From “Sing” to “Put Down the Duckie” and beyond, Sesame Street has churned out so many hits over the last half century that even the Count would have trouble keeping track of them all. In addition to new songs scripted for the series, the classic children’s program has also generated an impressive number of song parodies, often performed by the original artists themselves. Here are 13 of the greatest and goofiest of all time.
1. “My Triangle”
James Blunt captivated melancholy teens and mainstream radio audiences around the world with his breathy ballad “You’re Beautiful” in 2005, complete with a music video in which he strips down on a snowy cliff and dives into the icy waters below (presumably to his death). While originally a little too morbid for preschoolers, Sesame Street’s version—about a long-lost triangle—replaces angel with angles and features an anthropomorphic triangle that appears after Blunt has given up hope of ever seeing his friend again. Blunt helped write the tune, sneaking a bit of cheeky geometrical jargon into the song with this line: “It must be those angles / That put a smile on your face / Not to mention the hypotenuse.”
2. “Hey Food”
With some help from The Beetles, Cookie Monster transforms The Beatles's “Hey Jude” into an endearing ode to food that might just have you relating to the manic-eyed monster more than you ever have before. Main themes of the track include not being able to choose which food you want, not being able to stop snacking, and acknowledging that food—be it “dry toast or something wetter”—always makes us feel better.
3. “Hello, Sammy!”
Carol Channing commits to this sibilant spoof with such flair that you’d think she won a Tony Award for originating the role of Dolly in Broadway’s Hello, Dolly! (she did). With lots of drawn-out S sounds and a cuddly Muppet snake named “Sammy,” the song functions as both a way to teach youngsters how to pronounce their S’s and a publicity campaign to combat the culturally prevalent idea that snakes are just plain evil.
4. “Born to Add”
“Born to Add,” performed by Bruce Stringbean and the S. Street Band, somehow manages to capture all the rock ‘n’ roll energy of desperate, working-class youth from Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run” and make it about simple arithmetic. The leather-clad lead singer and his cohorts stroll around the neighborhood counting cars, trash cans, and police officers, and the track culminates with a rousing sax solo by Clarice and a dance party that even the cops partake in. Stringbean also does “Barn in the U.S.A.,” which features an onomatopoeic choir of backup singers.
5. “Slimey to the Moon”
Tony Bennett’s spoof of crooner classic “Fly Me to the Moon” chronicles Slimey the worm’s astronaut training and subsequent space launch, explaining that a worm “needs to be nervy / He needs guts, and stickability / When things go topsy-turvy.” Though “Let him crawl through mud and muck / On Jupiter or Mars” might not be scientifically accurate, the idea of sending a worm into space isn’t so far out—scientists have studied them on the International Space Station to gain insight into how microgravity affects muscle anatomy.
6. “It Ain’t Heavy, It’s My Feather”
No matter what version of “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” you’re listening to—the Hollies’s, Neil Diamond’s, or someone else’s—it’s likely slow, somber, and saturated with emotion. The opposite is true of Sesame Street’s rendition, an upbeat country ditty sung by an animated chicken who looks and sounds suspiciously like Dolly Parton. In it, she lists a bunch of whimsical, weighty objects she doesn’t bring on tour with her (anchors, anvils, hippopotamuses, chests of drawers, etc.) and discusses the merits of packing her feather, which—you guessed it—ain’t heavy.
7. “U Really Got a Hold on Me”
Smokey Robinson spends a good three minutes trying to maintain composure while a googly-eyed letter U with an ironclad grip and no concept of boundaries tries to hug him. In addition to swapping out You’ve in the original song for U, songwriter Christopher Cerf added a few fitting U words to illustrate the situation, including “U stands for uptight / That’s how I’m feeling / Being grabbed by a letter is unappealing.”
8. “Eighteen Sandwiches”
While you need to have undergone puberty to truly identify with Alice Cooper’s angsty anthem “I’m Eighteen,” Sesame Street’s parody is something even toddlers can understand. In the animated video, a girl tries to decide what type of sandwich to choose for lunch, dithering over “tuna, turkey, peanut butter, grilled cheese, or salami / Ham or jelly, chicken salad, chopped liver, pastrami,” and more. As our poor, conflicted heroine runs through her list of 18 options, you might find yourself wondering “What kind of home kitchen is stocked with all these ingredients?” or “I wish I could get my kid to like even two different types of sandwiches.” In the end, she forgoes the entire conundrum by choosing pizza, which, depending on who you ask, is really just an open-faced sandwich.
9. “Me Want It (But Me Wait)”
If any Muppet was born to embody the mosh-pit spirit of Icona Pop’s chart-topping collaboration with Charli XCX, “I Love It,” it was Cookie Monster. His chaotic nature sets the perfect tone for “Me Want It (But Me Wait),” a catchy number about the importance of delayed gratification. The Sesame Street music video matches the original one almost scene-for-scene, featuring graffitied alleyways, block-lettered lyrics flashing on the screen, and neon-lit dance parties. “Me Want It (But Me Wait)" culminates with Cookie Monster devouring a well-earned cookie, and it’s probably safe to assume that the partygoers in Icona Pop’s video end their all-night revelry with a snack, too.
10. “Don’t Take Your Ones to Town”
“Don’t Take Your Guns to Town” tells the very Johnny Cash-ian tale of a young cowherd named Billy Joe who ignores his mother’s pleas to leave his guns at home and ends up dying in a brief bar fight after his first taste of liquor. The Sesame Street parody, on the other hand, features Big Bird as “Birdie Big,” a “cowbird” who heads to town counting quantities of one and gets a wake-up call when Count von Count and the Countess point out that he doesn’t know how to count higher than one. Instead of shooting him on sight or something, they offer to be his friend and teach him how to count, making this spoof number one on the short list of happy Johnny Cash songs.
11. “Kids Just Love to Brush”
All it takes to sell a skeptic on the theory that girls just want to have fun is one earful of Cyndi Lauper’s new wave classic about the subject. In the ’90s, Sesame Street tried to harness the power of the infectious pop song and use it to sell kids on something that hardly has a reputation for being fun: brushing your teeth. “Kids Just Love to Brush” features a Lauper-inspired Muppet bouncing around with her friends and belting out lyrics like “It’s a party every time we brush.”
12. “It’s Hip To Be a Square”
Whereas getting to “My Triangle” from “You’re Beautiful” may have taken an extra leap of imagination, making Huey Lewis and the News’ “Hip To Be Square” about a literal square seems too great an opportunity to pass up. In the animated video, a smiling red square sings briefly about having four equal sides before dashing off to dance and play with triangles, circles, and other classic shapes to drive home the point that it’s hip to be just about anything. Lewis later told a fan that the band was happy to let Sesame Street use the song. “I think it’s sweet,” he said.
13. “What Makes U So Useful”
The bright-eyed, earnest faces of Harry, Liam, Louis, Niall, and Zayn circa 2014 fit so well into the landscape of a Sesame Street music video that it almost makes you wish they were regular cast members. With goofy lyrics like “U, check it out, Elmo’s upside down / U, there’s a unicorn dressed as a clown” and “U, there are udders under that cow / U, check it out, it’s Bert’s unibrow,” this utilitarian spoof of “What Makes You Beautiful” is just as criminally catchy as the original.