by Kevin Burton
Some of the best and best-loved American music was aired just one day a week.
I doubt the friend who presented me with the album challenge had this in mind. But I do own the album “The Best of Schoolhouse Rock,” and that’s where I am going for my 14th album challenge post. If you want to talk about influence, this set was arguably tops.
I remember a news feature, on CBS I believe, about Schoolhouse Rock. It must have been one of the anniversaries of Schoolhouse, 20th or 30th.
To illustrate its popularity, the reporter would merely say the words “conjunction junction’ to people on camera, and they would light up, like they found $100 in a coat pocket. People smiled from ear to ear. Most of them started singing and gyrating.
ABC played the short features between cartoons on Saturday mornings. The heyday was between 1973 and 1984. It was brought back in the 90s. The land of Schoolhouse Rock was a universally happy place.
“It’s no accident that the songs remain burrowed in my brain—and probably yours as well—after all these years,” writes Jason Lynch in “The Daily Beast, Under the headline “ Schoolhouse Rock, “A Trojan horse of knowledge and power.”
“’Schoolhouse’ was the brainchild of ad agency exec David McCall, who noticed that one of his sons had trouble remembering his multiplication tables, yet knew all the words to the latest songs,” Lynch wrote.
“Each song was a perfectly constructed Trojan horse: it was entertaining and infectious, while clandestinely packing an astonishing amount of information,” Lynch wrote.
As a songwriter I love the double meanings in the lines of “Interplanet Janet,” “She’s been to the sun, it’s a lot of fun. It’s a hot spot, it’s a gas…”
“Interjections!” is another favorite, with its mini stories drawing strong reactions from the characters.
Beyond the grammar, math and civics lessons in the songs, I often sensed an underlying basic encouragement to work ethic and achievement.
For instance As “My Hero, Zero” taught us how we couldn’t count past nine without a zero it also inspired us toward infinity.
“That’s why with only ten digits including zero you can count as high as you could ever go, forever, towards infinity, no one ever gets there but you can try!”
“I’m Just A Bill” taught us the basics of how government works. The Senate Watergate hearings taught us the rest.
Here’s the only sour note I will sound on the series.
“The Preamble,” sung to the happy strain of a banjo, recites the lines that begin the United States constitution. But when the singers launch into “We the people…” the visual shows a jury. In this jury is one black man and two others with brownish skin. Half are women.
When the constitution was ratified in 1787, nobody who looked like that would even be considered for a jury and would have been harassed, jailed or even killed for even trying.
It would be more than a century before Utah became the first state to allow women to sit on juries, according to reference.com.
The visual on “The Preamble” projects a 1970s sensibility into an eighteenth-century reality and thus represents a lie. It makes me wish the writers had stuck to grammar and math.
There are 17 songs on “The Best of Schoolhouse Rock” but there are a lot more songs in the series than I knew, 64 including 41 that were created in the 70s.
“The Great American Melting Pot,” is a Schoolhouse Rock segment that I had never heard of until this week. Lynch calls it “surprisingly inspirational,” saying, that it explains how liberty and immigrants made the United States what it is.
The lyrics in part, “It doesn’t matter what your skin. It doesn’t matter where you’re from, or your religion, you jump right in, to the great American melting pot.”
Lynch adds, “Let’s just say this isn’t a song, or a sentiment, you’d ever hear today on Fox News.”