest we could get to experiencing an episode of the show outside of the regularly scheduled PBS airings.

This album won a Grammy for Best Recording for Children, and I can’t imagine any record being more deserving.  It perfectly captures the feeling of old-school Sesame Street, and listening to it now is a fun trip to the show’s past.

It could have used a little more Mr. Hooper, though.

Click here to count coconuts on the Tough Pigs forum!

by Ryan Roe – Ryan@ToughPigs.com

Pin It on Pinterest