Monday, June 08, 2015

Oswald - Pop Goes the Octopus

Our youngest son LOVES Oswald, a tv show based on the picture book by Dan Yaccarino, so we searched for related music: what we found might be the most minimalist, most existential kids' CD ever produced. The 13 tunes on this album explore heady subjects like collecting clouds, looking for the owner of a lost umbrella, and sharing slices of a banana, all in an almost stream of consciousness manner.

Despite boasting over a dozen tunes, the release can best be described as an EP, as the total running time of the CD is 16 minutes. Songs range from half a minute to 2 1/2 minutes in length, three are instrumentals, and a couple more are sparse on lyrics. Don't let this put you off, however: listening to Pop Goes the Octopus is a little like watching a leaf float slowly downstream or running your hand across a puppy's fur. Pure and simple joy.

The tunes on Pop Goes the Octopus (and for the show itself) were created by Evan Lurie, founding member of The Lounge Lizards. Lurie has also composed music for many television shows and film soundtracks, including The Backyardigans. The majority of the sparsely-arranged musical accompaniment is provided by piano and lightly-played brass and woodwinds, giving the songs a timeless feel. Two of Oswald's voiceover stars, The Wonder Years' Fred Savage (Oswald) and '70s pop crooner Tony Orlando (Sammy Starfish), also showcase their singing talents here.

The CD begins with the show's loping and cheerful theme song, followed by Oswald's ode to roller skating that, half way through the song, repeats the melody at a much slower tempo. Oswald then ponders "What to Collect" and quietly concludes, "...clouds." This leads into "The Perfect Cloud Collection," an instrumental perfectly designed to convey the feeling of watching and mentally collecting favorite clouds as they drift by. Then Oswald tries desperately to figure out who lost their "Polka Dot Umbrella;" the tune's tempo-free arrangement and instrumental coda mirror his thoughtful search around town. Oswald's favorite television program is The Sammy Starfish Show, and Tony Orlando sings the theme song as the character of Sammy. "Here She Is" follows as Sammy Starfish's finger-poppin' equivalent of Bobby Darin's "Beyond the Sea."

Oswald and friends participate in the "Big Parade" accompanied by jaunty marching music, then Oswald quietly declares "I'm in the Air" as he describes a bird's eye view of Big City. Oswald and friends spend the day helping each other and reward themselves with some "Tutti Frutti Pie," then Oswald does a little spring cleaning and takes a load of objects "Down in the Dump." By the way, in the actual episode everything he takes is reclaimed and reused by his pals. Oswald offers his buddies "A Big Banana" for snack, and the song's rolling piano, tempo changes, and joyful horns make the tune an album highlight. The CD ends appropriately with the "Oswald Closing Theme," a slightly different take and tempo on the show, and album, opener.

If you happen to pay attention to reviews of this album on a particularly popular sales website, several listeners complain about the brevity of Pop Goes the Octopus. Think bigger picture: this CD played on a loop provides endless, soothing vibes that'll appeal to every member of the family.

Released August 20, 2001; Nick Records

Track Listing
  1. "Oswald Opening Theme"
  2. "Roller Skating"
  3. "What to Collect"
  4. "The Perfect Cloud Collection"
  5. "Polka Dot Umbrella"
  6. "Sammy Starfish Theme"
  7. "Here She Is (AKA Pet Show)"
  8. "The Big Parade"
  9. "I'm in the Air (AKA One More Marshmallow)"
  10. "Tutti Frutti Pie"
  11. "Down in the Dump"
  12. "A Big Banana"
  13. "Oswald Closing Theme"