5 ‘Schoolhouse Rock!’ Songs From Bob Dorough We’ll Never Forget

5 ‘Schoolhouse Rock!’ Songs From Bob Dorough We’ll Never Forget

For the generation who learned more about math, grammar, history and civics from the interstitial cartoons on the ABC Saturday morning program “Schoolhouse Rock!” than they would care to admit, Bob Dorough was one of the most integral influences of their formative years — even if they didn’t know his name.

Mr. Dorough, who died this week at 94, was a jazz musician, composer and singer, and the mastermind behind dozens of educational earwigs primarily in the ’70s and ’80s — a man who understood that the best way to trick children into learning was to wrap lessons inside irresistible, frequently funky ditties.

Here are five of Mr. Dorough’s most memorable “Schoolhouse Rock!” contributions, weighted for cleverness, pedagogical utility and the degree to which they’ve taken up permanent residence our brains for over 40 years.

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‘Three Is a Magic Number’

The first “Schoolhouse Rock!” song Mr. Dorough ever wrote and sang in 1973 is probably the one for which he’ll most be remembered. And if it’s not, there’s a good reason: Immortalized by De La Soul as “The Magic Number” on the group’s 1989 album “3 Feet High and Rising,” the Illuminati-friendly toe-tapper works so well as a song unto itself, despite being little more than a tuneful series of multiplication problems, that its provenance is almost beside the point.

Best line: “The past and the present and the future/The faith and hope and charity/The heart and the brain and the body/Give you three as a magic number”

‘Sufferin’ Till Suffrage’

The show’s most famous civics lesson, and still the most effective description of legislative process you’ll ever need, remains “I’m Just a Bill” — but Mr. Dorough didn’t write that one. He did, however, write this soulful historical recounting of the women’s voting movement with Thomas Yohe. The tune was originally sung by Essra Mohawk, and covered by Etta James for an all-star 1998 tribute album.

Best line: “Those pilgrim women who braved the boat/Could cook the turkey but they could not vote”

‘Conjunction Junction’

Using boxcars to illustrate ingeniously how conjunctions work in sentences, all inside a bluesy tune worthy of a place in the American Songbook agnostic of its value as a grammar lesson, this isn’t just the apex of “Schoolhouse Rock!” as a concept, it’s very likely how you remember what a conjunction even is, no ifs, ands or buts about it. (Possible demerit for repeated rhyming of “function” with “function.”)

Best line: “Conjunction Junction, what’s your function?/Hooking up two boxcars and making ’em run right.”

‘Mother Necessity’

Not content with being an information-packed, three-minute lightning-round tribute to the great inventors Eli Whitney, Thomas Edison, Samuel Morse, Elias Howe (the sewing machine!), Alexander Graham Bell, the Wright Brothers, Robert Fulton, Guglielmo Marconi, Henry Ford and Samuel Slater, this song goes the extra mile by crediting their work — and the spirit of Industrial Revolution writ large — to the encouragement and ingenuity of their moms.

Best line: “Little Thomas Alva Edison said I’ll grow up to be/A great inventor and I’ll make a lamp to help my mommy see/Wowee! What an excellent application of electricity!”

‘Ready or Not Here I Come’

There isn’t a whole lot of nutritional value to this one, relatively speaking; it’s just three minutes of Mr. Dorough rapidly, twangily counting by fives to a hundred. But even if you’re not learning much beyond some basic multiplication tables, it’s an incredible jingle. Why the N.F.L. never figured out a way to co-opt this somehow is a minor mystery.

Best line: “5, 10, 15, 20/25, 30, 35, 40”

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