Kieran Moore – Sometimes two seemingly random things come together and make something amazing (if you don’t believe me Google “You got chocolate on my peanut butter!”), and that’s exactly what happened to me this week. First, I thought “Hey! Wouldn’t it be neat to feature some guest star performances in my Top 10 lists?” And second, it was my birthday on Sunday. So I thought it might be fun to combine these two things and since I was born in 1978 this seemed like the perfect mash-up chart.
1978 was a classic year for The Muppet Show (and the Muppets themselves) and covered the second half of season two and the first half of season three. It was a time when the show really blossomed and the characters developed into those we know and love today. It also featured some stellar guest stars – the show was now a bona fide success and big names were clamouring to get the worldwide exposure that appearing with The Muppets would bring. I also need to clarify, there is often confusion about original airdates for The Muppet Show and there really is no definitive list for this. For those of you that don’t know, The Muppet Show was produced by ATV here in the UK and then syndicated out across the country. The show was also syndicated in the US, so it’s really just layer after layer of confusion. For the purposes of this chart I’ve used the list here: http://www.epguides.com/MuppetShow/ as it seems to be using the original ATV dates. So, with the history portion of my chart done, let’s get on with it….
Tenth place on these lists is always the most hotly contested as I have to decide who makes the cut and who, ultimately, doesn’t. As much as I think Leo Sayer is a great vocalist, I will confess I’m not a huge fan (he is one of my Dad’s favorites though), but what makes this stand out for me is the incredible staging. The bird theme is inspired and surreal in the best Muppet tradition. Are the dancers humans in bird costumes or some kind of weird Muppet human/bird hybrid? We don’t know. It gives the whole thing a kind of strange other-worldly feel that actually puts me in mind of The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth, and that’s why it’s one of my top picks.
From my one of my Dad’s favorite singers to my Mother’s least favorite singer… ever! In this number Cleo shuns her usual jazz runs for a much simpler, straighter performance that is brilliantly funny. This shows that the joke of not being able to understand The Chef properly was as hilarious then as it is now. Cleo has a great rapport with the Muppets and based on this clip I think it’s a shame that she and The Chef didn’t get a spin-off cookery show. I know I’d have tuned in each week (even if I was a baby)! In all seriousness, my Mum’s feelings aside, based on this clip I’d like to have seen Cleo appear with the gang again at some point.
Yeah, I know you’re all thinking I picked the wrong Julie Andrews song, but I have my reasons and actually I think this is just as good as the more obvious choice. Obviously, I don’t need to say how amazing Julie Andrews is here. I could listen to her singing the phone book from Aaron A. Aaronson right through to the final piece of punctuation and never once be bored. Anytime Kermit appears onscreen in this number he steals the show for me, I’m not sure why, but I just find him hilarious here. It’s also worth noting that this is Annie Sue’s second appearance on the show, and that they are already pitching her as younger than Miss Piggy who was slowly becoming the “Grande Dame” of the show. While the topic of more female Muppets is still a hot one, it does seem the show’s creative team knew even then that they needed a more diverse roster of women and that Piggy and Janice couldn’t be all things to everyone.
By co-incidence this episode actually does include Annie Sue’s first appearance on The Muppet Show (though not in this number). “Crocodile Rock” is probably the best remembered of Elton’s performances and is the obvious choice for the chart, but I just love this song. From the show’s point of view this is essentially an Electric Mayhem number with a featured performer, but it really needs nothing else and provides a nice contrast from Elton’s wackier moments. Unsurprisingly, there’s nothing to fault in the vocal department and the Muppet performances are understated yet infinitely watchable. What more can you ask for?
And our run of performances by English singers comes to an end with this iconic performance by Raquel Welch and Miss Piggy. And let’s face it there is no shortage of iconic moments from Raquel’s appearance on the show. This song very nearly made my Frank Oz Top 10 list and I really do think it’s a great number. I guess it’s pretty timely to be including this feminist anthem as Miss Piggy just received a Sackler Center First Award which is given to women who have blazed a trail and been the first in their field. I guess as a farm animal Miss Piggy has been in her field for quite a while! This is a battle between two of 1978’s biggest divas and both Raquel and Piggy give as good as they get. I pronounce this number a draw!
I just couldn’t write a chart of 1978 songs without including this number, even though it appeared on my Louise Gold Top 10 six months ago. I just can’t get enough of this song. It has an incredibly beautiful melody and lyrics that are so tender and heartfelt. I guess I’m just a big softie. It’s fun to see Alice go against his crazy, rock-goth persona and sing something mellow, even if it does have a dark edge, and Louise’s harmonies just make me want to melt away. Phenomenally staged and sung, I will never run out of nice things to say about this fantastic piece of art.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again (because it’s relevant here) I’ve always loved this kind of music and I hold The Muppet Show directly responsible! I could listen to this on a 24 hour loop and would genuinely be quite happy! Here, Roy Clark, Lubbock Lou and the ever-popular Jughuggers prove that The Muppet Show was at least 30 years ahead of its time. After all, the split screen technique used for this song currently keeps YouTube in homemade music videos. It’s impossible not to smile when listening to this and I must say it also gets my word per minute rate up as well (thank goodness for spell check!) This is music that’s made to dance to even if it is just my fingers do-si-do-ing currently!
Every year I collect a few new Christmas songs that somehow have previously passed me by and in 2014’s batch was a song called “The Cherry Tree Carol”. Judy Collins’ version of it is probably my favorite and if you love Christmas music I commend you to find it. (She also does a pretty nifty cover of “Rainbow Connection”.) The Muppet Show is known for its craziness so I love moments like this because they are exactly what the casual viewer wouldn’t expect to see. I have a great fondness for folk music and traditional songs are some of the best you’ll hear – there’s a reason they’ve hung around after all. Judy has a crystal clear voice and is ably assisted by a great assortment of Muppet animals (one of which sounds suspiciously like Boober)!
Sadly, Manny Kaye was relegated to number 11 on this list so you’ll have to listen to this instead! Inchworm has been a favorite song of mine for years as I originally learnt it for my school choir about 30 years ago. This number also includes one of my favorite Muppet Show quotes, which I still use to this day when Danny asks if the gang can sing close harmony and Scooter replies, “No, but a near miss!” As a singer you’d be surprised how often it comes up! The Muppets have never sounded better as a group than they do here in my humble opinion. Those final harmonies are breathtaking. This song creates a real moment with which to close the show and contrasts brilliantly with the comedy of “Cheek to Cheek” and Danny’s skit as The Swedish Chef’s uncle. It’s a great reminder of the versatility of Danny Kaye, The Muppets, and the whole production in general.
Considering this song got a very big honourable mention in my Jerry Nelson chart it should come as no surprise that it is number one here. This has always been one of my favorite songs from the show’s whole run. From the very first time I heard it, it just stood out as quality. It’s a meeting of musical minds and is just two (though technically I guess three) musicians creating magic. It feels like that special moment when performers somehow come together and sparks fly. Sometimes they just catch lightning in a bottle. Pearl and Jerry are just perfect together and they’re riffing and bouncing off of each other with the kind of skills that only come when a performer is at the top of his or her game. It just feels electric.
So I hope you’ve enjoyed this romp through the archives of The Muppet Show as much as I have. Every single one of these performances is amongst the finest ever Muppet moments in my opinion and the list of songs that didn’t make the cut could fill a whole other chart on its own. Sadly, not all of these stars are still with us (and bizarrely James Coco and Danny Kaye died within a week of each other), but all deserve our gratitude for their undeniably incredible work with the Muppets. Thanks guys, wherever you are…