I’m not exactly sure at what point in my life I started to become a rock n’ roll addict. I was the first child for my parents and grew up before it was regular practice to plaster albums with parental warning labels. Truth be told, the music of the eighties was so embedded in popular culture that even if my parents had tried to excessively monitor things, I would have been exposed to Poison and Culture Club and Motley Crue anyway. As it was it was not uncommon for me to come to school belting everything from We are the World to Motown or Doowop tunes. But that’s not what this post is about.
My folks also had their own musical tastes to bring to the table. While he stepped away from it a little bit as i got older, my father wasn’t shy about quoting lyrics from The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Beatles, Bob Dylan, and on and on. My mother was more into folk but also had a thing for The Beach Boys and 80s-era Bowie, and I recall being pretty young and watching one of his televised tour performances with her on PBS. I can’t find an actual record of Warzawa being used on one of these recorded shows but I recall very distinctly that the intro for it was him talking about how he made up the language for the song and as a kid it made perfect sense to me because I did that sort of thing when I played pretend all the time! Truly – the Bowie connection has been there since I was very young and it’s never going away. But that’s not what this post is about.
Marketing was also brilliant throughout my youth. For those who actually can remember back to this awesome age, music videos were played on MTV (a wild concept, I know), but also on regular network television for various musical specials – usually featuring a genre or a band. Heck even Reading Rainbow featured an entire episode about music videos – including a performance by RUN-DMC. That was how I was fed an expansive pop culture diet of everything from Duran Duran to Whitesnake to New Kids on the Block. But…you guessed it….not what we’re talking about here. But we’re getting closer.
Disney also hopped on this bandwagon with its DTV specials (Disney TV not digital). If you have a chance to ever find one of these things on the few tapes that still exist then you are in for a treat. These specials were amazing. Usually they had a holiday theme: Valentines or Halloween, though there were also specials celebrating the golden oldies and dogs and cats. What they would do is cut different parts of their cartoons to popular songs of the day in short music videos. I cannot even begin to describe how awesome these specials are and it’s sad that because of music rights that they probably will never be made available on DVD or Bluray because a lot of people would line up to get hold of them. To this day whenever I hear Pat Benatar’s ‘You Better Run” I imagine the sequence where Snow White runs through the forest and is chased by all sorts of imaginary baddies. I was highly disappointed when my parents took me to the movie’s rerelease and discovered that this song wasn’t in the actual soundtrack.
But if we’re going to go to the beginning of where I probably got a lot of my rockin’ appreciation then we must go back to Sesame Street. Yes, you read that right.
Back in the day Sesame did have its guest stars, but it was nowhere as obvious as it is now. When celebs did pop up they were usually worked into bits on the street proper and not given their own special “mini-commercial” time moments (ie the filler time between each episode’s lesson/plotline). Yes it was obvious to adults that there was this famous person with the muppets, but there was no sort of “Hey everybody it’s so and so! He’s talking about up and down!” or whatever. What Sesame also had, though, were some AMAZING musical bits. Some were original (Wet Paint, The Word is No) and others were an obvious nod to popular songs of the day (Cereal Girl anyone?) I was RIVETED to these. They were catchy and fun and taught you something. They were usually close enough to the original that you got what they were parodying without inflicting ire, but they were done in such a lovingly fabulous manner with so much attention to detail! I was so excited as an adult to find Songs from the Street which was a box set that was supposed to have all the well-known songs on it. And most of them were there…except for every gem from the eighties that my generation fell in love with. NONE of them made it onto that set. Sure, I’ll give you Put Down the Ducky and Monster in the Mirror – those are classics from the nineties that I was aware of because of The Sibling. But to skip a whole decade to put more Elmo songs on there…I wanted to cry. It was like my childhood was systematically erased. Thank God for youtube, is all I have to say.
There are three of these classic tunes that still get in my head to this day. I’m pretty sure Cooperation is original, but the other two are obviously tributes to Billy Idol and Bruce Springsteen. Note the fun detail, note the awesome vocals and amazing instrumentals (remember – this is a kids show!) Seriously if Sesame Street were to release a disc of just the songs I’ve mentioned I’d definitely buy it. Hell, if Billy Idol were to show up on Sesame Street singing about Rebel L I would make it a point to watch it. Repeatedly.
At any rate, as a youngster I was hooked. I was learning just as much about music as I was about letters and numbers and helping people. And when I discovered that they were based around real grown-up songs…well I was over the moon!
So watch and sing along if you remember! And no – these will never get out of your head. Ever. It has been over twenty years and they are STILL in residence in my mind. Just relax and enjoy the groovy tunes. And in the words of Cooperation…’Dig It!’