My Top 10 Schoolhouse Rock Songs

With students (and teachers like myself) back to school, it seemed more than fitting to dedicate this month’s Top 10 list to Schoolhouse Rock.

For those of you who don’t know what Schoolhouse Rock is, it’s a series of educational animated music videos that ABC aired between Saturday morning cartoons during the 1970s and 80s. I was born in 1971, and I was definitely watching Saturday morning cartoons in my youth. They had some great Saturday morning cartoons back then—I remember the old Justice League and Laff-A-Lympics—but it was Schoolhouse Rock that kept me tuned in, hoping for my favorites to be shown.

Yeah, even then I had favorites. I wonder how my eight-year-old favorites compare to my forty-five-year-old favorites.

Since then, I’ve introduced the series to my daughters. I own the 30th anniversary DVD which has all the installments of America Rock, Grammar Rock, Multiplication Rock, Science Rock, and the 1990s-created Money Rock. Though I like a few of the Money Rock songs, they’re not on this list, and I’m focusing on the “classic” Schoolhouse Rock songs…with the exception of one newer song (and by newer, I mean the 90s) that’s too cool not to include.

Pencils ready? Begin!

 

#10 – Conjunction Junction

I figured this is the perfect one to get the countdown on track. Ha! I’m sure some people feel this one should be higher on the list. I won’t deny that this is one of the most iconic of the Schoolhouse Rock songs. It’s also one of the catchiest of the songs, perhaps because of that rhyming title. The imagery of linking up train cars to represent the linking words of grammar is absolutely brilliant. So why so low? As I narrowed my list, I knew this one deserved to be included, but I simply liked the other nine a little bit more. I could complain that the song focuses too much on and, but, and or at the expense of one or two other important conjunctions such as because. Even still, Grammar Rock has more entries on this list than any other subset of Schoolhouse Rock, deservedly so.

 

#9 – The Great American Melting Pot

In third grade, when asked to draw a poster in class about America, I drew an image and quoted a line from this song—the one about the finest recipe in Statue of Liberty’s book. Of all of the songs that make up America Rock, I claim that this is the most important. Most of the other America Rock songs describe historical events, and the retelling of history is biased toward the side doing the retelling. Some of the imagery in some of those videos wouldn’t fly today. However, this song is all about embracing diversity, which is just as important today. Many people in this country are descendants of immigrants seeking better jobs, freedoms, and ways of life. I think there are some public figures who really need to remember what this song is about. Our diversity is our strength.

 

#8 – Figure Eight

If you want to argue that this isn’t as good as “Conjunction Junction,” go right ahead. Maybe I couldn’t resist putting this song at position eight. But it really is one of the best there is from Multiplication Rock. Many of the multiplication songs have a tenuous connection to the number or invent a character for it, but here, they connect to an actual figure skating move. The music and vocals are somewhat chilling, and they end quite existentially when the eight is turned on its side to be infinity. That’s a pretty lofty concept for the target audience of these songs, but eight-year-old me ate it up and wanted to understand. If it could solidify my interest in mathematics, then there’s no skating around the fact it belongs here.

 

#7 – A Victim of Gravity

First off, how can you resist a song sung by The Tokens, most famous for the song The Lion Sleeps Tonight? Second, how can you resist a video with a sad-sack 50s greaser character since, after all, gravity always brings you down? Third, it’s the only Schoolhouse Rock song to reference Isaac Newton, and this physics teacher loves that. As fun as the video is and as catchy as the song is, it could cause some misconceptions about gravity. There’s a comparison between gravity and a magnet deep in the ground, but the lyrics clearly do so as a simile and not a literal comparison. As for things floating away if there wasn’t gravity, Newton can tell you the objects would continue in their state of rest or motion until an unbalanced force came along and not just hover there, but that’s not enough to bring this one down. Thankfully, we are victims of Earth’s gravity.

 

#6 – The Tale of Mr. Morton

This song wasn’t one of the original Grammar Rock songs from the 70s, and it wasn’t added until 1993, after I graduated college! I don’t know when I first saw it, but it’s one of the most adorable videos they’ve ever released. They already had songs for all the parts of speech, so here they talk about subjects and predicates of sentences. The titular Mr. Morton is a shy romantic who loves Pearl, the woman next door. Just like sentences can be strung together to tell stories, this song and video tell a complete story with an absolutely satisfying ending. It’s fun and it’s catchy and it’s sweet, and if you haven’t seen it, click on that image now!

 

#5 – I’m Just a Bill

Here’s another one of their most iconic songs and characters, and here’s another one that some of you will claim deserves to be higher. Look, I get it. Bill and this song are both absolutely awesome, and it’s a great explanation of how things get done (or don’t get done) in Congress. My college dorm had an annual variety show, and two friends and I lip-synced Schoolhouse Rock songs. This was one of the ones we did because of its iconic nature. It’s a classic, and it’s been parodied on Saturday Night Live, Family Guy, The Simpsons, and goodness knows where else. I wish I had something better than I like four other ones at least a little better to explain why it’s here. I could claim Bill’s pessimism brings it down, but that’s part of Bill’s charm which leads to a great ending when he becomes a law. You can veto my list if you want, but the Bill stops here.

 

#4 – My Hero, Zero

I read in the Schoolhouse Rock!: The Official Guide (yes, such a thing exists! Squee!) that they did really well with the rhyming titles (see one above and one below in the Honorable Mentions), and that could explain why My Hero, Zero is very popular. Otherwise, it’s a really abstract concept, very different than the concrete multiplication tables found in the other math songs. The idea of zero as a place holder which gives us the power to start counting all over again is something quite heroic. Imagine what counting and math would be like if we had individual symbols for every single number! Is this concept too much for younger kids watching it? As a teacher, my answer is to hold the standards bar high. By presenting this concept in a fun way with a catchy song, they’ve made it accessible. Now that is definitely something heroic.

 

#3 – Interjections!

This is another song that my friends and I lip-synced in college. It’s one of the funniest songs and videos of all of Schoolhouse Rock! The interjections themselves are vividly shown, along with all the possible reasons for uttering them. I feel bad for poor Reginald when he has to get that shot down there, I love the way Geraldine tells off Geraldo for driving her crazy with expressions of love, but the comedic kicker is the little guy who cheers for Franklin going the wrong way after catching the ball. The chorus goes through all the emotions, and it carried all the way to that final, “Darn! That’s the end.” Agreed. This is one that I don’t want to end when I hear it.

 

#2 – Telegraph Line

This one’s super catchy and super informative. I’m sure many schools have used Schoolhouse Rock in their classes because of the ear-worm nature of many of the songs. They make great mnemonic devices. But in that official guide I told you about—written before the existence of YouTube—it mentions that several medical schools had requested this particular episode of Science Rock to show their first-year students a simple explanation of the nervous system! It’s a high-energy video, and the bicycle messenger was a great choice to teach the lesson. I love it when metaphors work so well, and if you don’t remember this one, you’ll never forget it afterwards.

 

Before we get to MY FAVORITE SCHOOLHOUSE ROCK SONG, here’s at least one Honorable Mention from each of the four subjects. How many total? I got six. That’s all there is:

Interplanet Janet – Though the song is catchy, the planets after Earth only get one quick line each, regardless of whether Pluto is a planet or not.

The Shot Heard ‘Round the World – This song has a great chorus, and it’s a solid overview of the Revolutionary War.

Verb: That’s What’s Happening – Making Verb a superhero is an inspired decision, and this is a really active, rocking song.

Little Twelvetoes – Another challenging math topic, this time a base-12 counting system vs. our base-10, featuring a groovy sci-fi beat and a psychedelic little alien.

Preamble – How many adults can recite the Preamble of the Constitution because of this song? Raise your hand and sing it with me: “We the People…”

Unpack Your Adjectives – Everything gets labeled with an adjective in this video. The hairy, scary bear eating the unpacked labels is one of many great sight gags.

 

And finally…

#1 – RUFUS XAVIER SARSAPARILLA

Do you not recognize the name of this one? If not, perhaps you don’t because it’s much easier to say the pronoun than to repeat this name over and over again. This is the pronoun song, and it’s one of the brightest-colored videos in the collection. It does a great job utilizing speech bubbles to show the importance of pronouns. This was another one that my friends and I lip-synced and received a lot of applause, mainly because of the mess we made all over the stage. Instead of speech bubbles, we had separate sheets of paper for all of the pronouns and the nouns, both proper (Rufus Xavier Sarsaparilla, Rafaela Gabriela Sarsaparilla, Albert Andreas Armadillo) and common (kangaroo, aardvark, rhinoceros). If you haven’t seen this one, you should be intrigued by who these people are and what they’re doing with those animals. Click on the image to go to the video and find out. It’s simply the best.

 

Don’t think my list makes the grade? Write a five-paragraph persuasive essay about it. Otherwise, DARN! THAT’S THE END!

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