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How great is "Sesame Street"? Jim Henson's beloved fixture was entertaining and educating children at the same time before I was born and, God willing, it will continue to delight the young people long after I'm dead in the grave. While there's something wonderfully reassuring about knowing that this cultural institution exists, I never truly appreciated the genius of "Sesame Street" until I had a son myself. Our 16-month-old is just starting to get into the childhood classic and, clearly, so are we as evidenced by these five favorite songs that we just cant get out of our heads:
1. "Monster In The Mirror"
"Monster In The Mirror" was such a resounding success that two separate versions of it were made—one with Grover kicking it with his Sesame Street pals, and the other with Grover joined by a distinctly 1991 assortment of celebrities including Siskel & Ebert, The Simpsons, Robin Williams, Kadeem Hardison and Lou Diamond Phillips. It's understandable why famous folks would want to get in on the action, but "Monster In The Mirror" works just as well, if not better, without all that celebrity razzle-dazzle. It's a lovely little anthem about self-acceptance, perspective and learning to not only accept, but embrace, our shortcomings (for there is a little monstrousness in each and every one of us) that also has the benefit of being insanely catchy.
"Sesame Street" doesn't get much more melancholy or bittersweet than it does on "I Don't Want To Live On The Moon." It's a beautiful, delicate ballad where an unusually philosophical Ernie contemplates living on the moon, traveling under the sea, visiting a jungle and traveling back in time to meet a dinosaur, only to realize that he'd like to do these things at most for a day or two because his heart, and his body, both belong at home. Ernie considers all these airy fantasies before ultimately rejecting them because while it might be fun, for example, to kick it ever so briefly, with a dinosaur, departing our world would cause him to miss all the people and places he loves. Damn, Ernie. Y'all are gonna make us cry.
3. "It's Not Easy Being Green"
When it comes to generating deep emotions, "It's Not Easy Being Green" ranks right up there with "I Don't Want To Live On The Moon." It's a stone-cold classic that finds every-frog Kermit talk-singing his way through a sorrowful lament about the difficulties of being a relatively boring and staid color like green. The guitars are sad and slow, feeling Kermit's pain as he croons ever so gently about blending into the world instead of standing out from the crowd. But this is no wallow in self-pity. No, Kermit comes to respect and appreciate the upside to his complicated skin color—he comes to appreciate the many wonderful things in life that also happen to be green and in less than two minutes, he makes a poignant journey from self-doubt to embracing himself, green skin and all.
Cookie Monster is among the most intently focussed characters in all of children's entertainment, so while he begins his signature song "C is for Cookie" by pondering things that start with C other than his beloved cookies, he quickly abandons that pursuit to focus on what really matters: Cookies. C stands for Cookie, and that's good enough for this particular monster. Cookie Monster also contemplates other things that look like Cs, like the moon and a donut, but always returns to cookies. When you find something that works, why mess with it?
5. "Disco Frog"
Many of Sesame Street's best loved songs are timeless. "It's Not Easy Being Green" and "C Is For Cookie" could have come from any time in the past four decades, and will be just as resonant four decades from now. "Sesame Street" isn't averse to trends, however, as evidenced by "Disco Frog." As disco cash-ins go, this is less opportunistic than most, but it's still gloriously dated and cheesy. Over a fairly generic disco groove, an uncharacteristically boogie-oriented Kermit sings of a dancing fool of an amphibian who transforms a swamp into a boogie wonderland, a more marshy Studio 54 with less drugs and sex (we hope, these are the Muppets, and not the Feebles that we're talking about, after all). "Disco Frog" illustrates that "Sesame Street" can be great, timeless art, but it can also just be goofy fun, and that's OK.