What does that song mean?

We Can Fix America If We Just Bring Back Schoolhouse Rock

Posted Feb 28th 2023, 14:48 by Penguin Pete

It's weird being Generation X. Most of the time you're completely invisible, which ironically suits this generation fine. A few times, you get tossed in with the Millennials when Boomers are talking or vice versa. But when you do get noticed and recognized, everybody seems to think we're hot stuff. Maybe because we were the last generation to learn to keep their trap shut. Confucius say, "Wise man stay silent and be thought a fool rather than open mouth and remove all doubt."

Listen, if you're blown away at the qualities of Generation X - resilient, self-sufficient, well-educated, and confident - then I have good news: You can raise a new Generation X on your own, simply with this new trick: Bring back Schoolhouse Rock! (and also, knock it off with the helicopter parenting and let your kid develop some character)

Seven Seasons of Schoolhouse Rock

The series was originally created, more in a Sesame Street / Electric Company spirit, as some simple songs to make math times tables catchy. Eventually they decided to cover a few songs for each academic period. The main series ran from 1973 to 1978, but came back for a few revivals since. The whole series:

  • Multiplication Rock - 1973

  • Grammar Rock - 1973

  • America Rock (political science) - 1975

  • Science Rock - 1978

  • Computer Rock - 1982

  • Money Rock (economics science) - 1994

  • Earth Rock (environmental education) - 2009

The America Rock season was inspired by the 1976 bicentennial. Computer Rock was a very short season with an introduction to home computers, which were a thing in 1982. Republicans today would never allow Schoolhouse Rock on the air without bleats of protest about how "woke" it is.

Who Was Behind Schoolhouse Rock?

I had occasion to re-visit my affection for this staple of my early childhood TV viewing, when I was browsing around my Disney+ streaming menu and discovered near the entire archive of Schoolhouse Rock available.

How's this for an origin story? An advertising executive was noticing that his son had a hard time learning his multiplication tables, and yet could sing along with the Rolling Stones songs with ease. He reached out to ABC network with the idea to produce a series of educational songs, and caught the attention of none other than the vice president of ABC at the time, Michael Eisner (who would later go on to be CEO of Disney).

Among the talent team they assembled, the main name to know is Bob Dorough, a bebop / jazz musician who wrote, composed, and performed the bulk of the first season of Schoolhouse Rock and contributed still more songs to the series as it meandered along, all the way into the 2000s. With Dorough's music, a creative team was assembled under cartoon director Chuck Jones, and the series launched beginning in 1973 - the very first music videos produced as stand-along content, and animated ones at that!

Eventually, the series would draw in many more musicians and talent, while Dorough's involvement diminished. However, the sheer diversity of music styles from the early seasons is a testament to Dorough's composition skills. Later revivals and tributes would see Schoolhouse Rock songs performed by talent such as Blind Melon, Pavement, The Lemonheads, Isaac Hayes, Joan Osbourne, and The Sugarhill Gang.

Schoolhouse Rock's Greatest Hits

I’m sure everybody has a favorite or two among the series. You kids just don’t know what you’re missing! Me, I revisit these songs I haven’t heard since the ‘80s, and when I listen to the whole thing, it hits me that these really did have an impact on my education. Of course Generation X did well in school; we had the whole curriculum explained in catchy tunes every weekend!

These are the episodes that stick out to me the most:

“Lucky Seven Samson” – A Bob Dorough number, which again shows his amazing diversity and talent. This one has a loose, easy, jam-band sound that would have done the Grateful Dead proud. The quirky rabbit with the one black eye adds to the charm.

“Little Twelvetoes” – Also by Bob Dorough, this is an imaginative, piano-driven space farce with a haunting tune. The title character is an extraterrestrial born with 12 fingers and toes, naturally, so he counts by twelves. This close encounter of the educational kind treats this phenomenon with the proper freakiness.

“Conjunction Junction” – Written and composed by Dorough, we are treated to Merv Griffin alumni Jack Sheldon on vocals, with a backing chorus of Terry Morel and Mary Sue Berry. This smashing funky jazz number is unforgettable. It manages to define the finest points of conjunctions using a clever train-car metaphor, with every line of the lyrics seemingly more clever than the last. Jack Sheldon would return for the cult classic “I’m Just a Bill.”

“The Shot Heard Round the World” – Bob Dorough strikes again, with a rousing history lesson and a chorus that you will never forget. This time even those anti-education Republicans can sing along with the heavy Second-Amendment theme: “Take your powder; take your gun. Report to general Washington.” See, there’s something for everyone in Schoolhouse Rock.

“Sufferin’ Till Suffrage” – If you haven’t been impressed with Schoolhouse Rock offerings up to now, this installment blows away your expectations. A funky honky-tonk blues piano backs Essra Mohawk on vocals, for a female empowerment ballad about the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote. Sadly, it turns out women don’t vote any more progressively than men, despite only one party wanting to treat them like anything besides livestock.

“Interplanet Janet” - Lynn Ahrens brings the vocals this time, for a folksy tale of a space-faring girl fascinated by the cosmos. I bet if you polled female astronomers, you’d find at least a few who were inspired by this song growing up.

So in conclusion… You can’t help but get nostalgic for Schoolhouse Rock. Sure, you can listen to them now whenever you want, but can you fathom a time when educational children’s entertainment was broadcast free on network TV, unfettered by the book-burning, librarian-arresting, school-closing GOP? A freer time, a more enlightened world!



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