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Elmo is the new Emo

Punk and Indie Rock on Sesame Street

By

Sharing my living space with a one-year-old girl means that I make a lot of concessions as far as what we watch and listen to in the apartment. For music, it's not much of a problem, as we share similar tastes. During the day, our soundtrack leans toward fun upbeat punk rock from the Ramones or Teenage Bottlerocket, and pulling heavily from kid-friendly punk bands like Mike Park or Billy Jackfish, slowing things down around nap time and bed time.

But when it comes to watching things on the tube, there can be a differing of opinion. When I might like to watch a documentary about the food industry, military history or some other topic that tends to employ a lot black and white footage and talking heads (as opposed to Talking Heads - who she likes very much), she tends to get bored quickly, demanding something more visually stimulating. Her tastes lean toward brightly animated characters, people in costumes that many adults find disturbing and Muppets. She usually wins these arguments; it's like having a roommate if one's roommate's technique for getting you to change the channel always reverts to throwing their body on the floor, flailing and screaming.

Fortunately, we do agree on Muppets. I think Jim Henson was a genius, and I was raised on Sesame Street. So we watch a lot of Henson's work. In her short existence, she has been exposed to a sizable amount of it, from classics like the original Muppet Show and Muppet Movie to contemporary works like 2011's The Muppets to more obscure productions like The Storyteller and Tale of the Bunny Picnic.

And we watch a lot of Sesame Street.

A lot of it.

We watch the Dutch version, Sesamstraat, but Big Bird is blue and his name is Pino (and is actually Big Bird's cousin), and Bert and Ernie's voices seem wrong. Plus it's in Dutch. So while she loves it (I'm thinking that at one year, her Dutch is already better than mine, it doesn't satisfy that fix.

Fortunately, Sesame Street is everywhere on the internets, especially on YouTube, where we've put together a few Sesame Street playlists that can be queued up and set loose.

Now I know I'm not the only punk fan who grew up on Sesame Street. Over the years, many punk and indie musicians have been able to visit Sesame Street to perform with the Muppets, or recorded their own tributes to Henson and his creations.

Here are some of my (and my daughter's) favorites. If you're a parent (or just one of us who grew up on the Street), they're worth checking out. They're fun, they're educational, they're loaded with Muppets and the songs are really good, too.

1. Random Killing - "12"

Random Killing
Raw Energy
Formed as a joke in Toronto in 1984, Random Killing was first called Roy's Comrades, a jab at Roy McMurtry, Ontario's Attorney General. After going with it for a while, they became more serious and, changing their name, formed a hardcore punk band that's together still.

In 1995, their album Thoughts of Aggression included the song "12," which an animator for Sesame Park (the Canadian Sesame Street) liked and made into an animated video. The video was subsequently picked up by Sesame Street and aired internationally for almost a decade.

As an added bonus, the band currently has their entire catalog available for download through their site.

2. The Mighty Mighty Bosstones - "Zig Zag Dance"

Rude Records
Back in 1998, Elmopalooza was a special aired on ABC television celebrating the show's 30th anniversary. A musical production, it featured performers such as Jimmy Buffet, Shawn Colvin, Aerosmith and Kenny Loggins, all performing alongside Sesame Street characters.

I actually remember watching this when it aired with my friends, drinking beer and laughing along (we were in our 20's mind you, and I don't recommend beer as a beverage for the Sesame Street target audience), and the highlight of the night was when ska punks The Mighty Mighty Bosstones performed the "Zig Zag Dance" with The Count.

More of a swing tune than a ska song, Bosstones frontman Dicky Barrett's gruff vocals really work well along the fake Eastern European stylings of the count, and along the way that purple Muppet (the Count, not Barrett) proves that he can lay down a mean drum beat as well.

3. Tilly and the Wall - "ABC Song"

Team Love Records
Now kids and adults alike are all suckers for a good beat, and this is one thing that Omaha's indie rockers Tilly and the Wall supply by the bucketload. The thing that truly separates them from other bands though, is that the percussion is supplied by tap shoes rather than a drummer. It's sort of like Rilo Kiley showed up to sing at a production of STOMP!

On the "ABC Song," the band adds their trademark percussive blast to a familiar tune (which is the same as "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" and "Baa, Baa Black Sheep" if you hadn't noticed) for a song that so infectious you may need a full course of antibiotics to scrub it out of your brain.

4. Fall Silent - "Sunny Days"

Revelation Records
Not every band on this list has actually made it to Sesame Street. Reno's Fall Silent evidently grew up watching it though, and is asking how to get there.

Taken from their 2001 discography Six Years in the Desert (Compare Prices), the outfit delivers an aggressive take on the show's theme that starts as melodic jangly punk before descending into an aggressive hardcore whirl with screamed vocals before climbing back out of the morass. It's a fun fast version (that is often incorrectly ascribed to being by Me First and the Gimme Gimmes - as the person who made this video did), and I'm hoping the band eventually does get to Sesame Street.

5. Elvis Costello - "Monster Went and Ate My Red 2"

Rhino
Elvis Costello may be a bit too old to have grown up with Sesame Street, but that didn't prevent this punk rock elder statesman from appearing on the show in 2011.

From viewing this clip, it appears that Costello had originally been slated to sing a basic counting song with Elmo, but in a sad turn of events Cookie Monster showed up and devoured the musicians two, which forced him to mourn that the "Monster Went and Ate My Red 2," a tune eerily similar to his classic "The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes". The result is actually much better than the first song probably would have been.

6. Feist - "1234"

Arts & Crafts Productions
A Canadian musician who has gained critical acclaim both for her work with the indie supergroup Broken Social Scene (which has at times featured as many as 19 members) and as a social artist, Leslie Feist gained her widest acclaim after her song "1234" was featured as part of an iPod nano commercial, launching her to stardom. The song was nominated for a Grammy, won a Juno award and was featured on countless "best of" lists in 2007. But there is a better version of the song out there - better because it has Muppets.

On Sesame Street, Feist performed an alternate version of the song with Elmo (I know, this Elmo guys has serious connections in the music world!), which revamps the chart topping track as a sweet melody about learning to count to four. Once you hear it, you'll never be able to remember the original lyrics.

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