Kieran Moore – When I first started writing character charts for the Muppet Mindset there were a few I was instantly worried about tackling. For some it was because they were particular favorites and I wanted to do them justice, for others it was the fact that I know the character is really cherished by fans; finally, for some it was the sheer weight of quality material. Today all three of those elements combine as I literally count my way through the top 10 songs of Count von Count.
As the Muppet most associated with numbers and, well, counting I suppose it was inevitable that this day would come, but that hasn’t stopped me being one, one worried writer. There were over 60 songs to choose from for this list, so doing The Count justice has been a tough operation.
I guess I should take solace in the fact that a) because The Count is involved, all these songs are, of course, brilliant and b) either way, The Count will be happy because he’s featured in a numerical list! So on that note let’s start appropriately enough with song number 10 – which is all about the number eight…
10 – Eight Beautiful Notes – Sesame Street
I like to think of this song as a companion piece to “Eight Little Notes” – I guess they cover some similar ground and have almost identical openings. It’s cool to start off a musical countdown with a song that not only counts, but is also centered on The Count’s musical abilities. The organ is such a spooky instrument; all self-respecting vampires can play it. If The Count couldn’t, I don’t know how he’d look himself in the mirror each morning! This clip starts out with a view of The Count’s castle. As a kid I always just took it as read that somewhere down at the bottom of Sesame Street there was this old gothic castle. That always seemed perfectly logical. Then as I grew up I thought it was a bit strange, but I’ve just read that the castle used here is actually in New York, so I guess it’s not that weird after all!
9 – Lambaba – Sesame Street
Thanks to its multiple audio releases, I suspect this might be one of The Count’s best known songs. It certainly seems to be much-loved if you’re the right age. It would be easy to assume this Latin number is a bit of a departure for The Count, but he actually has a surprising number of different musical styles under his belt. He’s sung everything from rock to calypso over the years and this is not his only musical trip south of the border. One thing you’ll notice as we go through this list is the amount of drama that appears in most of The Count’s songs. I guess he is a fairly intense character. This song is pretty silly, but in no way is the music lightweight or fluffy (even if the sheep are).
8 – The Transylvania Polka – Sesame Street
This song is perhaps a bit more in The Count’s comfort zone than the previous one (although as mentioned he’ll turn his hand to anything). Both The Count and the polka originate from Eastern Europe so this song is as much a part of his heritage as strumming a banjo is to Kermit. This is the perfect time to mention Jerry Nelson who performed as The Count pretty much right up until the day he hung up his voice and retired. Jerry is a phenomenal singer (that’s not hyperbole – it’s an understatement), and you can hear just why on this track. Every nuance and inflection is on the money. Jerry actively campaigned to play The Count and, although I have no evidence of this, I feel he had an affinity and love for the character that perhaps went over and above the other Muppets he performed. Maybe it’s just me, but I feel the evidence is right there in Jerry’s performances. There’s something special happening every time these two are together.
7 – Number of the Day – Sesame Street
I’m gonna go ahead and assume this song wouldn’t appear on many people’s top 10 list, but what can I say? I like a bit of techno dance music! You wouldn’t know it from the number of soft, slushy songs that reside in the top halves of my lists, but I really enjoy trashy dance music. If memory serves, my first album was 2 Unlimited back in the 90s (don’t judge me – actually I don’t mind if you do, I still like their songs). Anyway, my main point is, I like dance music. There have been several “Number of the Day” type songs over the years, but this is absolutely my favorite because once again it’s full of drama. The intensity works to make the reveal a little more exciting than some of the others. We really do need to know what the number of the day is like our lives depend on it! Matt Vogel is performing Count von Count here and I must say I love his interpretation of the character.
6 – Little Miss Count Along – Sesame Street
The Spin Doctors did eventually perform on Sesame Street, but this song was (kind of) their first appearance on the show. Muppet parodies are awesome in any form, but Sesame Street song parodies are the zenith in my opinion. They are the perfect combination of irreverent and respectful, and always fun to watch and listen to. This is another one that I guess lots of people might not consider one of The Count’s top 10 performances, but I love that he gets to cut loose here. Jerry is totally rocking this song and seems to be having a blast while doing so. He’s such a versatile singer he can turn his hand (voice) to anything. He’s chomping away at these lyrics like a vampire eating – well let’s not go there. This song also has the added bonus of featuring Fran Brill as Zoe. Her enthusiasm is so infectious; if she read out your tax bill you’d be whistling as you paid it!
5 – The First Day of School – Sesame Street
We’ve heard all kinds of musical styles so far today, but instead of gangsta rap or something more outlandish we’re heading back to Count von Count’s Transylvanian roots with this Roma inspired song. It’s such an appealing musical style. I think folk music is always universal because its purity transcends race and creed and speaks to us on a wholly musical level. This might be a simple counting song about children in a classroom, but as a piece of music it’s something we can all enjoy regardless of the music we normally like. Based on this song I can only assume The Count moved to the US quite early on in his life as these kids’ names (barring a couple) don’t sound very Romanian. It’s probably not a thought to dwell on, but what are The Count’s origins? Was he born a vampire or did he get turned by another number-thirsty Count at some point in his childhood? I guess in the Sesame-verse “numerical vampires” are born rather than made – it’s just less messy!
4 – The Song of The Count – Sesame Street
I guess by rights this should be the number one song and truthfully if it was I wouldn’t be devastated. Using my patented ranking system (where I give every song a score out of 100) we are well and truly into the 90s now. This song is early Count von Count (it debuted in 1973) and you can hear it in Jerry’s vocals as he’s a little more manic and menacing and, dare I say it, even a little scary in places. I guess due to concerns over The Count being essentially a horror character he was softened over the years and lost a few of his more vampirical traits, such as hypnosis. According to Muppet Wiki this song has been included on eight (AH AH AH!) album releases over the years and been part of a Sesame single release as well. I feel a bit mean putting it as low as number four now…
3 – Counting the “You”s in YouTube – Sesame Street Viral Video
I love this song for so many reasons. First I guess is the obvious fact that it celebrates Sesame Street getting 1 billion views on YouTube. This isn’t just a cool milestone; it’s also groundbreaking as with their 1 billionth view, Sesame Street became the first children’s channel to do so. More importantly they were also the first not-for-profit organisation to hit that figure. It’s slightly disheartening that that means a big old corporation must have beaten them to it, but never mind. The second reason I like this so much, is the song itself which takes one of The Count’s signature styles (waltz) and turns it up to 11 getting faster and faster until it hits a giant crescendo. BUT, the best thing about this song is that it was a guarantee The Count was going to live on after Jerry Nelson’s death. This video marked the first vocal performance of The Count from Matt Vogel, who up until this point had only been doing the puppetry. By giving Count von Count such a prominent role it was a real confirmation that not only was he sticking around, he was in very capable hands.
2 – The Batty Bat – Sesame Street
For me, this is the very best example of The Count performing the music of his homeland. I particularly like the “1,2,3 – 1,2,3” chorus. The part with the bats is a bit silly, but there’s nothing wrong with silly every now and again. It provides some levity to what is yet another dramatic performance. As I type this I can’t help, but hit the keys in time with the song. It’s making me wonder whether this might be a good song to exercise to. I’m truly struggling not to get up and dance as I listen to this! In my book that makes this song an instant success. It would be remiss of me here not to mention the superb backing vocals from Ftatateeta and the Bats. The noctilionine (thanks Google!) backing group leant their voices to some of The Count’s biggest hits and a bit like Gladys Knight and her Pips, Count von Count is not quite the same when they’re not around for support.
1 – Count on Me – Sesame Country
Loretta Lynn is one of a handful of celebrities to appear on both The Muppet Show and Sesame Street and both occasions are wonderfully memorable. On each show she duets with Jerry Nelson so I like to think Big Bird’s joke of “Here they are together again for the very first time” is a fun in-joke that has since become an Easter egg for us fans. Before I write reams about how great this song is I should mention that I’ve selected the audio only version of this track as I prefer it, but if you’re a fan of 80s hair you’ll almost certainly want to check out its Sesame Street performance incarnation. This recording was released as a single in 1981 and I’d be interested to know if it got any airplay on country stations. This song really deserved to be a breakout hit. The lyrics include plenty of counting references, but are just about general enough that they can work out of context. The Count has tackled plenty of ballads over the years, but they’re often parodies so this stands out as something more grown up and therefore on a different level in my opinion. Jerry Nelson sounds as good here as he ever has. I’ll happily put this up there with “Halfway Down the Stairs” or his other signature songs.
Before I wrap up, I want to quickly give a mention to “Five By” which is one of my favorite “Count” songs. I’d have loved to include it in the top 10 as it’s a great number and also very likely to have been Jerry’s last musical performance as The Count. Unfortunately, despite having a major role, The Count doesn’t sing very much and I felt ultimately with such good material to choose from it would be wrong to give this a spot. Instead, I’m listing it here as an “Honorable Mention”. It makes a sweet tribute to The Count and Jerry Nelson as a whole and taking everything into account, the final few seconds seem like the biggest “Thank You” a generation of children could give a character and his performer. I normally finish on a personal thank you message, but today I’ll let this video do it instead…