Street Songs: The Hits of Sesame Street

The following is an article from Uncle John's 24-Karat Gold Bathroom Reader.

For generations of kids, the songs on Sesame Street were the first pop songs they ever heard. Here are the stories behind some favorite ones.


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In 1971 Sesame Street mastermind Jim Henson, puppeteer Jerry Juhl, head writer Jeff Moss, and chief songwriter Joe Raposo decided to write a sketch for every letter of the alphabet. One of the Muppets' biggest hits was the song they came up with for C: "C is for Cookie," sung by Cookie Monster (Frank Oz) while sitting on a giant letter C, with a monster chorus singing operatic background vocals. Raposo wrote the song, which debuted on a Sesame Street album in 1971 and aired on TV in 1972. Raposo was also the original inspiration for Cookie Monster. He was a ravenous fan of cookies -so much so that when he died in 1989, his family had a milk-and-cookies reception instead of a wake.


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This song is more famous from The Muppet Show. It was the basis of the very first sketch on the very first episode in 1975: a crazy-looking jazz singer puppet named Mahna Mahna (pronounced "ma-náh ma-náh"), dressed in a green fuzzy vest, with wild orange hair, sang the nonsense song "Mahna Mahna" as he bounced on, off, and around on the screen. But the song debuted on episode 14 of Sesame Street in 1969, as performed by a puppet named Bip Bippadotta.  (It also made quite an impression when when the Muppets performed it on The Ed Sullivan Show that same year.) The premise of the sketch was always the same -the nonsense words "mahna mahna" repeated over and over, sung calmly at first, then veering wildly out of control. It's one of the few well-known Sesame Street songs not written specifically for the show. It was actually written by Italian composer Piero Umiliani for the 1968 movie Sweden, Heaven and Hell -a soft-core porn film.


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The 1970 producer Jon Stone asked Joe Raposo to "write a song for the frog," meaning Kermit, and gave him educational guidelines for the lyrics, a common practice on the show. Stone said it had to be about making kids feel special and unique. He even gave Raposo some lyrics to work from. Raposo hammered out a song in which Kermit laments being green because it's ordinary, but ultimately realizing that it's beautiful. The lyric, "It's not easy being green" became a catchphrase in the early 1970s, and was also interpreted as an anti-racist statement. Although many of the lyrics used in "Bein' Green" were written by Stone, he didn't ask for a songwriting credit. Raposo ended up being listed as the sole writer of the song and Stone lost out on millions in royalties.


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Jon Stone wanted the show's theme to build momentum and excitement -exactly what an opening song should do. "Running happily, tumbling, playing along the way, but always intent on getting to Sesame Street," is how Stone put it in his memoir. He like the catchy, toy-piano-driven sing-song melody that Joe Raposo and co-writer Bruce Hart came up with but hated the lyrics -he thought they were trite and full of clichés ("Sunny day, sweeping the clouds away"), with references he felt would be dated, like "everything's A-OK," which Stone derided as "astronaut slang." Nevertheless, it's been the theme song for the show's entire run (although it was remade several times -most notably as a calypso version in 1993 and a hip-hop version in 2007).


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This Raposo ballad, about trying to do things even if you're afraid you aren't good at them, was written for the show in 1970 and was sung on the show in English, Spanish, and even sign language. It's the most-performed song on Sesame Street. (It's been sung by more than 50 performers.) The Carpenters recorded it in 1973, and it became a #3 pop hit.


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While rubber ducks had been around since the 1890s (with the availability of cheap rubber), it wasn't until this song was featured on Sesame Street that  they became really popular, becoming the definitive kid's bath toy (as well as the mascot for a certain trivia book). The song itself was popular, too. Singing it as "Ernie," Jim Henson hit #16 on the pop chart with "Rubber Duckie" in 1970.


The article above was reprinted with permission from Uncle John's 24-Karat Gold Bathroom Reader.

Since 1988, the Bathroom Reader Institute had published a series of popular books containing irresistible bits of trivia and obscure yet fascinating facts.

If you like Neatorama, you'll love the Bathroom Reader Institute's books - go ahead and check 'em out!

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Oh, I so remember all of these from my childhood. The only one I didn't know from just the title was Sing, but 10 seconds in and it's "oh... I know that one". I love C is for Cookie the best - just because the Cookie Monster has always been my favourite.
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This version of Mahna Mahna is one of my favorites. Gets downright demented around the 2:20 mark. I don't think Bip ever went off the rails with more gusto.
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Kermit! One of the greatest songs ever.

But I'll never understand why Raposo couldn't get the credits changed so that Stone could get what he deserved? Surely, Stone was paid somehow. Right?

But fab fab fab song.
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