Kieran Moore – A top ten list for Steve Whitmire has been requested several times over the last few months and although I knew I’d have to tackle it someday, I must admit I was nervous about putting this list together. Not only is Steve Whitmire one of the longest serving Muppet performers, he’s also one of the Muppet world’s central stars having taken over the performing of beloved characters such as Ernie, Beaker and, of course, Kermit the Frog. So, it was with no small amount of trepidation that I compiled this week’s chart. What if I missed something obvious? What if I missed something obscure? The flip-side of this is that picking just ten songs has been incredibly hard. I haven’t had this much trouble since the Jim Henson chart in week one. I originally whittled the list down to 13 and ranked them as such, but had a four way tie for tenth place. So I looked again and added another six songs to the potential list of those fighting for that elusive last spot! I’ve finally come up with a Top 10 I’m happy to put my name to, but I will give honorable mentions to a few of the other contenders who almost made it as we go.
10. Rainbow Connection – Kermit, Miss Piggy and The Muppets from The Muppets
I just know that for some the very idea of this song only being in tenth position will be sacrilege, but I’ll explain my reasoning. Rightly or wrongly, I associate this song with Jim’s Kermit much more than I do with Steve’s and for that reason I pretty much discounted it entirely at first. The original Muppet Movie version is such a thing of beauty that it’s tough to make comparisons. However, I took a second look and decided that this song did indeed deserve a place on the chart. When a lot of fans saw the track listing for The Muppets soundtrack and noticed that there were to be a new version of Rainbow Connection I think most of the reactions we largely negative. Did we really need a new version of a classic? Is Disney creatively bankrupt? But what ended up happening is that this version is a “sweet dream reminder” of just how incredible the Muppets are when they’re together. I have linked to the soundtrack version of the song because it features more Kermit, but in the movie when the cast joins hands and stands together it’s such a special moment that I urge everybody to re-watch it. Steve sounds great here as always. It’s a different interpretation of a classic and I applaud it for that.
9. Ode to Joy – Beaker from “Ode to Joy” Viral Video
What can I say about this other than that it’s just brilliant? There’s so much going on here that when I went through my potential top ten songs to rank them I found myself so captivated that I forgot I was supposed to be scoring it and had to watch again. This video quite rightly won a Webby award in 2009. Steve had a lot of input into the viral videos and his performance here as Beaker is just hilarious and at his Muppety best. The concept of Beaker singing goes all the way back to the old Muppet Show days and this is the logical next step in the digital age, of course he would be posting songs online! What I’ll do for each entry from now on is give an honorable mention to a song that didn’t quite make the cut so here’s a shout out for “The Rat Scat” from The Muppets Take Manhattan which very nearly placed in the top 10.
8. Wemblin’ Fool – Wembley and Gobo from Fraggle Rock
I could have very easily compiled a list of just Wembley songs! One of Steve’s best known characters and one that probably competes with Rizzo as his most-loved original characters is Wembley, the Fraggle that personifies his own name (to wemble is to be indecisive). Truth be told I’m a bit like Wembley; I’m indecisive (or am I?), I wear a Hawaiian shirt when I sing and my eyes can swivel 360 degrees! I just love Wembley’s scatting, so much so that I actually listened to the “Fraggle Rock Closing Theme” to see if it could be classed as a Steve song for this chart, but thankfully this song fits better regardless and also highlights the friendship between Wembley and Gobo which is central to the show. This song just makes me smile, it has a great country twang as so much of the “Fraggle Rock” music does. I find the way Steve sings as Wembley really interesting to listen to, but there’ll be more on that later! Honorable Mention: “Here to There” from Fraggle Rock
7. Take the First Step – Stuckweed from The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland
A couple of weeks ago, just after my list of Kevin Clash songs was published, I spotted this movie on TV, took a big gulp, and watched it for only the second time. It’s not as bad as I remember it, though I’m still not a huge fan for various reasons. However, this song really stood out so I’m glad that I’m able to feature it here so soon. There’s a great world music vibe to it that reminds of the “Tapestry of Nations” music from Walt Disney World, if anyone remembers it. To me, this sounds unlike any other voice I associate with Steve. There’s a natural progression from Rizzo to Wembley to Bean Bunny in my opinion and this voice seems to come out of left field so I really appreciate the diversity here. I love the gruffness to Stuckweed’s voice which I don’t usually hear from Steve. On another note, are these the scariest critters in the Muppetverse? That mole is enough to cause nightmares!! Honorable Mention: “Bop to the Top” from Studio DC: Almost Live! (yeah, I know)
6. I Had a Dream – Bean Bunny from The Tale of the Bunny Picnic (song starts at 2:48)
Here’s the aforementioned Bean Bunny in his debut performance. After I listened to “Bunny Go High and Go Low” for the Kevin Clash chart I remarked on Facebook that to me “Tale of the Bunny Picnic” felt like the “Fraggle Rock” special they never made. It has largely the same cast, writer and songwriters and is very definitely of that era which makes me happy. I really like the special and don’t watch it nearly enough. This song has a sweet message that I’m sure resonated with me when I watched it the first time! There are moments in this song where just occasionally I’m not sure that Bean really sounds like himself which could be a negative, but I actually quite like it because I think the reason is because Steve’s a better singer than Bean and that shows through. Honorable Mention: “Especially for You” from An Audience With…Kylie Minogue
5. One More Sleep ‘til Christmas – Kermit/Bob Cratchit from The Muppet Christmas Carol
As regular readers will know by now, I love Muppet Christmas songs so it’s no surprise that this has made it all the way to number five in my chart. The Muppet Christmas Carol is a fantastic movie, Christmas or otherwise. There’s a sense of heart and spirituality that is pure Muppets at their best. There is also a feeling of reverence and loss, as well as one of huge optimism and healing and I think it’s lightning in a bottle that the Muppets have never captured again. It’s a perfect marriage of backstage and onstage stories that combines so well. Steve gives Kermit soul to spare here. He really conveys the magic and wonder of Christmas Eve. Kermit could be quite vanilla in this movie, but he’s just full of personality. This whole sequence is shot beautifully and the shooting star at the end is loaded with meaning for Muppet fans. Honorable Mention: “Gypsy” from the Lady Gaga and the Muppets’ Holiday Spectacular
4. Pukka, Pukka, Pukka Squeetily Boink – Wembley from Fraggle Rock
This song really sums up what Wembley does best when it comes to music! As I said above, I find that vocally, Wembley is probably the most interesting to listen to out of the main Fraggle Five and Steve does a superb job with him here. I love the rasp that Wembley has in his voice as it gives him a really distinctive tone. The lyrics of “Pukka, Pukka…” take Wembley’s trademark scatting and turn them into the central part of the song. The words really are very clever here – the line “I believe in buried treasure falling from above” is pure brilliance. There’s a great 1920s jazz vibe to this song that I really like and I could imagine this being performed in New Orleans on Mardi Gras day. That said, this song is as much fun to watch as it is to listen to – Wembley’s dancing and playing of the wooden spoons is pure class, his backing singers are inspired and Red and Gobo’s reactions are priceless (especially Red when Wembley cosies up to her). Honorable Mention: “Be More Tea” from Lipton Tea Commercial
3. Free and High – Wembley and The Odd Old Man from Fraggle Rock
The fact that this song gives me an excuse to include Richard Hunt singing is really just a bonus. I think what I most like about this song (and why it’s placed so highly in the chart) is that musically, it gives Wembley a chance to play against type. As we’ve seen from his previous entries, Wembley’s calling cards are his nonsense sounds and somewhat silly songs whereas this is a ballad with a more serious theme. It also allows Steve to show off a different side to his voice and hit some great high harmonies. There’s a nice vibrato to Steve’s vocal here that’s not always present when he performs Wembley. I love the Fraggle Rock set for this number – as the show went on they really made an effort to create a larger Fraggle world and this is a real “sweeping vista” with the wind blowing through the plant life (and Wembley’s hair). Honorable Mention: “Love Led Us Here” from Muppet Treasure Island
2. Things that I Remember – Ernie and Bert from Sesame Street
Despite their differences and Ernie occasionally having the ability to test the patience of a Saint, he and Bert are the best of friends and really couldn’t imagine life without each other. It seems so fitting that Bert is finding Ernie annoying at the start of the song, but as the memories of their friendship come flooding back he is soon joining in. Although the audio on this video on YouTube is pretty clear, it’s a shame there isn’t a higher quality version around as the fun clips that accompany the song really do deserve to be shown off better. I’d never really picked up on it before, but there’s a subtle difference between Steve’s Ernie and Jim’s–so much so that when I clicked on a video of Jim performing Ernie during my research for this chart I could instantly tell the difference. I think Steve’s Ernie sounds a bit gentler and mellower and I kind of like it. He does a great job here so it goes without saying that once again his singing is note perfect and his performance is pitch perfect (even though I just did!) Honorable Mention: “Adding, Adding, Adding” from Sesame Street
1. Pictures in My Head – Kermit with Gonzo, Fozzie, Swedish Chef, Dr. Teeth and The Electric Mayhem from The Muppets
In my humble opinion, this is Steve’s shining moment as Kermit. And it’s not just me, when I asked my mother for her favorite Kermit songs the other day she listed “Rainbow Connection” and this one, citing the line “Even frogs have rainy days” as her favorite. As I put this chart together it struck me that both this song and the previous entry deal with the subject of memory and have a bittersweet feel to them. So what does it say about me that these are the top two songs? What I can tell you is that with The Muppets being released less than a year after my sister’s death, “Pictures in My Head” is the moment when Steve’s Kermit made me cry. Jim’s Kermit had done it to me on a couple of occasions, but this was when modern Kermit finally got me and for that reason, if no other, this song was always going to be number one on my chart. This isn’t just brilliantly sung – it’s a real tour de force acting-wise as well. Kermit is feeling every word of every line here and Steve must have taken real time and care over this track. It’s stunning.
And so there we have it: “The Not Very Definitive One Man’s Opinion Definitive Top 10 of Steve Whitmire”! It’s been a labour of love and has genuinely been the toughest chart I’ve had to put together since the Jim Henson one. So I want to say thank you to Steve for making my job so hard! Thank you for so much other stuff too: thank you for originating brilliant characters that bring a real sense of fun to whatever they’re appearing in, thank you for taking on the huge burden of responsibility of some of our favorite characters (it must have taken a lot of bravery), thank you for being an incredible ambassador for the Muppets and Muppeteers, thank you for coming to the London premiere of Muppets Most Wanted where me and my niece and nephew got to be in the same room as you and see you perform as Kermit! I could go on all day, but eventually the internet would run out of room so I’d better stop. I guess I really just want to say “Thank you” (I figured I could get away with one more)!
The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier, firstname.lastname@example.org