Mister Rogers reissues (Omnivore Recordings)
We could all use a little Mister Rogers right now
With the release of first the documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor (2018) and then A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019), we’ve been reminded of the genius of Mister Rogers. Omnivore Recordings first put out It’s Such a Good Feeling last year, which collected songs from various releases over his career. Now, they dig deeper with a quartet of albums that Rogers released, all four making their digital debut.
You Are Special
Coming and Going
Honestly, now more than ever, the world needs Mister Rogers. His sheer brilliance was right there in front of us the whole time. But, we were too busy being adults. Now, when we feel our most vulnerable, just like a child, it’s music that touches us deep, and gives us comfort.
Three of the albums came out in 1992, followed by Coming and Going, which came out in 1997. Each album is only loosely based on the title. Mostly, it’s just Rogers doing his thing.
He’s backed, as always, by the multitalented Johnny Costa, who is talking and singing too – just on the piano. These recordings, just like the TV show, are a dialogue, not just between Rogers and his audiencem but also between Rogers and Costa. Also part of his erstwhile band is Carl McVicker on bass and Bobby Rawsthorne on percussion.
Each disc opens with “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” and closes with “You Are Special,” providing a familiar bookend.
When he spells out the word FRIEND in “You Are Special” or asks questions like “why aren’t live babies like my other toys” in “Some Things I Don’t Understand,” you realize Rogers had an ability to relate to exactly how a child felt.
He also tells stories, like on “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” – but here we get to see his genius. We know in the story, the girl ate porridge, but he changed it to “lunch” – far more understandable for everyone. The accents of the story are punctuated by Johnny Costa’s melodic piano. Again, at the end of the story, there’s changes. The bears made their beds, fixed Baby Bear’s chair and divided the remaining lunch. Then, they discussed how afraid having Goldilocks in their house was.
“I’m a Man Who Manufactures” features some great piano, we just take it for granted. This was the first introduction to jazz for thousands of little people.
“It’s You I Like” – Rogers isn’t a gifted vocalist, but there’s such a warmth in these recordings – even as adults, you can’t help but get goosebumps. His gift is capturing the wonder of children, like in “Pretending.”
He’s also not afraid to tackle very complex emotions too, like with “The Truth Will Make Me Free,” which deals with why we shouldn’t hide our feelings.
“You Are Growing,” the classic title track, somehow has this genuine yearning. “Are You Brave” is the kind of song that we need during troubling times. “Are you brave above and under especially when you’re inside out.” He reminds kids to take their time growing up before the addition lesson of “One and One Are Two.”
Time and again, Rogers deals with unsavory feelings, like fear, as in “Please Don’t Think It’s Funny.” He not only says it’s ok to feel that way, he assures that you’re not the only one who feels that way. The same goes for dealing with anger in “What Do You Do”? Rogers doesn’t sweep these feelings under the rug. Instead, he assures us that it’s normal to feel that way.
Sophisticated thoughts like “Sometimes People Are Good,” approach the complex idea that things aren’t black and white – sometimes people are good and those same people are bad. Yet, he has this way of explaining things so that everyone gets it.
“Going to Marry Mom” is cute, covering a feeling that a lot of us boys who admired our mothers feel. That’s followed by the silly “You Can Never Go Down the Drain.”
From the album Bedtime, when Rogers sings “I’m Taking Care of You,” it doesn’t sound corny, it sounds reassuring. “I Like to Be Told” expresses everyone’s desire to know what’s coming next.
The sweetness of “Then Your Heart is Full of Love” – in the hands of a more adept vocalist, this could’ve been a hit song – the lyrics are beautiful. “Many Ways to Say I Love You” – who thought that there’s the “cooking way” or the “eating way” to say those three words? “Nighttime Sounds” normalizes the evening noises that can be scary.
The Coming and Going album came out five years later in 1997. By this point, Rogers’ voice seems a little raspy. Whimsical songs like “I Like Someone Who Looks Like You,” are intermingled with “Be Brave, Be Strong” to a light, marching beat, exuding confidence. “Look and Listen” is another one of his classic of tunes, while “I Like to Take My Time” lopes along with Costa adding accents.
There’s a pair of complex thoughts here too – “I’m Still Myself Inside” and “Wishes Don’t Make Things Come True.” Rogers shows off his ability to change his voice on songs like “Propel, Propel, Propel Your Craft” and “Museum Wares.”
In a world that seems crazier than ever, it’s too bad we no longer have a daily visit to Mister Rogers Neighborhood. But, he did leave us plenty of comfort and direction in these fine recordings. —Tony Peters