When Sesame Street turned 50 over the weekend, the children's TV show was rightfully feted for its contributions to educational programming and commitment to inclusivity and diversity. But Sesame Street's vast musical universe also deserves the spotlight.
Not only did the Sesame Street touring band include guitarists Nile Rodgers of Chic and Bowie sideman Carlos Alomar, but Buffy Sainte-Marie was a regular on the show, and musical guests included luminaries from the pop, rock, hip-hop, classical, jazz, and blues worlds. In fact, it seemed like everyone wanted to appear on Sesame Street or an accompanying movie.
(I mean, it doesn't get much better than Waylon Jennings' iconic appearance in Follow That Bird, as summarized by this YouTube commenter: "You may be cool, but you'll never be Waylon Jennings driving an old Chevy truck with Big Bird riding shotgun cool.")
You already know "C Is for Cookie" and "I Love Trash"—chances are you're probably humming them now that I've mentioned them. But the show offered hundreds of original songs (and parodies) over the years. Here's just a small sampling of greatness from the show, Sesame Street LPs, and guest stars.
Kermit the Frog, "It's Not Easy Being Green"
Kermit captured the experience of feeling alone in this world more acutely than any human songwriter. If this version isn't quite sad enough, cue up Big Bird singing the song at Jim Henson's memorial service.
"Pinball Animation #3" (a.k.a. The "12345" Counting Song)
This aggressively syncopated soul-jazz animated bit is sung by none other than the Pointer Sisters.
Bert, "Doing the Pigeon"
Is there anything more charming than a Muppet dancing to a song based on a pesky garbage-bird?
Ernie, "Put Down the Duckie"
Or how about this jazzy number, about being brave enough to let go of a good-luck totem to embrace a hobby?
Aaron Neville & Ernie, "I Don't Want to Live on the Moon"
No, YOU'RE crying.
Roosevelt Franklin & Morty Moot Mope
Some critics have argued that Roosevelt Franklin was "the first rapper," and going by this clip, there's a good argument to be made that the Muppet should at least be considered a genre pioneer.
Cookie Monster and the Crumbs Unlimited Orchestra, "Me Going to Munch You, Munch You, Munch You"
Yes, this is a facial hair-clad Cookie Monster-as-Barry White singing a funky love song to a cookie.
Mick Swagger and the Sesame Street Cobblestones, "(I Can't Get No) Cooperation"
Sesame Street's parodies always ended up on the right side of copyright infringement—so while puppeteer Karen Prell gets props for coaxing the scarf-clad Muppet into doing Mick Jagger's strut, the song itself is more Springsteenian. (Appropriately, "(I Can't Get No) Cooperation" is on the Boss-referencing LP Born to Add.)
The Beetles, "Letter B" + "Hey Food"
Not to be outdone, a band of British moptopped bugs captured the essence of a certain Fab Four—although Cookie Monster's collaboration, "Hey Food," might, er, take the cake.
Cookie Monster, "Me Lost Me Cookie at the Disco"
Sesame Street embraced disco with sincere fervor and musical reverence. Not only did the industry take notice—at the height of Bee Gees mania, Robin Gibb appeared on 1978's Sesame Street Fever LP with the starry-eyed garbage ode "Trash"—but it also led to indelible gems such as "Me Lost Me Cookie at the Disco." Who among us hasn't done the same?
Oscar, "Doin' the Trash"
Another disco classic that works like a charm. Talk about a song (er) ripe for a cover.
Tanya Tucker & Big Bird, "You'll Never Take the Texas Out of Me"
Released in 1981, the LP Sesame Country included Tanya Tucker dueting with Big Bird on this lively, sentimental song.
Over the Top, "ZZ Blues"
These bearded, bluesy Muppets bear a striking resemblance to a certain long-running Texas trio—and their ode to the last letter of the alphabet ("There ain't enough Z words/Got the ZZ blues") is a classic underdog tale.
Stevie Wonder, "Superstition"
In 1973, Wonder and his band brought the funk to Sesame Street for this mind-blowing version of his classic song.
Smokey Robinson, "U Really Got a Hold on Me"
A case where an original song barely needs any modifications to become a Sesame Street classic, this time a tune honoring our 21st letter.
Elvis Costello & Elmo, "Monster Went and Ate My Red 2"
One of the most joyous guest appearances you'll see from the show—Elvis rivals Elmo here for exuberance.
Sesame Street goes punk in a rather credible way, singing about a rogue letter in the style of one Mr. Idol.
Destiny's Child, "A New Way to Walk"
The trio looks stoked to be appearing on the show. The only character happier in this clip? Elmo, who greets each member by name with his usual affable voice.
R.E.M., "Furry Happy Monsters"
Another pure remake of a hit song. For authenticity, there's even a Kate Pierson Muppet.
Paul Jacobs, "Nineteen"
Although Prince sang "Starfish and Coffee" with the Muppets—he was a fan, after all—the closest the Purple One came to Sesame Street was this dubious spoof "Nineteen." Better is the animated bit "Eighteen Sandwiches," which nods to another Muppet Show fave guest, Alice Cooper.