Kieran Moore – I don’t own an enormous amount of Sesame Street merchandise. Don’t get me wrong I have more than the average 38-year-old guy probably does, but other than a few books and DVDs and a growing assortment of Funko Pops! it’s nothing compared to my Muppets stash. As I sit here in my living room with a Gonzo big fig and Sideshow bust of Scooter I can see just one lone piece of Sesame Street paraphernalia and that features today’s subject – Big Bird.
Essentially this is my longwinded way of saying that, to me at least, Big Bird is the star of Sesame Street. I know, I could have just opened with that, but the opening paragraph gave background and context – it had to go somewhere. Way before the small rouge one appeared on the scene, Big Bird was unrivalled in popularity. Though he might not be as prolific now as he once was, today we are going to find out just why everyone still loves Big Bird…
10 – Admiral Bird – Sesame Street
Before we talk about this track I have to give an honorable mention to the song that just ended up in 11th place. The unlucky contender is “Beep”, as performed by Big Bird, C-3PO and R2-D2. Both songs scored exactly the same number of points when ranking them and I genuinely considered tossing a coin for a while as I couldn’t separate them. I love the mariachi, cha-cha-cha feel of “Beep”, but as a solo song I ultimately felt 10th place should go to Admiral Bird. As a Brit I really appreciate the nautical feel of this piece –it even apes “Rule Britannia” at one point! Here in Blighty we love a song of the sea – probably more so than the sea itself so this scores big with me. The final shot of this video is so obvious, but also so hilarious!
9 – More Than a Toy – Sesame Street
At the start of this clip Big Bird says Radar is special and I concur, but I also think there’s something pretty special about this song too. It’s a fairly simple number, but performed with real gusto so it ultimately becomes bigger than the sum of its parts. Caroll Spinney has been donning padded orange legs and yellow feathers since the very first episode of Sesame Street (in order to play Big Bird – not just for fun) so it’s fair to say he’s pretty good at it by now! Over the years he’s been ably assisted by several performers, including Matt Vogel, Peter Linz and Noel MacNeal. All three are superb, but it’s hard after almost 50 years to imagine anyone ever catching the essence of Big Bird in quite the same way as Caroll does. Radar deserves more credit for his contribution to Sesame Street, so I’m glad I can place a spotlight on this unsung TV hero.
8- Happy to Be Me – Sesame Street
Bullying is such a horrible thing, yet it’s about as widespread as the air we breathe. It can have a devastating impact on the lives of not just the person being bullied, but everyone around them. Because bullying is so personal, one of its biggest dangers is the way it can knock self-esteem. That’s why I love this song so much. It tells you that no matter what, you can be happy just by being yourself. It’s such a powerful, important message. This track was released as part of a concerted effort by Sesame Street to address bullying and let those who are being targeted know it says more about their bullies than it does about them. Throughout the episode this features in, Big Bird is constantly turned away from the “Good Birds Club” having been told he’s too big or the wrong color. He slowly gets more and more despondent until he’s reminded that he doesn’t have to change to fit in. I can’t agree more.
7 – Map Song – Sesame Street
The Muppets (whether of the Sesame Street variety or otherwise) love a doo-wap song and so do I. When I first heard this I assumed it was written by Christopher Cerf as it seems to be his style, but it’s actually a Paul Jacobs/Sarah Durkee composition. I wouldn’t generally want to give too much away at this early stage, but I guess I have to address the Snuffleupagus in the room and admit that this is Snuffy’s only appearance on today’s list. I know, I’m a bad Muppet fan… For years, Mr. Snuffleupagus was seen (or rather not seen) as Big Bird’s imaginary friend and was constantly disappearing at the wrong moment. Eventually, as we all know, Snuffy had a coming out episode (so to speak) and the rest is history. Sesame Street is full of enduring friendships – Elmo and Abby, Biff and Sully, Oscar and Slimey; and although this one isn’t quite as iconic as Bert and Ernie’s, it’s right up there with the best of them to me.
6 – I’m So Blue – Sesame Street Presents: Follow that Bird
In the past I’ve possibly been a bit mean to this song. I do think it’s very beautiful and sad, but I’m not sure it ever really got me “here” as a kid. Of course I felt for Big Bird, but I think my little kid brain knew that everything would be ok in the end so I could see past it. Perhaps it was a coping mechanism… Nowadays, I find it incredibly moving and Caroll performs it with a level of emotion that would surely be Oscar-worthy if he wasn’t dressed as an 8ft bird. I especially like the way he cranks up the sadness as the song progresses until his voice cracks at the end. As a grown up (which I sometimes pretend to be), the idea that this is sung by a six-year-old who has been kidnapped and forced to perform against his will is horrific. It’s easily on a par with Artax dying for traumatizing moments from 80’s movies.
5 – Love Will Keep us Together – The Muppet Show
It’s not very often I get to feature a Sesame Street character in a Muppet Show song so I couldn’t resist doing it now! This track is like night and day from the last one. It’s a fun, poppy number that bowls happily along with a joyous brass line that can’t fail to raise a smile. I’ve been humming this for days! I must admit because of my age and/or nationality I didn’t really know Leslie Uggams from anything other than her serial Muppet appearances until Deadpool came out last year. She is a wonderful performer though and works very well with our felt, furry or feathered friends. Earlier on, I mentioned that Big Bird is a major star and the fact that he was deemed popular enough to guest on The Muppet Show proves it. It’s fun to see him acting a little more grown up here. It’s still undeniably Big Bird, but he’s a bit surer of himself and I like the change.
4 – ABC-DEF-GHI – Sesame Street
In a recent chart I wrote about how “C is for Cookie” is linked so intrinsically with Cookie Monster that it’s almost impossible to think of one without the other. I feel like this song is Big Bird’s version of that, but on a smaller scale. It debuted way back in the first season of Sesame Street and has followed him around ever since. The oldest version has Big Bird in his original country bumpkin-esque incarnation, where he was a bit more a lovable doofus and a bit less of an unsure, inquisitive child. I guess the comic misunderstanding on show here suggests the former more than the latter, but it works either way. I’m glad they softened Big Bird somewhat over the years as I’m not sure he’d have achieved such popularity otherwise. However, I do appreciate the way Caroll originated the role and gave the writers so much to work with.
3 – We’re Off to Kyoto – Big Bird in Japan
Over the years Big Bird has taken many international trips, several of which were turned into classic specials. Big Bird in Japan is one such example. It’s a fun show that has a lot of humor and heart. Speaking of which, this song scores massively for me because of how funny it is. The lyrics are goofy and punny and appeal to my weird sense of humor. “Like Webster’s dictionary, we’re Kyoto bound” might be one of the best song lyrics ever. Another of Big Bird’s travels saw him head off to China and this is heavily referenced in the recent documentary “I am Big Bird” where Caroll was reunited with his co-star Ouyang Lianzi after 30 years apart. If you haven’t seen this wonderful film you absolutely must. It’s joyous and moving and I’ll admit it had my smiling and crying – often at the same time. It’s a wonderful glimpse into the life of a living legend.
2 – Easy Goin’ Day – Sesame Street Presents: Follow that Bird
I can’t get enough of this song – it’s bright and breezy and just the thing for a lazy day in the sun. Also, it’s as near to perfect as a number two song can be. Big Bird’s vocal is carefree, but technically precise and Caroll sounds fantastic. Also putting in a fantastic performance is Alyson Court as Ruthie, who shows singing ability that should really be beyond someone her age. I love her harmonies! Follow that Bird is filled with wonderful memories for me of my brother, sister and I visiting the video store and selecting a tape to watch as many times as we could manage before it had to go back – it was usually this or “Kimba the White Lion” (which a quick Google tells me is much older than I thought). Because I loved this movie as a kid it will always hold a special place in my heart. Although based on this song that’s entirely justified anyway…
1 – I’m Flying – Sesame Street
This song literally flew in out of nowhere to scoop the top spot – which I guess is apt. There are several reasons why I enjoy this song. First, is its fairytale, fairground feel (that’s a lot of “F’s”). It perfectly encapsulates the freewheeling, bobbing motion of a hot air balloon and calls to mind Gonzo’s ethereal expedition from The Muppet Movie. I also really enjoy the unusual setting and sense of space this scene is given. I love seeing Muppets out of their TV/movie screen proscenium (even when they are technically still in it). The third thing to love here is Caroll’s fantastic singing once again. The biggest reason, however, to place this song in pole position is how wonderful it is to see Big Bird finally get airborne and enjoy just what it means to be a bird. It’s the culmination of lots of wishing and dreaming. Seeing it all come to fruition is simply marvellous and so heart warming. Big Bird is ecstatically happy and having a whale of a time so it’s impossible not to get swept away with him. It is the best day of his life, after all!
And what a great way to finish this chart – the best day of Big Bird’s life is also his best song. Big Bird is such a pure character and his joy is infectious. It’s been impossible not to smile as I’ve been listening to these songs and writing this chart. After a hard day at work Big Bird has lifted my spirits so high I could be in a hot air balloon myself right now. I must say a huge Thank You to Big Bird, Caroll Spinney (and his understudies) and all of the writers, composers, directors etc. who have appeared here today or contributed in other ways to make Big Bird the shining star he is. Birds of a feather must stick together and I’m happy to say that neither Big Bird nor I are going anywhere.