There are over 4,500 episodes of Sesame Street, many of which are primarily lost to the fans. We’re reviewing some of the best, strangest, and rarest episodes out there in our series Sesame Rewind!
Earlier this year, the general public discovered a running gag from Sesame Street that fans had known about for years: Elmo’s ongoing feud with Zoe’s pet rock, Rocco. For months now, any post from the official Sesame or Elmo social media accounts is likely to be full of comments about Rocco, the inanimate rock that Zoe treats like a sentient being, much to Elmo’s exasperation. Because it’s just a rock. (I wrote more about this phenomenon here.)
America loves that rock that just sits there and never actually does anything. But what if I told you that, years before Rocco was a twinkle in Zoe’s eye, Sesame Street featured a group of living, breathing rocks, who could actually talk and count and play drums?
It’s true! They were called the Rockheads, and there weren’t just two of them, nor three, but FOUR! Sesame Street wasn’t messing around with these guys. Sadly, they didn’t stick around, but instead moved on from the show like a rolling stone. But I’d like to bring your attention to them, in the hopes that more people can learn to appreciate them. Maybe somebody will even start a “rock Tumblr” devoted to them.
(Side note: When I told my wife and Tough Pigs contributor Staci about these characters, she asked me if the name “Rockheads” was supposed to sound like “Rockettes,” like the famous dancers at Radio City Music Hall. I don’t know the answer to that question, but I kind of hope it’s the case.)
The Rockheads were introduced in Episode 1939 of Sesame Street, during season 15 in 1984, but viewers had to sit through over half the episode before getting to them. In those days, it was still just as common for an episode to have several unrelated street scenes as one serialized street-based story. First, we have David teaching Forgetful Jones how to use a computer to write a letter to his grandmother.
You can tell that Forgetful hasn’t done a lot of typing because he uses the one-handed “hunt and peck” method rather than putting his fingers in home-row position. He gets stuck after writing “Dear Granny Jones,” but fortunately David is there to suggest a few more things he can say – and to explain that he can just print the letter instead of sending the entire computer to his granny. Is Forgetful Jones the funniest Sesame Street Muppet ever? Quite possibly!
Later, Grundgetta is using Oscar’s trash can as a rocket, but she’s frustrated because she can’t get it to blast off. Just in time, a woman comes along and offers to help by using her advanced space travel knowledge, which consists of counting backwards from ten. It’s astronaut Sally Ride, by the way.
And then, finally, we’re on our way to see the Rockheads! We rejoin David, who is jumping on one of those old-fashioned ice cream man bicycles (There must be name for those, right?) to deliver some ice cream to a patron of Hooper’s Store. He has to deliver it quickly! (Can you guess what’s going to happen to the ice cream? I bet you can!)
We cut to an abandoned lot, where four living piles of rocks sit on a crumbling wall, which is apparently all that’s left of a long-unoccupied building. Sesame Street went all in on the gritty urban environment in those days. When we first see them, the Rockheads are arguing over which Rocky movie was the best, which is hilarious. One of them claims Rocky III is the best, while another claims “You can’t beat the original!”
When David rolls by on his bicycle, they stop moving and curl up like Rokkon and Stonedar from He-Man and the Masters of the Universe — you all remember Rokkon and Stonedar, right? — but David senses something kooky is going on and taps one of them with a brick. It slowly sits up and very slowly says, “Ouuuch.” Richard Hunt performs this Rockhead, so perhaps it won’t surprise you to learn that he manages to make the word “Ouuuch” funny. All four of the Rockheads speak in this slow, deep voice, which seems 100% accurate to what rock piles would sound like if they could talk. They’re performed (screen left to right) by Jim Kroupa, Martin P. Robinson, Brian Muehl, and Richard Hunt. They’re never identified by individual names; they’re all just Rockheads.
The puppets are beautiful. They’re just so cool-looking. They really look like they’re made out of rocks, but each one looks like it’s made out of a different kind of rock. Their appearance is supplemented by sound effects of rock clanging and scraping together every time they move. The Rockheads are a remarkable combination of design, construction, performance. And mineral.
David quickly learns that the Rockheads, though good-natured, are easily confused, to the extent that they don’t even know how many of them there are. The Jim Kroupa Rockhead insists that there are 82 of them! David suggests that they count themselves, and then count themselves again after one of them leaves, and so on.
The Richard Hunt Rockhead says, “Okay… I’ll leave.” He abruptly falls backwards off the wall with a crash, which is a nice piece of slapstick. Or should I say “slaprock?” No. No, I shouldn’t. Long story short: Four Rockheads take away four Rockheads leaves no Rockheads. Therefore, there were four of them. This show is so educational! David marvels at the Rockheads’ intelligence, as well he should.
The Rockheads squeeze in one more appearance in the episode. In the final street segment, David excitedly calls Maria over to the abandoned lot and asks is she’d like to go to a rock concert. She’d love to. But where is it? Right here! The Rockheads pop up and proceed to play the Sesame Street theme song on various percussion instruments. Maria is not exactly thrilled.
And then David suddenly remembers the ice cream, which has been sitting inside the box in his bicycle this whole time, and now it’s completely melted and his customer doesn’t have their order. Which is too bad, but I’d say some lost business is worth it for the chance to meet the Rockheads.
This would not be the last time the Rockheads would appear on Sesame Street. In a later episode, Gordon also stumbled upon their brick wall, and individual Rockheads would pop up a few more times to join the fun on the street. I assume the producers wanted to get as much use of them as they could, because I’m sure it couldn’t have been cheap to build four of these guys.
Are the Rockheads as funny as Rocco? Perhaps not. The comedy value of Rocco comes from Zoe, an otherwise friendly child, purposefully driving her friend up the wall by insisting that a rock is alive — and from Elmo, an otherwise cheerful child, flying off the handle when Zoe refuses to budge. The comedy value of the Rockheads comes from them being a bunch of rocks who are kind of dumb. The concept of the Rockheads lacks the psychological complexity of the Rocco bit. And yet, I can’t help but love them, and to wish they had been used more.
Muppet Wiki’s detailed episode guides list no appearances by the Rockheads after season 17, so they ultimately ended up in the Quarry of Forgotten Muppets. Was it because they spoke too slowly? Was it because children love monsters and large birds, but find it hard to identify with rocks? Or did the writers just realize they had used up their best material for them with that “rock concert” joke?
It’s too bad they faded into obscurity, but I like to think they’d be proud of Rocco for becoming a Sesame Street sensation. The Rockheads walked so Rocco could run. Except Rocco doesn’t run because he’s just a rock. And I’m not actually sure the Rockheads can walk. But you know what I mean.
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by Ryan Roe – Ryan@ToughPigs.com