Indepth commentary, essays, reviews and analysis by Muppet/Henson historian d.w. mckim. Muppet Freak is about Fandom. Mostly Muppet fandom but this blog also touches on other areas of fandom not related to the Muppets as well as the concept of fandom itself (in general terms and the author's direct experiences). Some content may be controversial and solely represents the opinions of the author. Younger or more sensitive readers are urged to proceed with caution.
Tuesday, March 20, 2012
The Top Five COOLEST Sesame Street Songs EVER! [From the Archives: 3-25-09]
[The below article was posted on the original Muppet Freak on March 25, 2009]
Just like practically all my other interests, my passion for record collecting can be directly traced to the Muppets. I had all the record albums and singles when i was a kid (and the stores were SATURATED with them in the 70's). If it was Muppet-related and on record, i had to have it (even if i already had the songs on it on other recordings). This would pretty much account for my later desire to track down every single obscure recording by Eurythmics, Annie Lennox, or Dave Stewart including the various bands on Dave's Anxious Music record label, the super rare "Borderline" single Dave and Annie recorded with Peet Coombes in 1977 under the name "The Catch" before they added two more members to become The Tourists for three more years, and of course countless bootlegs! I also have a massive Pet Shop Boys collection (though not being a fan of a lot of remixes, i draw the line at tracking down their singles that are nothing but 12 minute bastardizations of their original song!)
This early love of Muppet record collecting would later give way to Muppet video collecting/tape trading...but that's another post!
Gearing up for its 40th season, Sesame Street has had a lot of awesome songs in its over 4000 episodes (including songs that were only on records and not the actual show). Many of us have our favorite moments that live in our hearts and inevitably make us smile when we remember the Count doing the Lambaba while counting sheep, Chris Cerf's manic performances as Little Chrissy counting it higher or looking for the way way out Exit sign, or even Bip Bippadotta (aka Mahna Mahna) yelling "all of the hairy ones and all of the scary ones" or "See the tall ball on the high wall, see it stall, hear it call HI Y'ALL!" And that's just the Muppet songs...there were also some groovy ditties that didn't involve the Muppets such as the Pointer Sisters' swing alphabet and their all time classic Pinball Number Count.
So one would think it nearly impossible to compile the five coolest Sesame Street songs of all time. But oddly enough it was really quite easy simply because even though there have been so many greats over the decades, the following songs just reach insurmountable heights of awesomeness that really make them stand apart. They immediately came to mind during my initial brainstorming, and even after searching lists of Muppet songs, i simply couldn't find anything that i overlooked that came close.
When i was putting together this list, i tried not to include any common threads, but nonetheless i found that there are two really interesting things about these songs: (1) They're all from Sesame Street's "Golden Era" (1972-1977) - and believe me, i really tried to include something newer, but just couldn't find any songs better than these! (2) Even more surprising, when i was looking up information on these songs, i discovered that the top four were all written or co-written by Sam Pottle (who along with Jim Henson, wrote The Muppet Show Theme Song) The only non-Pottle song was written by Joe Raposo.
And that song is:
#5: CLINK, CLANK!
--As far as i know, this song was never performed on the show (though Bert and Ernie did a special version with Flip Wilson on his variety show). Originally recorded for 1972's Havin' Fun With Ernie and Bert album (and appearing on numerous compilation albums since), this song is all about Bert going on about how "WILD AND WONDERFUL" the sound of hitting a pan and tin can with a spoon is along with shaking a tin can with marbles inside and blowing a whistle. Ernie is less impressed.
Now you just know ANY Top Five list of the coolest Sesame ANYTHING simply has to include Ernie and Bert. But this is the one that will have you howling with laughter. "Dance Myself to Sleep" came close (and given that it was from the '80's, i really wanted to include it, but not only has it been overplayed on the show, but it just doesn't make me giggle non-stop like this one does.)
Part of the reason this song is so hysterical is not only because of the classic interplay between Henson's Ernie and Oz's Bert, but the BACKING MUSIC is so insanely out there - the kazoo players were just having way too much fun on this track!
Bert gives out these almost orgasmic sighs and sings with such passion! And Ernie decides to join in - with a very loud obnoxious horn leading to a tear-inducing spoken exchange:
Bert: AAAAhhh! Ernie, you RUINED it!
Ernie: Well, I couldn't find a whistle, Bert!
Bert: Well, this time YOU rattle and I'll TWEET!
Ernie: Okay, Bert! (HONK!)
Ernie: I just had to put it down, Bert.
Bert: Well... CONTROL yourself!
I've played this song many times for both Muppet lovers and non-Freaks, and every time i've done so they have just ended up in tears of laughter.
#4: THIS FROG
-- Let's just forget about Sesame Street for a moment; this song is my all time favorite Kermit the Frog song! Better than Bein' Green, Rainbow Connection, or Happy Feet! This is really the frog's anthem. It was written after The Muppet Show had made its debut and Kermit was going from a star to a supernova. It's really one of those inspirational songs that one can totally absorb and feel empowered by - not at all schmaltzy or hokey. As someone who's often felt like the prince in a frog's body, i really have adopted this song as my own personal call to flippers. Just look at this first verse:
This frog has to go his own way
This frog doesn't care what the other frogs say
This frog wants to be happy, and this frog has to try
This frog is gonna make it or know the reason why
I'm not gonna sit here like some dumb old bump on a log
That isn't me!
I'm gonna be this frog!
...and the rest of the song is just that good! Including other classic lines like:
This frog is staying with it, like a tick sticks to a dog
This frog will not wear a halter, cause nothing halts this frog!
It's actually kind of a shame that this song hasn't crossed over from outside of Sesame Street (and even then, not aired, released, or heard in ages). It really deserves to be on a whole mess o' Muppet compilation albums and be one of those clips that always show up in Muppet tribute reels like Sam and Friends' "That Old Black Magic" and Muppet Show's "I Get Around"
#3: I WANT A MONSTER TO BE MY FRIEND
--I'm not EVEN going to talk about the travesty that was En Vogue's recording of this song for the Elmopalooza special and album. That's like comparing the awesomeness of George W Bush vs. Pepe the King Prawn! No, i mean the original recording by Marilyn Sokol.
Now, if you're a Muppet fan and you're not familiar with either the name Marilyn Sokol or can't immediately place her voice, i command you to either break out your Emmet Otter and Sesame Street Old School Volume 2 dvd's - or buy them if you don't own them! Sokol is best known in Muppet circles as the voice of Ma Otter, but she also lent her voice to a number of Sesame Street songs in the 1970's - and there's a pleasantly heaping portion of them on the Old School 2 set. Marilyn will be the subject of a performer tribute post later on in this blog, so i'll limit my gushing about her here so i can save it for later. But suffice to say, the sun always shines brighter on Sesame Street when Marilyn sings. And she totally OWNS this track!
Betty Lou was the Muppet who sang this song on the show, but the audio recording came first where she was credited as "a little girl". Indeed, she starts out singing very sweetly about the benefits of dolls or pets and such. But then she gets to the point of the song and what she really desires...and breaks out in full belting-showgirl jazz mode!
I want a monster
To be my playmate
I want a monster
To be my friend
I want to get
For my own pet
A real live monster
Who's not pretend
Now Sokol's take-no-prisoners delivery alone would make this song sheer awesomeness on its own, but then there's also the subject matter - extolling the virtues of Muppet Monsters! Now this is something near and dear to my heart - i've often self-identified as a Muppet Monster; not the cutest or most desirable outside, but a rather sweet if eccentric and large-appetited being underneath it all. One of my prize possessions is a shirt with The Muppet Show's Sweetums on the front and the words "Tall, Dark, and Handsome" on the back. Whether they were on the Street, the Show, or any other Muppet production, the Monsters taught the best lessons about tolerance. And they looked and acted cool while doing it!
Which, sadly makes it all the more of a shame that this song was ruined by INtolerance. All it took was one hypersensitive whackjob parent who wrote to the show complaining that some of the lines in the song could be interpreted to refer to child molestation. The song was pulled from the show and not included in any more album compilations (until that dreadful En Vogue version that rewrote the "controversial" lyrics).
Believe me, the damage En Vogue did to this amazing song was far worse than any damage the lyrics of the song could possibly inflict in anyone's mind. If that parent hasn't already died in a sea of their own bitterness, i'm pretty sure they're now a Bill O'Reilly addict/Focus on Everyone Else's Family But Your Own disciple that endorses boycotts of the Teletubbies and Spongebob Squarepants "because they're gay"
and wants President Obama to fail because he's "one of THOSE people". I would say to that person "learn to love your neighborhood monsters" especially since you seem to have a rather large Monster Streak yourself!
Anyway, end of rant. It was a celebration of monsters. It had Marilyn Sokol singing her heart out. It was banned. It was the third Coolest Sesame Song Ever!
#2: COOKIE DISCO
--Isn't it funny how things work sometimes? One nutjob parent takes offense at a song that one really has to twist around to imagine is something bad, but no one seemed to mind that Cookie Monster was singing a parody of the Theme From Shaft? Which this song totally is! This song is a perfect example of how Sesame Street was entertaining the adults right along with the kids with its multi-layered humor. Watching this as a kid and seeing Cookie in his "pimped out" costume, i just thought he was dressing up as Elton John (just with a very shaggy beard). Did you get out that copy of the Sesame Street Old School Volume 2 DVD Box Set when i told you to? You'll see this song included. Dig that groovy choreographed entrance Cookie's backup singers make! Though this song is hilarious to watch on tv, it's just as much fun listening to it on record with all the 70's musical cliches going on in the background like the flutes and such. A sampling of the lyrics:
(singers:) He's shaggy, he's blue
And he knows how to chew - COOKIE!
(Cookie:) Can you dig it?
(Singers:) You think you can munch,
Brother, you're out to lunch
Compared with - COOKIE!
(Cookie:) Did someone say "Lunch?"
(Singers:) If you offered him treasure,
Will he take it?
(Cookie:)Darn tootin', but you know me would
Get a lot more pleasure from Fig Newton!
#1: THE SUBWAY
--Even compared with all the Muppety Goodness that makes up the other four songs, this one blows them all away! Sang by a group of Anything Muppets (along with Betty Lou, Bert, and Kermit). Great fun to listen to, even greater fun to watch! Intensely catchy, MORE great Marilyn Sokol vocals, and probably the MOST CYNICAL lyrics ever sang on Sesame Street set to music that sounds like a total over the top celebration!
Watching the really cool hipster-type Muppet inexplicably walk into the subway station twice, Bert's little "Hi, Kermit", Kermit popping up in his trench coat, that crazy trumpet solo instrumental where all the Muppets dance wildly with each other (including one man who lacking a dance partner shakes his rolled-up newspaper all over the place) not to mention Kermit's facial expressions during the dancing and lines like:
Kermit: My stop just went by!
Betty Lou: Hey, your thumbs in my eye!
Hip Dude: Its so hot, I could die!
You could lose your purse
Or you might lose something worse
On the subway
and most especially...
Buy a token now for a ride that's "super-WOW" on the SUBWAY!
...ending with the group getting off (after falling into each other as the subway comes to a stop)...except for Bert who stays holding onto his strap as the door closes!
It doesn't get better than this! And to my jumping-with-joy ecstatic bliss, it was also included on the Old School DVD 2 set!
Now finally, I do have to give a special...
HONORABLE MENTION: to SURPRISE
No, not the Little Jerry song from season two (though that was pretty awesome itself), but rather a mid-70's song with the human cast and some Muppet help (including Big Bird and Grover). The reason i can only bestow this song with an "honorable mention" is only because i haven't seen or heard it since it last aired in the mid 70's and i've forgotten a lot about it. But what i do remember was incredible and i have little doubt that it would be right up there with the others.
The subject of the song was about how surprises are things you don't expect - and the song just goes in all these wild random directions musically and visually. There's Bob doing nursery rhymes and getting soaked with water talking about Jack and Jill and snowed on when reciting Mary Had a Little Lamb, doors opening to brick walls, Groucho glasses, and a whole bunch of pies in the face (and of course, you can NEVER go wrong with massive pies in the face!) At one point Big Bird sings about how everyone forgot his birthday and he gets a surprise celebration. The very last shot is the cast grouped together singing "SURPRISE!" as what appears to a flower on Big Bird's chest turns out to be a pie that hurls itself at the camera. This is my Holy Grail of Sesame clips that i want to see again! And just think...if it was co-written by Sam Pottle, he may then dominate my list completely by knocking Raposo out of the #5 spot!
Coming up this week...The COOLEST Sesame Street ALBUM of all time. None of the above songs are on it, but it does have a healthy supply of Ernie and Bert!
[Three years later after this was written and no new information or clips still seems to have surfaced about "Surprise" - with the continual release of Sesame clips on Sesame Workshop's sites and unofficial recordings popping up continually on Youtube, surely this is bound to pop up sooner or later...and what a wonderful SURPRISE it will be!]