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BeatTips MusicStudy: ‘School House Rock’ Drops Knowledge to Hypnotic Rhythm

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Educational Short Film Uses Music to Teach Grammar; Soul Music Framework Makes “Verb” Episode a Standout

By AMIR SAID (SA’ID)

When I was a kid, Saturday mornings were a turbo-charged affair. Television was the event and I was front and center. For me, the two big draws were the cartoon “Justice League” and the comic television show “Shazam.” I watched these shows with vigorous regularity, even forgoing breakfast at times. But there was perhaps nothing that grab my attention more than the School House Rock series.

Originally created in the late 1970s, with re-airing in the early/mid-1980s (that’s when I saw it), School House Rock was a series of animated musical education short films (episodes) that were designed to use music as a conduit for educating kids on subjects like math, grammar, and even the U.S. legislative process. Of course, as a kid, I didn’t know any of this; I thought that they were just really long commercials. In fact, that’s actually what I referred to them as: the School House Rock commercials.

Each School House Rock *commercial* was decent, but there was one that absolutely drove me into the roof: “Verb: That’s What’s Happening!” Aside from the fact that this School episode featured a central character who looked like me (ethnically), chillin’ at the movies (my favorite activity) and playing sports, this was by far the grooviest of all of School House Rock offerings. Bob Dorough’s musical arrangement had this incredibly aggressive rhythm that kept turning over and building up steam. (In hindsight, it was my first real comprehension of the power of a loop.) And unlike the other School House Rock songs, “Verb” was unabashedly soulful. The bass rumbled throughout with a sonic thickness; the guitar wined and shuffled; and the drums kept everything steady with a straight-ahead framework that underscored every element, as if there was a compressed time clock at work. The lead vocals, were sung with a lounge-show veracity; and the background vocals were more gospel-tinged than anything else.

Superb, both in purpose, scope, and execution, “Verb: That’s what’s Happening,” was perhaps the first music visual to spark my interest in the connection of music and the moving image. It was also the first lesson on grammar that I actually remembered and understood… “I get my thing…in action. Verb! To be, to see, to live, to feel…” (Yep, still remember it.)

The music and video below are presented here for the purpose of scholarship.

School House Rock: Grammar Rock – “Verb: That’s What’s Happening;” music and lyrics by Bob Dorough, performed by Zachary Sanders


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About Author

Amir Said (aka Sa’id) is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of BeatTips. A writer, publisher, and beatmaker/rapper from New York, Said is the author of a number of books, including ‘The BeatTips Manual,’ ‘The Art of Sampling,’ ‘Ghetto Brother,’ and ‘The Truth About New York.’ He is also a recording artist with a number of music projects, including his latest album 'The Best of Times.' Follow him on Twitter at: @amirsaid and @BeatTipsManual