Kieran Moore – I must admit to being a bit conflicted about how to open this week’s chart. On the one hand I could talk about how Sesame Street is continuing to move forward by taking its biggest road trip to date and expanding its educational horizons, on the other I can wax lyrical about how the show is getting back to basics with an emphasis on reading and letter sounds and songs and sketches that feel decidedly old school. Sesame Street season 9 had a lot going on and could have been a little muddled if not for the talents of the cast, crew and writers of the show. Instead, they masterfully walk the line between going back to basics and presenting new ideas.
Musically, the show has probably never had a better year – certainly this is the most prolific season after the first. Sam Pottle and Danny Epstein who were in charge of the music and songs of Sesame Street this year have to be praised for their work. There were over 70 eligible songs this week. Here are 10 absolute classics. I’m hoping they show the broad range of what was on offer.
10 – I’m an Indian Wherever I Go
In season 9, Sesame Street once again packed its bags and went off to explore other parts of the United States of America. And just as they did when they travelled to New Mexico a few years before, the cast spent time with Buffy Sainte-Marie. One of Sesame Street’s core messages this year was cultural diversity and this trip to Hawaii was a big part of showing how different ethnic groups can live together in harmony. This song was a big part of that. The message is right there in the song’s title (despite the now outdated use of the term “Indian”). No matter where you go and where you live your background and ethnicity will always stay the same and should be celebrated. This jaunty song, along with Big Bird and Snuffy’s quest to find Mount Snuffleupagus are the highlight of an excellent week of shows.
9 – Wynken, Blynken and Nod
Wynken, Blynken and Nod is a classic poem that’s been used as the inspiration for cartoons, books and songs for over 100 years. This is Buffy’s own composition and I love how well it shows off her voice. It sounds clear and pure and utterly captivating. I’ve featured Buffy lots over the last few weeks so instead of praising her even further I’ll use this opportunity to highlight the many musical guest stars Sesame Street featured in season 9. We’ve got Helen Reddy, Madeline Kahn, Paul Simon, Judy Collins, Deadly Nightshade, Ray Charles, Richie Havens, Keola Beamer, Jose Feliciano and Victor Borge to choose from! Some of whom you’ll be hearing from later… It’s a testament to the show that so many big stars wanted to appear, a trend that continues to this day. As a side note – the eagle-eyed amongst you will note that several of these names also appeared on The Muppet Show at around the same time. I guess once the Muppets pull you in you just don’t want to leave!
8 – Row, Row, Row Your Boat
You’ve just got to love Don Music! His version of Mary Had a Little Lamb has already been number one on a previous chart and while this hasn’t quite hit the same heights, it’s every bit as good. The writing is fantastic and combines an educational message with humor and music. It’s a microcosm of Sesame Street in just a few minutes. Of course the main reason Don Music is such a favorite of mine though is the incredible performances of Richard Hunt. They perfectly suit the aforementioned writing and are funny and wonderfully musical. As well as showing off Richard’s singing, this sketch also demonstrates just how well he and Jim Henson worked together. Just in case Statler and Waldorf weren’t proof enough…
7 – Sing After Me
In 1977 Madeline Kahn appeared on The Muppet Show. In 1978 she made this appearance with Grover on Sesame Street. In 1979 she made a cameo in The Muppet Movie. It’s fair to say the late 70’s were very Muppety for Madeline. With her musical chops and background in comedy, Madeline is perfectly suited to playing with our favorite furry friends. Her natural chemistry with Grover is a testament to how good she and Frank Oz are as performers. And Frank Oz really is good here. He makes Grover cute, lovable and hilarious – all the things he should be. This can’t have been easy to do vocally, but he manages to hit every beat and stay in character throughout.
6 – El Condor Pasa
Here’s another wonderful moment from a guest star. I’ve always loved this song, but this stripped back acoustic version is particularly effective and affective. When sung with more force El Condor Pasa plays not just as an affirmation, but as a kind of protest song; by performing it in a more low-key manner it becomes much more personal. It allows the lyrics to have new meaning and resonate even more profoundly. Speaking of the lyrics – am I the only person that likes to make up my own? For example, “I’d rather be a Honda than a Ford” or “I’d rather eat a biplane than some soot”. The possibilities are endless. I also like to do the same with Do You Want to Build a Snowman? “Do you want to catch a squirrel? Do you want to pinch a moose?” Try it now; it’s literally seconds of fun!
5 – Frazzle
This song is representing not just Frazzle himself, but also the myriad of rock ‘n’ roll style songs that featured on Sesame Street in season 9. There were a lot. Tracks like Oh G, The Ten Commandments of Health and Sound it Out showed the full range of the musical genre from straight doo-wap to something a little more jazz inspired. This song is channelling classics like Splish Splash and The Monster Mash with a little dash of girl group thrown in for good measure. I suppose it’s Frazzle himself that really sells this. Every good rock ‘n’ roll song has a hook and Frazzle’s indecipherable ramblings are certainly that. If this song was released in the right era with some good radio play, it could have been a big hit in the real for real charts. Sadly by this point a different type of music was ruling in 1978…
4 – Cookie Disco
…And that different type of music was disco! In 1978 the soundtrack album to Saturday Night Fever was the best selling of the year in 8 countries, including the USA, the UK and Australia. Everyone was donning their flares and strutting their stuff, and that includes Cookie Monster. Taking a cue from the Theme from Shaft, this song tells the listener all about Cookie Monster and why he’s the world’s biggest, baddest snacker. The lyrics are clever and funny and Frank Oz delivers them in what’s probably his funkiest ever performance. Who knew this guy had street cred? This song goes a long way towards delivering one of Sesame Street’s main goals – using current pop culture that kids enjoy and recognise to keep them engaged, entertained and educated. That’s why I love Sesame Street parodies so much.
3 – The Gypsy
What an amazing piece of music this is! Sesame Street songs are truly some of the best you’ll ever hear, but this could happily grace any top 10 list I make regardless of whether it has a Muppet connection or not. Jose Feliciano is an astounding musician and singer. Hailing from Puerto Rico his talent is somewhat undercut by the fact that he’s probably best remembered for Feliz Navidad, a Christmas song loved and loathed in equal measure. This song takes me away to another place as all the best music should. I find myself travelling from dusty town to dusty town working as a minstrel, seeing all and telling all with my music – my biggest friend and best companion. Jose sells this whole scenario through his emotional singing and virtuoso guitar playing. The final, instrumental part of this song is phenomenal. If you listen to only one thing from this week’s chart, promise me it’s the end of this song.
2 – This Frog
It had to be something pretty special to knock the last song into third place (two things to be exact), and this is it. My love for this song is well documented. In fact in my ranking of the first 100 number one songs on my charts this came in in fourth place! The song’s theme of empowerment and overcoming obstacles is as important now as it was 40 years ago and I think it will always have a place. At some point or other we all need to hear this message. And often it means far more coming from us than it does anyone else. Over the years we’ve occasionally seen Kermit falter and have crises of conscience (when the script dictates), but overall he seems to be a frog who knows and loves himself. I can’t stress enough how important that is. As RuPaul says “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?” (Can I get an “Amen”?)
1 – A Song from Kermit
I’ve wanted this song to be number one for a long, long time so I’m pleased I can make it happen today. Not just because of my desire to see it on top, but because it’s extra poignant right now. 40 years ago this week Sam Pottle, who wrote this song with David Axlerod, passed away. It’s a strange notion to consider that just nine months after this song debuted Sam was no longer with us. It’s a sad honor, but one nonetheless to be able to commemorate his life and music with my chart. Sam is probably best remembered for co-writing the Muppet show Theme, but also penned classics like What’s The Name of That Song?, Keep Christmas With You and I Want a Monster to be My Friend. He’s an absolute legend and his contribution to Sesame Street is immeasurable. Over the last few weeks Sam has made my job wonderful and incredibly hard at the same time. This song always makes me think of people I’ve lost and what I’d sing to them if I had the chance. It seems fitting that I end this chart with a song from Kieran to let Sam know he’s being remembered and that his legacy lives on. He left the world a bit better than when he got here.
To bring the mood back up, since there were so many good songs in season 9 here are the ones that made places 11-20:
11 – Mount Snuffleupagus
12 – Sound It Out
13 – I Got a Song
14 – I Love a March
15 – Wonder Child
16 – Nice People
17 – One Thing Leads To Another
18 – Rubber Dolly
19 – I Like My Name
20 – Oh, G
All of these songs scored over 90 out of 100 and might well have made the top 10 in other weeks. So I have to thank everyone on this chart, or who was connected with Sesame Street during season 9, for their fantastic work. Thank You.