?It’s not hyperbole to say that Sesame Street changed the world. It revolutionized not only children’s television, but the medium in general while also cementing the Muppets place in pop culture. The show offered up a mixture of skits and animated sequences that spearheaded the concept of educating children without being condescending to them. Best of all was the bouncy number that began each episode with the promise of sunny days. Oh man, the music to Sesame Street was amazing. It’s been said that by bringing together a creative team that has included talents like Joe Raposo, Jeff Moss, Christopher Cerf and Jon Stone over the years, executive producer Joan Ganz Cooney has done for kids’ music what The Beatles did for rock and roll. After the initial success of the program, albums of the show’s memorable songs were released and subsequently devoured by fans. Then, established artists like Ray Charles began covering Sesame Street tunes, bringing the material to audiences who may otherwise have never been exposed to it. Since the first Sesame LP was released in 1970, there have been countless others in its wake (not to mention the type of endless reissuing and repackaging of previously available material that gets Morrissey’s knickers in a twist). Anyone seeking an overview of the classic material would be wise to check out the Old School CD sets that are available. The only problem with those releases is that they often leave out lesser known ditties that may have been essential to your childhood. So it’s always best to track down the original albums whenever possible. Thanks to the Internet, this is an easy task to accomplish. So what are the best Sesame Street records? Here are one fan’s thoughts on the songs that always helped chase the clouds away.
8) David: Daydreamin’ on a Rainy Day
?We’ll kick this list off with a true oddity: a solo album from Northern Calloway’s David character. The concept of the LP is that David is bored on a rainy day, so he starts singing as a way to pass the time. The ensuing songs are late-1960s/early 1970s pop nuggets that often sound like castoffs from Godspell or Hair (especially “Wonderful You, Wonderful Me,” which enigmatically declares that “we all belong to the sky”). Elsewhere, listeners are treated to funk (“The Hat Song”) and a Star Wars-inspired rocker (“Space Cadet”). Without a doubt the album’s highlight is “Rubberband Band,” an earworm that has Calloway channeling his inner Elton John. At no point during the proceedings do any Muppets turn up to join in on the daydreaming fun. This is curious because although David was a popular character, he hardly had the cachet of a Bob or Susan and therefore wouldn’t seem like a natural choice for a solo record. As such, this release often feels like more of a contract stipulation than the typical Sesame Street album… but what a groovy stipulation it is. Unfortunately, any discussion of Northern Calloway’s career must also touch upon his sad fate. It seems that the 1980s were a tumultuous decade for him, during which he weathered a nervous breakdown and a lawsuit against Marvel Comics over a project involving a superhero he created called Skyrider .Worst of all, he was rumored to have been fired from Sesame Street for his erratic behavior. Tragically, things went downhill from there. He died in 1990 under mysterious circumstances that have been attributed to everything from stomach cancer to delirium brought on by his struggles with mental illness. What ultimately matters is how he was viewed in the eyes of the generation that grew up watching him on TV. To them, he’ll always be the cool guy with the muttonchops who taught them that sometimes rainy days are the most fun.
7) Christmas Eve on Sesame Street
?When people talk about the greatest holiday specials ever made, Christmas Eve on Sesame Street is too often left out of the conversation. Maybe I’m just biased due to my love for seeing Ice Capades versions of Ernie and Cookie Monster taunting Bert, but I firmly believe that it remains the best Christmas program that has aired on TV. So while compiling this list I couldn’t overlook the show’s companion album. It includes the classic Sesame songs “True Blue Miracle” and “Keep Christmas With You” and tracks retelling of the plot — which involves Bird Bird enduring an existential crises over the existence of Santa Claus and Bert and Ernie channeling O. Henry by sacrificing their prized possessions (a rubber duckie and a paper clip collection) in order to buy gifts for each other. Much humor and sentimentality abounds, and this LP reflects the emotions of the show beautifully. So much so that this jaded writer was tearing up while re-listening to it while writing this article. It’s astonishing to me that Christmas Eve on Sesame Street‘s message and music can still puncture my hardened heart and make me a bit less pessimistic about the world. And if that isn’t a true blue miracle I don’t know what one is.
6) The Best of the Count
Yes. The standout track on the LP is “The Transylvania Love Call,” a romantic duet with the Count’s lady that is a spiritual predecessor to Forgetting Sarah Marshall’s “Dracula’s Lament.” Besides the original tunes, the compilation also features vampiric takes on standards like “This Old Man” and “The Transylvania Polka” that are begging to be cherry picked for Halloween mixes. That’s one! One awesome album! Bwa ha ha.
?For a math-loving vampire, Count von Count has a surprising love for klezmer. That’s just one of the tidbits of wisdom you will take away from this LP that compiles the Count’s greatest musical moments from all of the Sesame Street albums. Here’s a look at “The Song of the Count,” a catchy ditty that became the character’s signature tune online thanks to some clever editing:
5) Sing the Hit Songs of Sesame Street
When Sesame Street debuted in 1969, the “Age of Aquarius” vibe of the songs instantly caught on with kids and parents alike. This collection of material from the early years of the show pulls out the big guns: “C Is for Cookie,” “Bein’ Green” (the original version of which you see above), “Rubber Duckie,” “Sing,” “I Love Trash,” the theme song and other childhood favorites. Even though these tunes are more than 40 years old, there is a timeless quality to them that endures across the decades. Sesame Street songs have become the new standards, musical rites of passage that each generation of children has cherished since the series premiered. If you somehow missed out on this communal experience because your parents had an aversion to happiness or some other horrible reason, Sing the Hit Songs of Sesame Street is the perfect starting point for you to get acquainted with the wonders of Muppet music.
4) Just the Two of Us
From the cover alone you can tell that this one was going to be something special. In a recording studio, Harry Monster works the engineering board while Grover and Cookie Monster sing their hearts out. The poor bastards. Little did any of them realize during this photo shoot that they would all fall victim to the Elmoization that would soon strike the street they called home. Sigh. At least we have this audio souvenir of a better time before the irksome red fucker (and some overly PC nonsense that limited cookie consumption) took over Sesame Street. This double LP is actually just a repackaging of the Grover Sings the Blues and C Is for Cookie albums. They are both packed with the brand of mischievous fun that was the show’s trademark back when folks like Lefty and Roosevelt Franklin were still hanging around. Frank Oz does vocal duties for both characters here, though I must admit to preferring the Grover songs more. Partially because of my affinity for the troublemaking character, but also because tracks like “I Am Blue” and “What Do I Do When I’m Alone?” are so touching that you forget they were created for a piece of felt. As I mentioned, recent years have seen Grover and Cookie Monster pushed to the sidelines of Sesame Street. It’s perfectly fine to be enraged about this. So allow yourself time to vent, then throw on Just the Two of Us and destroy an entire bag of Chips Ahoy. Cookie would have wanted it that way.
?To quote Sam Beckett, “oh boy.” Even if you believe (as I do) that questioning the sexuality of puppets is proof that America’s obsession with pop culture has officially crossed the line into a shameful waste of time, it’s hard not to look at this cover and think that Bert and Ernie are totally doing it. Further clues are found in the song “Do You Like Me?,” in which a needy and possessive Ernie browbeats Bert into admitting that he does have feelings of affection for him before begging his duck-loving pal to turn off the lights. Whether Bert wants to sleep or get busy is left to the listener’s imagination (for what it’s worth, Avenue Q‘s “If You Were Gay” seems to be directly inspired by this song). Puppet sexuality controversies aside, the overwhelming message of this album is to try to live your life with love for yourself and others. I think we can all agree that’s a message worthy of getting behind.
2) The Year of Roosevelt Franklin
My love for Roosevelt Franklin and his music has been previously documented here on Topless Robot (he topped my list of the 8 Most Underrated Muppets) so perhaps this entry is even more subjective than usual. However, I defy any of you to listen to 1971’s The Year of Roosevelt Franklin — which was reissued three years later as My Name Is Roosevelt Franklin — and not be moved by either its music or its message. Roosevelt was created by Sesame Street‘s first Gordon, Matt Robinson, who saw the character as a way to discuss issues of race and prejudice on the show. In one of the craziest decisions ever made by public television execs, it was agreed that the purple Muppet reflected negative African-American stereotypes and he and his family were then sent into Sesame limbo. Along with the fact that Roosevelt was a fucking puppet and not a person, what Children’s Television Workshop overlooked was that his message of being comfortable with yourself transcended race. It’s a theme that is ever present on this album. Songs like “The Skin I’m In” and the raucous “A Bear Eats Bear Food” are toe-tapping tributes to diversity that still should be celebrated on Sesame Street today.
1) Sesame Street Fever
Much like Archie comics, Sesame Street never met a pop culture trend they couldn’t exploit. The most fiscally rewarding example of tapping into the current zeitgeist came with the Sesame Street Fever album. Much like rotary telephones and those plates with the weird brown designs on the borders, anyone who grew up in the 1970s or ’80s had this album. For awhile, it seemed like this LP was almost as ubiquitous as Saturday Night Fever itself. The involvement of Bee Gee Robin Gibb coupled with disco reworkings of iconic Sesame songs like “C Is for Cookie” and “Rubber Duckie” resulted in a demographic shattering success. Oh yeah, it’s also tremendous fun to listen to. Well, except for “Has Anybody Seen My Dog?,” an utterly depressing number in which Grover is an absolute cunt to Marty, Pointless trivia fact: somewhere in my sister’s basement exists an audio cassette of a 5-year-old, speech impedimented me performing a horrible a cappella version of the title track.