Thursday, January 5, 2012

Sesame Street Song Challenge for January 5, 2012

I struggled a bit with this one.

I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do parodies.

Quite often, parodies become dated.

You have to know the source to truly appreciate how the parody mirrors and subverts it.

But then, we live in a culture of reference humor.

Most of the jokes on Family Guy nod to cultural landmarks from many years ago.

Like The Noid.

Though many of the jokes on the show pander, you get the feeling they don’t care if one of their references is lost on you.

It was the same with MST3K.

They would make quips that only someone from Minnesota would get.

Or even the team that produced the show.

Which brings us to this.

Maybe the best parody ever done.

Because it’s not entirely a parody.

It’s a kind of tribute.

The Beatles are a cultural reference point.

One that has endured for the better part of 50 years.

They had an almost incalculable influence on popular music.

Less so in recent decades.

But at the time, they were the it thing.

They spawned everything from concept albums to bands making films to…

Well, you get the picture.

They also inspired many parodies or winking nods.

The Monkees, for example.

Or Eric Idle’s The Ruttles.

You really can’t escape them in popular culture.

Not even on Sesame Street.

If I remember correctly, one of the aims of the show when it started was to be a kind of Laugh-in for kids.

Yes, the show was educational.

But the cartoons and Muppets and other elements of the show had a manic and satiric edge.

They commented on popular culture.

Kermit’s breaking news stories.

Game show host Guy Smiley.

Tortured musical genius Don Music.

And so on.

Speaking of Don Music.

Richard Hunt, who brought him to life, figures into today’s song.

Letter B.

This dates back to 1981.

And it is one of the finest takes ever on both the Beatles’ sound and influence.

You could practically sing the words of this whimsical confection to the original.

‘When I find I can’t remember what comes after A and before C, my mother always whispers Letter B.’

It’s so obvious, you wonder why no one had thought of it before.

Well, maybe they did.

Even so, Christopher Cerf, whose father co-founded Random House and whose mother co-founded that company’s Beginner Books for kids, was the one who made it happen.

He and Douglas Adams were great friends.

I don’t doubt that.

I mean, listen to this.

It has a very strong British sensibility about it.

Not just in capturing the sound of the Beatles.

But also that unique style of absurdist humor that Britain is known for.

Cerf had lost his voice when the segment was made.

So Richard Hunt - Don Music, Janis, Beaker… - took on the task.

And acquits himself rather well, even if he doesn’t quite sound like any Beatle.

Want to know how spot on this parody was?

Northern Songs, which handled the Beatles’ songs at the time, launched a $5.5 million lawsuit over it.

Fortunately, around the time Michael Jackson purchased the Beatles’ catalog, the suit was dropped.

Even so, the Children’s Television Workshop, which produced Sesame Street, received a fine of $50.

And Cerf paid that himself.


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