As the story goes, in the early 1970s, ad exec David McCall noticed that his 11-year-old son was having trouble memorizing his multiplication tables, but he knew all the words to popular rock songs. So McCall had the brilliant idea to marry memorable music with concepts that kids need to learn, and Schoolhouse Rock! was born.
Other than watching Sesame Street and The Electric Company when I was very little, I never really listened to "kids music" growing up. My family had a jukebox in our family room and that was filled with various 70's hits and some novelty tracks that I loved like "Shaving Cream", but there were no songs by Raffi, The Wiggles or Ralph's World (mostly because they weren't around then, or at least, their kids' music wasn't). The songs I listened to the most when I was a growin' boy were 45's of Elvis, Johnny Cash and songs like "Kung Fu Fighting", "The Night Chicago Died", "Ballroom Blitz" and "Sir Duke". I also liked Beethoven a lot, probably because I was a big Peanuts fan and there was the constant hype about him from Schroeder (and also probably because Beethoven's music is incredible). There were theme songs like Scooby Doo and The Flintstones that were sort of "kids music", in a way, but the only music that I can recall really liking that was specifically geared toward kids in the way we usually think of "kids music" is Schoolhouse Rock!
Of course, Schoolhouse Rock! as I remember it was very much a marriage of the cartoon and the song, but many of the songs hold up very well on their own, and I can remember singing things like "Conjunction Junction" and "I'm Just a Bill" outside of when they happened to come on TV. Other favorites of mine include "The Shot Heard Round the World", "Three is a Magic Number", "My Hero, Zero", "Interjection!", "Unpack Your Adjectives", "Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, Get Your Adverbs Here", "The Tale of Mr. Morton", "Electricity" and "The Preamble". So many great songs about so many different subjects. I think that Schoolhouse Rock! has probably been one of the biggest influences on the current crop of kids' music, or at least, the best of it. The songs had memorable hooks, witty humor and some great music with a lot of variety. Above all, they had character. I don't mean the characters within the songs (although those are great, too), but character as a quality of distinguishing style.
In 1996 there was a compilation released called Schoolhouse Rock! Rocks, featuring some pretty cool artists like Moby, Ween, Pavement and Better than Ezra covering Schoolhouse Rock! tunes. When that album came out, it reintroduced me to those great songs that had been such a fun part of my childhood. I've since rented the videos of the cartoons and realized how great the original versions of those songs are. The recordings sound just a little bit dated in a Grateful Dead meets Vince Guaraldi kind of way, but the songs and performances are still terrific.
Schoolhouse Rock! Wikipedia page