Cerfin’ Safari

Because it’s Christopher Cerf’s birthday it only seems right to take a look at some of the classic Sesame tunes he’s written and sometimes performed.  Many of his songs from the ’70s and ’80s have appeared on the VHS tapes that Muppet fans who were kids in the late ’80s, the ’90s, and early 2000s remember fondly.  Let’s take a look at some of his greatest and most memorable songs that have been immortalized on DVD re-releases of these video tapes and see what makes them classics.

(Note – I’ve only included VHS tapes that came out before the release of Elmopalooza, at which point DVDs became a more prominent format for releasing direct-to-video productions.  Also, I’ve selected my top 25 with no specified criteria.  So sue me.)

“Adventure” – Sesame Street: 25 Wonderful Years!

After opening this special with the Sesame theme was only natural, but they needed something to set the pace for the search for their cast for their show. The beginning of the song feels a little bit like Little Shop of Horrors, but then it takes more of a Paula Abdul style, and then it has a feel that’s entirely its own.

“Born to Add” – Learning to Add and Subtract

This song pretty much sums up (pun intended) the concept of addition in a catchy tune with Chris Cerf’s use of great chord progressions. His singing is just right for this song because Cerf, like Springsteen, has a bit of roughness in his voice that works well for punk rock. The song had an album named after it that was nominated for a Grammy Award. This is one of Count von Count’s favorite songs, and it’s a funny parody, and you get to see Muppets getting down with police officers. These are clearly not the officers from “Rebel L” or “Telephone Rock.”

“Count It Higher” – Count It Higher/Sesame Street: 25 Wonderful Years

Okay, this one might be the greatest of Little Chrissy’s rock and roll hits. This one the whole VHS tape named after it, which makes sense since just about all of the songs on the tape are Cerf’s. All of the singers are just right, the screaming crowd is perfect, and LC plays the piano aggressively. Plus, (pun still intended) the Count covered the song in the Sesame Street Live show Let’s Be Friends.

“Counting Vacation” – 123 Count with Me

This one works nicely as a tropical vacation song and as a Transylvanian song, which is not easy to do, so it’s very impressive. The puppetry in the video is well done, and you’ve gotta love that shakin’ waitress.

“Dance Myself to Sleep” – Bedtime Stories and Songs/Sesame Street: 25 Wonderful Years

This is one of the funniest songs shared by Bert and Ernie. Bert is completely baffled, and it’s hilarious, but I always felt bad for Bert. It is a very nice jazzy tap dancing number, and yet, it has a style that’s totally separate from “Happy Tappin’ with Elmo.”

“Do De Rubber Duck” – Count It Higher/Sesame Street: 25 Wonderful Years

This is a different kind of tap dancing song. (Pun very much intended even if it shouldn’t have been.) It was my introduction to reggae music, and I always loved the song. This partly has to do with the idea that this great cast of characters that we hardly ever see together are all coming together to invade Ernie’s bathtub. To this day, I really want to know where everybody went at the end, especially since Ernie’s mommy clearly explained that you can’t fit down the bathtub’s tiny drain.

“Don’t Eat the Pictures” – Don’t Eat the Pictures

This is the only song in the special with Chris’s involvement, and it turned out great. It works well with what was available in the museum for Cookie to look at with hunger. What the museum didn’t have was back-up singers, so we get to see what female Cookie Monster angels look like, which totally makes the whole special worth watching. Or at least that YouTube clip.

“Do-Op Hop” – Count It Higher/The Best of Kermit the Frog on Sesame Street

This was always one of the parts of The Best of Kermit the Frog on Sesame Street that I looked forward to for some reason. It has a nice style to it, though I can’t pin-point the genre. It is good for Kermit because he’s best known for songs about self-acceptance, and it’s good for kids because they can get up and move. What confuses me it that the song is called “Do-Op Hop” even though the lyrics, according to the YouTube subtitles, say “Do-Wop.”

“Eight Balls of Fur” – Elmo’s Sing-Along Guessing Game/Sing Yourself Sillier at the Movies

Sometimes a song is memorable because it is creepy, and I thing those fuzz balls with legs bothered me a little bit when I was a kid. Even though the song was not written by Cerf, it couldn’t have been sung better by anyone else, and the destruction of the piano was a great addition to the video. (I have no intention of stopping with the puns.) It was the perfect way to do this parody, and a good, wild song to parody.

“Happy Tappin’ with Elmo” – Sesame Street: 25 Wonderful Years!/The Best of Elmo

This one was written entirely by Cerf, and he gave the music a great “Puttin’ On a Ritz” feel. The lyrics, if you can keep up with them, are very clever, and the puppetry in the video is so good that I found it very hard to believe that Elmo was a puppet when I was a kid. Look closely at the stairs for shadows and reflections.

“Healthy Food” – Monster Hits!/Let’s Eat!: Funny Food Songs

And so it begins.

“I Can’t Get No Cooperation” – Rock & Roll!

It’s a good parody with good puppetry and a bad accent. What’s not to love here?  Also, this is the first song on this list from the Rock & Roll! VHS tape, but there are several more below.  Cerf wrote most of the songs on that tape all by himself, probably because he couldn’t get no cooperation.

“In Your Imagination” – The Best of Elmo

Elmo sings in harmony with himself in this imaginatively animated video with great special effects. This song definitely encouraged me to engage seals in deep conversation, which is what the song was obviously meant to do, but it also is probably part of the reason I love the saxophone.

“Letter B” – Count It Higher

This one is here because (it’s a great song and because) of the story of how Michael Jackson saved Sesame Street, which you should definitely look up if you don’t know it. Basically, Sesame was sued because the song sounded too much like the song it was parodying, and if you don’t know what that song is, I won’t help you. When Michael bought the rights to the original song, the charge was dropped to an amount that Cerf payed himself.

“Me Gotta Be Blue” – I’m Glad I’m Me

This one just goes to show you that Chris Cerf is the king of Sesame Street parodies. This one is based on Sammy Davis Jr.’s “I Gotta Be Me” and it works so well for Cookie Monster. Who knew his mother was such a good singer?!

“Monster in the Mirror” – Rock & Roll!/Sesame Street:25 Wonderful Years

Ah, the classic. It bothered me in parts, but this music video was pretty cool. I was a little confused by what I was seeing when Grover and his reflection put his arm around one another. Still, this one belongs in “The Great American Song Book.” I noticed while listening to this song just now the ghostly “ooh”s in the songs background. Oh, and let’s not forget the celebrity version. You go, Ray Charles!

“On My Pond” – Sing-Along Earth Songs

This song is so Jim. This is the song Kermit needed to sing before Jim died, and he did. The song premiered in 1987, and features more of that beautiful saxophone, and borrows some humor from Rowlf’s poem “Silence.” I think this song gets the point across better than any other of Sesame‘s songs about keeping the planet clean.

“Put Down the Duckie” – Sing Yourself Silly!

I know you’ve heard this joke before, but I have to say it- this has sax appeal. Now I know exactly where my love of the sax came from. I got it from Hoots and Ernie. This one has two celebrity versions, and I don’t think many Sesame Street songs have that many, so Cerf has really been honored with two. You’ll find the other one here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UiQsaEdJ1aI

“Raise Your Hand” – Getting Ready for School

Here’s our first taste of good Do-Wop (not including “Do-Op Hop”). Cerf did not write this one, but his singing in it is beautiful. I find it strange however that the bassman in this song is voiced by Kevin Clash in some parts and by Jeff Moss in others.

“Rock ‘N Roll Readers” – Rock & Roll!

Cerf wrote this one because no one else could get away with rock and rollin’ in a library.

“Telephone Rock” – Rock & Roll!

When I first heard this one, I fell in love with it. It’s a little bit similar to the song above it, but with more of a ’60s feel. I’m just impressed that Sesame Street Muppets managed to get arrested. I can’t picture a bunch of anything Muppets in a NYC prison.

“The Honker-Duckie-Dinger Jamboree” – Sing Yourself Silly!

Someone please explain to me what the educational value of this is. I think more people have learned from the behind the scenes video of this video than this video. Still, it’s a silly classic.

“The Word is ‘No'” – Rock & Roll!

So, from what I can tell, this isn’t a parody, and yet, it’s still probably one of his best known songs from the ’80s that’s supposed to sound like a song from the ’80s. The music videos for both this song and “Monster in the Mirror” were produced by famous music-video-maker-guy Jim Blashfield.

“Wet Paint” – Count It Higher

This is How Now Brown and the Moo Wave, which are also notable for the song “Danger’s No Stranger.” The Moo Wave was seen performing back-up on “Do-Op Hop.” This one doesn’t seem to be much of a specific parody either, nor does it have anything to do with counting, but it’s still good rock music with Chris Cerf’s voice sounding great. I’ve always loved the way he sounded as How Now Brown.

“You’re Alive” – Rock & Roll!

This song seems different than Little Chrissy’s other songs because it sounds South American. The particular rhythm of the drums, maracas, guitar, and keyboard make you forget that this is the piano player behind “Eight Balls of Fur,” until he screams to remind you.

Well, that’s my list of favorite songs from Christopher Cerf, and that’s only including the ones on 1980s and 1990s VHS tapes! What are some of your favorite Cerf songs? Let me know in the comments.

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