For the generation who learned more about math, grammar, history and civics through the interstitial cartoons of the Saturday morning ABC show “Schoolhouse Rock!” Than they’d like to admit, Bob Dorough was one of the most important influences in their formative years – even though they didn’t know his name.
Mr Dorough, who died this week at age 94, was a jazz musician, songwriter and singer, and the mastermind behind dozens of educational earwigs primarily in the 1970s and 1980s – a man who understood that the best way to go Getting the kids to learn was to wrap the lessons in compelling and often funky songs.
Here are five of the “Schoolhouse Rock!” Most memorable ones from Mr. Dorough! contributions, weighted for intelligence, pedagogical usefulness, and the degree to which they have permanently taken up residence in our brains for over 40 years.
The first “Schoolhouse Rock! The song Mr. Dorough ever wrote and sang in 1973 is probably the one he will be remembered the most. And if not, there’s a good reason: Immortalized by De La Soul like “The Magic Number” on the band’s album “3 Feet High and Rising” in 1989, the Illuminati-adapted toe tapper works so well as a song on its own, though it is little more than one. melodious series of multiplication problems, that its provenance is almost irrelevant.
Best line: “The past and the present and the future / Faith and hope and charity / The heart and the brain and the body / Give yourself three as a magic number”
“Suffering until suffrage”
The show’s most famous civic education lesson, and still the most effective depiction of the legislative process you’ll ever need, remains “I’m just a bill” – but Mr. Dorough didn’t write that one. He did, however, write this moving historical account of the women’s electoral movement with Thomas Yohe. The tune was originally sung by Essra Mohawk, and covered by Etta James for a tribute album to the stars of 1998.
Best line: “These pilgrim women who braved the boat / Could cook the turkey but they could not vote”
“Conjunction of conjunction”
Using wagons to ingeniously illustrate how conjunctions in sentences work, all in a blues tune worthy of a place in the American Songbook agnostic of its value as a grammar lesson, it’s not just the pinnacle of “Schoolhouse Rock! As a concept you are very likely to remember what a conjunction is, even is, no ifs, no buts about it. (Possible demerit for repeated rhymes of “function” with “function.”)
Best line: “Conjunction Junction, what is your function? / Connect two wagons and make them work correctly. “
Not content with being a whirlwind three-minute, informative tribute to great inventors Eli Whitney, Thomas Edison, Samuel Morse, Elias Howe (the sewing machine!), Alexander Graham Bell, the Wright brothers, Robert Fulton, Guglielmo Marconi, Henry Ford and Samuel Slater, this song goes one step further by attributing their work – and the spirit of the Industrial Revolution at large – to the encouragement and ingenuity of their mothers.
Best line: “Little Thomas Alva Edison said I would become / a great inventor and make a lamp to help my mum see / Wowee!” What an excellent application of electricity!
‘Ready or not, I’m coming’
There’s not a whole lot of nutritional value to this one, relatively speaking; it’s just three minutes from Mr. Dorough quickly, counting from five to a hundred. But even if you don’t learn much beyond a few basic multiplication tables, it’s an amazing jingle. Why the NFL never found a way to co-opt this is a minor mystery.
Best line: “5, 10, 15, 20/25, 30, 35, 40”