Kieran Moore – I’m going to start this chart by saying something controversial – I have always considered Karen Prell to be the least compelling singer out of the five main Fraggle performers. I need to quickly qualify that by saying that I think all five of them (Karen, Dave Goelz, Steve Whitmire, Kathryn Mullen, and Jerry Nelson) are fantastic, but before I created this chart if I was asked to rank them in terms of musical performance I guess I’d have to put Karen last. So I had mixed feelings when I embarked on this week’s top 10. Having already written charts for Dave and Kathryn would I find myself comparing Karen unfavorably to them or would I suddenly discover a new love for a performer I’d perhaps been unfair to in the past? I guess it would ruin the element of jeopardy in the article if I told you the answer now, but suffice to say I had no trouble in finding enough songs to fill this top 10 list (and then some). I want to balance this opening out by saying I love the character of Red and Karen’s performances are nothing short of amazing, but we’ll talk more about that as we count down the songs. So let’s get on with it.
10. Sing That Law Again – Judge Gavel Doozer from Fraggle Rock
Our first trip to Fraggle Rock in this chart isn’t a Red song, but is this upbeat ditty about Doozer law. I like the idea that if you start a court session with a song no one feels sad while the trial is going on. The Doozers are officious and have a system for everything, but it’s good to see that they can still enjoy themselves whilst doing so. Doozer voices are always fun and Karen’s performance is putting a smile on my face as I write this. Who doesn’t love a dancing Doozer? Add to that some clever and funny lyrics and this song is a Doozer classic. It also reminds me just how amazing the ensemble Fraggle Rock singers are. They make a wall of sound that’s so good with those fantastic harmonies. And finally, how 80s is that courtroom set?!
9. One and One (I’m the One That Won!) – Red with Mokey, Boober, Wembley, and Gobo from Fraggle Rock
Fraggles love a game set to music and so do I! Red is at her alpha female best here challenging her friends to silly competitions that include skills such as hopping and laughing. This has some of the best elements of Fraggle songs; hand-clapping, a funky guitar riff and gloriously playful lyrics. All of the performers are clearly having a ball here (some of the Fraggle’s reactions to Red are priceless), but this is a tour de force for Karen – she’s excited, perky and driven to win which is kind of her signature personality on the show. When she announces “I’m the won that won!” there’s a great mix of pleasure and inevitability in her voice that it just about perfect.
8. People Don’t Know – Red from Fraggle Rock
Surely this song is the spiritual twin of “Catch the Tail by The Tiger”? When it first started I actually thought it was using the same tune. This is a surprisingly upbeat song for the message it conveys – the feeling of being unsure, being misunderstood and ultimately if you take it to its conclusion the feeling of being alone in a group. In my write up for the last song I mentioned Red’s alpha female status and her drive to win, but I like that with songs and moments like these we get to see that Red is actually quite insecure underneath it all. It makes her so much more appealing and endearing as a character and I really appreciate the job everyone did with the Fraggle Rock characters to make them so rounded. The song itself is fairly simple (and painfully short), but sung brilliantly by Karen. When you listen to a song over and over as I do for these charts you start to pick up on little inflections in words that are easily missed, but they really make you enjoy the Muppeteers craft. This song is full of those moments.
7. Somewhere There’s a Special Place – Red from Fraggle Rock
“Fraggle Ballad” might just be my favorite genre of music and if it includes harmonies by Mokey then it scores extra points from me, so in spite of myself I find I’m inexplicably placing this song as low as number 7 on the chart. I feel terrible about it. Red and Mokey work so well together, it’s a credit to the show that two such different characters are 100% believable as best friends. They really understand each other and there’s a purity to their friendship that makes it oh so special. Karen and Kathryn also complement each other brilliantly as musical performers. They have quite different voices – Kathryn is floaty and light and Karen has a more gutsy country-tinged tone – but when they’re put together something magical happens. This is a beautiful song, but that’s almost incidental here. They could be singing the phone book and I’d buy the 12 inch version (ask your parents kids!)
6. Chase the Wind – Red from Fraggle Rock
Chase the Wind is surely the title of a song that accompanies a montage of Rocky Balboa training for the big fight. Actually I guess this pretty much is the Fraggle equivalent minus the inspirational electric guitar solo. We’re back to can-do, self-assured Red here and it’s interesting that she sings that it’s always there inside spurring her on despite the occasional moment of quiet self-doubt. There’s a real dichotomy to her personality that I’m sure would keep psychologists busy for weeks. There are a couple of lovely moments during the first verse where Red breaks the fourth wall and it’s a nice treat for the viewer, but also makes this fantasy sequence seem more like a bona fide music video. Red’s excitable victory dancing at the end is a joy to behold! In fact, this is just that – a joyous performance from Karen that was surely destined for MTV.
5. Beetle Song – Red, Mokey, and Gobo from Fraggle Rock
I’ve loved this song since I was a kid and it’s easy to see why. It’s not just a fun song to listen to – it’s great fun to join in with as well. This is now the second time this song has appeared on one of my charts, but I find it interesting that when I included it on the Kathryn Mullen top 10 it placed at number 3 and here it’s only number 5. Despite what I wrote in the opening paragraph does this mean that there are actually twice as many more Red songs than Mokey songs that I enjoy? Or does it mean that I consider this song to be more associated with Mokey in my mind hence it’s higher placing there? I don’t know, but it’s given me something to ponder. Either way, nothing has changed regarding my love of this song – Red’s increasingly flustered singing is simply priceless and the way Karen performs it is just hilarious. And as before, go away Gobo – you’re not needed!
4. Do It on My Own – Red & Gobo from Fraggle Rock
This really does feel like Red’s theme song. Because of its inclusion on the “Fraggle Songs Volume One” video this is the song that I most readily associate with Red Fraggle and as I wrote above it really does seem to encapsulate the main aspects of her character perfectly. Red’s assertion that she can “Do it on my own” is a brilliant example of her self-belief, even if it sometimes comes back to bite her. It’s the ultimate in self-affirmation and makes me wonder, is Red convincing her friends or herself? It’s a bit of a shame that when this song was repeated in the animated series it was sung by Gobo as it seems so personal to Red. Karen is fantastic here setting out Red’s mission statement to the world.
3. Rumble Bug Hum – Red from Fraggle Rock
Our second bug song on the chart! This song gives me the opportunity to mention the friendship between Red and Cotterpin Doozer which became more important as the show went on and ultimately lead to a greater understanding between the Fraggles and Doozers. This song is truly awesome; it’s fast-paced and so much fun. I know a couple of very accomplished singers who would struggle to get these words out in the way that Karen manages. It’s pin sharp and en pointe and just plain old perfect! I know I make this comment a lot, but it really is impossible not to smile and move about to this song. This is also a great chance to once again give a shout out to Philip Balsam and Dennis Lee who are song-writing gods. Finally, Cotterpin riding on Red’s back during this number is cute to the power of infinity and brilliantly puppeteered by all involved.
2. Bring Back the Wonder – Red from Fraggle Rock
Our number 2 song is not just another chance for Red to get introspective, but also allows her to show off her spiritual side. This song could very easily be sung by Mokey and that very fact makes it all the more special that Red is singing it. That the show’s creators allowed their characters to play against type is great. It makes them more rounded and more believable and a cut above the usual “kid’s show” fare. Because we all occasionally play against type it allows us to look at ourselves through the eyes of these characters and to better understand who we are and why. And this is a “kid’s show”??? This is a delicate ballad and Karen does a superb job filling it with emotion and plays it perfectly. In my opening paragraph I mentioned that I always thought of Karen as the least accomplished singer of the Fraggle 5; songs like this and the last one force me to question this position. It’s beautiful. And how incredible does that set look? The water gives the whole thing a kinetic energy that is slightly reminiscent of “Dark Crystal”. I’m not sure Fraggle Rock ever looked better.
1. Friendship Song – Red & Boober from Fraggle Rock
This song was number 2 on my Dave Goelz chart and was only kept off the top spot by the brilliance of “I’m Going to Go Back There Someday”. If it weren’t for that song this could have been the first song to appear as number 1 on two charts and had that happened it would certainly have deserved the accolade. I guess on a points scoring basis this would now be my ultimate Muppet song. I’m happy to say that along with a couple of others (including “Let Me Be Your Song” and “Follow Me”) this is one of the Fraggle songs that has stayed with me from childhood to being a full-grown adult. It still regularly appears on CDs I make for the car. I remember watching this episode as a kid and being genuinely worried about the fate of Red and Boober – it wasn’t a foregone conclusion in my head that they would be ok. Because the episode “Marooned” was so readily available on VHS, and as a family we rented a lot of cassettes, me and my brother and sister became very familiar with it and it is now one of my favorites. Friendship Song is beautiful and this is so so special to me. Dave and Karen sing it with such emotion. The way Red’s voice breaks breathlessly after she sings the line “life comes up and life goes down” and Boober’s subsequent comforting arm is just exquisite and so poignant. Bravo and Brava.
Characters like Red don’t come around very often and with her ongoing personal appearances at various events she has cemented her position as one of the most popular Fraggles and has a cult following. It’s interesting to note that in the UK there was a “Best of Red” DVD released a few years ago, but nothing for the other 4 main Fraggles. So I want to say a huge thank you to Karen for originating Red who is perhaps the character that most exemplifies the multi-faceted nature of the Fraggle characters. She’s also keeping the Fraggles alive which is oh so important as every generation should hear the show’s message of love and diversity. And finally, for giving me what I consider to be one of the finest moments on television in the Friendship Song I must add and extra-special “Thank you”.
The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier, firstname.lastname@example.org