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Songs From the Street: 35 Years of Music (Sony Wonder)

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Jim Henson, Sesame Street's visionary founder and lead puppeteer, was famous for never looking back. Bursting with creativity, Henson moved so swiftly from one project to the next that little attention was given to curating the countless music albums that sprang from his popular children's TV show.

Parents, toddlers, and pop-culture geeks alike will rejoice, then, at the new three-CD Sesame Street boxed set, which gathers five dozen songs from the show's 35-year history, including kiddie classics such as "I Love Trash," "Bein' Green," and "Rubber Duckie" (which was a Top 20 hit in 1970!). These melodies, indelibly hard-wired into the brains of three generations of fans, were lovingly crafted by Henson and his musical partners, Joe Raposo and Jeff Moss, who used playfulness and intelligent humor to educate preschool couch potatoes.

Through the decades, a parade of pop stars and actors has joined Bert, Ernie, Kermit, and Big Bird on the small screen, and these guests make up the other half of this collection's appeal. For '70s kids, Paul Simon, Pete Seeger, and Stevie Wonder dropped in for surprise visits; in the multiculti '80s, Los Lobos, Ziggy Marley, Bobby McFerrin, and the Pointer Sisters all kept the faith. The third disc features more modern artists -- R.E.M., the Fugees, Hootie, and 'NSYNC -- and also more modern monsters. If this set has any great flaw, it's an overabundance of songs starring the saccharine-sweet, cutesy-wootsy Muppet known as Elmo, yet this is more than made up for by brilliant gems, such as Billy Joel crooning "Just the Way You Are" to a disgusted, abrasive Oscar the Grouch and Grover singing an operatic duet with the late Madeline Kahn. These are the monsters in our neighborhood, and it's always a treat to have them over.

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