The response is almost Pavlovian. Say the words ”Conjunction Junction” to anyone between the ages of 22 and 34 and watch their eyes light up in recognition as they finish the sentence, ”What’s your function?”
Schoolhouse Rock premiered on ABC on Jan. 6, 1973, and the three-minute animated shorts were seen by millions of children. But no one could predict that a group of catchy musical lessons leading into the commercial breaks of Saturday-morning cartoons would strike such a chord with the kids who would grow up to clamor, ”Here we are now, entertain us.”
Advertising honcho David McCall first birthed the idea for Schoolhouse Rock when he noticed his son could memorize rock lyrics yet struggled with multiplication tables. McCall shared the brainstorm with his coworkers, creative directors Tom Yohe and George Newall, and the trio later hooked up with jazz pianist/composer Bob Dorough.
Dorough’s vivid lyrics and Yohe’s storyboards caught the attention of ABC’s VP of children’s programming Michael Eisner (even before becoming the CEO of Disney, he knew a good cartoon when he saw one), who greenlit the project. ”Multiplication Rock” came first, followed by ”Grammar Rock,” ”America Rock,” ”Science Rock,” and ”Scooter Computer & Mr. Chips.” However, Rock wasn’t to roll on forever. In the early ’80s, despite Rock’s multiple Emmy awards, ABC began preempting it with music videos and, after Schoolhouse was officially cancelled in 1985, Mary Lou Retton exercise spots filled the void left behind.
Fan response to the show’s demise seemed minimal. Then, in 1990, a group of Dartmouth students invited Yohe and Newall to a symposium on education. ”I said, ‘You’re gonna get about 10 kids in here,”’ Yohe recalls. ”’No one remembers this.”’ Imagine his shock when students filled the largest auditorium on campus and turned the symposium into a joyous music-fest.
In 1992, Schoolhouse returned to ABC, presented ”Money Rock” the next year, and suddenly became synonymous with Gen-X cool. ”Conjunction Junction” was featured in 1994’s slacker opus Reality Bites, a CD of Schoolhouse covers by bands like Blind Melon was later released by Atlantic, and a boxed set of all the original songs came from Rhino. Also, live-action productions have been mounted in San Francisco, Chicago, and New York City.
It would be a mistake, however, to regard Schoolhouse as merely a cool nostalgia trip. ”Telegraph Line” has introduced the nervous system to many a medical student and ”I’m Just a Bill” has proven useful to lobbying organizations. Which raises the question, What did we ever learn from Menudo?
Time Capsule/Jan. 6, 1973
At the Movies, Deliverance, starring Burt Reynolds (right) grips audiences in its second week of release. In Music, Carly Simon’s ”You’re So Vain” is Billboard’s No. 1 single for the third consecutive week. In Bookstores, Richard Bach’s metaphysical adventure Jonathan Livingston Seagull lands atop the fiction bestseller list. On the Stage, author Maya Angelou stars with Geraldine Page in the Broadway drama Look Away. And In the News, North Vietnam declares a national emergency as a result of devastating U.S. bombing raids.