1 The Muppet Mindset: Muppet Maestros: James Taylor

Nov 27, 2012

Muppet Maestros: James Taylor

Hilarie Mukavitz - Of the large number of singer-songwriters that have appeared on Sesame Street over the years, one of the most memorable is James Taylor. For those of us watching Sesame Street in the late 1970s and early 1980s, our first introduction to James Taylor was on the Sesame Street set, serenading Oscar and leading a sing-along of screaming little kids.

Born to a wealthy family in Massachusetts, the Taylor family moved North Carolina in 1951. The second of five children, most of the Taylor siblings showed musical talent. Taylor's father Isaac was a doctor, and was frequently absent on work-related business, including a two year expedition to the South Pole.

Taylor's first real success as a musician was when he moved to England in the late 1960s. Paul McCartney was impressed by a recording he heard of Taylor, and even more impressed when he heard Taylor live. James Taylor became the first American to be signed to Apple Records. Taylor's song "Something in the Way She Moves" was part of the inspiration for George Harrison's "Something." Harrison sang backing vocals and McCartney played bass on Taylor's "Carolina In My Mind." Taylor had a series of highly successful albums in the early 1970s. Although the biggest strength of Taylor's songs is that they sound timeless.

James Taylor recorded three segments for Sesame Street in 1979 and 1980. Probably the most famous is the song "Jellyman Kelly." Pretty appropriate choice for Sesame Street, as the lyrics were inspired by a poem that his five year old Sally wrote. There also are just not enough pop songs that feature the tuba. Although as a child I found this segment offensive. I repeatedly complained to my mother that they should have had ME come sing with James Taylor as I could sing better than those screaming kids. I didn't quite understand that the segment had been filmed years before, and Sesame Street didn't usually hire Wisconsin toddlers as back-up singers.

The other two segments were filmed on the rooftop set. "Up On The Roof" was originally a hit for The Drifters in 1962, and one of several Carole King-penned songs that James Taylor recorded. Taylor is the sort of recording artist that can easily take a song originally made famous by somebody else and turn it into his own. The third segment, and easily my favorite, is a duet with James Taylor and Oscar the Grouch. Taylor starts to sing his song "Your Smiling Face" much to Oscar's chagrin. However when he changes the lyrics to "That Grouchy Face" Oscar gets considerably more enthused. I especially enjoy this because it is a chance to see James Taylor's sense of humor. With his pristine singing voice, and earnest song-writing style, that is one facet of his personality that frequently gets overlooked.

Taylor has continued to be a prolific songwriter to this day. He was inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000. Although for me, my favorite James Taylor moments will always be when that wry sense of humor comes out. In 1994, Taylor was a guest voice in The Simpsons episode "Deep Space Homer." In 1995, collaborating with fellow Muppet Maestro Randy Newman, Taylor played "Lord" in "Randy Newman's Faust." He's clearly having a good time making fun of his own image such on this song "Relax, Enjoy Yourself." I would also highly recommend the James Taylor interview on the Elvis Costello program "Spectacle." Taylor talks at length about his musical influences, and Taylor and Costello perform a few duets together.

Enjoy James Taylor's Sesame Street performances on our exclusive Muppet Mindset playlist!

The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier, muppetmindset@gmail.com

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