Kieran Moore – It’s been another one of those weeks (no, I haven’t been arrested on suspicion of Camel smuggling again). Instead, this is one of those oh so common occurrences where I’ve struggled to condense all the good Muppet songs available into just 10 places. Sesame Street was on fire in season 8. Every area of the show was getting its chance to shine musically with documentary films, street scenes, animations and Muppet segments all featuring songs heavily.
There are some iconic moments on today’s list and a wide range of musical styles to choose from. Under the helmsmanship of Sam Pottle and Danny Epstein as music director and music coordinator, respectively, every song was written, composed and performed brilliantly. There’s was a ship that was sailing straight and true. Speaking of which…
10 – Admiral Bird
We just don’t get enough Big Bird on these charts! It’s a strange phenomenon that for whatever reason he just hasn’t featured much – despite being Sesame Street’s first big superstar. I’m pleased I can include him today, even if it does mean he’s ousted his best friend into 11th place; Snuffy and Judy Collins singing their operatic alphabet was so close to making it! It’s well worth looking out for if you get the chance. Over the first few years of Sesame Street Caroll Spinney tried a few different things with Big Bird, but by season 8 he’s pretty much as he’s been ever since. This song is nautical but nice with a fun reveal that always makes me smile!
9 – Ah, For the Joys of the Countryside
Carrying on from last year’s real world trip to New Mexico, we see Sesame Street continue to talk about the various types of landscape that can be found around the globe. Here Jim Henson, in something very similar to his “Link” voice, extols the virtues of the countryside and in the process takes a satirical swipe at the way development can encroach. Although it’s very humorous, there’s a very definite serious side to this piece. The Muppets have shared environmental messages many times over the last 60+ years and their universal appeal and ability to tackle serious issues in a fantastical way makes them the perfect spokespuppets for the cause. Finally, does this song remind anyone of The Grouch Anthem?
8 – Swingin’ Alphabet
This song is a cover of one which previously appeared in Season 6 when sung by The Pointer Sisters. I think I prefer this version for a couple of reasons. First off, I love the way Alaina Reed, Loretta Long and Sonia Manzano perform this as Olivia, Susan and Maria. In a season of Sesame Street where the role of women was a major focus I’m probably crossing a boundary to mention this, but I think the ladies never looked better than they do here – the retro styling really suits them. And that brings me to the other reason I prefer this to the original – making the stoop of 123 Sesame Street look like a swing/jazz nightclub is inspired. It adds a light-hearted whimsy and grown up feel to the song. Brilliant!
7 – I’m a Big Girl Now
The previous song was Olivia’s introduction on my season charts, but this serves as her musical introduction to Sesame Street proper. In response to criticism that the show didn’t feature enough female characters, and when they did they were perhaps shown in stereotypical ways, the character of Olivia (a photographer) was added to the show. Personally, I feel that Sesame Street did a pretty good job with their female characters already, but it’s hard to deny that the addition of Olivia (and Buffy) evened the score in terms of humans on the show. It’s fair to say when looking at Muppets however that the show probably failed the Bechdel test most days. As this song points out, Olivia was the sister of Gordon and it’s good that kids get to see how brothers and sisters interact once they’re grown up. I love Alaina Reed and her singing is never anything less than amazing. I hope we see much more of her over the next few weeks.
6 – There’s a Hole in the Bucket
Speaking of performers (and women specifically) who are amazing singers, this song features Rita Moreno in a rare Sesame Street performance that is every bit as good as the regular cast’s (even if she is just providing vocals). Rita is another person who works brilliantly with the Muppets – she even has the Emmy to prove it! Her episode of The Muppet Show is quite rightly remembered as one of the best and arguably the high point of season 1. This song is hilarious and Rita and Jim Henson are clearly enjoying playing this to the hilt. Their voices are so expressive. It’s impossible not to laugh as Liza gets more and more exasperated and Henry’s good-natured idiocy is a joy to behold. One final note: I get chills at how closely Rita sounds like current performer Leslie Carrara-Rudolph. It’s uncanny and whether speaking or singing I’m constantly blown away by the similarity.
5 – Pinball Number Count
Ok, so the word iconic has been banded around a few times over the last 8 weeks, but never has it applied more than this. When Family Guy is making jokes at your expense you know you’ve become part of the public consciousness (or are an easy pot shot). The animation is some of the best you’ll see on Sesame Street and has a weird, trippy feel that seems reminiscent of Yellow Submarine or Monty Python. In places it even feels like a picture book come to life. I have to commend Jeff Hale and his team of animators for doing such a fine job on these pieces. The jazz-funk song that accompanies the visuals is sung by The Pointer Sisters and is much more complex than first appearances would suggest. There’s a lot going on here. I challenge everyone reading this to sing “1, 2, 3, 4, 5” to the tune of this today to see how many people sing back the rest of the numbers from 6 to 12. I’m guessing you’ll do well…
4 – Sully’s Love Song (Yes)
While most builders never show up when you want them, Biff and Sully turn up here just as Judy Collins is trying to get away from everyone. Her quiet rehearsal is gate crashed by our favorite Sesame Street construction workers, but at least she gets to sing with them so it’s not all bad. Biff is performed by Jerry Nelson and sounds wonderful singing with Judy, but I think we can agree Richard Hunt’s Sully is the star of this show. His thoughtful performance is utterly captivating. This is yet another appearance from a Jerry/Richard pairing. Biff and Sully are perhaps their most underrated duo. Floyd and Janice and Sweetums and Robin from the Muppet Show get the headlines, while for Sesame Street I guess the most obvious pairing is the Two-Headed Monster simply because of what he is, but Biff and Sully are arguably one of the most dependable couples the Muppets have ever had. On another day, in another world they could have been as big as Bert and Ernie.
3 – Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow
It’s a double header from Judy Collins today as she hits the fourth and third spots on today’s chart. I know that Judy has her detractors, but you can’t deny she can sing. Both this song and the previous one have a gentleness about them that works nicely on Sesame Street to counteract the speedy feel the show sometimes has. This one has more punch than the last, yet somehow manages to feel a little melancholy at the same time. I guess it’s the looking back element of a song that mentions “yesterday”. The overarching theme of this piece is positive though, and in a move that would be borrowed by pillows, tin signs and internet memes everywhere talks about concentrating on being happy in the here and now. As with most of Judy’s songs there’s a folk element running through this, but it’s a new composition from Sam Pottle and David Axlerod rather than being a traditional tune.
2 – Different People, Different Ways
I’ve loved this song ever since I first heard it. As with the previous number, despite its positive theme there’s an element of melancholy in this too. It’s there in the tune certainly – even if it’s not in the words. This song was written by Sam Pottle and Tony Geiss. Alongside some pretty, upbeat tracks both have a good deal of pathos in their work and this is one of the prime examples. Buffy sings this with such emotion it’s hard to ignore. This song has been used several times on Sesame Street to look at how older siblings can get jealous of younger ones (which is something I know all about with my brother being 18 months younger than me), but this song has the power to transcend that. As we come to the end of Pride Month it’s impossible not to consider how this song can reflect the LGBTQ community and the idea that love can manifest itself in many ways. I’d love to see Sesame Street get really bold and use this in an online video to open the discussion to those that might not be having it otherwise.
1 – Cripple Creek
I’ve been looking for a reason to put this at number one for a while and now I’ve finally been able to do it. By the time this version was recorded Buffy had already included Cripple Creek on one of her albums, but the song itself goes back to at least the 1900’s and arguably even further than that. Buffy and Jerry Nelson (as Fred the Wonder Horse) are in fine voice here. Jerry’s minimal harmonies keep the song simple yet add so much. It’s such a tough thing to do only an accomplished singer like Jerry could make it sound so easy. I also love the use of the mouth bow. We had a teaser of it last week in “I’m an Indian”, but today we get a song full of its interesting and unusual tones. I’d love to try and learn to play one – it looks like it should be simple, but I bet it’s not! Buffy Sainte-Marie is still writing, performing and releasing music and is well worth checking out. In the meantime, she can bask in the knowledge that she scored both first and second place today. Surely that’s a better achievement than winning her silly old Oscar!
As mentioned earlier, Sesame Street was focussing on the roles of women during season 8, so it should come as no surprise to see that eight out of 10 songs on today’s list are performed solely by women or see them take a lead role. The fact that of those eight, only one of them has a female Muppet is a little sad. Nowadays that wouldn’t be the case with characters like Abby Cadabby, Zoe and Rosita playing such a large role on the show, but back in the mid-seventies we can see that although humans were well represented there were still big steps needed in other ways. But that’s a story for another day… For now I simply have to say Thank You to everyone who appeared on this chart or in one of the many songs that didn’t make it. Thank You – you made season 8 a joy to revisit and my job very difficult indeed!