Preamble
October 1, 2014 2:21 PM   Subscribe

 
This might be indictment of my inability to learn and it might be an indictment of the way we teach and it might be an indictment of memorization as a learning tool. But, I'm just a Bill, I'm only a Bill.
posted by vapidave at 2:39 PM on October 1, 2014


Thank you so much for this. As a child of the '70s, I have very fond memories (as well as a DVD set) of Schoolhouse Rock, and especially of The Preamble. That and Interjections! were my very favorite songs.
posted by magstheaxe at 2:39 PM on October 1, 2014


Verb—that's what happening.
posted by The Tensor at 2:44 PM on October 1, 2014 [4 favorites]


I cannot read the preamble without falling into that melody.
posted by benito.strauss at 2:45 PM on October 1, 2014 [12 favorites]


Ahrens definitely gets the credit for me being able to easily memorize the Preamble for a test on the US Constitution in 8th grade.

(you just need to remember what parts she removed to make the song work: "We the people (of the United States) in order to form....")
posted by 1367 at 2:46 PM on October 1, 2014 [2 favorites]


Conjunction junction, what's your function...
posted by thomas j wise at 3:00 PM on October 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


Every time I hear Handel's Messiah, I sing the lyrics to "Interjections!"

Lynn Ahrens is a Person, Place, or Thing.
posted by not_on_display at 3:10 PM on October 1, 2014 [4 favorites]


"Preamble" taught me something about how the human mind works. I watched network TV cartoons every single Saturday morning from around 1977 to maybe 1983. During that time, I heard this song many dozens of times. It went into my brain and stayed there, not as words, but as abstract sounds.

When I became an adult, I found that I could recite the preamble to the Constitution, not because I knew the words, but because I could play back the sound of this song (1:00 to 1:40) in my head and interpret what I heard as words, which I could then speak.

That's flippin amazing. I guess it speaks to the power of song in enhancing memory.
posted by rlk at 3:11 PM on October 1, 2014 [8 favorites]


Our Social Studies teacher in 7th grade confronted the whole class the day after our U.S. Constitution test, with proof of MASS CHEATING.

We had all omitted the same four words from the Preamble. Every one of us!

So we sang it to her.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 3:12 PM on October 1, 2014 [53 favorites]


I'm just glad that the Founding Fathers put their "Right On!" at the bottom and gave us the Constitution that has served us so well for so many years.
posted by Nerd of the North at 3:18 PM on October 1, 2014 [4 favorites]


Flagged as [RIGHT ON!]
posted by Spatch at 3:18 PM on October 1, 2014 [4 favorites]


Our 8th grade social studies teacher made us memorize the preamble, and he showed us this video as a way of introducing the topic. We weren't allowed to sing it to him when we recited it, though.

Also, I love SHR. I found The Official Guide to SHR once at Goodwill (this one), with lyrics and trivia for every single song. It's still sitting proudly on my bookshelf.
posted by hopeless romantique at 3:23 PM on October 1, 2014 [3 favorites]


I aced the AP History test thanks to this song!
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 3:29 PM on October 1, 2014


Oh, I'm getting that book - thanks hopeless romantique
posted by Auden at 3:32 PM on October 1, 2014


I was the perfect age for Schoolhouse Rock. I tried for years to get my (now 16 year old) son interested, but to no avail. I cannot emphasize enough just how frequently I draw on those silly earworm jingles from my childhood Saturday mornings to help me through quick math problems, grammar and civics. I told my son that if he sat through a few hours of SHR videos, he could ace US History this year. I was only half-joking.
posted by sundrop at 4:14 PM on October 1, 2014 [2 favorites]


Lest Lynn Ahren's musical chops have been undersold by that interview, keep in mind that Ahrens was part of the team that wrote the book for (among other things) Once on this Island, Anastasia, and won the Tony for Ragtime. We can ignore Rocky, and maybe Suessical?.
posted by ChuraChura at 4:21 PM on October 1, 2014 [3 favorites]


Gen X could use another war to thin out their ranks a bit -- The Simpsons
posted by Renoroc at 4:26 PM on October 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


Out of the entire "Rock" series, Grammar Rock was by far the best musically.
posted by sourwookie at 4:41 PM on October 1, 2014 [2 favorites]


I love the gag with the little pioneer girl who is too short to cast her ballot, but who wouldn't have been allowed to vote anyway because she was just a girl. And then the second time the cartoon shows a modern ballot booth and a mom who casts her vote and then drags the little girl away who can't vote because she's just a kid.

Also, the Schoolhouse Sufferage Song and video are amazing.
posted by straight at 4:53 PM on October 1, 2014 [3 favorites]


Through the magic of YouTube I've now spent the past half hour watching Schoolhouse Rock, and now Animaniacs, videos. Thank you.
posted by The Michael The at 4:58 PM on October 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


But, I'm just a Bill, I'm only a Bill.

I saw the guy who wrote that one live! He was in this potpourri-of-random-acts night done at The Bottom Line club in New York once, in the 90's - we didn't know who he was, just this nebbishy little guy who did amusing enough jazz novelty songs, we thought. It was a largely Gen-X audience, totally not the right audience for him.

Then when he was introducing his "most requested" song, he said that first he'd play a little of his "most popular song". "Now, maybe you've heard of this," he began, "there was this thing on TV on Saturday mornings in the 70's called 'Schoolhouse Rock'...."

When he said that, the largely Gen-X audience perked up. And then when he said he had written some things for them, they started cheering. And then when he said that one of the things he wrote was actually I'm Just A Bill, the audience erupted in a flood of holy shit IT'S THIS GUY. And he went on to play the first verse, and the entire audience was chiming in by the end, bellowing along - "Still I hope and Praaaaaaaay that I will, but todaaaaaay I am stilllll just a billlll....." before erupting into cheers again.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:07 PM on October 1, 2014 [14 favorites]


I really love the harmony in the chorus. Like so many others, I basically can't even think of the words of the preamble without hearing the song.
posted by ob1quixote at 6:27 PM on October 1, 2014


Oh, the days before Youtube, before DVD's and even before videotapes, when I had to wait by the TV for the end of Saturday morning cartoons when Schoolhouse Rock came on, in the hopes that I might get to hear Figure Eight.
posted by Daily Alice at 6:30 PM on October 1, 2014 [6 favorites]


When I became an adult, I found that I could recite the preamble to the Constitution, not because I knew the words, but because I could play back the sound of this song (1:00 to 1:40) in my head and interpret what I heard as words, which I could then speak.


I can do this too, and it's not even my country.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:13 PM on October 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


Every time I hear Handel's Messiah, I sing the lyrics to "Interjections!"

Lynn Ahrens is a Person, Place, or Thing.
posted by not_on_display at 6:10 PM on October 1


I about shit the other night when pandora decided to throw some epithets at me. It seriously took me until the chorus to fully process that they hadn't just thrown a SHR song at me.
posted by mcrandello at 10:18 PM on October 1, 2014


I'm very sad now I didn't think to make my username Rufus Xavier Sasparilla.
posted by pointystick at 4:59 AM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


Out of the entire "Rock" series, Grammar Rock was by far the best musically.
posted by sourwookie at 7:41 PM on October


Oh my Lord, yes!

* A Noun Is A Person, Place, or Thing
* Unpack Your Adjectives
* Interjections!
* Conjunction Junction
* Verb - That's What's Happening
* Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, Get Your Adverbs Here
* Rufus Xavier Sasparilla
* This Is The Tale of Mr. Morton

Loved, loved, loved all of these. So many memories! My father's absolute favorite was Naughty Number Nine, because of the Ray-Charles-esque singing, and my brother's was Fives (Here I Come), which totally changed how we played hide-and-seek.

And like so many other people here, I had an 8th-grade Civics test where we had to write down the Preamble (among other things). Fortunately, Mrs. McConnell was aware of Schoolhouse Rock, and gently reminded us to remember to write "We the People OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA". Although I think she only took off 1/2 a point for those who forgot.
posted by magstheaxe at 6:58 AM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


In 90 or 91 we had a Friday night movie on campus that was nothing but a showing of these, and it was packed. We all sang along.

The grammar ones are the best, but Figure 8 is just haunting. Some of the history ones are a little less than accurate (esp. when dealing with pilgrims). The science ones are pretty good.

My kid has a mild interest in them, but since cartoons are easy for him to access, I think the appeal isn't as strong. We were so desperate for cartoons on TV as kids. Anything but another rerun of Gilligan's Island or soap opera.
posted by emjaybee at 7:38 AM on October 2, 2014


If you look at a still at this point in "The Preamble" you can see the names of the people who worked on Schoolhouse Rock including Lyn.
posted by plinth at 8:17 AM on October 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


Nice post on Lynn Ahrens, but this is just scratching the surface of the SHR goldmine. Three of my favorites are...

Jack Sheldon is that wonderful voice behind “I’m Just A Bill”, “Conjunction Junction”, “Rufus Xavier Sarsaparilla”, and many others. He happens to be a well known and highly regarded jazz trumpeter and vocalist on the West Coast scene. Here is “This Joint Is Jumpin” (1988), “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” (live, 1984), and “Groovus Mentus” (1955). Here is a clip worth watching from the bio/documentary of his life called “Trying To Get Good”.

Dave Frishberg, is a well regarded jazz musician (piano) as well as being a big SHR contributor (lyrics, music, vox), and wrote the music and lyrics for “I’m Just A Bill”. (He is interviewed at 5:55min in the aforementioned bio/documentary on Sheldon.) Here he is performing “I’m Hip”, a song he co-wrote with Bob Dorough.

Bob Dorough, another one of the vocalists with a very distinct sound, wrote lyrics/music for ALL of Multiplication Rock, and sang on 8 out of the 11 songs! He also contributed considerably to all the other SHR categories. Here is a live performance of “Three Is A Magic Number”. And here are some jazz performances as well: “Just About Everything”, and “Devil May Care”.

Thankfully all three of these artists are still with us and performing. Check them out if you ever get the chance.
posted by metacurious at 10:31 AM on October 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


Thankfully all three of these artists are still with us and performing. Check them out if you ever get the chance.

I can attest that Dave Frishberg does a fun show. Maybe he'll do "I'm Just A Bill" when you see him too.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:33 AM on October 2, 2014


Wow, I never noticed the stealthy credits in the voting booth. Nice.

Also: Sara Gazarek - Unpack Your Adjectives
posted by SteelyDuran at 10:35 AM on October 2, 2014


Sometime in the mid 90s, we got my dad "Schoolhouse Rock! Rocks!" with a bunch of covers by (at the time) legitimate musicians. My favorite is still Skee-Lo (of "I Wish" fame) singing Mr. Morton - though Moby doing Verb! That's what's happening is cool!
posted by ChuraChura at 3:19 PM on October 2, 2014


As a little kid, it bothered me so much that Interplanet Janet thought the Sun was a fun place to hang out but that Mercury was just too hot.
posted by straight at 3:33 PM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


I use that video with my 8th graders, and I'm even able to persuade some of them to sing along.
posted by usedsongs at 7:20 PM on October 2, 2014


darn, that's the end
posted by sourwookie at 8:03 PM on October 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


So much love for Ahrens and her collaborators. Thanks for this post!
posted by Lexica at 9:12 PM on October 2, 2014


So no-one's mentioned Elbow Room, the one about westward expansion and Manifest Destiny. Perhaps they've quietly dropped that one. I just remember my brother and I, in typical wise-ass teenage sarcasm, tweaking the lyrics to "Lebensraum, Lebensraum, gotta gotta get us some Lebensraum."
posted by benito.strauss at 11:21 PM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


It's the moon or bust,
in God we trust,
There's a new land out thEEERRRRRE!
posted by tristeza at 11:00 PM on October 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


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