Kieran Moore – As we hurtle towards my fiftieth chart (for we are almost there) my topics suddenly seem to have taken a turn for the retro. I say that because last week my subject was Scooter and Richard Hunt was the third chart I ever wrote and now I’m featuring Prairie Dawn and Fran Brill was my second! If next week’s chart is a Jim Henson character I’ll have completed the trio!
Prairie Dawn first appeared on Sesame Street in 1971 and has been a constant presence on the show ever since. Although it could be argued that she’s occasionally been sidelined, it can’t be denied that this sweet yet sassy girl has staying power. Over the years female Muppets have come and gone and there have been many pretenders to the throne – I’m looking at you Betty Lou – however none have really been able to overthrow the undisputed Queen of Sesame Street that is Prairie Dawn. So let’s take a look at the musical moments that define this 45 year-old seven year-old girl!
10 – Me Love Cookie Art – Prairie Dawn, Cookie Monster and Cast – The Cookie Thief
I suppose this should really be classed as a Cookie Monster song (in terms of theme if nothing else), but Prairie Dawn certainly has plenty to do along the way. While Cookie Monster is munching cookies, Prairie is munching her way through quick-fire lyrics. It’s worked out quite nicely that this song is here at number 10 as it’s given me an early opportunity to discuss the amazing Fran Brill. This is because sadly The Cookie Thief marked her final appearance as Prairie Dawn before her retirement. This insanely talented lady was the first female performer Jim hired (other than his future wife Jane) and I think it makes a hugely fitting tribute for Prairie Dawn to get such a prominent role in this production. The fact that Prairie’s last line is “I think it may be time for me to retire!” is just the icing on the cake.
9 – Three – Prairie Dawn, Herry Monster & Elmo – Sesame Street
If I didn’t know better I’d find it a little surprising that this song comes from as (relatively) recently as 1988 as it has a distinctly vintage Sesame Street sound. I guess I have to face facts that 1988 is vintage now, but (Elmo’s voice aside) if you’d have told me this was from the 70’s I’d easily have believed you. I think it’s the orchestration that does it as early Sesame Street certainly loved a flute and this song does too. I suppose the fact that Jeff Moss wrote it is also a contributing factor. Jeff is responsible for some of Sesame Street’s most iconic tunes and was writing for the show right from season one. He’s a true song-writing legend and you’ll be hearing from him again I’m sure… This song is expertly sung by Fran, Jerry Nelson and Kevin Clash and I love the way that Herry’s gruffness blends with Prairie Dawn and Elmo’s sweeter tones.
8 – Ring around the Rosie/Skip to My Lou – Prairie Dawn and Chorus – Kids’ Favorite Songs
I always really enjoy these audio only performances; partly because there’s a clarity to the recordings that really lets the singer shine, but also because the format seems to bring out a sense of freedom in the performer. I suppose it’s probably my imagination, but it feels like they’re a little bit freer and I think you get a full-bodied performance from a character that often only exists from the waist up. As you would expect from an album called Kids’ Favorite Songs this is probably the most childlike we’ll hear Prairie Dawn be on this chart. Both of these songs take me back to my childhood. We used to play Ring around the Rosie at the pool when I was little and it was always culminated by dunking yourself under the water. I guess looking back it was a very clever way of building up water confidence, but to pre-school aged me it was just a lot of fun!
7 – On the Very First Day – Prairie Dawn – The People in Your Neighborhood
This is the first song on this chart to really highlight Prairie Dawn’s sweet side. It’s also another Jeff Moss song (and there’s that flute again). There’s a stillness to this that I find really enchanting and the more I listen the more it draws me in. This is a simple song, but in no way is that statement meant to do it down. In fact, I believe it’s one of its strengths as it allows each element to shine. The absolute star of this piece though is Fran’s voice. Is it any coincidence that her surname makes up part of the word “brilliant”? I think not. I would imagine that hitting those high notes in Prairie Dawn’s voice is a bit of a task (even for a woman) and yet you wouldn’t think it based on the evidence presented here.
6 – Girls of the World – Prairie Dawn, Zoe, Rosita & Betty Lou – Sesame Street
Having (perhaps unfairly) singled out Betty Lou as an inferior version of Prairie Dawn earlier on I guess I have to cut her some slack now! To be fair to Betty Lou she does actually predate Prairie Dawn on the show, but I think the fact that she was really just created as an “every girl” character and was passed around the Muppet performers means that she never really took off in the same way as Prairie Dawn did. Fran was there from the start with Prairie Dawn and was in part responsible for her characterization. I think that’s the reason Prairie Dawn outlasted so many other female characters. Although conceived as a “girly-girl” (and there certainly are those elements in her character), Fran was able to elevate Prairie Dawn beyond that. I suppose this song is a perfect example. Here Prairie Dawn and her friends sing about how being feminine doesn’t limit them and in fact if anything it opens up a larger range of possibilities. This is a great empowering song for little girls, but the theme of celebrating who you are is universal and should be heard by everyone.
5 – I Think That It Is Wonderful – Prairie Dawn, Bert, Ernie, Cookie Monster & Herry Monster – Sesame Street
I do think that it is wonderful. I guess I just think there are four songs that are more wonderful! This is such a happy song. Part of me feels the sun on my face while I listen to it, and yet it perfectly captures the stillness and beauty of twilight. How can a song seem so perfect at portraying both? I just don’t know. I guess you could consider this a companion piece to “What a Wonderful World” which has a similar theme and a common word in the title. I can only assume that it was (at least in part) the inspiration for this song. I’ve always enjoyed a song where multiple lines overlap or work as a round and this song has elements of that, but I kind of wish it went further. Either way, I stand by my opening statement – I think that this song is wonderful.
4 – All by Myself – Prairie Dawn with Monster Chorus – Sesame Street
Prairie Dawn states that she’s six years old here however Muppet Wiki lists her as being seven. I guess 45 year-old puppets can grow up by a year every now and again! At six or seven (not that she’s at sixes or sevens) Prairie Dawn is one of the older Muppet children on Sesame Street and that comes across in this song as she sings a run down of the things she can and can’t do. I guess it’s a good way for kids to judge their own development – let’s just hope there aren’t many seven years olds watching who are too far behind! Fran Brill is on record as saying that she enjoyed playing Prairie Dawn because she is a little older as it meant she could “get away with pushing the envelope with her”. I think this fact can be seen all through Prairies Dawn’s appearances as although she is sweet and kind she can be a bit sassy when she wants and is certainly surer of herself than some of the other Muppets.
3 – Do the Dog – Prairie Dawn – Sesame Street
Piano playing and dogs go together in a Muppety sentence like ham and cheese go together in a sandwich, but I’ll bet you a dollar to a donut that it’s not usually in reference to this song. (Why am I suddenly hungry?) This is a fun song with a doo-wop era jazz piano-esque style to it that is just impossible to ignore. Is anyone else getting a Baby Piggy vibe from this? If someone played me just the audio and said that this was from “Muppet Babies” with Piggy singing and Rowlf playing piano I would totally believe them. It’s very much in the style of the music from the show – at least as much of it as I can remember. I guess it should come as no surprise really then that this song was written by Christopher Cerf who as far as I can tell doesn’t have “Muppet Babies” amongst his credits, but did write for “Little Muppet Monsters” which musically had a very similar feel (even if it did have a very different fate).
2 – Different – Prairie Dawn & Tyne Daly – Sesame Street
I must admit that I was initially surprised at the high position that this song managed to bag, but when I added up the scores from the international jury and tallied the votes from the premium rate phone line this song did indeed come out at number two! I think it’s primarily because this song is fun. It’s not hilariously funny (though Tyne’s “look at that footwork” joke hits the mark incredibly well), but neither is it overbearingly cheerful or cloying and sentimental. It’s just bright and breezy and sometimes that’s all you need. This really is sold on the calibre of the performances from Fran Brill and Tyne Daly (who despite a glittering career on stage and screen will always be Mary Beth Lacey to me). Both are on fine form here and give effortless performances that are, as I said earlier, a lot of fun. I also love that this song celebrates our differences which is one of the cornerstones that Sesame Street is built on. All things considered it really is a very worthy second place song!
1 – Little Things – Prairie Dawn – Sesame Street
I really do think this song is something special and I seem to remember so do a lot of you as it got quite a response when I featured it in my Fran Brill chart back in 2014. This is exactly the kind of song that has kept Sesame Street head and shoulders above its competition for nearly 50 years. It’s not just the quality of the song writing, but also the calm sense of tranquillity that this and many other Joe Raposo compositions provide. It’s an oasis of loveliness. Looking at Muppet Wiki I find it amazing that this song waited 20 years to get an audio release! This song really is the best example of Prairie Dawn’s sweet side, but it goes further than that. By singing “I believe” it demonstrates her faith in the world and her appreciation of its beauty. It’s a theme that has been seen already in this chart, but this really is the pinnacle of her childlike innocence. Prairie Dawn is most definitely not a passive character and even in a gentle song like this her repeated use of “I” shows that she is master of her own destiny.
That said with Fran Brill retiring Prairie Dawn does need a new hand to guide her along the way. It makes me insanely happy that Stephanie D’Abruzzo has stepped up to the plate as I think that’s an inspired match and I can’t wait to watch Prairie Dawn go from strength to strength. Sesame Street needs Muppet characters like Prairie Dawn, i.e. human children, as they not only give the viewer a more recognizable Muppet type to relate to they also provide a nice contrast to the slightly more exaggerated Monster characters. For every Zoe there’s a Prairie Dawn and for every Elmo there’s a (much missed) Roosevelt Franklin just quietly going about their business and teaching kids that it’s ok to be themselves. That’s a lesson that’s very much worth learning and it’s the main reason that I want to say a huge “Thank You” to Prairie Dawn. You’ve made such a huge contribution to the lives of children all over the world – Thank You.