Before taxes, before beer, before girls, even… there was Christmas. Christmas danced over my head like a crazed marionette every year from the tummy ache hangover of Halloween until the morning when Santa Claus manifested as unknown treasures wrapped in red and green. Thanksgiving, man’s best holiday friend, was once a mere midpoint between the turning leaves and the hope of a white 25th. Thanksgiving, the day that hands were traced on construction paper, also marked the annual assembly of the tree, when Mom placed ornaments and lights as if by schematic diagram—a diagram to which only she and my older sister were privy. And even though the month between then and Christmas tormented me in sweet agony year after year, Thanksgiving was the day when our parents finally allowed my sister and me to indulge in our favorite holiday ritual. I’m talking about the Sesame Street Christmas Sing-Along (1984)… on cassette.
As does 1963 holiday classic A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector, the Sing-Along started with the sound of sleigh bells—much like Pavlov’s but instead invoking images of sugarplums, the kind that dance. The opener was a charming original tune by Dennis Scott (who also produced the record). The spirit of togetherness was sung by both humans and… well, puppets, through the lyrics: “For the season is now, come on we’ll show you how / All you need is a smile and a song.” By the time the “la-la-las” came in, my big sis and I were maniacal with mysterious enchantments of Yuletide yore. What child can resist such classics as “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” or “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”? The Crystals made those songs sound great in 1963, sure, but who other than Cookie Monster indubitably wields the expressive prowess to fully articulate the splendors of “rooty toot toots and rummy tum tums”?
One of the brightest highlights of the album was another original by Dennis Scott, “Counting the Days.” It’s an amped up doo-wop number that showcases the talents of the Sesame Street Doo Wahs, Ernie, and even Oscar the Grouch. Of course, Oscar’s verse is crotchety:
“I’m counting the days till Christmas day is gone / […] / I’m happy to say, Christmas will soon be on its way [Oscar laughs, everyone else groans]”.
What a jerk. The rest of the album wisely opted for the exhilaration of childish joy and the occasional warmth of sentimentality. Bert and Ernie’s rendition of “Silver Bells” is particularly sweet, settling like a small cup of rich hot chocolate. Recalling the album note for note, I can confidently say my favorite track now is the Axelrod/Pottle tune “Keep Christmas With You (All Through the Year),” written in 1975. Its penultimate position (right before the postscript-esque “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”) conveyed the lasting and most important message of any Christmas album for children and adults alike: keep the goodwill of the holidays in your hearts indefinitely.
The promise of Christmas was indeed the rapture of my youth, but I have sadly misplaced its legacy. The Sesame Street Christmas Sing-Along cassette, which no doubt is unrecognizable after years of mileage, has vanished into the realm of lost guitar picks and single socks. And while I have mused on the idea of sharing that childhood relic with my own children some day, I’m interested to hear the music that my future children will choose to cherish. My parents certainly did not encourage my big sis and me to play the same tape over and over and over again. We compelled them to pretend to enjoy our choice of music. What will my kids choose? What have yours chosen?
Sesame Street Christmas Sing-Along (1984)
Children’s Television Workshop (Out of print)
1. Christmas Sing-Along/Deck the Halls
2. Santa Claus Is Coming To Town
3. Counting The Days
4. Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!
6. Jingle Bells/Silver Bells
7. Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer
8. Frosty The Snowman
Tripper Ryder is a composer and session bass player in Nashville,TN. When not studying counterpoint, he enjoys the music of Madonna and Meshuggah.