Kieran Moore – Unless you live under a rock (or pretty much anywhere other than North America), had a four day power-cut or just got out of hospital after being pushed from a golf cart you’ve most likely seen the brand new Muppet show by now.
The imaginatively titled “The Muppets” is the biggest TV related thing to happen to the gang for almost 20 years so I just had to work up a special top 10 to mark this auspicious occasion.
So here for your pleasure is a chart based on Henson TV theme tunes. The role of the TV theme is an important one as it needs to set the whole tone of the show it’s accompanying and give the viewer and idea of what they’re about to see. A great theme song is invaluable.
It’s becoming cliché now for me to say how hard a particular chart was to compile, but with so many great shows (and themes) to choose from and so few spaces available this was one of my toughest tasks yet. I don’t want to spoil any surprises, but to give the themes that didn’t make the upper echelons their dues here’s a quick countdown from 20-11 of the ones that almost made it.
20 – Mopatop’s Shop
19 – The Ghost of Faffner Hall
18 – Animal Jam
17 – The Furchester Hotel
16 – Dog City
15 – Mother Goose Stories
14 – The Jim Henson Hour
13 – Aliens in the Family
12 – Jim Henson Presents the World of Puppetry
11 – Farscape
10 – Dinosaurs
What I love about this theme (other than the fact that it reminds me of a more innocent time when Pogs were cool) is that it has two very clear movements that each sum up a different aspect of the show. It starts off big and imposing with an orchestral style and volcanic title card that really shows the scale of the piece. It sounds like it comes straight from the score of an old dinosaur-themed B-movie. As we get just fleeting glimpses of Earl we can only imagine what kind of scary beast is rampaging through the forest. Then as the theme changes into something lighter and more slapstick (accompanied by scenes of the family as they gesticulate their way through all sorts of goofball moments) we get to see that actually this show is all about comedy and how the Sinclair clan bumble around in this enormous dino-filled world. It’s a classic opening to a cult show that in just 56 seconds tells you everything you need to know.
(Note from Jarrod – ugh, we used the word gesticulate, even though I promised Sam we wouldn’t after Tuesday night. Sorry Sam, won’t happen again)
9 – Dinosaur Train
More dinos! As someone who isn’t the correct age demographic for this show and is far more interested in the puppetry side of what Henson does I’ll admit that I know virtually nothing about this show. It looks cute though and definitely has an interesting premise. I really like this song! I first heard it on one of those covers albums where people imitate the character voices. As a general rule there are to be avoided as the impressions are often ropey and they bring nothing new to the table, but as I didn’t know this song in its original form I was able to bypass that and was instantly struck by it. I love about that it tells us a story and lets us know exactly what to expect from the show. It doesn’t matter if you’re watching episode one or episode 79 you’ll know who the main characters are, their relationships and enough to be able to dive right in. The fact that the song is also catchy and enjoyable is almost a bonus!
8 – CityKids
Ok, I’m happy to accept that this is an unusual choice, but I really do think that this song is deserving of a place on the chart. The theme is so 90s it hurts, but it has a great beat and try as I might I can’t help moving along with the music. The backing is a bit “Fresh Prince-lite”, but I don’t hold that against it. This is a theme that I think could’ve held its own against the chart hits of the day. The song was written by Malik Yoba who has a very impressive list of credits as an actor, but based on this he could have done well as songwriter too. I’m fairly certain this show didn’t make it over to the UK so I only really know it as a Henson curiosity and it’s never featured large in my fandom, but from now on I’ll certainly remember it as a show that has a cool theme (and rapping hotdogs!)
I feel a bit mean putting this at number seven, but it really does show the quality of the songs yet to come that a classic like this is so low. Is there a cheerier theme song than this in the Henson canon? I seriously doubt it. Noel MacNeal has such a reassuring tone to his voice. When combined with the repeated lyric of “Welcome to the Blue House” it just makes me want to come on in, take off my shoes, relax and have a rifle through their bathroom cabinet (ok, maybe not the last one). The song has a neat swing/jazz vibe with a bit of blues thrown in and I’d bet that if you sat down to watch this feeling crotchety you’d very quickly find yourself smiling. I remember from my top 10 based on “Bear” that there’s actually quite a bluesy feel to a lot of the music from the show. I wonder if that was a conscious decision based on the color of the titular house?
I think in my head this show gets mixed up with “The Christmas Toy” because I was a 16 year old with a full time job by the time this show aired, but if you’d asked me I’d have been certain I watched it every week as a kid. I love the “Sssshhhhhh” that starts and ends this theme emphasizing the shows secret nature. I also really like the plinky-plunky intro. I’ve always loved anything that sounds like a music box and this is the 90s slightly electronic version of that. Secret Life of Toys always felt a bit Fraggle-y to me. I guess part of that is because of Dave Goelz and Jerry Nelson’s lead roles – as well as having Jocelyn Stevenson on board as co-producer, but I also think it’s because of the “secret world” aspect. This song let’s us in to a world that some of the characters on the show don’t know about makes us feel special and included. What a great way to get an audience onside.
5 – Muppets Tonight
I think in a lot of ways this was a case of “right show, wrong time”. By that I mean that the Muppets were still in a transition phase and weren’t the established gang we know now. The vast majority of Jim Henson and Richard Hunt’s characters hadn’t been re-cast yet and the core Muppeteer group felt very in flux with the recent intake not having had much time to bed in and senior cast members taking a step back. Brian Henson is on record as saying that they actively looked to work primarily with new characters (presumably to find “classic” characters for the new cast), but the audience just wondered where Kermit et al were. You can actually see some of the seeds of the current show starting to shoot through as the show within the show has a glossy “night-time” feel and it looks at the character’s private lives away from the set. Kevin Clash is a wonderful singer and this song has a manic vibe that works well. There’s even a nice little nod to the “Muppet Show Theme” if you listen closely.
4 – Muppet Babies
This song is probably one of the themes of my childhood (that and the theme to The Real Ghostbusters – I was a huge Ghostbusters fan as a kid which is kind of funny considering I wasn’t allowed to watch the movie when it first came out.) I always remember being a bit too old for Muppet Babies, but it first aired in the UK when I was eight so I guess I’m just about in the clear! Either way it’s the Muppets and watching them is never a bad thing. I really like this song and could probably recite the lyrics with very few problems, even after all these years – especially the bit where they all sing their defining character traits (though Gonzo gets little to work with since his main characterization is having blue hair). Forget all the grungey covers on those Fraggle Rock anniversary albums – someone needs to get The Beach Boys to sing this. That would make my ears very happy indeed!
Ok, when I mentioned The Beach Boys just now I genuinely had no idea about the existence of this. I did however know about this one which I can only apologise for! It was really hard for me to put this song at number three – truthfully it’s been everything from third to first place as I’ve put this chart together. I don’t know if there are any official statistics out there, but I reckon this must be one of the most recognisable TV themes ever. The kid’s chorus is a great way to let younger viewers know that this show will reflect them and their daily lives. It feels especially important that in the linked video for the original first season version of the theme that there are no Muppets to be seen or heard. It emphasises that this is not about the characters, but you the viewer. It’s not a passive song. We’re not hearing about someone else going to Sesame Street; we’re going to Sesame Street. It’s a truly brilliant piece of writing.
2 – Fraggle Rock
Just for fun, if you watch the video linked here you’ll get to see the UK version of the theme with the lighthouse opening. Hopefully you’ll agree with me that this does a much better job of building atmosphere with its long aerial shot and windswept audio that morphs into something that sounds electronically otherworldly. In my opinion, this version really piques the viewer’s interest. We get to see most of the series’ main players in this opening sequence and the whole thing really sucks you in to the Fraggle world which is surely the whole point. I love the musical arrangement. It has a great bass line that along with “Smoke on the Water” must be one of the first things a bass player learns and a nice percussive accompaniment that builds and helps keep the whole thing together. It also has one of the best electric guitar parts in children’s TV (perhaps only beaten by “Thundercats” – my brother and I totally air-guitared our way through the closing credits to that every week!)
1 – The Muppet Show
It seems kind of obvious that this would be number one, but with the quality of music in the upper end of this list it really wasn’t the foregone conclusion it might have been. Written by Sam Pottle and Jim Henson, forget “Rainbow Connection”, “Bein’ Green” or even “Mahna Mahna”, this is most likely the first song anyone hears when they think about the Muppets. As mentioned earlier, it gets a call back in the “Muppets Tonight Theme” and is currently being used in a revamped version as the theme for “The Muppets”. Have we come up with an abbreviation for the new show yet that saves confusion between this, the guys themselves and the 2011 movie? I want to suggest MABC though I guess M15 works too. The fact that this song keeps getting re-used is testament to just how brilliant it is. There were several slightly different iterations of the theme throughout the show’s five season run so I love singing it with a gang of people. Everyone’s right there for the first few lines and then it starts to get a bit mumbly before someone pitches in with “But, now let’s get things started” and then we’re all back together for a Muppetational finale! I bet even as Muppet fans we’d struggle to get all the way to the end without at least a little bit of confusion! This song wins best use of brass in a musical composition (after “Little Brown Jug”) and I honestly don’t know if there’s a word that covers how splendiferous it is. Instead I’ll say it’s “twiddle” thereby completing my hat-trick of words Jarrod said were banned from the site a few days ago (this might be my last article folks!)
And if I did have to bow out (gosh, I hope I don’t) then what better way to end (“Hand in hand with a friend”) than with such an iconic song. And that’s really what the best theme songs should be – instantly recognisable. I doubt anyone over 30 could hear the first seven notes of the “Cheers” theme and not know instantly that “sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name”. And forget remembering where you were when man landed on the moon – who can’t picture with exact clarity the moment when the “Roseanne” theme tune suddenly had words?
Not everyone who wrote or performed these 10 (or 20) songs got a mention by name in the rundown above, but they are all Henson Legends (why isn’t that a thing?) for creating such iconic moments. I thank them for their incredible contribution to not just the shows in question, but the whole TV landscape. Thank you.