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Oh, there’s something about an album…

September 20, 2013, 10:49 PM

How many of you were aware that there was an album made for Today’s Special?  I’ll bet that many people in the United States were not aware of it.  I was initially made aware of it in the late 1990s, and have been able to listen to it in its entirety.  Recall that when I was going to my first polar bear plunge, I was singing along with the Today’s Special album in the car.  Certainly, there’s been a lot of discussion about Today’s Special over the years, with a lot of it coming from this website.  But most of that has been about the television program itself, rather than the various other things that go with it.  After all, the show itself is the main product, and distributed most widely.  Additionally, since the show originated in Canada, produced by a Canadian television network, I don’t believe that any licensed merchandise for the show ever made it to the United States.  Thus I’ll bet that many don’t realize that the album exists, and I’ve definitely never found a review of it anywhere.  So with this entry, I’m going to review the album.

Giving the album a listen, it seems that the album was released around the time as the stage show, which was shown on television as the episode “Live On Stage“.  No songs from episodes dated 1985, 1986, or 1987 appear in the album.  In addition, no songs original to the stage show are performed on the album.  However, where applicable, those songs on the album that were also performed in the stage show were performed based on the stage show version of the song rather than the television show version.

In general, I like the album, as it contains many songs that I have always considered favorites, and also includes a few that I was not familiar with as a child due to editing by Nickelodeon (commercial networks that aired Today’s Special usually deleted some scenes in order to allow time for commercials).  However, there are times that the album really grates on me a little bit, and that comes from the non-song dialogue that’s included, as much of it seems quite out of character compared to the show.

The album contains 18 songs (with the episodes that the songs appeared in listed in parentheses):

  • Main theme (every episode)
  • There’s Something About A Song (Hats, Live On Stage)
  • When You’re With Me (Flight)
  • Hocus Pocus Alimagocus (Family, Television, Our Story Part 2, Live On Stage)
  • The Blue Cow (Dreams, Fun, Live On Stage, The Blue Cow)
  • There’s Nobody Quite Like You, Muffy (Summer Camp, Our Story Part 2)
  • What Do You Hear (Ears, Jodie, Live On Stage)
  • A Friend Like You (Sharing)
  • Lullaby For Jeff (Sleep, Work, Adventure, Live On Stage)
  • I Love My Running Shoes (Shoes, Live On Stage)
  • I Love The Rain (Storms)
  • Coming Home (Travel, Live On Stage)
  • In The Twinkle (Hair)
  • The Wheels Go Round (Wheels, Jeff)
  • When I Was Young (Halloween)
  • Wave Your Hands (Hands, Summer Camp, Live On Stage)
  • I Have You (Tears)
  • Yo He Ho (Costumes, Television, Sam, and any time Sam pressed the wrong button on TXL)

The running time for these 18 songs comes to around 40 minutes.

The dialogue is the only thing I don’t like about the album.  The problem stems from the way that Sam was portrayed as the most childlike character of the bunch, and that was never the case on the TV show.  In the show, two characters were portrayed as childlike, but in different ways.  Jeff was portrayed as childlike in an innocent, teach-me sort of way in the earlier episodes of the show, which led to how much of the educational material was presented (think “Fruit” here).  Then Muffy was often portrayed as childlike becasuse of her smaller form factor.  Think about “Hospitals” for a moment.  Since they wanted to show how hospitals worked from a child’s perspective, Muffy was the one who needed to be the patient.  It wouldn’t be quite the same perspective it had been Jodie or Sam as the patient, and Jeff would have presented certain logistical complications because he couldn’t leave the store.  Then also think about “Phil’s Visit“, where Muffy worked with and had her feelings hurt by Phil, the alcoholic photographer.  Again, Muffy was portrayed as the childlike character there as well, as Muffy’s smaller form factor worked best for this situation to help the kids relate.  Sam was never portrayed as childlike in the show.  He was always portrayed as an adult, and was the oldest of the four (born in 1919 according to later show canon).  Sam had to occasionally excuse himself to do his rounds, and even went so far in “Trash” as to pull rank on Jodie (“I’m the security guard.  I’ll go first.”).  So Sam was definitely never childlike in the show, and yet the dialogue centers around everyone’s telling Sam in various ways to hold on, and that they won’t skip “Yo He Ho”, but Sam just can’t wait.

Now as far as individual songs go…

The main theme is lifted directly out of the show.  The music is the same, and David Blamires and Stephanie Taylor perform it just like on the show.  There are no post-“Changes” chimes.  The only difference is that the characters’ dialogue is missing, replaced with new dialogue.  While it starts similarly to the show, with Sam and Jodie’s greeting each other, it quickly moves to set up the Sam-vs.-everyone-else scenario for the album, where Sam can’t wait to sing “Yo He Ho”, even breaking into song in the midst of the opening, and everyone else’s telling him to cool it.  However, since the dialogue is replaced, it does give a chance for different parts of the theme music to shine, most notably the beginning of the main theme lyrics, which Muffy usually talks over in the normal opening (she says “alimagocus” at the same time that the singing starts).  Thus the album’s opening is similar to “Christmas Part 1” and “Christmas Part 2” in that the magic words are not spoken right before the singing begins.

“There’s Something About A Song” is based on the stage show’s adaptation of “There’s Something About A Hat” from “Hats“.  The original song was solely about hats, and featured Jeff, Jodie, and Sam trying on different kinds of hats.  In the context of the stage show, Waldo had just brought Jeff to life, they did the main theme, and then Waldo said goodbye.  Sam suggested that Jeff sing something, but he was stumped for what to sing about, which led into the song, led by Jodie, where they sing about songs, cheese, boats, and hats.  Then Sam mentions sardine and jellybean sandwiches (the later of Sam’s two trademark sandwiches, the other being liverwurst and onion), Jeff mentions pickles with chocolate sauce, and then Jodie closes it off singing about “something about a song” once again, before everyone repeats that last line.  The album version takes this end part a bit further, also talking about monsters, waterfalls, milking yaks, and ham acting (listen).  The album version doesn’t have a definitive ending like the stage version does (listen).  Rather, it fades off when Jodie questions Sam’s mention of milking a yak with gloves, to which Sam responds that you have to wear gloves to keep your hands from freezing because of where yaks live.  The ending to this song left me a little bit cold, and not just because of where yaks live.  Both the words and tone of Sam’s response were out of character for Sam Crenshaw.  Using Sam as he had been developed by the time of “Live On Stage” as a template, he would have probably said, “Well, yeah, Jodie,” in an innocent I-thought-everyone-knew-that kind of way.  There might have then been a sound effect to go with the face that Jodie would then make.  Good song, though, but the album should have taken the stage show’s ending for it.  The version from “Hats”, by the way, trailed off as they continued to try on different hats, and then they cut away to a quiz.

The next song is “When You’re With Me”, from “Flight“.  The original context of this song was in Jodie’s convincing Sam to conquer his fear of flying and go up in a plane.  Sam soon realized that, “Jumbo jets, if you’re with me, what is there to be afraid of?”  The album presents this song outside of this context, and still it works very well.  The ending is reworked a bit because the dialogue about flying is missing, but it fits both Jodie and Sam’s personalities as they had developed up to that point.  It’s a really solid song, and, if “Flight” had continued to the landing, the song with this ending could have been performed as a reprise over the credits rather than the normal end credits theme.

After this is “Hocus Pocus Alimagocus”.  This song originated as a fantasy sequence in “Family“, and the sequence was repeated in a similar context in “Television“, and again in the context of Jeff’s exploring the store in “Our Story Part 2” (incidentally, when the sequence showing how Jeff got his hat was shown again in “Jeff“, the song from Jeff’s dream in “Sleep” was substituted).  The song was performed again in the stage show, with slight modification, after Jeff was brought to life for the second time.  The version of the song included on the album is mostly based on the stage show, but with the television show’s opening and ending.  The television show version in its original context opens the sequence showing Jeff as a mannequin in the store, and an off-camera voice whispers “Hocus Pocus Alimagocus”, which causes Jeff to come to life, and the song begins.  The sequence ends with a dissolve back to Jeff in the Children’s Department, as Jeff is still singing in the fantasy sequence.  The stage version began with the audience’s whispering the magic words (you always wondered what the purpose of that was, didn’t you?) and then Jodie began the song as she walked offstage.

“The Blue Cow” is unusual, as it was performed four different times in the show (vs. being shown in flashbacks).  It was originally performed on the roof in “Dreams” as a partial recollection of a dream that Sam had (if this doesn’t sound familiar, don’t worry – Nickelodeon deleted that scene when it aired the show).  It was performed again by Jeff, Jodie, Muffy, and Mort in “Fun“, performed with the whole core cast plus Emily the Blue Cow in “Live On Stage”, and performed again with the entire cast and Emily in “The Blue Cow“.  This is another good self-contained song that works well on the album, and is faithful to the version as performed on the show.  The “ha ha” part of the song is performed in an upbeat manner (vs. the “bored” manner that it was done in “Fun”), and the only major change is additional music and sound effects after the song is done.

Following this is “There’s Nobody Quite Like You, Muffy”, from “Summer Camp“.  This was the resolution to the episode’s conflict, as Muffy realized that she would be missed in the store when she left to go to Camp Rainbow.  The song was repeated as a flashback in “Our Story Part 1“.  The album version repeats it faithfully from the show, with a little bit of additional accompaniment.

Before the next song is the first bit of interstitial dialogue, regarding Sam and his desire to sing “Yo He Ho”, and thus practicing the song before it was time to sing it.  As with much of the other original dialogue from the album, Sam would never behave in the way that the album portrays him.

After this, the song “What Do You Hear” begins.  This song originated in “Ears“, and was repeated in “Jodie“.  It was then performed again in “Live On Stage”.  The original context was, “Just think of all the things you hear with your ears.  And imagine what it would be like if you couldn’t hear,” and then at the end of the song, Jodie decided that she needed to “get a hold of Sam and take him to the ear doctor.”  In “Jodie”, the song was presented as a flashback, demonstrating how Jeff and Jodie could always find something to sing about.  In “Live On Stage”, the song is presented after Jeff was listening and dancing to music on headphones, and that no one else could hear it.  After all, “It’s really very difficult to dance if you can’t hear anything.”  The version as presented on the stage show dispenses with the ear doctor context (which wouldn’t have fit the context of the stage show), and replaces it with an additional presentation of snapping, clapping, and tapping.  It also corrects a grammatical error in the original song.  The original song said “I hear clap, clap, clapping, [same for snapping and tapping], it’s a very happy sound.” (listen)  The stage version corrects that to the more grammatically correct “those are very happy sounds.” (listen)  The album version is based on the stage version, with the corrected lyrics, minus the introduction.

The next song is “A Friend Like You”, from “Sharing“, performed by Muffy and Mort.  It is performed identically to the television show, and is Mort’s only appearance in the album.

“Lullaby For Jeff” deviates a bit more from the source material than most.  The song originated in “Sleep” and was performed by Jodie in an attempt to get Jeff to go to sleep (he didn’t, and instead complimented Jodie on the song).  It was performed again by Jodie in “Work” as part of a fantasy sequence where Jodie imagines herself as a parent.  It was performed a third time in “Adventure“, though this time by Jeff, in an attempt to get a giant lizard to fall asleep (it didn’t put the lizard to sleep, but it knocked Sam right out).  It was performed again by Jodie in “Live On Stage” while everyone was riding back to the store in the limousine following the stage show (it was not part of the stage show itself).  The album version follows the usual formula of “Let go of your busy day / [etc.]”, “Sail away to slumber land / [etc.]”, and back to “Let go of your busy day / [etc.]”, but then they add another verse: “Tomorrow is another day / Hills to climb and games to play / Friends to make along the way / Hush-a-bye, close your eyes,” (listen) before returning to “Let go of your busy day / [etc.]” one more time to finish the song.  While the inclusion of the additional verse was a head-turner when I first heard it, it fits the song quite well.  However, while Jeff’s performance of the song was stellar, I did find the choice of Jeff to perform this song for the album to be a bit curious, since, even though Jeff did perform the song in “Adventure”, I always considered this to be more of a Jodie song than a Jeff song, but it works.

After this is “I Love My Running Shoes”, from “Shoes“, and also performed in the stage show.  The album version is based on the stage show version, which itself follows the television version very closely.

Another short interstitial dialogue segment follows this, where Sam asks if it’s time to sing “Yo He Ho” yet, to which Jodie responds that it would be a little later.  This felt out of character for both Jodie and Sam, as Sam would not be so impatient, and Jodie would not be so dismissive of Sam.

Following the interstitial is “I Love The Rain”, which originated in “Storms“.  This song is performed exactly as it was performed the second time, in the Children’s Department, with the “It’s raining, it’s pouring / The old man is snoring” bit and the second verse.  The only change from this version is the addition of a rain sound effect, which in the show, only occurred in the version of the song that was performed on the roof (which ended somewhat abruptly due to the thunder).

The next song, “Coming Home”, originated in “Travel“, and was also included in the stage show.  The album version is based on the stage show’s arrangement, which included additional vocals from Jodie.  However, the album picks up the tempo a little bit, as the song is given a much faster presentation.  The stage show’s tempo is closer to how it’s performed in “Travel”.  The faster tempo, along with the stage show’s arrangement, makes it a very different song than the version from “Travel”.

After this is “In The Twinkle”, from “Hair“.  For those who watched the show on Nickelodeon, this song is completely foreign, as it was deleted from the episode as aired on Nickelodeon.  While the versions on the show and the album sound similar, the album’s arrangement is quite different, adding a verse about children growing up and having adventures, and the stars’ guiding the children on their way, which replaces a repeating of earlier verses at the end of the song in the show version.  Additionally, a musical interlude, placed near the beginning of the song in the show, is closer to the end of the song in the album version.

“The Wheels Go Round” follows this.  The song originated in “Wheels“, and was repeated in “Jeff”.  The performances are nearly identical, with the main exception’s being the speed, as the album version is performed more slowly, adding an additional ten seconds to the song.  The horn of Sam’s car Gertrude (from “Cars“) makes a cameo at the end of the song.

The next song is “When I Was Young”, from “Halloween“.  The song from “Halloween” was a fairly short song, lasting one minute and ten seconds, with no repeated verses.  The album version is nearly twice as long, at two minutes and six seconds long.  The complete song is performed, save for the last line (an additional “When we were young”), and that is followed by a short conversation between Jodie and Sam where they discuss their childhood.  After this, the last verse is sung again, with additional vocal accompaniment, including the last line.  As with all of the original dialogue in the album, they don’t quite “get” Sam’s character, though this is better than most.  The only out-of-character dialogue for Sam in this one is where he says, “When I was a young whippersnapper,” at the beginning of the conversation.  “Young whippersnapper” was not something that Sam would say.  He did use the term once, in “Late” (made after the album), when he, along with Jeff, Jodie, and Mort, was pretending to be 150 years old as part of a trick on Muffy.  If Sam had said, “When I was in the merchant marine,” rather than “When I was a young whippersnapper,” they would have nailed Sam’s character for this one.

“Wave Your Hands” comes after this.  It’s originally from “Hands“, and was performed again as a camp song in “Summer Camp”, and as the last song before the reprise of the main theme in the stage show.  The song was deleted from “Hands” on Nickelodeon, however, so if you don’t remember this from “Hands”, don’t worry about it.  In “Hands”, Jeff performs the song alone in the Children’s Department, breaking the fourth wall to encourage the audience to participate.  The song is performed similarly to the first dance song in “Shoes”.  In “Summer Camp”, Jeff sang the verses, and Jodie, Sam, and Muffy sang the chorus with Jeff, and repeated the first verse after Jeff.  In the stage show, the song is performed without the “hands are really amazing” introduction, immediately following the last Waldo the Magnificent skit (where he attempts to get Emily the Blue Cow to go inside his hat).  There, Jeff leads the first verse, and Jodie leads the second verse.  The album version follows the stage show format, but includes the introduction from “Hands”.  The delivery of the introduction is more stilted than most Today’s Special lines, but the original delivery of the same introduction in “Hands” was somewhat stilted as well, though less so than the album’s version.

After this is the third interstitial, again following the theme of Sam’s having difficulty waiting to sing “Yo He Ho”.  Muffy tells Sam that there’s one song left before “Yo He Ho”.

That song is “I Have You”, from “Tears“.  The scene was deleted from the episode in Nickelodeon, but a still from the scene appeared in the credits.  In the album, the song is performed identically to “Tears”, followed by a musical interlude, and a repeat of the last few lines.

And then, the last song of the album is “Yo He Ho”.  Jeff, Jodie, and Muffy say, in unison, “Now, Sam!” to which Sam responds, “Well, skipper my kipper!  Here we go!” before beginning the song.  The song is performed identically to its first appearance in “Costumes“, where Sam teaches the chorus to the audience, and then sings the other two verses while encouraging the audience to sing the part that they know.  Jeff, Jodie, and Muffy sing TXL’s part in this version of the song, and the ending of the song is extended out just a little longer vs. the way it is in “Costumes”.

So all in all, I give the album four stars out of five.  I’m not a big fan of the dialogue, but the songs are top-notch, as is to be expected from Today’s Special.  All in all, it’s a good listen, and I recommend it.

Categories: Music, Today's Special