This week in 1973, the premiere of Schoolhouse Rock!


The idea for the show came from David McCall, who ran an advertising company.

He was on a vacation with his family when he realized that his son, who had been having trouble remembering his multiplication facts, knew all the words to the Rolling Stones songs on the radio.

He thought, maybe multiplication would stick better if it was catchy as “Tumbling Dice” or “Angie.”

For that, McCall turned to Bob Dorough, who was a jazz pianist and singer who had once done vocals for Miles Davis.

Dorough came up with the song “Three Is A Magic Number,” and McCall’s advertising colleague Thomas Yohe drew up some storyboards.

Their series was originally going to be called Scholastic Rock, but the publisher Scholastic objected.

They pitched their idea to ABC’s then-director of children’s programming (and future Disney leader) Michael Eisner.

Also in the room: animation legend Chuck Jones, who told Eisner to buy the show right then and there.

Yohe worked with another ad exec, George Newell, to oversee production, while Dorough kept writing great songs.

The music would sometimes focus on math, sometimes grammar, sometimes science or social studies.

The songs were catchy and they explained each concept simply and memorably, big reasons why the series won four Emmys and a Grammy nomination.

And while Schoolhouse Rock stopped airing in 1985 when ABC decided to launch a new fitness-focused series starring gymnastics star Mary Lou Retton, it never went away.

The show has made it back on TV multiple times, sometimes in its original form and sometimes as the subject of parodies.

Plus the songs have been featured on albums and CDs, on videotapes and DVDs, and in live stage shows.

And the song “I’m Just A Bill” has been used by actual lawmakers to explain to their interns and staff about the legislative process.

So nobody has to ask this show what they ask Conjunction Junction: what’s your function?

Today in 1893, the birthday of the great folk performer and songwriter Elizabeth Cotton.

She wrote her best known song, “Freight Train,” before she was a teenager, but didn’t get credit for it for decades.

Now she’s widely revered for her skill in writing songs and her signature guitar style known as “Cotten picking.”

It’s always good to play the long game when you can.

Happy Anniversary “Schoolhouse Rock!” (Library of Congress)

Syracuse folk legend Libba Cotten to be inducted into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (

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Photo by Kim Woodbridge via Flickr/Creative Commons