Like all great anthems, the songs of Sesame Street — that is, the more than 1,000 compositions of Joe Raposo, written between 1969 and 1989 — provide a vivid sense of shared history. It’s our childhood history, if we are young enough to have watched the 23-year-old Street ourselves, or our children’s histories, if we are older.
Fortunately, though, Sing! The Songs of Joe Raposo won’t make you (or your preschooler) weep nostalgically. This compilation, dedicated to the late songwriter, who died in 1989 at age 52, is cheerful and contemporary.
And star-studded. ”Sesame Street Theme,” for instance, is performed by Gladys Knight and the Pips. They jazz it up without obscuring the way the song turns an imaginary place into a source of innocence and happiness.
More impressively, Ray Charles’ inimitable interpretation makes ”Bein’ Green” (”It’s not easy bein’ green…I’m green, and it’ll do fine…”) more than just Kermit the Frog’s ”commercial for self-esteem,” as Raposo called it in 1989. The song becomes a metaphoric musing about racism and personal dignity.
Other songs are sung by the Muppets who made them famous: Bert, Grover, Ernie, and Big Bird. Cookie Monster (Frank Oz) sings ”C is for Cookie.” The song is simple, like Street’s mini reading lessons. But few 3-year-olds could hear ”Cookie” without learning the letter C.
Even Raposo himself sings a handful of songs, in a variety of voices taken from the series’ soundtrack. In ”I’m Pretty,” he manages to assume the voice of a baby seal without being ridiculous. Ditto ”Bein’ a Pig” and ”I’m an Aardvark”; apparently Raposo wanted to help all animals boost their self-esteem.
Other Sing! standouts include Patti LaBelle’s ”A Little Bit (At the Beginning)”: Toddlers will relate to her decibel level. And there are two versions of ”Sing (Sing a Song).” The one by multiple Muppets is eerily moving, as it recalls the loss of the great Jim Henson (the voice of Ernie and Kermit). Still, it’s nothing compared with the version, also here, that the late Karen Carpenter made famous. As a pop tune, the Carpenters’ ”Sing” was saccharine. But as a kids’ song — a cheerful, singable confidence builder — it’s unsurpassed. And as a piece of shared cultural history, it’s reason enough to make Sing! the next Sesame Street collection you buy. A-