Original Soundtrack: Multiplication Rock (1973)

No, I'm serious, hear me out. This is a great record!

Ok, I'll admit I can't really separate the album from the childhood nostalgia, having watched the Multiplication Rock educational video clips when they first rolled out during the Saturday morning cartoons I would immerse myself in as a 7-year-old back in 1973. I can't pretend I'd be gearing up to listen to the musical recitation of multiplication tables, even buried within great pop tunes, absent that whiff of nostalgia.

But face it, these are some killer tunes.  And with incredible variety, ranging from pop to R&B to psychedelia.  (Yes, psychedelia.)  I can't imagine anyone my age, who grew up watching these videos, can't hum at least 2 or 3 of these, if not all of 'em, despite the passage of 45+ years and the corresponding onset of middle age. How many other songs (not by the Beatles) can you say that about?

Of course, there's a secret weapon in the late great Bob Dorough, the jazz musician who wrote the lyrics and music and sang most of the songs. I can't claim to be familiar with Dorough's other work, but the songwriting is top-notch -- can you even imagine the challenge of trying to present multiplication tables within the framework of an otherwise-memorable pop song? -- and his vocals are a delight.

The "hit," of course, is "Three Is A Magic Number," the song the creators of the shorts used to sell the project, which later managed to form the basis of a fantastic hip-hop number by De La Soul.

Here's the original:
And the De La Soul reinterpretation:
Not to mention the later Blind Melon cover:
A personal favorite of mine has long been "Hey Little Twelvetoes," the afore-referenced psychedelic tune, which is surprisingly melodic, one of those horrible little earworms that has been embedded in my brain since I was 7, randomly popping up now and then on my inner radio, inexplicably and out of nowhere. 
The creators brought in another old jazz hand, Grady Tate, to sing a few tracks, like the nice little R&B ditty "I Got Six":
The success of the series, of course, led to later seasons focused on grammar, US history, and the like, with many songs at least as memorable. Honestly, if you can't sing "Interjections" or "Conjunction Junction" from memory, there is something wrong with you, and I don't think I've ever had a conversation about the legislative process where at least one person didn't start singing, "I'm just a bill..."

Years later, the late singer-songwriter Elliott Smith lent his distinctive, moving vocals to a cover of "Figure 8," a b-side later released on the reissue of an album to which he gave the same name:
And in the 90s, when tribute albums were all the rage, there was of course a tribute album featuring a litany of alternate rock artists (from Pavement to Ween to Daniel Johnston) taking a stab at songs from the Schoolhouse Rock catalog.  Here's the Lemonheads:
Listen to the original album on Spotify:

And here's the Schoolhouse Rock tribute album:

Comments

  1. ConjunctION JunctION. How could anyone not like this record? Anyone between the ages of 40 and 55 should have these songs etched in her or his memory. A brilliant way to get kids to learn stuff. You forgot to give some love to the late Blossom Dearie, who sang on "Figure 8" and a few other tunes, so I'm mentioning her here :)

    ReplyDelete

Post a comment