A History Of 'Sesame Street,' Spanning 50 Years, On Billboard's Charts

Jesse Grant
Nile Rodgers on Sesame Street.

Classic albums and songs from the series have hit the Billboard 200 and Hot 100.

C is for … cookie charts, that's good enough for me.

In its first 50 years since premiering on Nov. 10, 1969 (on NET, which, a year later became PBS), Sesame Street has become one of the most influential and innovative children's television shows of all time.

After over 4,000 episodes (including a move to HBO for first-run shows in 2016), the series' legacy has been cemented as not just impacting children in their formative years, but as a cultural touchstone where an array of musicians have been invited to sing alongside the Muppets and other residents of the iconic neighborhood.

Music has always been an integral part of Sesame Street's magic, as artists spanning generations have joined Big Bird, Cookie Monster, Elmo and Oscar the Grouch, and humans, in finding fun ways to sing about the alphabet or eating your vegetables (and cookies).

Sesame Street has released dozens of albums, dating to 1970, including sets dedicated to individual cast members, but only a select few have made it onto Billboard's charts.

Here's a look at the series' highlights on the Billboard 200 albums chart and the Billboard Hot 100 songs chart.

Sesame Street on the Billboard 200

The first album in the Sesame Street catalog, The Sesame Street Book & Record soundtrack, debuted on the Billboard 200 dated July 25, 1970, and reached No. 23 that Oct. 3. The set was released following the show's first season and won a Grammy Award for best recording for children, the series' first of 13 Grammys to date. The LP features some of the show's most beloved recordings, including Ernie's "Rubber Duckie," Oscar the Grouch's "I Love Trash" and Bob and Susan's "One of These Things."

Speaking of the lattermost song, amid that set's run, two albums by non-Muppet cast members charted on the Billboard 200. Bob McGrath's Bob From Sesame Street peaked at No. 126 (Sept. 26, 1970) and Susan's Susan Sings Songs From Sesame Street reached No. 86 the following week.

Next up, The Official Sesame Street 2 Book-and-Record soundtrack rose to No. 78 on the Billboard 200 (Jan. 15, 1972). The set scored another Grammy nod for best recording for children, although the award went to the cast album for fellow Sesame Workshop program The Electric Company.

Surrounding the hype around the blockbuster movie Saturday Night Fever and star John Travolta in 1977, the Muppets strutted their stuff on Sesame Street Fever, which peaked at No. 75 on the Billboard 200 (Oct. 28, 1978). As the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack sports multiple Bee Gees songs, the group's Robin Gibb lent his voice to Sesame Street Fever on the set's title track and "Trash," with Oscar the Grouch. The album brought yet another nomination for best recording for children at the Grammys, and another runner-up finish to a contender from the same fuzzy family: The Muppet Show's first-season cast album.

Still, by attaching itself to the disco era, Sesame Street, through music, showcased a key element that has kept the series going strong for half a century: further maintaining relevance by acknowledging trends in pop culture, a smart technique to entertain young viewers (and stealthily educate them).

In Harmony: A Sesame Street Record (No. 156 peak on the Billboard 200; Jan. 24, 1981) took a star-studded turn, as it presents a host of celebrity singers, including Bette Midler, Linda Ronstadt, Carly Simon and James Taylor, as well as "Wynken, Blynken and Nod" by the Doobie Brothers. The track, a musical adaptation of a Eugene Field poem, hit No. 76 on the Hot 100 dated Feb. 7, 1981 (as well as No. 31 on the Adult Contemporary chart a week later).

The most recent Sesame Street album to reach the Billboard 200 is Elmopalooza! (No. 166 peak; May 2, 1998), which accompanied the TV special commemorating the series' 30th anniversary. The set includes Jimmy Buffett, Celine Dion, Gloria Estefan and En Vogue, among others, and won a Grammy for best musical album for children.

Sesame Street on the Billboard Hot 100

In addition to the Doobie Brothers track, select songs by Sesame Street stars have scaled Billboard's charts, starting with one of the series' most recognizable anthems, as "Rubber Duckie" floated to No. 16 on the Hot 100 dated Sept. 26, 1970. The track, written by the late Jeff Moss, is one of only two songs performed by a Muppet to reach the Hot 100, as Ernie (err, Muppet creator Jim Henson) sang it as a tribute to his beloved bath toy. The song, which also hit No. 36 on Adult Contemporary, can be found on multiple Sesame Street records and has since been performed by many visitors to the show, including Little Richard, Roberta Flack and Daveed Diggs.

Kermit the Frog's "Rainbow Connection" is the other song performed by a Muppet to reach the Hot 100 (No. 25 peak; Nov. 24, 1979). The song arrived alongside 1979's The Muppet Movie (as opposed to Sesame Street itself; still Kermit, of course, has swathed the Muppet-verse) and earned a best original song nod at the Academy Awards; it wasn't, however, easy being green in that category, which was won by Jennifer Warnes' "It Goes Like It Goes," from Norma Rae.

"Rainbow Connection," which, in April, co-writer Paul Williams fondly recalled, has been covered by countless singers over the last 40-plus years, including the Carpenters, Judy Collins, Dixie Chicks, Debbie Harry, John Legend, Lisa Loeb, Sarah McLachlan, Jason Mraz, Willie Nelson, Ed Sheeran, Gwen Stefani and, in duet form, Weezer and Hayley Williams. Kermit (as performed by Henson) sang it at the 1980 Oscars (no, not that Oscar), while just earlier this year, the world's most famous frog (now in the hands, literally, of puppeteer Matt Vogel) performed it with Jim James at the Newport Folk Festival.

The Carpenters' "Sing" is the highest-charting Sesame Street-related Hot 100 hit, as it reached No. 3 on April 21, 1973. Written by Sesame Street staff songwriter Joe Raposo – who also wrote the show's theme song and Cookie Monster's "C Is for Cookie," among other compositions for the series – "Sing" earned a pair of Grammy nominations, for best pop vocal performance by a duo/group and best instrumental arrangement accompanying vocals.

It's worth noting that an unlikely Sesame Street remake also hit the Hot 100: "Sesame's Treet," a reimagination of the series' iconic theme song, and performed by English dance act Smart E's, reached No. 60 on Nov. 21, 1992, as well as No. 20 on the Dance Club Songs that month.

As Sesame Street celebrates its first 50 years and looks ahead to helping educate, and entertain, new generations, more albums and songs are likely to make Billboard charts. And if and when they do, we'll continue to keep ... (the) Count. Ha, ha, ha!

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