A month before I began primary school in West Germany in 1972, the TV authorities broadcast a pilot run of the revolutionary (and therefore controversial) US educational kids’ programme Sesame Street, in English, to measure parents’ reaction to it. I remember my mother, my younger brother and I watching it, and being enthused (I also think watching Sesame Street in a language I couldn’t understand planted in me the first seeds for my growing love of English).
Clearly it was well received by other viewers as well: by early 1973 Sesame Street, now dubbed into German and titled Sesamstrasse, was screened twice daily throughout the country, except in conservative Bavaria.
I loved it. I could do without the repetitious counting and presentation of the day’s letter, but the interplay of the characters, especially the Cookie Monster and Ernie and Bert, and Bob McGrath’s retelling of fairy tales (with a wink and a nod at watching adults) was top notch TV. I also loved the street scenes: real-life characters Susan, Gordon, Bob and Mr Hooper (known in Germany as Herr Huber), and especially Oscar, whom I dressed as at a First Grade fancy dress party.
The song here is preceded by some of the interplay between real people – Gordon and Susan – and Big Bird, voiced by the great Carroll Spinney, who also did Oscar. The rather dim bird then sings about “just about the biggest word I’ve ever seen”, which turns out to be the alphabet, but pronounced as a single, tongue-fracturing word. Like so many of the Sesame Street songs, it is superbly catchy; had it been part of a hit musical – and it sounds like a musical tune – it would be regarded as a Broadway classic.
“ABC-DEF-GHI” was co-written by Joe Raposo (1937-89), whose catalogue of Sesame Street tunes includes some of the best, such as “Being Green”, “C Is For Cookie”, “Sing”, “Doin’ The Pigeon” and the theme tune. He went on to write songs for his pal Frank Sinatra and other TV theme tunes, including that of Three’s Company.
Raposo wrote “ABC-DEF-GHI” with Jon Stone, a pivotal figure in the Sesame Street history, who helped develop many of the show’s stock characters and served as writer, director and producer for many years until his death at 66 in 1997. Crucially, it was Stone who introduced Jim Henson to Children's Television Workshop president Joan Ganz Cooney, the remarkably woman who spearheaded the Sesame Street concept.