Kieran Moore – A few days ago I unexpectedly found myself in the position of planning a summer road trip and as with all things in my life I asked the question “What would Kermit Do?” He’s certainly no stranger to a road trip or two – I think Muppet Christmas Carol might be the only Muppet movie not to feature Kermit travelling somewhere. I figured based on his previous exploits he’d pack up the gang and make a show of it and that show forms the basis for this week’s chart.
To qualify for a place in this chart all the songs had to reference a US state, town, city etc. and be performed purely by Muppets as Kermit isn’t taking any guest stars with him. I’m presenting the songs in a rough east to west order as that seems most Muppety to me, but the big question is will they end up in Hollywood? Let’s find out…
Despite its position here in 10th place (New York is the furthest east we’re travelling) this is actually the first song I thought of for this chart. I think Ol’ Brown Ears is Back could be my favorite Muppet album ever. Presented as an intimate evening with Rowlf, every song shows another side to his character and is sung as perfectly as this one. It’s pretty much impossible to find now, but the whole thing is on YouTube and I implore you to seek it out if you’ve never heard it. New York State of Mind also features on The Muppet Show where it’s performed by Floyd. It’s also a great version and it’s hard to imagine anything beating a soft, soulful Jerry Nelson song, but Rowlf has done it with this excellent track.
Another classic at a woefully low position on the chart (whose idea was this east to west thing?) The Country Trio are quite rightly legendary amongst Muppet fans and were originally created in 1972 to appear on a Perry Como variety show. This performance by Jim Henson couldn’t be more different from the one above and makes me appreciate just how versatile he is as a performer. This can’t be an easy sing for either him or Jerry with its tongue-twister style lyrics, but they both pull it of with aplomb. I love the bluegrass sound here, but what really catches me about the arrangement is the thumping bass line. It could be heavy rock in places! After two songs from northern states I guess it’s time for Kermit and Co. to head south, but it seems they’re not the only ones…
I’m not going to lie. The songs I’d choose for positions one, two and three are all here at eight, nine and ten thanks to geography! There are a multitude of reasons why I love this song. First, how amazing does it look? It’s dark and moody and evokes a hot, southern night. The special effects on the Devil when he’s playing his solo are pretty cool and make him look genuinely menacing. Second, it sounds incredible. It’s sung fantastically, but the real props have to go to the fiddle player who is definitely earning his or her wages here with a virtuoso performance. Third, I have great memories of watching this clip on the “Muppet Moments” home video that came out in the 80s which my family rented a lot. Fourth, at the time that video was released (1985) I was having a very brief and very unsuccessful dalliance with the violin and, although it wasn’t for me, I thought I was as good as Johnny. Fifth, “Tribute” by Tenacious D is one of me and my brother’s karaoke standards and it was clearly influenced by this song. Ok, so that’s a bit of a lame one, but it still counts!
We’re only going one state over for this one. This song uses one of Jim’s favorite ways to end a sketch by having penguins tossed randomly through the air. The only way an ending could only be more Muppety is if Sweetums came on at the end and started clubbing them or Crazy Harry blew up the boat! It seems that quite often one of the most successful types of humor on the Muppet Show was to take two seemingly different things and put them together. To fuse a Tin Pan Alley song about a train with the pilgrims going to Plymouth Rock is genius. When you make those pilgrims penguins it just makes it even more surreal. I always like it when the Muppets sing a song at sea as it adds an extra bit of suspension of belief – we know the stage isn’t flooded with water and yet they’re clearly not behind some cardboard waves as they would be on a real vaudeville stage. I can only imagine how tricky puppeteering those penguins must have been with all those fast mouth movements, but the gang do a superb job.
We’re heading north for our next song – all the way up to the village of Winnetka in Illinois. This song is short and sweet, but what it lacks in length it makes up for in quality. Floyd just exudes cool in this number (naturally) and even the criminally un-hip Nigel gets to show he’s not as square as he sometimes seems. Nigel seems like a strange choice here and perhaps Kermit or Scooter might have been a more natural fit? Nowadays it’s a role that Walter was born to play and would be the way I could see him fitting in with the gang in future. Also, just a quick note for Floyd’s super-smooth suit – it really brings out his eyebrows!
We’ve come way back down south to Mississippi for this next number. Sitting here at my desk in the summer heat I quite fancy taking a dip in some cooling Mississippi mud! I love the fact that this song rolls along so quickly at breakneck speed. It’s a lot of fun and greatly remembered for its interesting staging. I’ll admit I’m one of those people that sometimes gets freaked out by seeing Muppets walking or standing full length, but I’ve never had a problem with sitting Muppets so it’s fun to see these guys foot-stomping away. From the first time I watched this episode the use of real mud always made this song stand out. I dread to think what state those puppets were in by the end of the day!
This is another “Alabamy Bound” style mash up of ideas. Two disparate concepts – Oklahoma’ cowboys and Japan’s martial arts – come together as the chorus goes from “Oklahoma” to “Yokohama”. It’s a term I’ve already used elsewhere, but this really is comedy genius. Musically, if I’m being critical I don’t think this mix up works quite as well as some others, but the performances are great. The dancers are lively and full of beans and Frank Oz is hilarious. Giving this number to Fozzie (who rarely seems to know what’s going on onstage) is a brilliant idea and fits his character perfectly.
Well we’ve gone a long way west in the space of one song, but here we are in Hollywood. After the lunacy of Oklahoma we’re going from the ridiculous to the sublime. One of the things I’ve always loved about the Muppets is their softer, more refined moments. Whether it be a paired down arrangement like “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” from the “Christmas Together” album or soft, stunning harmonies on simple songs like the “Long, Long Ago Medley”, they have a delicate touch that is unsurpassed. I also like to see the gang getting together as friends and fellow performers. It adds a layer of realism. A group of artistes might hang around a piano and jam a little at the end of a show so this makes perfect sense in the “real world”. The performances here are subtle, yet funny and the interactions between the characters show a good-natured camaraderie that’s hard not to love. If you watch only one piece of promotion for The Muppet Movie this year, make it this one.
Just a (frog) hop, skip and jump from Hollywood is Malibu and that’s where we find our first song on this chart from a Muppet movie. This song previously featured in my Matt Vogel chart and as I said at the time this shows just why Matt and Constantine swept the board at this year’s “Snuffy” awards. Constantine is super slick here as he works his charms on our favorite porcine heroine. He’s an awesome character. I really hope we see him in some capacity in the new show. The music from this movie is criminally under-rated and this, along with several other songs, is an instant Muppet classic in my humble opinion. There are lots of neat touches here with the rats in the background and the “thingy-thing” and the whole sequence is a visual treat.
So now we travel by map all the way to the tropical paradise that is Hawaii. We’ve certainly clocked up some miles on this road trip! There’s a lot going on in this number. We’ve got hula-dancing, trumpet-playing pigs, Animal playing drums, Quongo trying to take out the entire company as a coconut wielding sniper, a bird chorus, Easter Island statues, Annie Sue sunbathing and of course the ubiquitous random penguins. Phew! Every time I see Annie Sue I remember just how much I love Louise Gold so that’s an added bonus as well. I’ve always been intrigued by the Hawaiian language and would love to try and learn it and I really enjoy hearing it here. I’ve tried singing in Hawaiian and it isn’t easy if it’s not your native tongue so the performers do a sterling job with this. As Kermit says after the performance “we’re off to a possibly decent start”.
This is a funny line to end a chart on, but end we must as we have reached our final destination. I’ve listed my non-geographic order below for all you completists out there. Let me know what you think. As this chart has shown The Muppets are brilliant at putting on a show. They are also fantastic company on a road trip and while we wait for their American tour (followed by a tour of the rest of the world, please) we’ll have to make do with these songs. I like to think that each could be the opening number in that city or state. That would be pretty cool. So if you’re packing up the car this summer and Movin’ Right Along (see what I did there?), hopefully this list will give you some inspiration for the trip. And as you drive if you look in the rear view mirror and spot a random penguin on your back seat don’t worry. Just open your sunroof and at the end of the song he’ll toss himself through it.
10 – Oklahoma
9 – Alabamy Bound
8 – Mississippi Mud
7 – Hawaiian War Chant
6 – Big Noise from Winnetka
5 – I’ll Get You What You Want (Cockatoo in Malibu)
4 – Hooray for Hollywood
3 – New York State of Mind
2 – The Devil Went Down to Georgia
1 – To Morrow