Kieran Moore – As I sit here by my window looking out onto a gray, drizzly day where nothing much is going on it would be easy to assume that there is no better time to write about Bert – Sesame Street’s self-professed square. Despite his sunny yellow color Bert is often seen as being a bit gray and drizzly himself and I guess the truth is that he might look out and see the cloud and wind and rain and not be disappointed. But that’s only because it would allow him to indulge in one of his passions like paperclips or bottle caps. You see I think there’s a fairly common misconception about Bert and his status as dull or boring. I don’t consider him to be either of these things. Instead I think he’s passionate and individual. Underneath that tall mono-browed exterior is a raging fire, a squalling tempest and a flash of passion that would make even the most experienced tango dancers look like they were doing the hokey pokey.
So sit down, brace yourself and prepare to have your Argyle socks well and truly blown off as we explore the top 10 songs of Bert!
10 – I Wish I Had a Friend to Play With Me – Bert – Sesame Street
When you set out to discuss Bert it’s pretty inevitable that the subject of his friendship with Ernie will come up eventually so I guess it’s fitting that this very first song looks at just that. Bert and Ernie are probably the two best known friends in the whole world. I know that’s a bold claim, but I seriously can’t think of anyone that beats them. They are the perfect example of opposites attracting – a point that is made all the more obvious when you look at them! Ernie is the yang to Bert’s yin; a rambunctious and excitable guy who likes noise and kidding around. And yet as this clip illustrates they also have a lot in common. To go back to my earlier point, they both have passion. They love stuff. It might be different stuff, but they love it equally and can bond over mutual respect of that fact. Frank Oz is awesome – I keep picking up odd syllables in this song that remind me of his other characters and far from being a negative I really like it. Finally a couple of random thoughts: after last week’s chart we get another great pigeon rhyme and it’s not often you see a guy that yellow have the blues that bad.
9 – Keep the Park Clean for the Pigeons – Bert & Chorus – Sesame Street
Having said Bert and Ernie are the world’s most famous friends I now also wonder, is Bert is the planet’s number one ornithologist? It’s a possibility. There are two reasons I love this song. First is its oom-pah vibe – I could see this going down a storm with the knee-slappers in Bavaria once it kicks in. We’ve also got “The Snuffleupagus Polka” so surely there’s a concept album waiting to be made somewhere… Second, I love this song for Frank Oz. Frank is on record as saying that “Bert is a very boring facet of myself”. However, you wouldn’t know it from this clip as he seems to be having quite a lot of fun. Bert’s really letting his hair down here, well as much as Bert can…
8 – Stick out Your Hand and Say Hello – Bert, Rick & Chorus
The song itself starts at 1:46, but you really should watch the whole thing! I’ve actually really surprised myself with how low this song is on the chart. If nothing else it features Rick Moranis which instantly (a bit like his oatmeal) gives this song a few extra points. Has there ever been a better Muppet/celebrity match up than Bert and Rick? I’m not sure I can think of one. There’s a bit of a calypso feel here which is sure to get you moving as you listen to it. It’s all in the hips! One thing I do find funny in this clip is that the song is called “Stick out Your Hand and Say Hello” and yet Bert and Rick never once shake hands! The perils of being a puppet I guess… As sweet as the premise of this song is I can’t help but think if a stranger tried to start a conversation by saying “Hi, I like pigeons, how ‘bout you?” that I’d be slowly backing away and trying avoid eye contact!
7 – I’m Square – Bert – The Gang’s all Here
This is another song that I’m surprised has fallen so low on the chart as I think it’s brilliant for lots of reasons: It’s funny! From Bert’s list of things that he likes (including cold mashed potato and placemats) to his adlibs (“Boom-chick-a-boom”) there’s plenty to make you smile here. It’s musical! This is another great vocal from Frank and the song itself is lyrical and jaunty and vaudeville-y in the best Muppet style. It’s self-assured! This is a guy who knows what he likes and is comfortable in his own skin. I really appreciate the fact that Sesame Street goes to such levels to let kids know that just being themselves is OK and that it doesn’t matter if you walk to the beat of a different drum. I especially appreciate that they are willing to do this with a character like Bert who traditionally as an (assumedly) white male would be seen as having no need to worry on this score. Well done Sesame Street!
6 – Six (My Favorite Number Is) – Bert and Ernie – Sesame Street
This song seems to go by several names, but I’ve used the one on Muppet Wiki as they are about as reliable a source as you’ll find. I seem to keep doing this. I’ve had “Six String Orchestra” at number six and “Eight Little Notes” at eight and now here we are again. I promise I’m not doing it on purpose – these are genuine placements! This is another example of Bert letting us know what he loves and why. I do wonder if there’s a kind of inverted eccentricity here because it’s implied in the song that nobody would ever pick six as their favorite number which is exactly why Bert does. By going against the grain and choosing to like something most would deem boring he’s actually making himself more interesting. So in effect being boring makes him interesting – so he isn’t boring. I think I just ripped a hole in the space-time continuum!
5 – That’s how I Roll – Bert – Sesame Street
This is comfortably the most recent song in this chart as it’s not yet 18 months old. This song was number seven on my Eric Jacobson chart and I’m pleased to include it here so that I can mention just how much I love Eric. He has done an exceptional job taking over the vast majority of Frank Oz’s characters and I really enjoy his spin on these classic Muppets. I’m happy to go on record and say that I prefer Eric’s Piggy to Frank’s which I know is pretty controversial, but I call it as I see it. You can instantly hear the difference between Bert’s voice here and in the other songs listed so far, but if you’re bogged down by vocal inconsistency then you’re missing the point. Does Lawrence Olivier’s Hamlet sound exactly like David Tennant’s? No, but they are equally as worthy. Eric once again puts Bert’s self-assuredness at the forefront, but this new rocky edge is an interesting spin on that facet of his personality.
4 – Pigeons and Cookies and Trash – Bert, Cookie Monster and Oscar the Grouch – Sesame Street
It’s an almost unique aspect of Muppet songs that performers often get to perform duets with themselves and this is another case of that (although this is actually a trio with Caroll Spinney performing as Oscar). These three make a very unlikely team and yet it’s one that works incredibly well. Once again, despite their many differences this is a piece that is pulled together by the singers’ love for one thing in particular and how that level of love can be all it takes to build a friendship. For example, I write a weekly article for a Muppet website (one day I’ll tell you which one) and my sisters are about to go to a “Walking Dead” convention. Neither one of us has much interest in the others’ chosen fandom, but we get it and acknowledge each other’s insane levels of love for the subject. That’s what’s happening here too. To music.
3 – The Paperclip – Bert – Sesame Street
“Have you ever looked at a paperclip?” Well have you? This song has a “book number” Broadway feel to it and I love it for that. The music for this was written by Cheryl Hardwick who despite having written several very well known Sesame Street songs and won an Emmy for her work on the show, hasn’t appeared on any of my charts before (I think). I find this an incredible oversight and I’m really pleased to be able to put that right here. The lyrics were written by veteran Sesame writer Luis Santiero (who has appeared in my charts many times before). Of the countless songs written about stationery I’d put this at the top of my list (well, maybe second to “Holding out for a Biro”). While this song is taking note of appearances I guess it gives me that chance to mention Bert’s look. His striped sweater, tufty hair and mono-brow have given him an iconic look that is instantly recognizable. It’s a testament to his superb design that so many fan artists can take Bert to strange and unusual places and yet still retain his essence (not in a weird Dark Crystal way).
2 – But I Like You – Bert and Ernie – Sesame Street
We haven’t seen much of Ernie in this chart and truth be told that was a conscious decision as both Ernie and Bert and Ernie will surely one day get lists of their own. As I said before though it is pretty much impossible to write about Bert and not mention Ernie and this is a great way to do that with a song that still feels kind of Bert led. Pages and pages have been written about Bert and Ernie and it’s difficult to see at this stage what I can add to the discussion. Like all the best Sesame Street characters they’ve been the subject of parody (see: Avenue Q.) and controversy (see: the internet) and yet despite not existing below the waist (something my next song disproves) they’ve come out the other side of it all and continue to entertain and educate. Perhaps “come out” was the wrong choice of words. Nothing would make me happier than to have gay Muppets, but I don’t think Bert and Ernie are the right vehicle for this to happen. They are the ultimate friends and anything else now would actually be counter-productive in my humble opinion.
1 – Doin’ the Pigeon – Bert – Sesame Street
This is classic Sesame Street at its best. Before I get too far into discussing the whys and wherefores I have to say this is the first time I noticed Bert’s (not supposed to be there) pencil moustache. I really hadn’t seen it before, but it’s there a lot of the time and now I’ve seen it I can’t un-see it. Anyway… The real reason this song is so good is quite simply Frank Oz. It’s probably his best Bert vocal. It’s clean and clear and you can hear Bert delight in his love of pigeons with more conviction than has been heard before or since. There’s a Paul Williams feel to this and vocally Frank seems to be channelling him. I’d almost be hard pressed to know which one was singing. But it’s not just the vocals. Frank (along with some helping hands) does a great job of making full-bodied Bert do “The Pigeon”. As uncoordinated as I am I look at this feat of puppetry and marvel. If I attempted this Bert would look like he was having some kind of funny turn! This song takes Bert’s second biggest love (after oatmeal) and turns it into a bona fide showstopper!
And I like to think of Bert himself as something of a showstopper. He’s not standing out like flashy sparkles in the water, but he does show that it’s easy bein’ keen. And that it doesn’t matter what you’re keen on and whether anyone else agrees with your love of it. If there’s one message that I’m sure Bert would want to give to the world it would be “Be yourself and love yourself”. (If there’s a second it would be “Try saddle shoes – they’re good for your feet.”) As one half of the popular duo “Bert and Ernie” Bert is all about friendship and enjoying the differences of others, but you can only truly do that when you are comfortable in your own skin. It’s kind of a reverse “Just One Person”. If you can be happy with yourself others will pick up on it. And that’s why I’d like to thank Bert for simply being himself. It doesn’t have to be hip to be square, sometimes being square is enough. Thank You Bert for showing us that.