A look back at the career of Maine's ever-popular children's singer/songwriter.
Courtesy of Rick Charette
By Joel Crabtree
When Rick Charette announced his retirement from performing a few months ago, songs about mud and school buses and alligators flooded my brain. Growing up in Maine in the ’80s and ’90s, my grade-school peers and I were all fans of the mustachioed troubadour and his bouncy singalongs. Among my cohort, he was bigger than Raffi.
But Rick Charette, a Westbrook native and Windham resident, started out wanting to follow in the footsteps of popular musicians for grown-ups — the likes of Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, and Joni Mitchell. In the mid-’70s, he got what he thought might be his big break when he opened for folk songwriter Tom Rush at a show in Ogunquit. It didn’t work out that way, and he soon grew tired of grinding out solo shows at bars and coffeehouses. He went back to school to study music education, and while student-teaching, he penned his first hit, “Bubblegum.” “I tried it out,” he recalls, “and the kids really liked it.” The rest is Maine music history.
In the ensuing several decades, Rick Charette released 12 albums (and two picture books), and he played to full houses at theaters, community centers, and schools throughout New England. He’s quitting the stage now, but he says he’ll leave the door open for occasional cameos in the future, and he’s still writing new material.
The 72-year-old says he hopes that, when people hear his name, they “think of the music, and they think about feeling happy, having fun, and enjoying life.” What better way to tap into those good vibes than by listening back through his five greatest tracks?
5. “Yellow Bus” on King Kong Chair, 2004
Some of Charette’s lyrics are purely silly, while others are grounded in realities of childhood experience. “Yellow Bus” falls into the latter category. The jaunty tune about the joy of “rocking and rolling” on the ride to school is so upbeat — “I take a seat. Got a smile on me. / I do my best. It’s showing.” — it helped get at least one kid (this one) out the door on school days.
4. “Where Do My Sneakers Go at Night?” on Where Do My Sneakers Go at Night?, 1998
A Toy Story–esque number about what inanimate objects do when nobody is looking: “It’s 10 o’clock. I lie in bed. Pretend to be asleep. / In the corner of my eye, I see my sneakers creeping right past me.” Soon, sentient shoes are partying on the playground, then rushing home before they’re missed in the morning.
3. “Bubble Gum” on Bubble Gum: And Other Songs for Hungry Kids, 1983
“Bubble Gum” was Charette’s first hit. Why did it catch on? Well, probably because kiddos tend to agree that bubblegum is pretty great: “I don’t like frog legs ’cause they smell like feet. / You can take away the liver. Give me something sweet.” Even though it’s his oldest song, Charette fielded frequent requests for it on stage right up until he retired.
2. “Alligator in the Elevator” on Alligator in the Elevator, 1985
After his young son mistakenly called an elevator an alligator — then got scared because he knew alligators were dangerous — Charette wrote what became one of his most popular live-performance songs, because he’d invite kids onstage to dance, clap along, and pantomime alligator chomping as the tempo turned frenzied in the last spin through the refrain.
1. “I Love Mud” on Alligator in the Elevator, 1985
If you don’t know “I Love Mud” by heart, chances are you didn’t grow up or raise a kid in Maine in the last 35 years. Charette started writing the song after watching his son’s friend try to swim through a mud puddle. The refrain goes like this: “Mud, mud, I love mud! / I’m absolutely, positively wild about mud. / I can’t go around it. I’ve got to go through it. / Beautiful, fabulous, super-duper mud!” Now that it’s in your head, good luck getting it out.