Top 10 Songs of… Martin P. Robinson

Kieran Moore – Sometimes these top 10 countdowns are so easy to produce and other times they are so, so tough. This was certainly one of the more difficult ones… Martin P. Robinson has been a Muppeteer for over 30 years and as such has a huge back catalog of work to go through. I’ll admit that doing so was an absolute pleasure, but it made choosing just 10 songs almost impossible! Whilst the top five songs were always going to be part of this list, every song from 6-10 has been listened and re-listened to and had to fight for its place. This was definitely not a chart where I had to start scraping the bottom of the Muppet barrel. Martin is quite frankly a fantastic singer; he has appeared in several stage musicals and listening to the songs on this chart is testament to just how good he is. He has performed a huge range of characters on Sesame Street and whenever they burst into song you know you’re in for a treat.

As I put the finishing touches to this list I was struck by how many musical styles there are here. It’s not just a myriad of characters that Martin is able to perform brilliantly; it’s also a plethora of musical genres. We’re about to hear ballads of the rock and heartfelt variety, a little bit of Polka, a folk tune and some Latin beats. There aren’t many Muppeteers around who can sound equally at home with all of that!

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10.   Six Penguins in My Shirt – Telly Monster from Sesame Street
Before we discuss this song I’d like to give a shout out to the track that came a very close 11th place on the chart and that’s “On Top of Spaghetti” by Snuffy. It really only lost out because it’s such a simple song and ultimately how could I not include a piece called “Six Penguins in My Shirt”? This might be the most random thing Sesame Street has ever done! On paper this sounds like the last idea a writer throws out on a Friday afternoon, desperately trying to get home on time and yet it totally fits and works and in actuality is pure brilliance! There’s a rock/blues edge to this song which is reinforced by Telly’s gruff vocal performance. This sounds like it could have appeared on the soundtrack to the movie “The Commitments.” Telly reminds me a little of The Trash Heap here in the way he is puppeteered which is kind of fun. The penguins are also great, with Gwendolyn coming close to stealing the show!

SnufflePolka

9.   Snuffleupagus Polka – Mr. Snuffleupagus and Alice Snuffleupagus from Sesame Street
Who doesn’t love a bit of Polka? Okay, so I’ll admit most of my Polka knowledge comes from being a “Weird Al” fan, but it still counts, doesn’t it? Either way, this song is a lot of fun and very infectious. The Snuffleupagus puppets are amazing aren’t they? So large and yet so expressive, I could watch them all day. This song gives me a chance to pay a little respect to Alice as well – Judy Sladky is on fine form here (as always). I’m slightly in awe of the way dancers perform full-bodied puppets, they seem to have a different sensibility to that of the regular Muppeteers. If you’d asked me 30 years ago I’d have listed Snuffy as a top 5 favorite Sesame Street character. I’m not sure that’s true now, but I still think he’s super and I wish there was more of him on this chart (but don’t worry, he’ll be back!)

OnceIsNotEnough

8.   Once is Not Enough – Anything Muppet Family from Sesame Street
Once truly is not enough, and this song has a great message that still holds true today. I do love the way that Sesame Street passes on these lessons to kids in an engaging way with things like big sing along choruses and humor. It’s certainly less heavy handed than it could have been elsewhere. Before we talk about Martin’s performance here, is anyone else getting a “Let it Be” vibe here? I think it has the same chord structure and you could feasibly sing it over the top of this song. I feel a mashup coming on… The song demands a strong vocal and that’s just what we get from Martin. As a performer you can really get your teeth into a song like this (which is ironic as according to Muppet Wiki the puppet he’s performing was once a dentist!) I have a feeling this will be the song I’m humming for the next few days…

ThreeSidesNow

7.   Three Sides Now – Telly Monster from Sesame Street
As a parody of “Both Sides Now” it’s appropriate that this song sounds older than it actually is, but I was shocked to see that it is from as relatively recently as 1995, it really has 1970s Sesame Street written all over it. So much so that I was concerned this song was pre-Martin and couldn’t be included. Although not strictly a folk group, my a Capella trio gets booked for a lot of folk festivals so I have a growing appreciation for the genre. Putting Telly’s vocals aside for a moment the musical accompaniment is terrific here with its soaring flute and lilting guitar. It would be perfectly possible to enjoy this as an instrumental piece. However, add in a passionate performance from Martin as Telly which starts soft and then grows in wonderment and this song is elevated to something very special indeed. I firmly believe that on other charts both this song and the proceeding one could have charted higher.

HaceFrio

6.   Hace Frio! – Telly Monster and Cast from Sesame Street
This song has been bounced around the chart, but has finally landed here in sixth place. This Latin Jazz musical style could be considered too sophisticated on other children’s shows, but sits perfectly well on Sesame Street with its policy of embracing and sharing other cultures and in particular the Hispanic community. The arrangement of this song allows the vocals to shine in the verses and it really highlights the raspy nature of Telly’s voice. Technically this is probably one of Martin’s biggest vocal challenges on this chart as the music doesn’t necessarily point the singer in the right direction and encourages a level of improvisation that whilst fun is perhaps not what is required in a performance of this type. The juxtaposition of using a hot, spicy musical style to teach us about the cold is quite clever and just goes to show the level of thought they put into creating Sesame Street.

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5.   Pear – Dinner Theatre Family from Sesame Street
Here’s a number from that “hippy dippy rock n roll musical – Pear”. This is one of two fruit-based songs that I considered for this chart. The other was the “Mango Tango” and it probably ranked 12th overall. This one however, did make the cut and it’s mostly for that great singalong chorus and Martin’s superb performance. The speaking parts are wonderfully characterized and the singing is a great rock vocal that really hits the nail on the head. I’ve mentioned it previously, but the gruffness in Martin’s voice (as can be heard in his performances as Snuffy and Telly) is perfect for a rock track like this. I wonder if when the songwriters got together to create this song they had a conference? (Wocka Wocka!)

I-Am-Your-Friend

4.   I Am Your Friend – Telly Monster & Bob from Sesame Street
Okay, so I’m a sucker for a heartfelt ballad and this is one of the best that Sesame Street has to offer (I can neither confirm nor deny that there will be at least one more in this chart). Bob was, and still is, one of my favorite humans on the street and he’s a fantastic singer as is evidenced by his many, many hit recordings and his top-flight music career in the 60s. Telly’s fretful nature makes him the ideal target for songs of comfort and the message of friendship here is just what is required. We all need a friend like Bob. Martin’s puppeteering in this number is what earned this song its top five place on the chart. It just melts my heart every time I watch it. Little things like the movement of Telly’s eyelids or a touch of his hand express such meaning and make the character come alive. This is a master class in the subtlety of puppeteering.

Tellyspacefriend

3.   My Outer Space Friend – Telly Monster from Sesame Street
This song and the next one have been placed together on the chart as I think they work really neatly together. I’d recommend listening to them back to back, one after the other rather than leaving a gap. This song feels spiritually like it would be an Ernie number usually, but I think the fact that Telly is singing it makes it all the more special. As with his previous entry this shows off his sweeter side. Telly’s a monster that wears his heart on his sleeve so it’s nice to see him expressing himself alone when there’s no-one (but the viewer) to express his feelings to. It makes it so much more intimate and personal. This song is floaty and light and Martin’s singing follows suit. This might just be the perfect lullaby!

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2.   Shapes in My Room – Telly Monster from Sesame Street
I know this song is completely unrelated to the previous one, but I think they work so well together that they feel like companion pieces. In the last song, Telly sang himself to sleep and here he wakes up ready and raring to go and full of enthusiasm for one of his favorite things – shapes! This is Telly’s second shape-based song on the chart and it’s so upbeat and joyous! The “be-doo-be-doos” are so catchy and just scream happiness. Telly is simply busting out all over and it’s impossible not to join in. Martin is clearly having a blast and that pours into his performance as Telly and then on to us, the viewers. Now that we’re at the number 2 position and I’m about to announce top place I’d like to take a moment to briefly mention two songs that didn’t quite make the cut due to Martin’s limited (though very good) involvement. Both are excellent. The two songs are “My Triangle” with James Blunt and “Telly’s Aquarium” which is a great parody of “Aquarius” (a song I already love). Had Martin/Telly had more lines in each they’d have certainly been included. Perhaps if I ever do a Sesame Street parody chart…

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1.   One Little Star – Mr Snuffleupagus, Big Bird, & Olivia from Follow That Bird
I knew from the start that this song would appear on the chart, but I really didn’t plan to put it at number one because of Snuffy’s limited role. As a general rule I like the first place song to be just the Muppeteer in question, but as I listened to this song again in order to work out their placements I just knew that I had to put this in pole position. Follow That Bird feels like a defining moment from my childhood and this song along with the Grouch Anthem (see my Caroll Spinney chart) is probably my favorite moment from the whole movie. I remember feeling for Big Bird more in this sequence than anywhere else in the film and with what happens later on that’s a pretty bold statement. I think this song and definitely the movie is what led me to count Snuffy as a favorite Sesame character for many years. In fact, he’s still right up there. This song was written by Jeff Moss who was one of the Muppet-verse’s secret MVP’s having won Emmys, Grammys and gaining an Oscar nomination for his work with the gang. Sadly, he’s no longer with us, but this song stands as a beautiful tribute to him and his work. Unfortunately, it also has to play the same function for Alaina Reed Hall, who performed the character of Olivia, as she passed away in 2009. Her vocals here are delicate yet full of emotion. This three-handed song is a thing of beauty – graceful and elegant yet powerful and rousing it is genuinely one of the best Muppet songs ever in my opinion and deserves to be up there with “Rainbow Connection” and “I’m Going to Go Back There Someday”. Martin’s voice blends brilliantly with Caroll’s and Alaina’s and this is probably Snuffy’s best vocal to date.

Whether it’s a slightly neurotic monster or a sweet-natured Snuffleupagus, Martin’s characters have a purity that makes them so easy to love. So thank you Martin for giving us characters we can really feel for, thank you for your ability to imbue whatever you do with a sense of soul and believability, thank you for your wild and crazy hair, but most of all thank you for giving me a moment in “One Little Star” that means so much. It truly is so very special to me. Thank You.

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

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