Kieran Moore – A few weeks ago, I watched a TV show here in the UK called “Frank Oz: In Confidence” which was an extended interview where he discussed a whole range of topics including his early years, relationship with Jim Henson, Directorial work and what he thinks of the Muppets currently. One of the things that really stood out for me was Frank’s assertion that the voice is only “10% of the character” – not because I think he’s wrong, but because as I compile these charts each week, I often judge the singing ahead of the actual physical performance, especially if I’m torn between two songs. With Frank’s comments ringing in my ears I set about compiling this chart and I’m happy to say that for the most part (there are a some exceptions) the songs presented are here for their brilliant performances as much as their vocals. Frank also talks about how he tackles a new character the same way an actor (rather than a puppeteer) might, by working out a biography and really getting to know them inside and out. I think that extra work is very much in evidence in the songs below and in the parts Frank portrayed in general, as each of his signature characters is multi-layered and interesting.
And speaking of interesting, if you want to seek it out, the “Frank Oz: In Confidence” interview is available online (so much for the “In Confidence” part!) I won’t link to it as I’m not sure whether legally it’s supposed to be, but it’s easy to find and a very, very worthwhile watch.
In my humble opinion, Animal always seems like the non-Muppet fan’s favorite Muppet. His character is very easy to latch on to and he is often the punch line to whatever the joke happens to be. He’s appears on a lot of merchandise as he can be visually versatile and appeal to a wide audience. On the face of it Frank’s more animalistic characters such as Animal (obviously) or Cookie Monster are the most one-note, but that’s really not the case. This track obviously plays to Animal’s more hedonistic tendencies, but as we know he can actually be pretty sweet and is most definitely one of the good guys, coming to the Muppets rescue with alarming frequency. This is a suitably raucous performance and I love Animal’s change of lyrics to “I think I love me” – talk about adding a layer to a character. I guess you have to have a big ego to be a rock star…
I guess if you ever needed to show the extent of Frank’s range this video and the last would be the ideal way to do so. I don’t think you could find two characters from the same performer more different than Animal and Bert. This is the first time on this chart that we get to look at Frank and Jim work together (there will be more) and as always they are fantastic to watch. This song also illustrates one of the defining qualities of Bert & Ernie (and Sesame Street itself) in that it addresses issues of diversity and how friendship can blossom in spite of how different we are. The importance of being able to see things from another’s point of view and learning to appreciate why they have those feelings cannot be overstated. It’s a lesson that needs to be taught constantly. It also shows us that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. This is quite a simple song, but Frank delivers it superbly.
I put this song in this chart just for the halibut! Fozzie and Rowlf are two of The Muppet Show’s funniest characters and this song is genuinely hilarious. Rowlf’s acerbic wit is the perfect counterpoint to Fozzie’s pun-based humor and whenever they are paired together the sparks really fly. A bit like Frank and Jim I guess. As Fozzie, Frank has a really great singing voice and is fantastic here. The jokes might fall flat, but the singing sure doesn’t. Whilst vocally this is excellent it’s also a lot of fun to watch, as Frank pulls out all of the things that make Fozzie so expressive from his wide arm gestures to wiggling ears. This whole number is masterful – well sung, well performed and funny. Why isn’t it number One?
Before we discuss this song, I just want to say how shocked I was in this clip to hear Long John Silver say “Where’s the bloody treasure?”, as in the UK that line was changed to “blasted treasure” (bloody is a mild curse word here). I had no idea it had been censored! Anyway, Muppet Treasure Island seems to be quite divisive amongst fans, but I’ve always enjoyed it. It helps that I’ve always been a sucker for the “Treasure Island” story. Heck, I’d even list “Treasure Planet” as one of my favorite Disney movies! It also helps that I love the music (this is one of only Two Muppet soundtracks I own officially – not including the new movies). I think this might be Kermit and Piggy’s first proper duet in a movie without other characters or a chorus joining in. This is a grown up love song and it works just as well outside of the movie as it does when sung by a pig and a frog. In the interview I mentioned above, Frank says that he is neurotic like Piggy and Jim is easy going like Kermit. I guess that symbiosis between performer and character is one of the reasons their relationship has kept people engaged for so long. It adds a layer of believability to them. This song has some great harmonies and is a real highlight in the Kermit/Piggy relationship for me.
I’m not sure if it’s the combination of full-body and hand puppets or something else, but this song has always stood out as memorable for me. It helps that it’s a fun, happy song, but there’s something more to it that I can’t quite put my finger on. Perhaps it’s simply Frank’s performance that lures me in? According to Muppet Wiki (and they would know) this is Frank’s only lead vocal as a one-off character throughout The Muppet Show’s Five seasons which I think is a shame. This song sounds just like Frank and yet totally different from his usual characters (I guess there’s shades of Bert if you really listen). It’s a superb vocal that has a nice sweet touch to it and I really think based on this performance that Frank could have had a respectable career as a singer in another life. He works wonders with a very simple puppet that has little to no expression and I just can’t stop smiling when I watch him. The Gingerbread Dancers are performed by Jim, Jerry Nelson, Richard Hunt and Dave Goelz – I’d love to know who is who!
I know the show “Muppet Babies” isn’t loved by everyone, but it was a big part of my Saturday morning routine back in the 80s. I don’t know too many people who dislike their puppet appearances, as seen here and in “Muppet Family Christmas” though. I probably saw the cartoon show on TV before I saw this movie as from memory I think my first viewing of Muppets Take Manhattan was a home video release. I loved seeing my favorite characters having fun and interacting with all those great movie clips so both incarnations get my seal of approval. I’ve always loved the songs from Muppets Take Manhattan and this one was in heavy rotation on my iPod for a while thanks to its inclusion on the “Music, Mayhem & More” anniversary CD. The lyrics are clever and funny and the boogie-woogie piano is hard to resist. All of the performers do a great job as their usual character’s younger selves and the Muppeteering throughout this scene is extremely well done. However, Frank is definitely the star of the show. His vocal as a young Piggy is perfectly sweet yet sassy and he hits notes that no man should be able to reach!
When I start researching these charts I usually write a short list of the songs that I particularly associate with the performer in question as a way to start things off. This week, C is For Cookie was one of the songs from that list that simply couldn’t be topped by anything I found later. I was worried it was a bit obvious, but as I watched it again I quickly realised that there really is no better song to represent Cookie Monster than this. It’s an absolute classic. I love the way Cookie exclaims “Oooohhhhhh!” during the verse and Frank puts so much gusto into this ode to baked goods that it’s hard to disagree that a cookie really is “good enough for me”. Frank also does a great job making Cookie Monster so expressive. I always think it’s a little easier with live-hand Muppets as they can use their arms to help indicate their mood, but regardless of that, this performance is full of big and little moments that show just how Cookie Monster feels and I love it!
Tu Me Gustas appeared a few weeks ago on my Carmen Osbahr chart, but this is far and away my favorite version of the song. In fact, in other weeks a performance I enjoy this much may well have been number One. Grover was always my favorite Sesame Street character and in fact still is. I’m sure it’s his lovableness that does it; however I do think that “The Monster At The End of This Book” is a contributing factor too. I can’t find a single negative thing to say about him – he even shares his birthday with one of my nephews! This sweet serenade of a song is pure Grover – he has a big heart and he wears it on his sleeve as is shown here to great effect. Oscar is the perfect foil for him and adds a nice element of comedy to stop things getting too sickly. Of course, when Oscar says he “hated it” I guess that would mean he actually ended up enjoying it! Frank’s vocals here as Grover are exceptionally good. I love his voice cracks and soft, tender, emotion-filled performance.
The term classic has been used several times already on this chart, but there really are very few words that sum up Movin’ Right Along any better. Discounting “The Comedian’s a Bear” (which isn’t really a song), I can’t think of any other audio piece that showcases just how well Frank and Jim work together. This really is perfection. From the song writing talents of Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher, to the superb comedy writing of Jerry Juhl and Jack Burns, the stunning Directorship of James Frawley and finally two awesome performances from Frank and Jim, this is definitely Muppet magic at its best. The singing is snazzy and perfectly timed and heaps of fun. I love that Kermit and Fozzie get to have this moment together in the movie before things get too crowded. This song featured almost every time I made a mix tape for a long car journey back in my younger years and it’s a great one to sing along with, but then all of The Muppet Movie’s songs are!
At first glance this might seem like an odd choice for the number One position, especially given the song at number Two, but before you judge, I urge you to watch the video. This in my humble opinion shows what I would consider to be the essence of Miss Piggy. She’s an entertainer, pure and simple. She loves the limelight and the idea of fame, but more than that Piggy likes to perform, and ham jokes aside she’s actually pretty good at it. She has that rare mix of performance “chops” (Ha!) and star quality, and it’s all on show here. The song starts as a thoughtful and relaxed ditty, but builds to become a tour de force of singing, dancing and piano playing. For all of Rowlf’s quips, the audience is clearly loving it, and so quite frankly am I. The way Frank makes Piggy move with booty shakes and high kicks is just brilliant and the vocal shift halfway through from soft and melodic to daring diva is nothing short of perfection. In Miss Piggy, Frank has created a wonderfully layered character and several of those layers can be seen here. He’s truly a master in characterization and Piggy is his finest example.
So there you have it. On the face of it, a chart of Frank Oz’s top 10 musical performances seemed like an almost impossible task, but actually I found this one of the easier charts to put together as pretty much every song I listened to was phenomenal and that allowed me to really make this list all about personal choice rather than what was available. So I’d like to thank Frank (hey, that rhymes!) for making this trip through the archives such a joy. I also want to thank him for the fantastic work he’s done as an actor, not just as a Muppeteer, it makes his characters shine and soar. I want to thank him for his amazing partnership with Jim Henson – they were the perfect couple (professionally speaking) and finally, I want to thank him for holding the Muppets so dear to his heart and for wanting to preserve and honor what makes them so special. That really means a lot to this Muppet fan at least. So, Thank You Frank for all of the above and much, much more. Thank You.