Fred Rogers was so good at so many things — rocking a cardigan, controlling puppets, speaking very straightforwardly to children— that it often obscures another skill: he was a damn fine musician, writing a performing hundreds of songs during the show’s masterful run. Figuring out the best Mister Rogers’ songs is mostly all about thinking about why the series was so successful to begin with. Part of the reason why a piece of kids’ entertainment stands the test of time is nearly always connected to music. The reason we still love Sleeping Beauty is because of the brilliant way Disney adapted the classic ballet by Tchaikovsky and, essentially, turned that music into a bunch of pop songs. Nobody thinks about it, but the great visuals in kids’ entertainment are almost always not the reason something is amazing.
The same is true for Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, to an extent. Yes, we love Fred Rogers’ style, but arguably, the words he spoken, and the songs are the real reason the show is so enduring. Contemporarily, the decedent of Mister Rogers; Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, also finds its way into the hearts and minds of children through the helpful songs. And though I think some of the Daniel Tiger songs are great, it’s hard to top the originals from Fred himself.
Here are nine songs from Fred Rogers, ranked in order of how memorable and how good they will make you feel.
9. “You’ve Got to Do It”
I call this one, the Mister Rogers version of the ’80s anthem “Relax.” Same energy. Same vibe. But, I think Fred Rogers does this concept better than Frankie Goes to Hollywood, don’t you?
8. “What Do You Do With the Mad That You Feel”
Chances are if you’ve heard this song, you remember it from the very famous speech Mister Rogers gave when he addressed the U.S. Senate. Because this is one of his famous songs that deals with complicated feelings, it’s obviously one of his best. It’s a bit of a talking-through-it-song, which is like the Rogers version of Bob Dylan impression except every word is impeccably enunciated.
7. “You Are My Friend. You Are Special”
There’s a Daniel Tiger song called “We Are Friends.” My daughter likes it a lot. But, the thing is, this song is way better.
6. “The Truth Will Make Me Free”
I have a very strong memory of this song, and I imagine kids who grew up in the ’80s are with me. There’s something about the sentiment of it, combined with the sweetness that really, really stick in your mind. The truth will make you free! He’s right, obviously, but there’s something more magical about it than just that. He’s right, and if you sing along, you can be forgiven for whatever stupid little kid stuff you did. Magic.
5. “Everybody’s Fancy”
If Mister Rogers was Lizzo, this would be his biggest hit single. This song is great for kids who have just learned the word “fancy,” but also for adults who need to think about their inner-fanciness. A song that is equally good for right before bedtime with your kids, or a boozy brunch with your buddies.
4. “Many Ways to Say I Love You”
Once we start getting into the top of this list, the songs are basically great because they are absurdly sweet. Still, the message of this one has some intelligence behind it. And, I suspect Paul McCartney wished he’d written it.
3. “I’m Taking Care of You”
Feeling safe is probably the most important thing for a child. The reason why Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood worked so well is because the idea of security and comfort was built into everything about the series. And this song is the musical version of that philosophy.
2. “It’s Such a Good Feeling”
You know this one by heart. You’re humming it right now. Not just one of the best Mister Rogers songs of all time, but probably one of the best children’s songs, period. Plus, the bass player is taking it for a walk.
1. “Won’t You Be My Neighbor”
The theme song of a TV show is usually memorable in connection with that show and therefore hard to really care about in another context. Like, the theme for Knight Rider; you can’t hear it without thinking about David Hasselhoff, several buttons unbuttoned on a shirt, and a talking car. “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” is like that for Fred Rogers. If you hear you, can picture him taking off his shoes, meticulously. And the reverse works, too. If you take your shoes off slowly, and calmly, you’ll be humming this tune.