The Top Ten Songs of… Matt Vogel

Kieran Moore – For today’s chart we’re going to look at a Muppeteer from the recent group of Muppet performers, who I would consider to be one of the current Muppet performers MVPs. Matt Vogel is not just a great Muppeteer, he’s also a first-class musician, actor, and director and these are all skills he has brought to the Muppet table (to slightly skew a cliché). However, this isn’t the only reason that he’s so important to fans today – he’s picked up the mantle of several classic characters (primarily those of Jerry Nelson such as Floyd, Robin, and Count Von Count) and kept them alive for us and new generations to come. On top of all of that he’s also originated some brilliantly memorable characters including one who arguably could go down as one of the greatest ever Muppets! But, I’m getting ahead of myself…

Some of the videos linked to this week aren’t the best quality I’m afraid. If you own copies of some of the more obscure choices here please upload them! Thanks!

hqdefault10.   Journey to Ernie Song – Big Bird & Ernie from Sesame Street (song starts at 3:20)
Okay, so this song is very slight with a running time of only around 30 seconds, but it’s still a lot of fun and it gives me the chance to mention the sterling work Matt does as Big Bird’s understudy performer. He’s quite often a pair of “legs for hire” performing to Caroll Spinney’s vocal track, but he does occasionally provide the voice as well, as is the case for this clip. In my humble opinion performing like this must be harder than taking on a character whose main performer has stepped down. In that case you get the opportunity to a certain extent to make the character your own. Here, as Caroll is still around it’s important that Matt doesn’t show where one performer starts and another one stops. I think Matt is fantastic as Big Bird and does a superb job both in terms of characterization and voice. The “la, la, la, la, la” during the song in particular takes me back to mid-80s Big Bird and that makes me happy!

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9.   Number of the Day – Count Von Count and the Sesame Street Cast from Sesame Street
This is another song that’s short, but most definitely sweet. It seems the Count must be into House (or should that be Castle?) Music and this “banging” tune wouldn’t sound out of place in most clubs. Surely it can’t be long before someone samples this if they haven’t already? I love the super-serious vocal delivery here as it really suits the song style as well as the character of Count Von Count who is deathly serious when it comes to numbers. As I listen to this song I’m enjoying it more and more and every week after I compile a chart one song seems to stay with me so this could well be it! Finally, why does it bother me so much that when they show the cast’s feet that they’re not quite in the right places?

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8.   Rootin’ Tootin’ Hootin’ Hollerin’ Jamboree – Elmer & Elmo from Sesame Street: Kids Favorite Country Songs (song starts at 4:00)
Who’d have guessed Elmo’s cousin would look and sound a lot like Elmo?! Although I wouldn’t claim to have an encyclopaedic knowledge of the genre, I blame the Muppets for the love of Country Music that I do have as they have a real history of not just performing the music themselves, but featuring some of its greatest stars as guests on various shows. I really like Matt’s country twang here and his performance is full of gusto. I’m always impressed at anyone who can sing convincingly at Elmo’s pitch and Matt does a great job, every bit as good as Kevin Clash as far as I’m concerned. There are some great harmonies on display here and the supporting players are really giving it their all. Oh, and the chicken is hilarious too!

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7.   Blue Danube Waltz – Camilla and the Pitch-Perfect Poultry Orchestra with Gonzo from “Classical Chicken” Viral Video
I just love these viral videos! I mentioned last week when I spoke about “Ode to Joy” that the beauty of these sketches is that they feel like a modern day extension of the old “Muppet Show” days in that they have a timeless quality whilst still feeling up to date. This video for example is 7 years old and is still as relevant now as it was then. According to Muppet Wiki this is Matt’s first performance as Camilla (though I think most Muppeteers perform a chicken or two as they climb the ranks) and straight out of the gate it’s perfect. There’s a lot to look at here, but there’s no doubt that Camilla is the star of the show. I love the concern she has when her egg rolls away and the subsequent relief when Gonzo rescues it. This is comedy gold!

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6.   You Learn Something New Every Million Years – Herb with Rosita & Zoe from Sesame Street (song starts at 2:30)
I just love Herb’s voice! He’s got a fun gruff New York accent that seems so unusual for a dinosaur and yet just perfect for this character. I’ve been trying to think what a dinosaur should sound like so that that last point makes sense, but I’m not sure. I guess they’re better associated with California and in my head at least they have a “valley” accent. Anyway, I’m straying from the point. Herb really needs a hat and cane for this lively number which is guaranteed to get your toes tapping. The joke about Tyrannosaurs being extinct is a lot of fun considering one of the main points of the episode seems to be that Herb and his cousin Shirley are the only two dinosaurs left. It’s hard to tell from a YouTube video, but I assume some trickery is at work here to allow Herb to be so much bigger than Rosita and Zoe – either way Matt is great as Herb and I wish we saw more of him.

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5.   Forget You – Camilla and the Chickens from The Muppets
And for song number 5 we’re back hen side with Camilla and Co. Firstly, this song is straight up hilarious – what a great way to get around having to censor the lyrics of the song (a trick they also used with Beaker in “Smells Like Teen Spirit”). Secondly, this just feels so much like something that would have appeared on “The Muppet Show” that it fits perfectly. And lastly, I’m sure this must be a tribute to “Baby Face” and it makes me feel eternally happy that the movie’s writers were fans enough to include a reference, however indirect, to a song that was performed at Jim’s memorial service. I’ve seen this song referred to as “Cluck You” which I love and Camilla is such a star in this number it’s easy to see why Gonzo fell for her. Matt brings so much life to what is essentially a very simple puppet that it’s astounding. There’s also the full audio version.

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4.   When the River Meets the Sea – Robin, Kermit and Jimmy Fallon from Late Night with Jimmy Fallon
The original version of this song was on my Christmas chart in December and I’m so pleased I get to include it again here. This is just such a special song and Robin is the perfect character to sing it. We don’t see enough of Robin these days and that’s a shame so I’m very pleased that he’s in the hands of a performer as skilled as Matt so when he does appear we at least get quality over quantity. I guess to a certain extent Robin raises questions about Kermit’s family which is why it can be easier to side line him sometimes. This is a great performance of a classic song and Matt sounds amazing as Robin. I have to single him out for his superb harmonies. I wish I were Jimmy Fallon getting to sing this song with the world’s two most famous frogs – some guys get all the luck!

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3.   I’m Number One – Constantine & Dominic Badguy from Muppets Most Wanted
If you add “Number One” and “Number Two” what do you get? That’s right – number three! This song sadly seems to get forgotten in amongst some of the other more obvious “Muppets Most Wanted” songs like “Something so Right” and “We’re Doing a Sequel”, but that’s purely because of the level of musical excellence on display in that movie and not because of the quality of this song. Both Constantine and Matt were recipients at this year’s inaugural “Snuffy Awards” given out by toughpigs.com and with performances like this it’s easy to see why. When I first saw the movie this scene stood out as a tour de force of puppetry, the second time I saw the movie this scene stood out as a tour de force of puppetry, the third time I saw the movie… you get the idea! Suffice to say I really do think the Matt excelled himself here and this really is one of the best parts of the whole movie for me. My nephew Jared loves this song and depending on the day of the week will tell you that Constantine is his favorite Muppet. That says it all really.

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2.   Counting the “You”s in YouTube – Count Von Count from Sesame Street’s YouTube Channel
I remember when this video came out around six months after the passing of Jerry Nelson and I think most Muppet fans had mixed emotions as they clicked the link to watch this video. There was of course sadness at the passing of Jerry, but also interest in how Matt would fare as the Count and joy that despite losing his original performer Count Von Count was taking his rightful place celebrating “Sesame Street” getting 1 Billion views on YouTube. I know that there was plenty of discussion about how successfully Matt had managed to portray the Count with some falling on either side, but I seem to remember the general response being largely positive. Nowadays most of the YouTube comments seem to say how much he sounds like Constantine which actually makes me happy for Matt knowing that one of his original characters is so well known. This song also puts a smile on my face as the Count gets more and more manic as the song speeds up and gets faster. I think it’s a stroke of genius making the current viewer the Billionth – it might not be true, but it’s a great way to increase the interactive feeling of YouTube. This is flat out a fantastic vocal performance – whatever your thoughts on whether or not this sounds like the Count I think we can all agree that Matt is and exceptional singer.

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1.   I’ll Get You What You Want (Cockatoo in Malibu) – Constantine from Muppets Most Wanted
Along with “Something So Right” this is the song from “Muppets Most Wanted” that I feel most aggrieved for Oscar-wise. The Academy loves a love song and this fitted the bill perfectly. This is surely Constantine’s finest moment to date. I love the fact that on top of being a great style of music to parody this soul number is just out of date enough to be a pop-culture point of reference for a long-incarcerated frog. I’ve said it a lot during this chart, but this is another song that is just pure fun and Matt is clearly having a ball here. It’s the perfect match of song, character and performer in my opinion in a similar manner to that of Rainbow Connection/Kermit/Jim Henson or Mr Bass Man/Scooter/Richard Hunt. To me it’s on that level of synchronicity. I hope Constantine sticks around like Walter did (in fact more so to be completely honest) and his cameo in the “Snuffy Awards” video gives me hope for what could be done in the future. Matt was pure class as Constantine during his promotional duties for “Muppets Most Wanted” and I got a real kick out of seeing him close up when I was lucky enough to attend the London Premiere of the film.

So it only remains for me to wrap up this chart by saying my now traditional HUGE “thank you” to Matt for everything he’s brought to the Muppets. Not only has he given us truly memorable, “award-winning” original characters that will live on forever, he’s also allowed characters first created by other performers to continue to live on for generations to come. That’s pretty huge when you think about it. So thank you Matt for all of the above and for your superb work behind the camera as well. You’ll probably never know just how much it means to us and to me and to my nephew who says “nailed it” at least 10 times a day! Thank you.

The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier, muppetmindset@gmail.com

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