“Schoolhouse Rock!” turns 45; celebrates education and popular music

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“Schoolhouse Rock!” turned 45 last month. The Saturday morning staple covered a series of topics from grammar to multiplication to American history and managed to entertain audiences at the same time. That the show remains in the public consciousness speaks to the successful combination of educational facts and memorable tunes.

“Schoolhouse Rock!” early days

“Schoolhouse Rock!” is the result of ideas that coupled the sound of early 1970s pop music with an attempt to make children’s Saturday morning viewing a bit more educational. Each subject was capsuled into three minutes, like a video between commercials and Saturday morning cartoons.

The look of “Schoolhouse Rock!” was low-tech and unpolished. An often white background hosted rough-drawn characters and settings. The visuals were not why people watched. Audiences remembered the lessons about language arts, math, and history because they were set to songs sung by The Tokens, Essra Mohawk, and others. Viewers got used to the distinctive voices and the general soundscape of “Schoolhouse Rock!” There was, too, the show’s theme song. It is reminiscent of the sound of rock ‘n’ roll musicals from the late 1960s to early 1970s. At the midpoint, the lyrics are sung by multi-part voices in high registers quickly against a backdrop of energetic rock ‘n’ roll.

The theme song’s lyrics inform the series’ target audience about the connection between growing and learning. The phrase, “It’s great to learn!” is shouted right before the faster mid-end section previously discussed. The music and the vibe make learning fun.

The show was packaged by topic. This fact might surprise some viewers who might not have been school-aged when they first watched the show. In memory, it seems as if the show’s episodes were aired without regard to theme.  The first topic was multiplication. “Multiplication Rock” aired in 1973. Audiences were taught to multiply by number group. There were 12 episodes. It was followed by  “Grammar Rock” that aired from 1973-1975. “Grammar Rock” yielded the now-iconic “Conjunction Junction.”

“Grammar Rock” was followed by “America Rock.” “America Rock” aired in 1975 and 1976, just in time for the country’s bicentennial. Designed to teach young audiences how America is structured, “America Rock” included such gems as “I’m Just a Bill” and “Mother Necessity.”

The final theme of the series’ golden days was “Science Rock.” This one ran from 1978 to 1979. “Science Rock” seemed to focus on energy issues, as well as the human body. Classic songs such as  “E-Lec-Tri-City,” “Energy Blues,” and the charming and memorable “Body Machine.”

The significance of “Schoolhouse Rock!”

The sight and sound of “Schoolhouse Rock!” establishes it in people’s memories. As the original target audience hits middle-age, they prove that setting facts to music helps children to remember them.

Aside from educational importance, “Schoolhouse Rock!” highlights the role that rock ‘n’ roll (and its subgenres) played in American society and in the lives of younger children. Some people do not realize how young children are when they begin to pay attention to popular music, as opposed to music designated for children. “Schoolhouse Rock!” is probably responsible for creating new generations of rock ‘n’ roll fans.

“Schoolhouse Rock!” the later years

Viewers old enough to have seen the 1970’s version of “Schoolhouse Rock!” might not realize that the show continued into the 21st century. The series ushered in the personal computer age with “Computer Rock!” This was the shortest series, and unlike the others, it didn’t seem to keep up with contemporary times as well. When “Computer Rock!” concluded in 1985, it spelled difficulties to come with the brand. By the early years of the 21st century, the series no longer aired, but a 30th-anniversary DVD is available for purchase. It seems that no such DVD exists for the 40th anniversary, but lifelong fans are probably hoping that there is something in the works for the series’ 50th anniversary.

“Schoolhouse Rock!” episodes exist on YouTube. They are perfect to entertain those who appreciate the show’s nostalgia, and for parents and educators who see the continued value in the show’s lessons.

 

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