'Schoolhouse Rock': 1970s TV Cartoons Keep Bopping Along - and Educating

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Long before Power Rangers and the X-Men, Saturday mornings belonged to "Schoolhouse Rock." Its cast included Lolly, the adverb-selling grocer, Interplanet Janet, and a lonely little bill hoping to become a law.

From 1973 to 1985, kids bopped to "Schoolhouse Rock," a series of cartoons that taught multiplication, grammar, science, and US history. The three-minute spots had catchy choruses such as, "Conjunction junction, What's your function?"

Today, "Schoolhouse Rock," like many '70s icons, is experiencing a revival. The memorable songs have popped up everywhere from "The Simpsons" to off-Broadway.

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"The way the thing has snowballed is beyond my wildest reckoning," says Bob Dorough, the music director of the series, who wrote and sang many of the jazz- and folk-infused songs.

Today, "Schoolhouse Rock" takes many forms: A musical (based in Chicago), a boxed CD set, videos, a 1996 tribute album by alternative rockers, umpteen Internet sites, and CD-ROMs.

The cartoons are even back on Saturdays. In 1992, ABC, home of "Schoolhouse Rock," unshelved the originals and added new ones on money and computers.

The idea for the series came from David McCall, an ad executive who noticed his son knew all the words to songs by the Rolling Stones but couldn't memorize multiplication tables.

The project was initially to be an album of songs about multiplying. But when that didn't pan out, Mr. McCall shifted media and tapped one of his biggest clients: ABC.

Michael Eisner, then head of ABC's children's division, gave the green light. The project, which Dorough, along with McCall employees George Newell, Tom Yohe, and Lynn Ahrens moonlighted to do, went on to win four Emmy awards.

Today Mr. Yohe, Mr. Newall, and Mr. Dorough are still responsible for the production of new segments in the series. Ms. Ahrens, who was a secretary at the agency before she penned and sang series songs like "The Preamble" (which people say has helped children pass tests and foreigners get US citizenship) is now a Broadway composer.

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