Top 10 "Schoolhouse Rock!" Songs
“As your body grows bigger, your mind must flower!/
It’s great to learn, ‘cuz knowledge is power!”
ABC graced us with Schoolhouse Rock! back in the 1970s: a series of three-minute songs dedicated to educating the youths on math, history, language, science, and much more. It was a staple of Saturday morning cartoons, distributed intermittently between longer programming.
The show has come a long way from Saturday morning cartoons, though. The Schoolhouse Rock! team has had songs come out in five different decades over six different topics. The series has even spawned a stage show.
As it pertains to me on a personal level, I had the Multiplication and America Rock! sets on VHS when I was a kid. Without them, I wouldn’t have a lot of the knowledge I had as a kid. Thanks to Schoolhouse Rock!, I learned valuable lessons like multiplying by 5s, or what adverbs were, or how the government works.
If you're familiar with the show, hopefully you'll enjoy this list. If you're not familiar, maybe you still have that spark of little kid joy in you and you'll enjoy the songs when you hear them for the first time.
And so, for no other reason than wanting to pay some homage to a highly influential kids program, here are my picks for the top 10 songs from Schoolhouse Rock!.
This New Orleans-inspired celebration tells the story of the signing of the Declaration of Independence by the Continental Congress. “Fireworks” is one of three songs in the entire series to feature the vocals of Grady Tate (“I Got Six” and “Naughty Number Nine” are the other two), whose silky-smooth voice may not have the same bravado or range as someone like Jack Sheldon, but is able to ground this particular song in contrast to the horns and background vocals that fly above it. Favorite moments included the listing of the signers of the document (“Benjamin Franklin, Philip Livingston/John Adams, Roger Sherman, Thomas Jefferson”), and the rhyming of “Declaration of Independence” with “Seventeen Hundred Seventy-Six.” Those two don’t rhyme, but I’ll be damned if “Fireworks” isn’t one of the catchiest, most underrated songs in all of Schoolhouse Rock.
"Dollars and Sense"
Suppose you’re a country singer. Suppose you’re a musician of any kind. You’ll probably need to make money because the arts are among the least lucrative professions and have hardly any job security. This is where “Dollars and Sense” comes in, as Bob Dorough and Val Hawk teach us how banks calculate interest on deposits and how loans are given out. A word of common “sense,” though. If you’re going to buy an electric guitar, just make sure your farm has electricity. Or buy an acoustic guitar. Country singers play those, right? Just a thought.
"A Noun is a Person, Place, or Thing"
Lynn Ahrens is the best, isn’t she? She made Ragtime, Once on This Island, Anastasia, and a host of others, but Schoolhouse Rock is where Ahrens got her start in 1973. The study of nouns is a simple premise but can be complex to explain, and Ahrens constructs melodic phrasing that is easy to follow, so she can take you on a journey to meet many people (like a bandit, Mrs. Jones, a sea captain, or the Beatles), see many places (like Hudson Street, Liberty Island, or her neighborhood corner store), and many things (like Mrs. Jones’ dog, the Statue of Liberty, or a jukebox). I’ve always wanted to direct a version of Schoolhouse Rock Live!, just so I could open it with this song.
"Elementary, My Dear"
I respected “Elementary, My Dear” for going farther in its multiplication tables than most of the other songs on Multiplication Rock!. All the way up to 20? As in 2 x 20? That’s some intense action right there, as most of the other songs multiply only up to 12. I love that as the song continues, and each simple math question is answered and followed by an “elementary,” we get a cute little “clap-clap” to go along with it. As we count the animals on Noah’s Ark, we learn that every time you multiply by 2, you get an even number- something I sometimes find interesting even though I learned my twos tables many many years ago. Number are cool, aren’t they?
This one is in the same vein as “Conjunction Junction,” but I can see how its constant “Electricity, Electricity” after every line can get inside your head. It doesn’t want you to forget what this portion of Science Rock! is discussing, and that’s all well and good. The song makes some good points that I, who was not great with science in school, will hold onto forever, such as how electric generators have magnets and magnetic fields inside, and how currents transfer electricity to vessels to use it in a variety of ways (like in lightbulbs!).
FINE! (see what I did there) I added this one right at the very last minute. The refrain is obviously inspired by Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus,” a fitting set of interjections for this track from Grammar Rock! “Interjections show excitement or emotion. They’re generally set apart from a sentence by an exclamation point, or by a comma when the feeling’s not as strong.” That is an ACTUAL line from the song. I also love how much they toned down interjections at sporting events. “Aw! You threw the wrong way!” and “Darn! You just lost the game!” are tame compared to what we hear as adults. Shoutout to the guy who has the best part of the song: that one poor dude who meekly (but proudly) shouts “Hooray! I’m for the other team!”
The Top 10: