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Sesame Street Theme

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Music by Joe Raposo
Lyrics by Jon Stone, Bruce Hart, Joe Raposo
Date 1969
Publisher Sesame Street, Inc.
Bigbirdtheme
The Street Sings Sunny Days01:55

The Street Sings Sunny Days

(EKA: Episode 3916)

The Sesame Street Theme (registered with ASCAP as "Can You Tell Me How To Get To Sesame Street") is the familiar opening theme song of Sesame Street. It is normally sung by The Kids. The theme introduces the magical world of Sesame Street through its lyrics, stating that it is a place where "the air is sweet" and filled with "friendly neighbors," and frequently asks the now-famous question "Can you tell me how to get to Sesame Street?"

In an unpublished memoir, Jon Stone commented that he personally had come up with many of the ideas for the song: "An integral part of [set designer] Charlie Rosen's set was a wall of doors...I wanted to use these doors as transition gateways from the reality of the street to our puppet or animation pieces. I told Bruce [Hart] to include 'Every door will open wide'", which was also meant as a reference to the phrase "Open Sesame," the inspiration for the show's title. "More important, I insisted that the recurring theme in the lyric be 'Can you tell me how to get to Sesame Street?' The opening I envisioned was one of children...running happily, tumbling, playing along the way, but always intent on getting to Sesame Street..." Although Stone was pleased with Joe Raposo's music, which he said was "melodic and simple enough for a child to recognize" and link with the show, he believed the final product was "a lyrical disaster," filled with "hackneyed phrases" and "astronaut slang" such as "A-OK" which he believed would "become obsolete."[1] Contrary to Stone's opinion, many of these so called "happy little clichés" (such as "Sunny day, sweepin' the clouds away") have arguably become as inexorably linked to the series as the melody.

The song has been remade a number of times over the years not only for the show's opening and closing credits but also for inserts. Among the earliest, most distinctive versions of the theme feature solo harmonica performed by Toots Thielemans. For the 30th Anniversary version, the harmonica solo was provided by William Galison.[2]

On The Muppet Show, when the Sesame Street cast made a cameo in Episode 518, the cast of both Sesame Street and The Muppet Show sang a verse of the theme song (this recording can be heard over a montage of Sesame Street clips in The Muppets: A Celebration of 30 Years).

Gladys Knight sang the theme in The Sesame Street Special. This recording was also included in the album Sing: Songs of Joe Raposo.

A remix was recorded by Ursula 2000 for Songs from the Street: 35 Years of Music. This remix also featured sound clips from various Sesame Street Albums. This recording sometimes accompanied montages in episodes of The Sesame Street Podcast.

The song, as well as the phrase "Can you tell me how to get to Sesame Street?" have also been the subject of numerous in-jokes on the show itself. Notably, in a Sesame Street News Flash visit to Don Music (EKA: Episode 1845), the famed composer finds himself stymied on the last line, "Sesame Street." Kermit the Frog suggests alterations, which culminate in the song (now set on a stormy night, not even a star in sight) asking directions to where the sky is dark. This, evidently, is Yellowstone Park. This is also evident in the movie Follow That Bird, when Miss Finch says the aforementioned phrase.

Openings

The song has been a part of Sesame Street since the very beginning, as it was used to open the first pilot episode; this version is longer than that used in the series proper. Sung by Bob McGrath, the rendition includes the complete lyrics, as heard on albums and elsewhere, but seldom included on the show itself.

The more familiar opening theme, including a children's chorus (the original chorus being Lois Winter and the "Wee Willie Winter Singers," according to musical coordinator Danny Epstein[3]), was used from the show’s debut until 1992. Throughout this period, the opening theme was accompanied by clips of children playing on location in a park or city. Various sequences of footage were used and rotated from episode to episode. Big Bird was added to most versions of the sequence starting in season 4 and Barkley was added to the opening in season 10; the actual rotation of openings, meanwhile, was replaced outright with new footage in both 1972 and 1988.

For Season 24, the theme was updated with a calypso-flavored beat. The opening sequence employed the use of numerous animated effects and featured many more Muppet characters, including Big Bird, Grover, Oscar the Grouch (running in his trash can), Cookie Monster, Count von Count, Prairie Dawn, Ernie, Bert, Elmo and Telly Monster. The opening footage was generally standardized from episode to episode from this point on; however, an alternate version of the opening, featuring Zoe and Baby Natasha in the places of Grover and Prairie Dawn respectively, was occasionally shown.

In 1998, the opening reverted to footage of Big Bird and various children, with a rerecorded version of the theme resembling the original opening. This lasted until 2002, when yet another opening sequence was produced featuring Big Bird and various children following computer-animated bouncing blocks, highlighting clips from the show. Near the end, Super Grover appears flying and crashing to the bottom of the "Sesame Street" lamppost. He gets back up, holding a sign of the episode number. This opening was shortened on reruns, except for Season 37, the last season to use this opening.

Starting with Season 38 in 2007 to 2008, another new opening was introduced, featuring a slightly-faster version of the theme with a minor hip-hop context to fit with the city setting, and featured more Muppets, including Abby Cadabby, Oscar the Grouch, Elmo, Big Bird, Ernie, Bert, Cookie Monster, Super Grover, Zoe, Rosita, and a bird among a computer-animated New York City using "folding" effects (this basis would also be used for the between-segment-bumpers and closing credits), and also had the episode number appearing on a sign next to the "Sesame Street" sign on the distinctive lightpole.

A new intro was created for Season 40 in 2009, featuring the Muppet characters in a chalk-drawn environment. Muppets who appear in this version of the opening include Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch, Elmo, Abby Cadabby, Ernie, Bert, Grover (and his super-hero alter ego), Cookie Monster, Zoe, Count von Count, Rosita, Telly Monster, Baby Bear, Murray Monster, Ovejita, Chickens, and Birds. After Super Grover knocks over the lamppost, it falls and the episode number is written next to it. The theme music is a remixed version of the 2007 theme, this time using mostly live instruments (i.e. acoustic drums, a horn section). This version was remixed again for Season 42.

Animation

During the first 6 seasons of Sesame Street, each episode began with an animated sequence that ended with the show's episode number. The following is a listing of known animated sequences.

  • Season 1 - Clay animation of a unicorn and a man standing in front of an arch that says "Sesame Street", and then walking under it. The animation was done by Jim Henson.
  • Episode 0131 - A little bird in a big bird's mouth.
  • Episodes 0162 and 0276 - Flowers are planted that form into the words "Sesame Street." Another flower produces the episode number.
  • Episode 0179 - A man hits a gong, and it falls down.
  • Episodes 0406, 0536, and 0666 - A woodpecker pecks "Sesame Street" on a tree.
  • Episodes 0573 and 0592 - 2 people standing under a sign that says "Sesame Street".
  • Episode 0597 - A mad scientist conducts a balloon-blowing experiment, then the balloon pops with the words that say "Sesame Street" coming out.
  • Episode 0598 - A man blows a balloon that says "Sesame Street", then it deflates with the man hanging onto it, after the words jump out of the balloon. The man then falls flat on his face.
  • Episodes 0560 and 0600 - A spy takes everything out of a trash can and turns it into a rocket, then it zooms off with the words "Sesame Street" in smoke.

International co-productions that aired in the 70s (with the exception of Sesamstraat in the Netherlands), including Plaza Sésamo, Sesamstrasse, and Vila Sésamo used these animated sequences during their early years, although Sesamstrasse continued to use these until the 90s.

Closings

BottomoftheStreetCreditScroll

The illustrated closing from the early 70's features various Muppets, including a rarely seen full body Oscar.

StreeringWheelClosing
SesameCreditsCTW

The 1992 closing, featuring vibrant, colorful animation by Joey Ahlbum.

How2Get2SesameStreet

An instrumental version of the theme, featuring harmonica by Thielemans, regularly served as the outro for the first twenty three seasons of the show, and was only sporadically used afterwards. Like the opening, the closing has changed many times throughout the show's run. During the first season and for part of the third, the credits (which until season 34 were generally included only on Friday episodes) rolled as the action from episodes continued on. The season 2 closing featured still shots of childrens' paintings.

Sometime during Season 3, the closing was changed to an illustrated sequence scrolling the length of a tall apartment building down into 123 Sesame Street. Various Muppet characters were depicted in this closing: Big Bird, Ernie, Bert, Cookie Monster, Oscar the Grouch, Kermit the Frog, Little Bird, Herbert Birdsfoot, Lefty the Salesman, Roosevelt Franklin, Roosevelt Franklin's Mother, Herry Monster, Sherlock Hemlock, Professor Hastings, and numerous Anything Muppets. Grover appeared in various areas throughout this closing.

For the 1974-75 season, the closing was changed to a live-action drive through the countryside with the driver's hands being shown. This footage was combined with films of railroad tracks and a canyon in the 1978-79 season and this time, the driver's hands are not shown. New live action footage of The Kids playing with Barkley was introduced by the 1980-81 season and remained in use for twelve years up to 1992.

Alternate closings with filmed sequences of New York City and upstate New York recorded during the pre-dawn hours were also occasionally used during this period, usually coinciding with episodes taking place at night. A lullaby version of the theme featuring a celesta often accompanied these closings. During the late 1990s and early 2000s, a different arrangement was occasionally used to close out episodes taking place at night (This version originally included a children's chorus repeating "How To Get To Sesame Street?" which was later removed).

A new, primarily-animated closing sequence was produced in 1992 to coincide with the new opening introduced in the same year, complete with a new upbeat version of the theme. Like the opening, this closing featured animated effects and appearances by various characters, including Elmo, a Muppet pigeon, Big Bird, and various kids dancing. Unlike the 1992 opening sequence, this closing remained in use for fifteen years until 2007, making it the longest-running closing credit sequence used on the show, although it was progressively shortened in 2000 (when references to "The Children's Television Workshop" were edited out), 2002, and 2003. Originally, the closing credits only appeared in every fifth episode. Starting in 1993, the closing credits would also appear on the season premiere, and continued to until 2003 when the credits would appear at the end of each episode.

Also during Season 24, a more "old-fashioned" alternate credit crawl was used occasionally for a few years, appearing mainly in reruns from preceding seasons. This closing featured Big Bird walking through Central Park and downtown with a group of children accompanied with the classic harmonica instrumental.

To coincide with the new opening sequence of 2007 and the "folding-city" bumpers used in-between segments, a new closing sequence was introduced in Season 38 with the camera panning around the CGI city, with appearances by Super Grover, Elmo, Big Bird and Abby Cadabby, accompanied by an urban-jazz instrumental version of the theme. It also ends with a customized Sesame Workshop logo instead of the animated one used since 2000 (Season 38 utilized an in-credit variant, and Season 39 featured a newly-animated variant with an appearance by Elmo and other Sesame Workshop characters).

In 2009, a new credit sequence was created to go along with the new theme, and features Big Bird, Cookie Monster, Ernie, Bert, Zoe, Abby and Elmo dancing on and around the credits in a chalked background of each character. The closing music, like the opening, is remixed from the 2007 edition and was also re-recorded for season 42.

Thielemans' harmonic version of the closing theme was used for the album Sing-Along Travel Songs, accompanied with Elmo and Zoe providing the vocals. When it was released on The Best of Elmo album, only Elmo's vocal is heard.

Other appearances

As the show's theme song, it has been featured in many productions related to Sesame Street, in both vocal and instrumental form. An instrumental version with a bit of Christmas-sounding music was included at the beginning of Christmas Eve on Sesame Street. Instrumental versions of the song also appeared in the first and last street scenes in Follow That Bird. The song, usually in instrumental form, has also been included in many video releases.

In most countries, severalof the international Sesame Street co-productions use their own theme song, while others use the same American version in their own style with slightly different lyrics; one example being the Dutch co-production Sesamstraat (see Sesamstraat Thema).

Also, the Danish co-production Sesamgade uses the same theme (with the same audio from 2002), but with a altered text by Mariella Harpelunde Jensen, so that it fits into a show that focuses on Elmo.

The theme song was performed at the Jim Henson's Musical World concert on April 14, 2012.

Audio releases

All versions released are performed by The Kids, unless otherwise noted.

References

This song, or lyrics of this song (most notably the line "Can you tell me how to get to Sesame Street?"), have been referenced quite a few times on Sesame Street, or in related productions.

  • A film insert showing kids playing with toys followed by adults working with similar objects includes a scene where a little girl plays the drums and sings a line of the theme song. (EKA: Episode 0796)
  • In a late 1970s Reporter Kermit skit, Don Music wrote a similar song called "Yellowstone Park", and after he finished his song, Kermit asked him, "By the way, can you tell me how to get to Sesame Street?"
  • In Follow That Bird, after Miss Finch is told that Big Bird lives on Sesame Street, she asks, "Can you tell me how to get to Sesame Street?"
  • In another scene from Follow That Bird, after Big Bird sends two kids to call Sesame Street to rescue him, the girl asks the operator, "Can you tell me how to get to Sesame Street?"
  • In Sesame Street: 20 and Still Counting, Kermit goes out to the streets to ask the question of the day, which happens to be "Can you tell me how to get to Sesame Street?" Needless to say, nobody can give an answer regarding how to get to Sesame Street.

Publications

Outside uses

  • The original opening theme was remixed in 1992 (ironically the same year it was retired from the show) by the British rave group The Smart E's as "Sesame's Treet." Peaking at #2 on the UK singles chart, the remix also features audio excerpts from a Count von Count sketch.
  • In 2003, repetitive playing of the song was used by United States interrogators as a tool to break the will of Iraqi prisoners of war.[4]

Sources

  1. Quoted in Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street by Michael Davis (New York: Viking Press, 2008), pp. 159-160.
  2. NPR interview
  3. Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street by Michael Davis (New York: Viking Press, 2008), pp.161
  4. BBC News

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