“Dinosaurs: Big Songs”: A 30 Year Retrospective

Let’s be honest: marketers, by nature, have no clue what they’re doing.  That’s not an insult or a dig.  That’s a statement of fact.  The whole point is to see what people want without them knowing anything about it.

I mean, say you get hired by a studio that made a fairly successful primetime sitcom hit, and they want YOU to make tie-in products to further advertise the show and create more stuff for consumers.  TV spots and commercials?  Sure, I guess.  Candy bars?  Maybe.  T-shirts?  Possibly.  The short answer is there’s no way of knowing without focus testing and actual trial and error.  So who’s to say what’s a bad idea and what isn’t?  I mean, at best, you have to run it by a bunch of insider executives that know what THEY like and think their viewers are one-track-minded idiots.

So…who thought a soundtrack of various song genres, each highlighting the wackiness of the Sinclairs of the Jim Henson situational comedy that tackled societal woes under the guise of a puppet show…would have been a good pairing?

Oh, it’s not the worst idea ever…but there wasn’t much overlap.  The show wasn’t a musical.  They didn’t bother to put “A Most Unusual Day” from the “A New Leaf” episode, though.  The show had cross-generational appeal, but not a lot of adults would have bought an album featuring the mellifluous pipes of Kevin Clash, Florence Stanley, Jessica Walters, Sherman Helmsley, and Stuart Pankin.  I mean, I had this cassette and I wore it ragged.  I have no idea where I got it, but I listened to it all the time, and in 2022, it celebrates 30 years.  I think I need to take a crack at analyzing it with 30 years’ worth of cynicism.

Ha ha ha…gods, I’m old.

1. “I’m a Dinosaur (I Can Do Whatever I Want)

In the nineties, there was no shortage of the easiest archetype in situational comedies: the bratty child.  This was the era of Nickelodeon, after all.  The age of Problem Child and Dennis the Menace.  The age of Bart Simpson!  Back when…wait.

What year did “Do the Bartman” come out again?

Uh huh…and when did this album come out?

(Sigh…) Guys, I think I figured it out.  Why this album was created.  Heck, both of them parodied each other in their respective shows once each!  So it makes sense the most beloved sitcom in America in the early nineties inspired the Sinclairs to one-up the family of Evergreen Terrace.  But why a whole album and not just the one song?  Well, I’ll get to that in a minute.

But the trend of wild, rambunctious kids with anti-authoritarian streaks was prevalent in the early nineties.  Problem was these characters were written by writers who didn’t always get kids.  I’ve always loved Baby Sinclair, but this song does not do him justice.  As Earl demands his infant son he go to sleep, Baby retorts by establishing he is, in fact, a dinosaur, and thus he can do whatever he wants.

First of all, no one says, “I can do whatever I want ’cause I’m a human”, implying the higher-evolved, undefined species millions of years down the road will look back on us and chortle at our inherent savagery.  But the show had no problem with winks like this – I mean, it was basically a central tenet of the show itself – so I’m gonna give it a pass.  It was just usually a tad more subtle than this.

But by listening to the lyrics, I see a real issue budding: Writers not knowing anything about kids.  Oh sure, everyone remembers parts of their childhood, but after we grow up, we forget a lot.  And when we become parents, we’re reminded that kids do crazy crap for no apparent reasons, but incentives known only to the children themselves.  So the writers resign to writing their kid characters as impulsive, irrational agents of chaos.  So what do kids do?  Uh…eat the front door when the fridge is empty!  Stand on a chair and scream their heads off!  Interrupt their parents!  Not…wear shoes!  Why?  Because he’s a dinosaur and thus he is entitled to any behavior he desires!  I mean…it’s clearly supposed to be a song celebrating the virtues of infanthood, not barbarism.

I always have and still love Baby Sinclair, but this song, I felt, was too much about abstract anarchy: to be chaotic for chaotic’s sake, and even the pounding chorus is a melody-less chant that isn’t really all that fun to listen to.

2. “In a Perfect World

I don’t know if we’ve consciously processed this, but society despises teenage girls.  Not just when sexual assaults happen, we’ll immediately side with the guy for some reason (Although there is most definitely that), but even in a pop culture sense, we hate them.  Hollywood constantly makes dumb movies about teenage guys in pursuit of girls to have sex with or you get franchises like Fast and Furious, where it thrives on muscle cars, adrenaline, and hot women.  And we don’t bat an eye.   But girls?  When Twilight dominated the landscape, we couldn’t stop ourselves from eviscerating the movies, Stephanie Meyer, and all teenage girls everywhere for ruining cinema forever.

Charlene Sinclair was already a vapid, superficial teen character, obsessed with crazy earrings, boys, and her iconic Bill Cosby sweaters.  And it’s weird because she was voiced by Sally Struthers, who at the same time, was also voicing another Disney character, but the mature, responsible, assertive single mother and business owner Rebecca Cunningham from TaleSpin!  I know, right?

Anyway, the reason I brought all that up is because a title like this might conjure up the idea that this might be a song about idealizing a society where everybody gets along…but nah.

“In a perfect world, the sun will always be bright!  The boys I’d date would all be eighty feet in height, and the mall would be open all night!  In a perfect world… “

Yep.  Charlene and her friends literally cannot picture a world in utter perfection unless they can shop and date genetically perfect guys.  I’d critique more, but the lyrics are kind of hard to discern.  But if that weren’t enough, how about them spelling perfect “P-E-R-F-I-C-T”?

I guess I shouldn’t be too annoyed, seeing as this is perfectly (perfictly?) in-character for Charlene, but I hate that this kind of stereotype is even a thing.  Especially since the song begins with Charlene posing the challenge to her friends, that her teacher says it’s up to them to change the world.  Her friends respond by asking what they could do, to which Charlene ruins it all by saying, “I dunno…do I look fat in this sweater?”

Charlene, you proved the world was round.  You are better than that.

3. “I Wanna be King

You might start to notice we had a song with Baby, one with Charlene, and now one with Robbie.  Yeah, each of the main characters will get their own songs.  Fine, I guess, but I would have hoped for something more substantial from Robbie, the voice of reason and otherwise most progressive character on the show.  But I guess it was just easier to give him a rock song to try to get the kids excited and sound the most like a real song.  And his song, like Charlene’s, is about his idea of a world in his image.

“You know, if I was king of the world, I’d solve all our problems with mindless teenage enthusiasm and much more rock n’ roll!”

“That makes no sense.”

“I know!  But sounds cool!”

Robbie, along with friend Spike, jams hard and sings the goals he has should he ever be king.  And what does that entail?  Why, have the whole land be jammin’, and have all the bad guys go.  Save the world with rock n’ roll!  But not be a millionaire…it takes too much time.

Yeah…I remember those days.  Back when “cool” was the epitome of everything.  Gotta don the sunglasses, rock out to your sweet Walkman, flashing the thumbs up…those were the days, all right.  It’s a decent song, I guess, but it’s also very light on substance.

And in the spirit of being the perfect time capsule, gotta love the lyric, “Music’s too loud…NOT!”

4. “Grandma’s Comin’

Sitcoms loved the “inlaws hate the spouse” trope TO.  DEATH.  It makes sense but who would ever get married if that was a guaranteed part of the package?  In Dinosaurs, Earl and Ethyl never made it a secret their disdain for each other.  Both loved Fran dearly, but it was clear since the episode “Hurling Day” that Earl was elated at the thought of being rid of Ethyl forever, and she found a reason to live in making Earl miserable.

Here, Stuart Pankin flexes a jazzy number about Earl’s agony at the thought of Grandma moving into the house, while Ethyl is elated at causing Earl more terror.  It’s not a terrible song, exactly, but even when you enjoy the banter between the two, the trope has aged.  And it’s a bit mean-spirited.  (“Hey Fat Boy, is that you under the bed?  I got seven suitcases outside, and I’m stayin’ forever!“/”Hey Fran, where’s that loser you married?“)  But what else do I expect?  I guess it can be funny on the show because there’s a hundred ways a bickering match between the two can go, though at the same time, I don’t see much potential in it as a song.  It’s just Earl wailing how scared he is of her.  At least on the show, he’s more combative, which makes it so much more interesting.

5. “Stone Age Bayou

This is Monica DeVertibrea’s song, and it’s more flowing than the last four entries, making it the most musical out of the songs so far.  It definitely has a good rhythm.  Too bad that, again, many of the lyrics are hard to make out.

This song is basically a Hallmark Channel song: it’s about a domestic homemaker yearning for quiet, satisfying life with a man and children “on the shores of the stone age bayou, by the banks of a clear, green swamp” in her “cave with a view”.  It’s weird, because it’s always been clear that Monica’s been depicted as a women not terribly interested in domesticity.  Monica was a single career woman, and an intelligent one at that.  I don’t think any less of a woman if she chooses a stay-at-home mom life, I’m just saying Monica was pretty clearly not about that.  So while the song itself is okay, it’s strange this was made her song and not Fran.

6. “I’m the Baby (Gotta Love Me!)

This.  This HAD to have been the reason this album existed.  This, more than “I’m a Dinosaur (I Can Do Whatever I Want)”, is the raison d’être.  Because this song is most certainly their “Do the Bartman”.  Why?  Because unlike its predecessor, this had its own music video.

On October 30th, 1992, ABC aired the episode “Little Boy Boo!”, their one and only Halloween episode, and it came with the music video as a bonus feature.  Baby hates the heavy metal he hears on DTV and argues with the host (Yes, through the TV) to hear something good, eventually convincing him to air a rockin’ performance starring a leather-jacket-clad Baby.  It is SO early nineties with everything from a brief rap segment Run DMC would be proud of to a ZZ Top homage.  It’s easily the best song on the album, featuring Baby’s infamous catchphrases, even with some clever wordplay (“A, B, C, D, E, F, Gee ya never know what I’m gonna do next!“). You’re 30 years behind the curve, Gayle.

Far from a great musical number, it’s easily one of the best and most memorable off the album.

7. “Cold-Blooded Guy

Bosses seem to live to make our lives a living H-E-Double Hockey Sticks.  We have our Michael Scotts, our Bill Lumberghs, our Miranda Priestlys…but Dinosaurs‘ take on the blue collar boss was a burly, short-fused bully who made few pretentions to hide his unscrupulous motives, his disdain for his staff, and on top of all that, was quite the bloodthirsty carnivore (Despite being based off the herbivorous styracosaurus) and frequently made good on his threat.

B. P. Richfield’s track is pretty cut and dry: He’s screaming at Earl to come into his trailer, and this leads him into his song, where be brags about just how terrible he is.  Of course, the joke is that reptiles are coldblooded, and…well, you get the idea.  Personally, I find this track kinda catchy, but it’s definitely more of a spoken-word song than anything else.  This one is arguably the most in character, as, like I said, Richfield’s barely-restrained contempt for anything that isn’t money is a key feature.

Still, Richfield isn’t the type to croon about his misdeeds, and Sherman Helmsley, who disappears into this role with childlike glee, isn’t the smoothest of vocalists.  And again, I really have trouble making out many of the lyrics.  Still, at least Helmsley was having fun. 

8. He’s a Lizard

I find this song by far the most annoying.  It’s a bombastic, saucy, sort of burlesque number starring Fran about just how weak in the knees Earl…yes, Earl Sneed Sinclair…makes her.  The other half of the song is Ethyl interjecting with her own thoughts on her son-in-law.  Imagine if Edith or Alice sang about how much they loved Archie Bunker or Ralph Kramden.  Actually, better yet, Marge Simpson.

Anyone who’s ever watched The Simpsons knows Marge does, in fact, love Homer.  She’d have to to put up with all his shenanigans.  But those times where Homer does do something fundamentally selfish, dangerous, or stupid, she doesn’t hold back.  Fran Sinclair was like that, true, but she had even less patience than Marge.  Earl was also more self-interested than Homer.  So when I think back to the most iconic Fran moments, most of them were her being frustrated at Earl or outright exhausted from her household duties.  So it’s hard to see Fran swooning over her husband.  She calls him a pussycat, she bursts with pride imagining him at work, and loves how he comes home “smelling of lunchbox and bark”.  It just feels kind of wince-inducing.

Not my cup of tea.  If Ethyl was face palming at the end of this song, I was, too.

9. Poor Slobs with Terrible Jobs

I loved the bouncy, silly rhythm of this song.  It was easily my favorite as a kid and was pretty bummed there was no music video to this one.  Honestly, I think it would have been great.

Roy, Earl’s best friend, poses the question to Earl about how pushing down trees for WESAYSO was a truly fulfilling goal for mighty dinosaurs like them.  Both grumble their lot in life: trapped by a capitalist system of manual labor that is likely to kill them as trees deplete.  Or worse, what if they run out of trees to push?  This song, more than any other, is pretty much ABOUT the dramatic irony of the future of dinosaurs.  The nod to destroying the environment seems both to be a worrisome possibility, as well as the thought of losing their only source of income.  Roy, like Pumbaa in The Lion King, reveals his hidden intelligent side by pondering a career as a marine biologist or even an ornithologist, hinting at the evolution yet to come.

Even if it’s not entirely about the exhausting life of being a blue-collar worker, it does explore a sentiment of pondering their mortality and the futility of dreaming of a better world, unlike Charlene and Robbie.  And I can relate to that, especially worrying about “When the climate changes, we’ll all freeze!”

Or…you know, in our case…burn.

10. Eon After Eon

One thing I genuinely miss from the nineties is the power ballad.  Like any other genre, it doesn’t go away so much as fade from the mainstream.  Duets and love songs are still popular, but there’s something kind of enchanting about a singer or a romantic duet unleashing a high note, resonating with power, letting everyone in a five mile radius just know how much in love they are.  It’s been awhile since the likes of Celine Dion and Whitney Houston belted these chords get us to feel feels.  And while there was no big romantic interlude in Dinosaurs, the album gifts us this lovely, if a touch sappy, “love” song, credited to Roy and Monica.

The reason I call it a “love” song and not a love song is pretty simple: it’s not about love, it’s about friendship, and calling it “a friendship song” doesn’t really do it justice.  See, in the past twenty years or so, we’ve watched the notion of friendship adapting to the cultural landscape well.  “Friendship” was often seen as a phenomenon for kids, and it was often seen as a failure if a man were friends with a woman and subsequently deigned to be “friendzoned”.  But now, we as a culture are more accepting that friendship is much stronger and healthier than we’ve given it credit for.  And while our culture fetishizes love, it’s not the only human connection that deserves to be celebrated.  And I challenge any of you to similarly find a song celebrating being friends with the same heart and soul as, say, “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston.  They just don’t really exist, do they?

Supposedly this song is about Roy and Monica, which is kind of odd.  For one, it’s clearly not the character’s voice actors.  It’s like Peabo Bryson and Regina Belle supposedly as Aladdin and Jasmine in “A Whole New World”.  Second, the relationship between Monica and Roy in the show was…not quite as harmonious as the song makes it seem.  Roy often flirted with Monica and even told Earl he had a thing for long necks, whereas Monica, at best, tolerated Roy’s knuckle-headed approaches.  In the episode “Green Card”, the two matured together as Roy married Monica so she wouldn’t be deported, but clearly respected her boundaries.

The content itself is pretty solid, advocating for being the other’s rock in times of sadness and stress.  It’s just hard to take seriously when lyrics include “When your horns are drooping” and “You feel only forty feet tall”.  Imagine if Sir Elton John’s “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” had lyrics about paws and fur.  Otherwise, this could have had potential as a radio single.  Good stuff.

11. Be a Herbivore

One gimmick in the show I never quite understood was the refrigerator.  I got the punchline since they were carnivores, their entrees and leftovers might include living critters.  But like The Flintstones, various prehistoric creatures are simply part of the appliance and hastily hand non-living food to Fran, Earl, and the rest. Passing bottles of juice or boxes of crackers to stave off their overlords’ hunger and allow one more day of life?  I guess, but that wasn’t illustrated well.

This song probably better explains the gag, as Earl heads to the kitchen for a midnight snack…but the furry gremlins perform a bombastic number urging Earl to go green.  What’s funny is in season one, the episode “I Never Ate For My Father”, the concept of a dinosaur like Robbie being an herbivore was akin to being gay/some counterculture hippie.  I liked this as a narrative, but it was clear being herbivorous was not an encouraged lifestyle when Earl was essentially Archie Bunker.  So a song that contrasts this plot is odd, but not irksome.

Still, it’s fun.  You can tell Earl is fiercely resisting and only seems interested when told he “could a whole lot more”.  It doesn’t go anywhere and it feels like they were really running out of ideas for song concepts.

12. Snoozin’ Time

At last we close out the album with a song right back where we started: trying to get Baby to go to sleep. Before it was Earl, now it’s Fran trying to sing a soothing lullaby, but there are some lyrics that demonstrate her barely-contained vexation. It’s kind of messed up.

Of course, a cherub like Baby Sinclair has some red in his ledger, so this hushing, gentle lullaby features a frightening tally of his crimes: kicking Earl in the chest, blowing Grandma away, eating all his toys, breaking down the door, leaving giant holes in the lawn, trashing Charlene’s room, causing neighbors to move away and (implied) biting off the tip of Robbie’s tail. And while Fran is trying very, very hard to get Baby to go to sleep, we hear various shouts from Earl, Charlene, and Robbie who cannot wait to get their hands on the smooing tyke. (Yeah, I said it.)

I would LOVE to use this as a lullaby for my daughter (Who am I kidding? I already do!), but some of the lyrics are very odd and confusing, assuming I’m hearing them right, such as:

“Won’t you please go to sleep? While only my leg is harpooned. Mama will limp out and you won’t hear a peep.”

And…

Now it’s snoozin’ time, put your cares on the shelf. Mama will clean up the smudge.

Like…huh?? What does that even mean? I gotta be mishearing these.

And of course, it ends with both Fran and Early finally leaving…and Baby can’t help but let loose one more zinger at his father before going to sleep.

*****************************************

So there it is…a look back at a series that was instrumental in my childhood development and its accompanying cassette that let me further enjoy the show. Did you know about this album? What was your favorite song? Let me know in the comments and I’ll see you next time!

Author: TAP-G

Writer, former podcaster, entertainment enthusiast. Movies and media have the power to shape our world and vice versa. Let’s take a deeper look at them.

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