The "Lyrical Embarrassment" that is the Sesame Street Theme Song

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My 17-month-old daughter is just getting into Sesame Street, and I have to say, I think I’m enjoying it even more than she is. But while I’m totally into the guest appearances by Andy Samberg and Will Arnett, her main thing right now is getting her groove on to the theme song. And who can blame her? It’s crazy-catchy and has been for 42 years. If you once loved it as much as she does now, check out a few facts about “Can You Tell Me How To Get To Sesame Street”. I apologize in advance – there’s a very low chance that you’ll escape without the tune bouncing around in your head for at least a day.

Sesame Street Sings the Blues

Although “The Kids,” also known as “The Wee Willie Winter Singers,” sang the theme song for years (it’s still warbled by kids, of course), there’s a very grown up element to “Can You Tell Me How to Get to Sesame Street.” The harmonica featured prominently in the song is played by Jean “Toots” Thielemans, one of the greatest harmonica players in the history of jazz. He’s worked with almost every big jazz and blues star you can think of – Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, Charlie Parker, Dinah Washington, Benny Goodman and more. But he considers his Sesame Street work some of his best: “My playing on the Sesame Street theme had always been an important reward on my lapel,” he said in 2008.

At the age of 89, Toots is still getting his jazz on, by the way. Here’s some of his impressive work over the closing credits of the show:

Sesame Street: Season 3 End Credits (1971-1972)

A Lyrical Embarrassment

Though the melody of the song is lauded pretty much across the board – kids and critics both loved it (and still do) – Jon Stone, the song’s co-writer, has come out and admitted that he finds the lyrics to be “trite and thoughtless” with “happy little clichés” and “platitudinous kiddie-show lyrics.”

A Torture Device

Apparently not everyone loves the classic ditty as much as Lydia does, because U.S. forces used the song to break Iraqi captives in the early 2000’s. Heavy metal bands such as Metallica and Drowning Pool were also used, but another kiddie favorite made the list as well – that obnoxious purple dinosaur. I could listen to Sesame Street songs for quite some time, but play Barney for a couple of hours and I’d confess to crimes I’ve never even heard of.

So How Do You Get to Sesame Street?

It’s a question for the ages, Flossers. The exact location of Sesame Street has never been officially revealed, though art director Victor DiNapoli once said it’s supposed to represent the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The show is actually taped at studios in Queens, but the set isn’t meant to represent that area. In the special Christmas Eve on Sesame Street, several Muppets can be seen getting off on the 86th St. subway stop, which would put the fictional street somewhere on the Upper East Side. And on the 35th anniversary special a few years back, Elmo sent Oscar a package with the zip code 10128, making Big Bird's home in midtown.

I’ll leave you with Gladys Knight and the Pips doing their version of “Can You Tell Me How to Get to Sesame Street” in 1988.

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November 3, 2011 - 6:10pm
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