Kieran Moore – The Muppet Mindset is currently celebrating Sesame Street’s 45th Anniversary and I figured what better way to join in the festivities than with a top 10 chart based around not just two of its longest running characters, but also its longest serving Muppet performer. Caroll Spinney has been a much-loved member of the cast from the get go and it’s impossible to imagine Sesame Street without his two signature characters – Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch. Surely no respectable list of Sesame Street characters could be made without mention of these two; in fact, Ryan included both of them in his personal top 10 earlier this week.
There are lots of people who have earned the title of Sesame Street Legend: Jim Henson, Joan Ganz Cooney, and Joe Raposo, to name a few, and Caroll very rightly belongs in that list, perhaps more so than any other Muppeteer.
So with just a quick pause to say thanks to my nephew Jared for helping with this chart, let’s count down Caroll’s 10 best musical performances….
10. I Love Trash! – Oscar the Grouch
I guess this could be considered Oscar’s signature song. It was certainly the first one I thought of for Oscar when I was compiling this list (actually that’s not strictly true, but it was certainly the second). Having appeared in the first season of the show it’s also the perfect way to start an anniversary chart. I really enjoy Caroll’s performance here–the way Oscar gets so animated and, dare I say it, excited is really fun. His vocals really convey Oscar’s feelings towards the assorted pieces of junk he lists. I have the Steven Tyler version from the album Elmopalooza and even he can’t sing it as well as Caroll does.
9. Sing – Big Bird & Snuffy
I guess this song is included for its cultural significance if nothing else. The fact that this song only makes number 9 is testament to the quality of what’s still to come. One of Big Bird’s great character strengths is that he’s so bright and breezy and his vocals here epitomise this. This is a real lazy Sunday afternoon performance. Find a sunny meadow, lie down under a tree, pull your hat over your eyes and drift away to this. Sheer perfection!
8. The Christmas Song – Big Bird and Swedish Chef
Anyone who’s read my other top 10 lists will know that A Muppet Family Christmas holds a special place in my heart. It’s my one holiday tradition that’s non-negotiable. I’m already excited about watching it again soon! When Swedish Chef sees Big Bird at Emily Bear’s house he thinks he’s hit the Christmas meal mother load, but this sweet rendition of a Christmas classic makes him see otherwise. It’s interesting to note that Big Bird, who often notices his own differences, spots that Chef might be missing his family. Big Bird’s good natured spirit really shines through here. Artwork at right by our friend Glen Brogan.
7. I Don’t Wanna/I’ll Give You a Song – Oscar the Grouch
I really wanted to include “I’ll Give You a Song” on the list, but it’s so short it had to become a double A-side (Hey kids, ask your Grandparents!) with “I Don’t Wanna.” “I’ll Give You a Song” kind of sums Oscar up in a neat 13 seconds. It’s grouchy, yet funny, moany, yet playful. I’ll say it again: all in a neat 13 seconds! “I Don’t Wanna: is also comedy gold. The music is possibly one of Sesame Street’s happiest tunes and yet the lyrics include “I don’t wanna smile, I don’t wanna laugh”–brilliant. I love how sophisticated Sesame Street can be in its humor. I also love Caroll’s performance. Oscar is extra New Yorkish here, did they tone his accent down over the years or am I imagining it?
6. A Little Grouch Music – Oscar the Grouch
A parody of the Phantom of The Opera song “The Music of the Night,” this couldn’t be more different from Oscar’s last entry. This song is soft and lyrical, a love song to all of the things that might annoyingly keep you from sleeping. It really shows another dimension to Oscar, and Grouches in general. The fact that Oscar finds these things comforting lets the listener know that it’s ok to be different. “One man’s meat is another man’s poison” as the saying goes. This is a tender moment from everyone’s favorite misery. It’s also a pitch perfect performance by Caroll.
5. ABC-DEF-GHI Song – Big Bird
This fun song was selected by my nephew Jared and he nailed it! Its performance in the first season takes full advantage of Big Bird’s early goofball characterization. One of the things I like about this song is that most of the younger viewers probably would have had some exposure to the alphabet before they hear this song so even they get the joke and get one up on Big Bird which is nice for them. And if they don’t know the alphabet then they can learn right along with him. It’s win/win. This is Sesame Street’s “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” and Caroll did a great job with it. Also, how cool is it that my spell check knows “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”?
4. Bein’ Green – Oscar the Grouch
When I wrote the top 10 Jim Henson songs, I mentioned in the write up for Kermit’s version of “Bein’ Green” that whilst I liked the song, it had never really touched me as it does others. Bizarrely, I think this version actually resonates more with me than Kermit’s does. While I appreciate Kermit’s morose moments it makes more sense to me that Oscar might lament being what he considers an attractive color. While Kermit sings that he blends in, Oscar complains that he stands out and would rather be more dingy. Grouches always seem comfortable in their own skin so a brief wobble from Oscar seems unusual and therefore more meaningful. This is a great soulful performance from Caroll that gets very close to Jim’s version for me. It’s definitely better than the Ray Charles version!
3. I’m So Blue – Big Bird
I’ll admit that I have a soft spot for Follow That Bird. I was 7 when it was released and a few years later we owned the movie on VHS where it got watched a lot. I’ll admit that I used to shed a tear at several points in this movie and you’d have to have a heart of stone not to find this moving, especially when you consider that Big Bird is written as a 6-year-old. The music box accompaniment is perfect at the start of the song before the orchestra comes in. Ignoring the fact that this is a weird song for “The Bluebird of Happiness” to sing, Caroll does a great job with this song. The way Big Bird’s voice cracks at the end is so sad. Though maybe not as sad as those pants.
2. Easy Goin’ Day – Big Bird, Ruthie & Floyd
As I said above, I’m a huge Follow That Bird fan and this is my favorite Big Bird song. I’ve loved this song for years and quite often find myself singing it without realising! It does skirt dangerously close to annoying kid territory, but Alyson Court as Ruthie in particular is a great singer (boy, I hope she’s not dubbed) so it gets away with it. In a movie where Big Bird has a lot to deal with (see above) this number is a great chance for him to make friends and have a lighter moment. Caroll’s laid back performance is casual and humorous and brilliantly sung. The last chorus is the ultimate chilled out anthem!
1. The Grouch Anthem – Oscar the Grouch
I’ll admit it, as soon as I decided to write this chart I knew this would be number 1! I love this song so much! I am also unapologetic about having three Follow That Bird songs as the top three. I did try to split them up, but just couldn’t do it. I guess that fact proves what a tour de force Follow That Bird is for Caroll. I can’t find anything negative to say about this song which I’m sure would annoy Oscar, but since Oscar would enjoy that I guess I’m good. As a singer I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve used the line “Brace yourselves, I’m gonna sing!” But it’s not just that line, this song is eminently quotable. It’s full of one line gems “something is wrong with everything, except the way I sing” or “You know what’s right with this world? Nothing!” I want to put my hand on my heart when I hear this song. This is Oscar and Caroll at their best. I remember my Mother writing the words to this song down for us so my brother and sister and I could learn it. I don’t remember doing that for any other song.
And I guess that’s a good way to sign off – as Sesame Street celebrates its 45th anniversary it’s provided not just entertainment and education for generations it’s also provided countless memories as well. Thank you, Caroll, for providing me, my generation and pretty much the whole world with so many treasured memories. Long may you continue to do so.
The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier, firstname.lastname@example.org