Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Stevie Wonder wrote a funky alternative to one of TV’s great theme songs

In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This time around, for Sesame Street Week, we’re picking our favorite songs from the much-loved show.


The Sesame Street theme song is an instantly recognizable tune that pulls viewers out of their humdrum living rooms and into a neighborhood where your neighbors are Muppets and the pinball machines are psychedelic wonderlands soundtracked by The Pointer Sisters. An indelible part of the show, the toy-piano-like chime of the opening chords effortlessly evokes childhood, the unmistakable riff alerting actual children that their favorite show is about to start. It’s a prime example of the show’s collaborative and experimental nature: Music by Sesame savant Joe Raposo, lyrics by Bruce Hart and Jon Stone, signature intro by Danny Epstein’s decision to strike his vibraphone with mallets intended for wooden instruments.

But none of that means that Stevie Wonder couldn’t do it better. Appearing on Sesame Street four months prior to the release of Innervisions, Wonder opens Episode 0514 with a song alternately titled “Sesame Street Song” and “123 Sesame Street.” Whatever you call it, it’d make a suitable alternative to one of TV’s greatest theme songs. Though not as fiery as the version of “Superstition” Wonder and his band play later in the episode, “123 Sesame Street” is still quite the workout, the simplicity of its verses giving way to thick stacks of funk horns and whiplash-inducing bass fills.

And since it wouldn’t be Sesame Street without a lesson or demonstration of some sort, Wonder shows off the coolest toy left over from the Music Of My Mind sessions: The talk box that transforms his voice (or, more accurately, transforms his synthesizer, by way of a small amplifier, a tube, and his mouth) into a robotic croak that counts up and down and calls out to the monsters of the street. As legend has it, future Zapp frontman Roger Troutman was so wowed by Wonder’s Sesame Street tune that he adopted its gearhead centerpiece as his musical calling card. Unlike the official theme song, “123 Sesame Street” won’t tell you how to get to Sesame Street—but it does lay out the path to “California Love.”


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