In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This time around, for Sesame Street Week, we’re picking our favorite songs from the much-loved show.
1. Introduced in 1977, everything about Sesame Street’s “Pinball Number Count” screams the ’70s, from the strutting music—composed by Walt Kraemer, arranged by Ed Bogas (Ralph Bakshi’s go-to guy, and a member of the fantastic psych band The United States Of America)—to the groovy vocals from The Pointer Sisters, to the crazy pop art style. As the pinball bounces around from ornate bumper lamp to bumper lamp, it may as well be running through a 1977-era living room. Warm, instant nostalgia.
2. That clock in the intro. I want that clock. Someone make that clock and give it to me.
3. It’s silly, but I love how The Pointer Sisters really put their all into lyrics that are nothing but the numbers one through 12. It’s amazing how much stank someone can put on shouting “3,” for example.
4. This song has one of the funkiest bass lines ever created for children’s television. Children’s Television Workshop is damn lucky no one got spontaneously pregnant.
5. “Pinball Number Count” had 11 different versions, each highlighting an individual number and passing through changing pinball contraptions. A lot of these were animal-based—circuses, farms, the jungle. But the best was the insane “5,” where the ball goes from the backseat of a car, to a bicycle basket, to a locomotive, to a plane, to a sinking tugboat, to a volcano, to a blimp. It’s like a miniature It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.
6. The only number that never got its own segment was “1,” because “1” is an asshole.
7. Occasionally you would catch the variation with the Caribbean steel drum break. Somehow that one just feels like summer.
8. In 2003, the song was remixed for a compilation on Ninja Tune, label home to dozens of electronic and hip-hop artists who sampled a similar breed of worldly funk. All 11 versions were combined, shuffled, and stretched by DJ Food’s Strictly Kev and put on vinyl, instantly shoring up its street cred. If you have it, go ahead and put it on at your next soul night. The crowd will go nuts.
9. Brooklyn psych-pop band Wicked Hemlocks released a fuzzed-out cover version a while back. It’s way better than it has any right to be.
10. A personal story: When I joined the drumline of my high school marching band, one of our first exercises was to learn this song, with everyone being assigned a number to sing down the line in rhythm without losing the flow. It was a basic way of teaching us how split parts worked—and incredibly effective. We kept up that tradition with the freshmen every year. (Whoever gets “7” almost always screws up, by the way.)
11. Similarly, the segments where the ball rolls through national and world landmarks taught me how you can just barrel in anywhere if you look like you have a sense of purpose.
12. Once you hear this song, you will never, ever forget how to count to 12. Nor will you be able to think about anything besides counting to 12. Pro tip: This song is also useful for memorizing other 12-digit things, like FedEx tracking numbers.