Schoolhouse Rock Rocked (Mostly)

ABC Television

Back in the early days of my childhood, it could not be overemphasized how important Saturday morning television programming was to us kids. Each year, sometime in late summer, the networks would run their prime-time specials previewing their Saturday morning line-ups for that fall. Those programs built excitement for the upcoming season and they softened the blow of the impending school year. Here’s NBC’s 1974 preview show.

Much of the programming seems awfully silly to me now, but when I was a kid I was enthralled. I know I’m gonna sound like an old man here, but kids today are missing out on the excitement of anticipation for the Saturday morning cartoon shows. See? I sound like an old man.

In 1973, ABC debuted a series of interstitial cartoons meant to educate as well as entertain. It was Schoolhouse Rock! And we kids loved them. (Well, most of them.) They were three minute long cartoons, played during ad breaks or between shows, featuring songs that taught about math, history, grammar, science, etc. They were the brainchild of ad man David McCall. McCall noticed his son was having trouble with math, and yet knew all the words to the pop songs of the day. McCall thought that maybe school lessons set to catchy tunes might help his and other kids learn.

In 1971, McCall recruited Bob Dorough, a musician and songwriter, to write a math lesson song, which became Three Is A Magic Number. Tom Yohe, who worked with McCall at the same ad agency, drew up some illustrations to go along with the song. Next thing you know, they were creating a whole series of songs to animate and put on television.

Some of the episodes haven’t aged very well (Elbow Room especially, despite still having a good tune), but most still pack a delightful punch.

And now a break from the blog for a brief rant…

There he is! Little Twelvetoes!

Schoolhouse Rock! also taught me the concept of overkill. As I recall, certain episodes became very popular indeed and started getting played with much higher frequency. One in particular.

Each time I would see the Schoolhouse Rock! intro, I would plead for one of the less frequently played, but much liked by me, installments:

“Little Twelvetoes! Little Twelvetoes! Little Twelvetoes!” I would repeat as I waited to see which would play.

(I liked Little Twelvetoes. It had a mysterious and somewhat creepy vibe. Sort of an early X-Files thing.)

But, no. It would be Conjunction Junction. Again!

Again?! Sigh.

Or, maybe, Figure Eight.

Both were excellent, but they were seriously overplayed.

Rant over. Now back to the blog.

So, what were my favorites? I thought you would never ask.

As I look through the list on Wikipedia, I’m noticing how many I really like that were written, many of which were also performed, by Lynn Ahrens. In no particular order, some of my faves by Ahrens include: A Noun Is A Person Place Or Thing, Interjections!, No More Kings, Interplanet Janet, Fireworks (sung by Grady Tate), and The Preamble.

There’s one that was written by George Newall and sung by Blossom Dearie that I would put in my top three: Unpack Your Adjectives.

I love the art style of I Got Six.

But, it was Bob Dorough who has the most episodes to his credit and the most of my favorites. I’ve already mentioned the first of all the Schoolhouse Rock! cartoons, Three Is A Magic Number and that mysterious alien Little Twelvetoes. Add to those the following (unless otherwise noted all of these were sung by Dorough): My Hero Zero, I Got Six (sung by Grady Tate), Figure Eight (sung by Blossom Dearie), Ready Or Not Here I Come, Sufferin’ Till Suffrage (sung by Essra Mohawk), and the bestest of them all – Lolly Lolly Lolly Get Your Adverbs Here.

Tom Yohe’s simple illustration style was excellent. I especially like his work on I Got Six. The sketchy yet disciplined linework over a white background and limited use of color is brilliant. There may be some eyebrow raising moments in there, what with the harem and the “prince” character and all, but it was 1973 and people were still learning. Heck, we’re still learning today.

How’s that spelled?

The initial run of Schoolhouse Rock! was from 1973 until 1984. The series returned to Saturday mornings in 1994 with a selection of the originals and eight new episodes, including one called Walkin’ On Wall Street. That one has an amusing typo that slipped by everyone. There’s a shot featuring a newsstand. Look at the picture. Can you spot the error?

In 1993, the series was taken to the stage with the production called Schoolhouse Rock Live! Then in 1996, a tribute album featuring ’90s’ alternative artists’ covers titled Schoolhouse Rock! Rocks. And in 2009, Schoolhouse Rock! released several new episodes direct to DVD covering topics related to the environment called Schoolhouse Rock! Earth.

But my heart belongs to the Schoolhouse Rock! that ruled the 1970s.

“Darn! That’s the end.”

Packing Peanuts!

Feel free to comment and share..

Images used under Fair Use.

Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books. Please check out our eBay page, as well. Jim also has a podcast called Dimland Radio. He’d love it if you checked it out. It’s available on Apple Podcasts.

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