The pandemic has offered us many flavors of hell, but one particular torture is reserved for working parents of small kids. For many of us, a COVID-19 exposure doesn’t just mean days of nasal swabs and low-grade anxiety, it means we’re suddenly isolated; cut off from childcare and trapped during business hours with a tiny, lovable demon.
It seems to happen in my household at least every other month, and in an act of desperation we have turned to the furry monsters of Sesame Street. Elmo in particular has become a third co-parent, and there are times when I love him more than my wife.
Led by my 13-month-old, I have watched hundreds of hours of Sesame Street. Not full episodes, of course; if I’m on a call, I can’t risk one of those meandering animations that always seem to plod across the screen as soon as it’s my turn to talk. So as a compromise between what I like — music — and what he likes — Elmo — we have burned through clips of Sesame Street‘s musical guests, taking in everything that YouTube has to offer.
What follows is a practical parent’s guide to monsters and popular music. I write it not as a music critic, but as an exhausted father who has learned through trial and error which videos are worth five minutes of peace.
I say “videos,” because this exercise is about visual delights as much as songs. Some of the finest musical moments in Sesame Street‘s history — from Ray Charles teaming up with Bert and Ernie, to Johnny Cash serenading Oscar the Grouch with “Nasty Dan,” through Yo-Yo Ma’s epic collaboration with the Honkers — are too subtle for my one-year-old, and left him toddling to the kitchen to turn all the knobs on the stove.
I’m not here to apologize for his awful musical taste. This is a kid who tries to eat dirt, okay? We’ve got bigger problems. Instead, let’s give the little people what they want: elaborate puppet musical sequences shot with all the flair of a midcentury MGM musical.
The next time you need to take a work call, unload the dishwasher, or just have a good cry in the bathroom, here are the top 10 videos to try.