Kieran Moore – If Pepe had been more than just a twinkle in his papa’s eye back in 1988 he’d have said it was a special year “Because… Love”. And he’d be absolutely right. The Henson universe is full of incredible loves – Kermit and Piggy; Wembley and Lou Fraggle; Baby Fozzie and Great Jokes, but 1988 was all about one of the most enduring loves of all. Yes, that’s right Cookie Monster and healthy food… Ok, not really…
1988 was all about Luis and Maria and their blossoming romance on Sesame Street. Over the course of a season or so this pair went from friendship to courtship to marriage-ship in a storyline that became a defining moment for the show.
1988 was a banner year for Sesame Street. There have been weeks on these yearly charts where Sesame Street has felt like it’s way behind even Avenue Q. in the pecking order, but today it’s A-OK and brought to you by the number 10…
10 – U Really Got a Hold on Me – Sesame Street
If music is the food of love then today we’re definitely playing on. As if to prove that fact we’re starting off with a fun Sesame Street parody of a classic love song. I love Sesame Street parody songs – they are so clever and prove the quality of the writing that makes up the framework of the show. To look at something that already exists and put a new slant on it is far from lazy and takes real skill. To then make it funny as well is especially difficult. I like the way this song is staged with “U” standing out loud and proud on a black background. It helps with the puppetry, but is also really effective. Smokey Robinson has a bit of history with the Muppets – we might even see him again next week!
9 – Grow High, Grow Low – Sesame Street
We’re taking a short detour from our overriding theme of love to take a quick look at nutrition (although technically a tomato is a “love apple” so…) This song really does have everything going for it. 1) It’s a fun sing along number that zips along making full use of its short running time. 2) It’s jam-packed with educational content, yet presented in a manner that stops you from realizing just how much you’re learning. 3) The lyrics are clever and full of interesting rhymes that cry out for more than one listen. 4) Lots of Muppet performers have moments so it’s fun to play guess who. 5) It’s funny! That last pun literally made me laugh out loud! Finally, does anyone else hear shades of “How Do You Do?” from “Song of the South”?
8 – Healthy Food – Sesame Street
As we hit 8th place we’re still looking at nutrition and how to make sensible food choices. You can never have enough singing food in my opinion… Much was made in the media 10 or so years ago about the fact that Cookie Monster was about to become the “Veggie Monster”. If the internet’s to be believed Jim Henson had only just stopped spinning in his grave from this in time to start up again when Kermit and Miss Piggy split up… Anyway, as this song shows Cookie Monster has been interested in promoting the importance of a balanced diet for a long time and certainly decades before anyone decided that if he ate a carrot their childhood’s had been destroyed. I’d roll my eyes, but I’m quite attached to them. According to Muppet Wiki this song is a parody of “Walk this Way”, but unless that’s cited somewhere I’m not buying it. I can kind of hear it, but Sesame Street’s parodies are usually so spot on that it’s obvious and I’m just not getting it here.
7 – Plan Ahead – Sesame Street
Sometimes you need to put the cart before the horse (though not often) and sometimes you have to present the honeymoon before the wedding, as is the case here. This is the “Memento” presentation of the romance of Luis and Maria! Last week I mentioned how much I enjoyed songs sung by groups of Fraggles – today I’m expanding that to groups of Sesame Street characters (I guess I should really just say groups in general). This week’s chart will feature several group numbers as we head to the top spot and I guess the thing that unites them is that they are all a lot of fun. Sesame Street has gone through all sorts of creative periods over the last 40+ years, but as I watch the songs on this chart the mid 1980s really do seem like an especially good time to be a pre-schooler. The show was hitting everything out of the park. This is just one more homerun on the scoreboard.
6 – The Telephone Opera (The Telephone of Brazil) – Sesame Street
Before I start I must apologize for the slightly dodgy audio quality at the start of this clip – stay with it as it gets better. This song is really here as a testament to the epic abilities of Richard Hunt. I’ll attempt to tell you now just why he is my favorite Muppet performer, but my words will pale when compared to this clip. If you want to, you can just listen to this song and skip reading until you get to the next song…
If you’re still here I guess this song isn’t quite enough and you need extra evidence. Alright Sherlock, I’ll do my best! Probably my favorite thing about Richard is his enthusiasm for everything he does. You can hear it here in his vocal performance. He is relishing this opportunity to let his musical talents shine and is giving it everything he has. Children are a discerning audience and Richard understood that and nothing is being held back. That’s why I love him.
5 – Lovebirds – Sesame Street
As we head into the top end of this week’s chart we get to the most romantic song so far. I guess there’s no way a song called Lovebirds could be anything else. As befits its Birdland location this track is a cool jazzy number that swings along effortlessly. I could see someone like Cleo Laine doing a pretty nifty version. That’s not to say that Alaina Reed as Olivia isn’t right up there too. Although I’m running the risk of sounding like a broken record I’ll say it again – Alaina Reed is one of my favorite, if not my favorite ever, Sesame Street humans. I always liked her whenever I watched a repeat viewing of “…Follow That Bird” as a kid and I think that’s because I was attracted to her singing voice. To this day it still blows me away. Whoever uploaded this video online suggests that this might be Alaina (and Olivia’s) last new material on the show as she left shortly after. That’s a distinct possibility. Olivia did reappear in archive footage, but this will sadly be her last appearance on my yearly charts. As with my love letter to the Fraggles last week, I’m using this track to say a fond farewell (for now…)
4 – Don’t Sing This Song – Sesame Street
There are lots of things I like about this song. I guess it has the obvious things going for it like the fact that it’s a group song (see above) and everyone gets something to do. But also it’s funny to see everyone being happy around Oscar who so obviously isn’t – nothing deflates a grouch like smiling people and happy singing. This has great staging that extends upwards to give a nice sense of height and depth (although I do feel sorry for Gina and Uncle Wally who are sitting with their backs to the group – what did they do wrong?) I think above and beyond all of this though is how this song works as a companion piece to the classic Sesame track “Sing”. I guess along with “Rubber Duckie”, Bein’ Green” and the Sesame Street Theme itself “Sing” is probably the best known track from the show and I like that this song pays respect to that whilst still being willing to give it a gentle ribbing. Of course the ultimate irony is that you’ll be singing this number for the rest of the day now!
3 – African Alphabet – Sesame Street
Last week I vowed that this song would be number one someday and truthfully as I wrote that sentence I fully intended this to take the top spot today. Of course I was forgetting that iconic season finale. Instead this track has had to settle for jumping from six to three, which still isn’t to be sniffed at. One day this will be a chart topper (I’m determined). For my money, as much as I love a bit of “Scarborough Fair”, Kermit the Frog will always be a step up from Paul Simon so in my opinion this is the best version of African Alphabet you’ll hear. I’d love to sing this with my group, but as much as we already sing “Ladybug Picnic” and “Dixie Wailin’”, I can’t quite see when or where we might have occasion to do this. I might still suggest it as a bit of a rehearsal exercise – so watch this space… The addition of Kermit’s line really does make this extra special. I just wish there were more verses.
2 –Happy That I Love Her – Sesame Street
No TV or movie romance worth its salt is complete without a love ballad to call its own. Just think of the incredible screen couples who have sealed their romance in song: Aladdin and Jasmine, Kermit and Miss Piggy, Buffy and Spike and, as we see here, Luis and Maria. It would seem that if you haven’t proclaimed your love by spontaneously bursting into song it probably doesn’t count. That’s something to think about as Valentine’s Day approaches… This is such a beautiful song. The lyrics are heartfelt and emotive and speak to everyone who has ever been in love. They explain to the younger members of the audience just how it feels to be starting the rest of your life with the one you love whilst not forgetting to be romantic and grown up too. Emilio Delgado and Sonia Manzano do such a great job singing and acting this out. They must have been happy to have so much to do in season 19. This storyline breathed new life into their characters and opened up lots of avenues for them. This would make a great companion piece for “He’ll Make Me Happy” at any Muppet themed wedding.
1 – Wedding Pictures – Sesame Street
As already mentioned, it was very close between the top three songs, but this one out for two reasons. First, it’s Luis and Maria’s wedding (as if that wasn’t reason enough) and second, Elmo. I know I’ve stated in the past that I’m not a big fan of the little red guy and, I’m sorry, I still find him annoying sometimes, but when he’s cute he’s unstoppable and he’s uber-cute here. His repeated refrain of “Don’t drop the rings Elmo” is one of my new favorite Sesame Street quotes. Kevin Clash really brought something special to the role. I also really like the way Luis and Maria flip and flop between being happy and terrified before coming together to settle on being in love – it adds a sense of realism when this whole piece could have been sickly sweet and cloying. In fact with little touches like that and Elmo’s lines and Oscar wishing the organ would start up again, this song is so much more entertaining than it might have been in clumsier hands. Kudos to Jeff Moss and Jon Stone for making this scene so memorable – it’s easily the rooftop wedding of the year*.
*When asked 72% of 6 people said this was their favorite 1988 wedding that was attended by a grouch, a large yellow bird and a man named Bob.
Whilst I hate to disagree with The Beatles, this chart has shown that as important as love is – it actually isn’t all you need. To get by you will also require singing vegetables, telephones and Zulu chiefs. With that in mind I have to thank everyone who worked on any Henson production in 1988 (not just Sesame Street). Whether you were a romantic lead or a loaf of bread, I thank you for being part of such an amazing time for the Muppets. Thank You.
So now that we’ve dealt with love, join me next time in 1989 as Jim goes anthological on prime-time TV and things get weird with spirits, ghosts, devils and… dogs!