Kieran Moore – Ok, I have some bad news. You’d better sit down. If you’re reading this article whilst operating heavy machinery I suggest you stop (and let’s be honest you’re only showing off anyway). Here goes… There are TV shows, movies, songs, musicals and theme park attractions that AREN’T Henson productions.
I did warn you. I bet you wished you’d taken my advice and stopped driving that thresher now, don’t you? (Never mind, penguins are replaceable.)
But, there is some good news (unless you’re a penguin)! Some of those TV shows, movies, songs etc. actually feature the awesome talents of the Muppet performers instead! I know! That’s pretty nifty right? So I thought it might be fun to countdown my top 10 picks from all of the amazing things the Muppeteers have done without the aid of Kermit, Big Bird, Gobo and Hoggle. That’s not to say we won’t see some puppets, they just might not be the ones you’d usually find on The Muppet Mindset!
Please Note: I have linked to live performances where possible, but they don’t always give the best sound quality – audio only recordings are also available on YouTube if you search for them.
There are lots of puppet-based TV shows that feature a slew of Muppet performers, but I’m going to do my best to avoid them here for fear of repetition. That said, there will be a couple and Between the Lions is the first. This is such a pretty song that I just had to share my thoughts on it. I love that it features Kathryn Mullen so I get to close my eyes and imagine Mokey Fraggle is singing. The four performers here have contributed to projects as diverse as Sesame Street and Labyrinth so there’s a wealth of Henson-based experience on display. Of course, this means the puppetry is excellent. The characters are so expressive and this is shown off to full effect. The song itself has a strong African influence and it feels like that continent’s equivalent of a power ballad. It’s sung beautifully by all concerned and is another one to add to my growing list of lullabies.
As with all Disney attractions the song is littered throughout the ride, but for full effect listen in from around the 6:00 minute mark on the video. Sad to say, I’ve never seen this version of the attraction in person. It was the much maligned non-Figment edition when I was there. One of the best things about listening to this song is picking out the odd word or syllable where Gonzo breaks free and we’re reminded of Dave’s signature Muppet. It’s a super pumped-up performance and his Figment is perhaps a mix of Gonzo and Dr. Bunsen Honeydew. How cool would it be to have those two hosting this attraction? There’s talk of an “Inside Out” overlay in the future (so perhaps Dave could stay even if Figment goes), but I’d love to see what the Muppets could do with it. The end scene where all the tiny Figments are singing feels like Disney parodying Disney!
This is a fun song! I can’t believe how much David Rudman sounds like Scooter here, this show was surely what got him that gig full-time. It makes me wonder why they waited so long to get him onboard as he was obviously perfect for the role. It’s true you know – music is the best! This song rocks and the juxtaposition of the youthful vocals and pumping music brings back memories of “Moves like Jagger”, so that’s neat. Alice Dinnean has more of a rock edge to her voice so she suits the song better, but when they come together for the final verse she and David play off of each other brilliantly and the whole thing gets even better.
I think Matt Vogel is amazing so it kills me to put him so low on this chart. If I’m completely honest, The Mighty Weaklings just don’t play the type of music I’m particularly drawn to; however, I’m really digging this song. I do appreciate a bit of trippy psychedelia every now and again. This song combines some of my favorite musical devices; a strong bass line is offset by a floaty vocal that is somehow full of emotion and yet detached at the same time. That’s not an easy thing to pull off! The video for the song is based in London, which really resonates with me, and I would assume it was shot while Matt was here filming “Muppets Most Wanted”. Part of the park scenes look like they could have been shot at Green Park and that’s where I whiled away an hour or so waiting for the movie’s premiere, so it has that instant connection for me. While I may never be the biggest Mighty Weaklings fan, this song is definitely a keeper.
When I first mentioned this chart subject to The Muppet Mindset’s “Bountiful Leader” (Note from Jarrod: I want that on my business cards) I was told that I had to include this song, so here it is! Truth be told, it would almost certainly have been on the list anyway. I really don’t need much of an excuse to take a stroll down Avenue Q. I saw the show a few years ago in London just before the West End version packed up and went on tour. The show is flat out hilarious and I loved every minute. I might just have to go see it again… John Tartaglia is incredible as Princeton. He was quite rightly nominated for a Tony award for the role, but lost to Wolverine (that was an unintentional slip, but it’s funny so I’m keeping it!). John has since starred in several of the more family-oriented Broadway shows including Shrek and Beauty and the Beast. I’d love to see his Lumiere. Oops! I think I may be stumbling into Avenue Q. territory here…
Leslie Carrara-Rudolph is one of my favorite Muppeteers (and not just because I know she saw my previous chart based on her songs)! I’m totally in love with Abby Cadabby. I first stumbled across Lolly Lardpop when I was researching the aforementioned chart and thought she was hilarious. To hear her speak you’d be forgiven for thinking that Lolly wouldn’t be a great singer, but defying all convention she really can belt out a tune! This video displays Leslie’s wacky sense of humor (check out her Wizard of Oz in two minutes), and you can tell instantly why she was a perfect match for the Muppets. This whole video from start to finish just cracks me up. I love the jauntiness of the song although it definitely sounds a little Bavarian rather than Italian to me. The simple background and puppets work well in the context of Lolly’s dream and are performed brilliantly. Kudos to all those involved!
This (and two of the songs that follow) was my original inspiration for the top 10 list you are reading now. It has a great percussive sound right from the opening ticks and tocks through to the bells and whistles that follow. This song sounds like it could have been recorded for a Sam & Friends sketch, but was really just a one-off performance piece. It wasn’t the start of a long and illustrious recording career for Jim (if you don’t count his Muppet works), and at this point he wasn’t really performing a whole lot of voices, so it’s not as though this could be classed as a character piece. It’s simply an artistic expression that just so happens to use the medium of vinyl and it exudes early 60s Jim. The subject of time runs all through Jim’s work, most notably in the Academy Award nominated short “Time Piece”. It’s said that this was influenced by the early death of his brother, but maybe he also knew something we didn’t…
Louise Gold is another Muppeteer that I just can’t get enough of, and easily in my opinion one of the best singers ever to have had her hand up a foam pig. This is a tour-de-force performance from her with her two co-stars Anita Louise Combe and Julie Legrand not far behind. I’m not very familiar with the musical Gypsy, but I’ve known this song for years and always thought it was very funny and clever. It’s a real singers’ song. Louise sounds a lot like Miss Taptackle from “That Puppet Game Show” here, which makes me miss that show even more. It would be impolite to mention Louise’s age here, but considering she was around during “The Muppet Show” days I have to commend her on wearing that costume onstage! There’s no way I’d do it (although to be fair I doubt I’d fill it in quite the same way). Gypsy is still playing in London and I might just have to go and see it. Does anyone have any Annie Sue merchandise they want signed?
Our second stop on Avenue Q. sees us holding our lighters in the air for Kate Monster’s big power ballad. As with John Tartaglia, Stephanie was quite rightly nominated for a Tony for this role (but lost out to the wickedly talented Adele Dazeem on the night). However, both she and John were able to console themselves with Theatre World Awards instead though so it’s not all bad news. This beautiful song represents Avenue Q’s highest place on the chart and it’s easy to see why. Stephanie is phenomenal here. I just find the way her actions match those of Kate to be captivating. There is no sense of the where the puppet ends and the actress begins. They are truly one and the same. Stephanie appears twice on this list and I’m so pleased to finally be able to give her a solo spot as before today her only other chart entry was a duet. Yaaay!
It was always going to have to be something pretty special that topped this list and so I present the incredible Tides by Jerry Nelson. Truro Daydreams is an exceptional album. This is the collection of songs that the phrase “all killer, no filler” was invented for. I simply can’t find a weak link. As someone who regularly takes time putting together set lists I really appreciate it when an artist creates an album that takes the listener on a journey or creates a mood and Jerry has done this perfectly. Tides is a beautiful song. Its matter-of-fact sense of melancholy somehow creates a resigned, cathartic mood that is just so familiar. It’s a complex set of emotions and yet the song has nailed them perfectly. I love the line “Ain’t no point in throwing it away because it’s free.” That’s deep. Jerry’s rich, bass tones are sublime (but then it’s Jerry Nelson so that goes without saying – even though I just did). Every time I listen to this song I fall in love with it a little more. P.S. The linked video is a really cool tribute to Jerry so thank you to whoever put it together.
So, I hope this list has shown that it’s ok that non-Henson productions exist. I know it was a real shock at the time (if not for you, than for that unfortunate penguin!) The 10 songs selected here really do show off the incredible singing talents that Muppet performers possess. Although 5 or 6 of these tracks include puppetry of some sort (the jury’s out on Figment) it’s really the musical ability that shines through. In total I’ve managed to include 18 performers and I want to thank all of these, as well as the countless others I couldn’t fit in, for their amazing work away from the Muppets. They’ve expanded my artistic horizons and enabled me to make fun little discoveries; hopefully this chart has done the same for you.