Kieran Moore – One of the things that sets Sesame Street apart from other kids’ TV shows are the celebrities that pay a visit to give their views on sharing, waiting your turn or the number three. (Obviously there’s also the awesome cast, neat animation, super-cool Muppets and smart scripts, but that goes without saying – even though I just did!) Over the years we’ve seen all sorts of people from talk show hosts to sports stars reciting their ABC’s, but the moments I love best are when musicians pop by to have fun with their own creations. The mix of star power, good music and fun lyrical twists is hard to beat.
Sesame Street is famous for its parodies and I’ve featured plenty of them before, but imagine my surprise when I found that in over 60 charts I had only featured one celebrity-based parody (The excellent “Plain White T’s Song”, sung by Tom Higgenson). Quite frankly, that’s shocking and I decided I had to do something about it.
Every song on this list is a bona-fide hit and features a star that is no stranger to a musical chart or two. Of course now that they’re featured here they’ve reached the peak of musical excellence and all other accolades are meaningless, but that’s their problem – not mine…
10 – Slimey to the Moon – Tony Bennett
Ok, let’s be honest this song is lyrical genius; and that’s the reason it squeaked onto the chart in tenth place. I don’t mean that as a slight to this incredible number – just that it was very close between the songs that made this chart and those that didn’t. Anyone of three or four songs could have sneaked this final spot. (For those that are interested, I’ll list the songs that made 11-20 at the end of the chart). Ultimately, it was the pun of “Slimey” to the Moon that bagged this song a featured spot. This song chronicles Slimey’s epic lunar adventure and is so perfect you wonder how quickly into the ideas stage of the whole storyline it was suggested. Of course Tony Bennett is a musical genius and a friend of the Muppets having appeared on Sesame Street several times as well as guesting on “Muppets Tonight” and cameoing on “Muppets Most Wanted”.
9 – Rosita – Little Richard
My dad is an enormous Rock n Roll fan so I grew up in a household filled wit this type of music. I must admit I don’t think I’d have ever called myself a huge Little Richard fan (is that an oxymoron?), but there’s something about this song that’s just irresistible. He might not win any acting awards for this clip, but Little Richard (Little to his friends) comes alive once he starts singing. It’s infectious! I think my words per minute rate has leapt as I type to this song. It hasn’t hilped my accuroncy level, but you can’t hove everythung. This song has so much to love. It’s brilliantly performed; it’s about Rosita who’s one of my favorite nu-Sesame Muppets and Hoots makes an appearance on sax. It’s impossible to listen to this and stay still so I say don’t – get up and cut a rug! If you’re asked to leave the bus, train or jury room then tell those squares to speak to me!
8 – Don’t Know Y – Norah Jones
This chart so far feels like a game of connections – both Tony Bennett and Little Richard were guest stars on “Muppets Tonight” and now we get our second song in a row where a singer performs around a piano with two Muppets. I wonder if I can continue that on… This song is beautiful and relaxing and just makes me want to sway and click my fingers. It’s funny because if they’d have really wanted to they could have left the lyrics a bit more intact here and simply sung this song about the letter “I”. There are quite a handful of Sesame songs about “I” and “U” so perhaps it was simply to even the field a bit. Norah’s wistful delivery of her lines before and during the song is much more convincing than Little Richard would have been – she’s excellent in this regard. One other thing to mention here is how beautifully shot this is. Elmo’s red, Norah’s lilac shirt and the deep purple background all look great together and the reflection on the shiny piano makes the whole thing sparkle. It’s simple, yet stunning.
7 – Hot N Cold – Katy Perry
What can I say about this clip that hasn’t already graced the internet a thousand times? Probably very little, but for what it’s worth I see nothing wrong with what Katy’s wearing. I try to keep these charts primarily about the music, but before I move on I have to say that in my opinion this is definitely a case of parents protecting kids from something that wouldn’t have even crossed their minds. Quite frankly if anything did cross their minds it says a lot more about you as a parent than it does about Ms. Perry’s outfit. Anyway, I’ll get off my soapbox now! I’ve always liked this song. It’s a great slice of electro-pop. Even having to listen to the Chipettes version repeatedly hasn’t made me dislike it so it must be doing something right. In terms of a connection with the previous song I guess they’re both female singers performing with Elmo, in fact that might be becoming a theme…
6 – Dancin’ – Alicia Keys
Ok, I’ll admit it – “Fallin’” is one of my jams! On days when no one is listening I’ll quite happily let my inner diva play and belt out this brilliant song. I think I’m excellent – your mileage may vary! Because I love it so much, I was surprised to find this song as low as sixth place once the scores were tallied. “Fallin’” is probably my favorite original song featured here. It’s a soulful ballad that I just can’t get enough of. Alicia has a fantastic voice, just listen to that opening and try to tell me she doesn’t – I guarantee you’ll make yourself look silly. I have to say as much as I adore Kevin Clash (and think he’s a brilliant performer and singer) I don’t think Elmo’s squeaky voice really works on this track. I will say in Elmo’s defence that I do like some of his harmonies though – they do give the song a fun twist. I’ve just been imaging Jerry Nelson as Herry Monster singing Elmo’s part. That, I would love to have heard!
5 – Five By – Train
Sometimes on these charts something serendipitous happens, and here we are with a song about the number 5 in fifth place! I wish I did it on purpose, but I’m not that clever… There are lots of things I love about this song. First, looking at the dates this could be one of Jerry Nelson’s last vocal performances as Count von Count – Matt Vogel took over the role the following year. Speaking of which… Second, this segment was directed by Matt (who’s no stranger to a music video himself). Third, this song in both its original form and this one is a fun, sing-along number; and fourth, Train, by all accounts, were deliriously happy to be asked to appear on the show and that makes me feel extra fuzzy. Visually, I really like the autumnal orange of the song’s verses counterpointed with the stormy purples of the chorus. The final “Ah, Ah, Ah” joke is brilliant and a nice tribute to Jerry’s iconic performance of The Count. Finally, as we’re looking for connections – the best I can come up with is Train had a single called “She’s on Fire” and Alicia had a single called “Girl on Fire” 10 years later. Someone really should call the Fire Department!
4 – Furry Happy Monsters – REM
I’ve always loved this track with its early 90s indie sound and video. The original version competes with “Fallin’” as my favorite source material song on this list. It surprises me that it doesn’t get covered more often. Maybe the songwriters aren’t keen to license it. I’ve suggested it for my a cappella group in the past, but I think the others think it’s a bit lightweight, which is a shame. Anyway… Far be it for me top say so, but thanks to the incredible singing talents of Stephanie D’Abruzzo I really don’t miss Kate Pierson as much as I probably should. We all know that Stephanie can sing, but songs like this remind us of just how good she is. I’m loving her harmonies. This clip is as much of a treat to watch as it is to listen to. The monsters are performed with real gusto and Kevin Clash as Kate Pierson Muppet (performing to Stephanie’s vocals) provides great energy and fantastic reactions to the action onscreen. All in all, it’s a great Sesame Street moment. The connection here is that both acts appear here as trios even though their line ups often include more band members.
3 – My Triangle – James Blunt
Apart from the aforementioned “Plain White T’s Song”, this number is the closest a Sesame Street celebrity parody has been to appearing on one of my charts as it was seriously considered for my Marty P. Robinson list. It was only the fact that there wasn’t enough Telly on the track that stopped it. I’ve always thought this was a very funny version of a song that I’ve come to appreciate as the years have rolled on. “You’re Beautiful” was everywhere for a while and was definitely overplayed, but a combination of this, Weird Al’s version and some of James Blunt’s other songs have made me like it a lot more now than I did then. James has a wicked sense of humor so I doubt he would have had any problems sending his best known song up. Check out his Twitter feed (if you’re not easily offended). The lyrics here are filled with joy and can’t fail to make me smile. James is quoted as saying “To get the word ‘hypotenuse’ in any song is pretty special”, and I wholeheartedly agree. I’m sure if I searched hard enough I could find a better connection, but James Blunt covered REM’s song “Everybody Hurts” as part of a charity collective raising funds for the victims of Haiti’s earthquake in 2010. (Also both songs have emotional monsters).
2 – Outdoors – Jason Mraz
I’d be lying if I said I was a big Jason Mraz fan – in fact until his Sesame Street performance I couldn’t have picked him out of a line up. He could have been Keyser Soze for all I knew! Still, this is a perfect pop parody and a great fit for Sesame Street. It’s shot brilliantly and feels like it’s on a much larger scale than the vast majority of the songs on this list. As we’ve seen, not every musician can act opposite the Muppets convincingly, but Jason is having none of those issues. He’s wonderfully expressive and sells the song fantastically. The Muppets sound wonderful – even Elmo (who isn’t my favorite Sesame singer) is great. I can’t help tapping along to this. I do have one question though: If Jason hasn’t been out all day, how did he get to the Laundromat? Just sayin’… Anyway, this is one big joyous whole. If it doesn’t make you smile, you’re definitely a Grouch. The connection for this one is easy as James Blunt supported Jason on his 2005 US tour and Jason supported James on his UK tour the following year.
1 – Tweet in the Morning – Bobby McFerrin
Bobby McFerrin is another musical star with a long Muppet pedigree; he’s performed several times on Sesame Street and one of his songs was used for a live action segment on the show. He was also a guest on “The Jim Henson Hour” and “The Ghost of Faffner Hall”. This song is incredible. It far and away deserves to be number one. I’m not going to lie, until recently I had never heard of this song in either version, but now that I have I can’t help but be captivated by it. It’s phenomenal. It captures sunrise perfectly. It starts out soft and quiet and builds to a gloriously sunny crescendo (albeit a quiet one). Bobby is incredible (as you might imagine), but the rest of the Sesame Street cast are right there with him. This is beautifully shot – I know I keep saying it, but it really is. It’s a classic Muppet set up (performer surrounded by characters), but lit to look dark and atmospheric. It was nice of Gobo Fraggle to cameo as a bird… Our final connection is that there’s a very good mash-up called “Don’t Worry, I’m Yours” online that mixes both Bobby and Jason’s biggest hits together. It’s perfect for a lazy afternoon.
I promised earlier to list out the songs in spots 11-20 so here they are. If your favorite didn’t make the top 10 hopefully it appears here instead:
11 – Plain White T’s Song – Tom Higgenson
12 – 1,2,3,4 – Feist
13 – Time to Say Goodnight – Andrea Bocelli
14 – Like the Way U Does – Melissa Etheridge
15 – Just the Way You Are – Billy Joel
16 – Two Princes – Spin Doctors
17 – What Makes U Useful – One Direction
18 – I Want to Count – Cab Calloway
19 – Grouch Thrift Store – Macklemore
20 – Don’t Take Your Ones to Town – Johnny Cash
This has been a bit of a mammoth chart so I’ll sign off quickly by simply saying a huge thank you to all of the performers who have sung one of their own songs on Sesame Street. Thank you guys for being willing and able to have fun, and thank you for making Sesame Street such an awesome place to hang out. Thank you.