The upbeat rhythm and big melody of the opening number stay with me from the days of my mom filling the house with these tunes and skits on the family turntable. So much so that I’m preparing to perform my own cover of that title song “Free to Be You and Me.” The excitement of liberation is electric in this song and deserves to be heard by a new generation of young listeners.
Here’s my cover of the song as a solo acoustic performance on YouTube:
In the 70s, kids needed to be freed from gender stereotypes. A boy who wanted to practice nurturing on a baby doll. A princess who insists with her father the king on her right to marry who she wants, if she wants. A poet who tells kids and parents not to believe the hype about the smiling lady on TV washing dishes with the latest and greatest detergent, but rather, to share in the housework as a family and get it over with because everybody hates housework.
I’m now a little girl’s daddy with a heart full of memories of bottle feedings, burping, diaper changing and bathing as bonding time with our baby. Flash forward three years and I’m painting my young one’s fingernails pink and purple. In turn, she’s equally comfortable dressing up Barbie dolls and pushing the lawnmower with me. I live in a time, place and family where gender equality is a living success story. Not everybody does, but it’s my normal reality.
Listening to that landmark album today brings up ways in which it participated in social changes that paved the way for my free thinking about gender equality. The energy of that opening number brings up thoughts to the freedom kids may need help experiencing these days. They need to be free to be kids, to have honest-to-goodness, unstructured, unscheduled outdoor physical play time. They need freedom from dependence on video games and gadgets to mitigate boredom.
Kids still need freedom from the fear of bullying, both in person and online. Skits like “Dudley and the Principle” paired with “It’s All Right to Cry” sung by uber-masculine football/action hero Roosevelt Grier can still be a welcome source of comfort to a child caught up in a vicious cycle of feeling persecuted, crying and then being persecuted for crying.
Fun fact: I played Dudley in a middle school production of “Free to be You and Me.” it was my job to cry over being held after school for a sand table I didn’t knock down.
Here’s a TV interview with creator Marlo Thomas about this special project she created, where she discusses why she and her friends felt the album needed to be made, and about the challenges she had in convincing TV producers to include “William Wants a Doll” in the special broadcast based on the album. Producers feared the potential emasculating effects of publicizing a message that it’s OK for boys to play with dolls.
What are the important songs from your childhood that influenced the person you are today? Let’s discuss in the comments below.