If you’re a nineties kid, you know all of the words to “The Magic School Bus” theme song as well as you know your parents’ phone number (and if you’re a nineties kid, that may be the only phone number you’ve ever bothered to memorize). But the singer who belted out those lines about navigating nostrils, spanking plankton, and rafting a river of lava had been releasing absolute bangers for 40 years before Miss Frizzle took her class on their first ill-advised field trip.
But before we get to that, let’s talk about Peter Lurye. The classically trained composer had already written the theme song for “Eureka’s Castle” when he was contacted by one of the producers who was pitching the idea of “The Magic School Bus” to Nickelodeon.
When the show got the OK to go ahead, Lurye finished up the music and the lyrics and was planning to record it with a person he described as “a known celebrity” before that celeb ultimately passed on it. When the production team was trying to find a new vocalist, someone suggested Little Richard — yes, the legendary Little Richard behind “Tutti Frutti” and “Long Tall Sally” — and they rang the then-62-year-old up.
“We took a conference call with him and played him the song as it was, then asked if there was something he wanted from the song that would help him,” Lurye told The Dot + Line. “He said he wanted it to have more of a backbeat and a really rocking piano part, which makes a lot of sense, if you know Little Richard.”
After the track was funked up and re-recorded, Little Richard laid down the vocals — although Lurye said he couldn’t hit some of the high notes as they were written. (Again, dude was 62.) “I got the sense that Little Richard had only heard the song demo for the first time on the way over to the session, and he was a little nervous,” Lurye said. “It’s a very complicated song! It was three hours of very intensive work. But it was a great experience. He could not have been a nicer, more cooperative human being.”
When Netflix rebooted the series in 2018, they agreed to use Lurye’s original song, but they wanted a different vocalist — and not just because Little Richard was 86 by then. They tapped the very much in-demand Lin-Manuel Miranda to record the vox for “The Magic School Bus Rides Again,” and Lurye said that he was a total pro too.
“Lin-Manuel couldn’t have been more cooperative or into it,” he told The Dot + Line. “This man is always doing a superhuman number of projects, yet what I found when working with him was that the level of focus that he has in order to do all the different things he does is incredible.”
But still: how do you follow Little Richard?
“The Magic School Bus” shows up on this week’s Video Rewind. Give it a look: