March 19, 2008

Recovered: Matt Jones' Unofficial History Of "Pinball Number Count"

Back in 2003, British blogger Matthew Jones pieced together an early unofficial, but informative history of "Pinball Number Count." While the details of it have mostly been incorporated into the Wikipedia entries for the song; the animators at Jeff Hale's company Imagination, Inc.; and the composer, Walter Kraemer [no, it wasn't Herbie Hancock after all], Jones's original entries have disappeared from the web. Kraemer actually wrote in with details of the recording and the animation, too, which was done by his company, Animation, Inc. As you feared, none of the original materials--not masters, tracks, animations, or artwork--is believed to survive.

Anyway, just to make sure it's more easily searchable, I'm reprinting the text of Matthew Jones's posts and Walter Kraemer's letter after the jump. [via "The Pinball Song, Again" July 12, 2003, and "A Letter from Walt Kraemer", Sept. 10, 2003t the Internet Archive ]

The Pinball Song, Again

+ 2003-07-12 15:04:19 BST

UPDATE: Since posting the information below, Walt Kraemer, composer of the Sesame Street Pinball Song, wrote to me with some definitive information about it. Click here to read Walt’s letter.

Long time readers may know of my ongoing search for information about the Sesame Street 70s funk classic The Pinball Song. Last time, it was established that the song is known as J Imagination (Lower) and was penned by Walt Kramer (not Herbie Hancock as previously rumoured). The singers on the track could be The Pointer Sisters, but I havent confirmed that yet.

I was puzzled that doing a Google search for Walt Kramer came up with no relevent information, not even anything about a Walt Kramer being a musician. The latest information I have thanks to a chap called Chris is that Kramer should in fact be spelled Kraemer. Entering this correct spelling into Google offers up more information about Walt, including a brief biography and this page, which lists Walt as the sound and synthesizer effect supervisor on the Star Wars spoof Hardware Wars.

As far as I know, The Pinball Song doesnt feature on any Sesame Street compilation albums and decent MP3 versions of it are like gold dust, which is a shame because judging from the number of search referrals I get to previous posts Ive written about The Pinball Song, theres a lot of interest in it.

Here is the letter:
A Letter from Walt Kraemer

+ 2003-09-10 09:41:42 BST

[Following up my response to yesterdays comment in the Pinball Song thread, Walt Kraemer has been kind enough to email me with some information about the song. So here it is, definitive and from the person who composed and produced it, everything you ever wanted to know about the Sesame Street Pinball Number Count.]

As composer and producer of Sesame Street’s Pinball Music I was flattered to find interest in something I created over a quarter of a century ago. Our company, Imagination, Inc in San Francisco produced a great number of animation pieces for Children’s Television Workshop at that time so forgive me if I’m a bit hazy as to some of the particulars.

Those were indeed the Pointer Sisters. All four of them. At the time only three were performing regularly and I recall budgeting for just the three when June showed up at the session with the rest. It was a bonus. The basic track was performed by San Francisco Bay Area musicians and since there were to be eleven pieces of animation I had the track structured to accomodate three different lead instrument overdubs to give the pieces some variety. On some numbers Andy Narell plays a steel drums solo, on others Mel Martin plays a soprano sax solo, on the rest… I forget. Much credit should go to Ed Bogas for interpreting my melody ideas and for the musical arrangements.

The concept and design was devised by our animation director, Jeff Hale. It was his idea that I create basic tracks then record as ‘wild-lines’ the Pointers shouting the various 2-11 numbers in different intensities and different compliments of voices. Then, each time the pin ball hit a selected number he would drop in these (off-key—couldn’t be helped) wild lines. While I have retained first or second generation masters (quarter inch tape now converted to DAT and CD) of 99% my audio productions over the years it is for above reason there was never a ‘master’ track. This news came as a dissapointment to the folks back at Sesame Street who were planning the current CD release. Unfortunately, I have retained nothing from this session. Matter of fact, I haven’t heard the piece in years.

On the techinal side, we recorded at Richard Beggs’ (Francis Ford Coppola’s) studio in the Columbus Towers Building, 24 track, analog—of course. Mag transfers were made at Imagination, Inc. which is long out of business. And, again unfortunately, there is nothing left of either the animation cells nor audio elements for any of that beautiful work.

Personally, I am honored to be thought of in the same company as Herbie Hancock and Frank Zappa. My approach was to write the piece in 12-4 or 12-8 time but that didn’t quite work out. And it wasn’t until we had completed the project that I realized I may have stolen the first five notes of the Woody Woodpecker Song. Something I’m sure neither Hancock nor Zappa would be guilty of.


Walt Kraemer

And here's a subsequent comment from DJ Food, right before the release of his PNC remix:
+ 2003-09-13 00:20:53 BST

I saw this as i was forwarded the letter from Walt by Sesame Workshop. Pity it didn’t reach us in time for the Ninja release as it would have made great sleeve notes. Might just make it on another Sesame release we’re planning in the future though ;)

As the record will finally see the light of day on Monday i’d like to let Tim know that it is basically exactly the same as the original ‘Pinball Number Count’ that Walt recorded.
When i obtained tapes (no.s 2 through 12, there is no number 1 apparently) from Sesame Street i realised that the track came in 3 different versions. Each had the same beginning and end chorus but there was a choice of 3 different ‘bridges’ scattered amongst the songs and each has it’s own particular number shouted throughout.
All i did was a minimal re-edit of the original adding all 3 bridges to the existing chorus but chopping in different numbers randomly in the places they originally sat in each particular version.
The version on the 3 CD Sesame boxset is an early mix that includes a couple of Count von Count samples at either end. This was originally done for a mix CD i released but didn’t make the cut. Sesame liked it so much they put it on their box set and kept the spokenword either end.
The version coming out on vinyl is the exact same arrangement, without the Count, but remastered and mixed to a much higher standard. As the original tracks were less than a minute long the re edit brings parts of all the versions together to make up just over 2 and a half minutes worth of Pinball nostalgia.


Strictly Kev
(DJ Food)

1 Comment

Thanks for doing this. I'm afraid I haven't been very good at renewing my domains, hence the disappearance of this content.

Walt's letter and associated threads are now (hopefully permanently!) archived on my new site at:

Thanks again.

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