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.
When I was about 4 or 5 years old, one of my favorite songs was a Bruce Springsteen parody, although I had no idea of it at the time. And over a decade later, when I heard Springsteen for the “first” time, I felt an instant affinity for his music. “Yes,” I thought. “This is good. This is something I like.” Maybe it’s not as functional as learning how to count or as profound as learning how to love, but I do believe that Sesame Street instilled that in me.
The song was “Born To Add,” the title track on Born To Add: The Great Rock & Roll From Sesame Street. We had a few Sesame Street LPs in the house, but Born To Add was my favorite thing to flail around the living room to, punching and kicking the air and whipping my little blonde pigtails back and forth. The album cover is a parody of Born To Run, with Cookie Monster as Clarence Clemons and Bert as The Boss, and the record includes both original rock songs and Rolling Stones and Beatles parodies (although the Beatles ones were later removed for legal reasons), alongside the title track by “Bruce Stringbean And The S. Street Band.”
Sung by Sesame Street pop specialist Christopher Cerf, “Born To Add” isn’t a straight cover of “Born To Run,” but that’s actually one of its strengths. Instead, it’s a loose melody drawing from several songs from Born To Run, notably “Jungleland”—clearly the inspiration for the“Born To Add” opening piano line—and “Born To Run” itself, synthesizing their elements into something vague but instantly recognizable as “a Springsteen song.” “Born To Add” is energetic, upbeat, and catchy, and its two-minute, 42-second running time flies by, propelled by piano, xylophone, and a driving drumbeat. Does that two-minute, 42-second running time include a saxophone solo? Of course it does.
The lyrics are also vintage Springsteen, a tale of misunderstood youth (“There’s a lot of us adders on the Jersey Shore / Out here it’s the thing to be”) expressing themselves by adding together everything they can find. But the Man doesn’t like this display of freedom and fundamental math skills (“Now some say that screaming one plus one all night / Means we’re thoughtless, cruel, and bad”). So the cops get involved (“One and two and three police persons spring out of the shadows / Down the corner comes one more”), but our proud Jersey adders just add them up too (“And we scream into that city night, three plus one makes four! / Well, they seem to think we’re disturbing the peace / But we won’t let ’em make us sad / ’Cause kids like you and me baby, we were born to add”).
As Springsteen fans know, then comes the “woah-oh-a-ooohhhh” part, one area where Cerf unfortunately can’t match the raw power of Springsteen’s vocals. But that certainly doesn’t spoil the giddy rock ’n’ roll fun of the song, which is a a perfect example of the Muppets’ skill in making something that children and adults can enjoy without pandering to either of them. It’s both educational and a solid Springsteen tribute, which is probably why Seattle alternative station KEXP kept Born To Add in its rotation for several years.