Kieran Moore – If there’s one thing The Muppet Mindset is known for it’s its generosity (actually it’s the exclusive and informative Henson-related content, but let’s not get bogged down by the truth or this whole thing will unravel before I’ve finished the first sentence.) That is why this week’s chart showcases not just the most generous Christmas song ever, but also 20% more songs than usual!
I’m sure we’re all hoping for a Muppet-shaped gift under the tree (I so want a Rowlf’s Tavern glass), but I figured there’s no reason not to start early. I really want to let you guys know how much I appreciate the fact that you’ve read my ramblings for the last year so please consider each song a little Christmas gift from me (and of course The Muppets)!
12 Drummers Drumming – Drum Battle – Animal & Buddy Rich – The Muppet Show
Who else could I feature for 12 Drummers Drumming? Animal is well-known for his drum battles having also fought Harry Belafonte, Travis Barker and (most recently) Dave Grohl, but this one with Buddy Rich really is amazing. Buddy is just flying! His musicianship genuinely leaves me speechless (which for the purposes of this write up isn’t exactly ideal!) Performing Animal’s not inconsiderable side of this battle is Ronnie Verrell who was part of Jack Parnell’s house orchestra. Buddy described Ronnie as “one of my all-time favorite drummers” and it’s just incredible to hear two virtuoso instrumentalists going toe to toe in such fantastic fashion. If there’s a better way to kick off this list I’m afraid I don’t know what it is…
11 Pipers Piping – Ease on Down the Road – Jean-Pierre Rampal with Rizzo and the Rats and Children’s Chorus – The Muppet Show
It wouldn’t be Christmas without “The Wizard of Oz” so this song is pulling double duty representing both that story and 12 Pipers Piping. For those that don’t know Ease on Down the Road is from “The Wiz” which gives an R&B/Soul twist to L. Frank Baum’s fantastic American fairy tales. A quick look on “Wikipedia” shows that “The Wiz” won a massive seven Tony Awards for its initial Broadway run, but it’s perhaps best known for the movie version starring Diana Ross, Michael Jackson and Nipsey Russell. I’ve always loved the Oz books so it makes me very happy to be able to mention them here. Jean-Pierre’s flute adds a fun twist to this song and it seems so obvious yet so unexpected to use it for the story of The Pied Piper that I think it might just border on genius!
10 Lords a-Leaping – Sleeping and Dreaming (Leaping and Screaming) – The Fraggles – Fraggle Rock
I was very torn between featuring this song and a short clip of Elmo as Michael Flatley in his “Lord of The Dance” guise, but as fitting as the Elmo moment seemed it was very short and not really a proper song. In contrast this is a great number that has everything I love about Fraggle Rock music. The soft harmonies at the start are textbook Fraggle and sound sublime yet it’s not long before this song takes a slightly silly turn for the surreal and highlights their fun side. Finally, is anyone else slightly disturbed by the fact that Mokey seemingly breaks the neck of The World’s Oldest Fraggle at the 0:18s mark?
9 Ladies Dancing – Won’t Somebody Dance With Me? – The Great Gonzo – The Muppet Show
This actually finished in 11th place on my recent Gonzo chart so I’m really pleased to be able to feature it so soon. One of the things I like most about the song here is how it segues so seamlessly from the usual “At the Dance Theme”. In fact, you wouldn’t know it hadn’t been there all along in my opinion. This number plays beautifully to Gonzo’s soulful side, but ends on a fantastic high which gives the whole thing a more uplifting feel than you might have expected at the start. It kind of reminds me of the recent episode of “The Muppets” where Gonzo is a little down, but comes back in spectacular style. Gonzo is the ultimate underdog and I love him for it.
8 Maids a-Milking – The King’s Breakfast – Twiggy, King Rupert the Second, The Queen and The Alderney – The Muppet Show
Ok, so I know this is more of a poem set to music, but I figure that’s also an acceptable definition of a song so I’m happy! For someone who made her name as a model, Twiggy is a fantastic actress and singer (take that Naomi Campbell) and she works incredibly well with the Muppets. In anything she’s ever done Twiggy really seems to have a twinkle in her eye and it’s that twinkle that ignites the spark that catches fire with the Muppets as far as I’m concerned. I’d be more than happy to see them work together again. Jim Henson loved the works of A.A. Milne and featured them regularly on The Muppet Show. This piece continues in the same silly vein as classic songs like “Cottleston Pie” and “Forgiven”.
7 Swans a-Swimming – Swan (Swine) Lake – Rudolf Nureyev & Ballerina Pig – The Muppet Show
One of the things I’m enjoying about this list is the fact that it’s turning up some pieces that might not traditionally get featured in one of my charts (see also Six Geese a-Laying) and that’s certainly the case with this one. I’ve already invoked the term “surreal” in this article, but this really is the very definition of the word. “Swine Lake” came about because of Rudolf’s desire to dance with Miss Piggy and while that didn’t become a reality I have to give him praise for being willing to poke fun at his craft in this way. I also have to show respect to Graham Fletcher who is performing as the Ballerina Pig – it really can’t be easy to dance in that costume and the fact that he does it so well is incredible. I love that The Muppet Show can feature such cultured moments, but still do it in a way that makes them accessible to all.
6 Geese a-Laying – Wild Geese – Sesame Street
One of the comments on the YouTube video of this piece claims that it is French vocalist Danielle Licari singing here and while that is infinitely possible I haven’t been able to back it up so I’ve regrettably left this uncredited above. Sesame Street has a great history with this type of nature film and also with this medieval, madrigal style of music. It’s another fine example of providing high-culture to those that might not experience it elsewhere. This piece is beautifully shot – I especially love the golden, sunny hues that contrast with the ice cold blues previously seen. This calming piece is the ultimate antidote to a character such as Cookie Monster and demonstrates the incredible range that Sesame Street has.
5 Gold Rings – Wouldn’t it be Yucky – Prunella the Grouch and Oscar the Grouch – Sesame Street (Starts at 10:58)
The always phenomenal Louise Gold really was the only choice for Five Gold Rings. I’m unashamed in my love for Louise. I think she’s an incredible singer. She’s currently starring in “Gypsy” in London’s West End and here in the UK the show is being broadcast on TV over Christmas and I can’t wait to see it. As a Brit I always really appreciate the UK sensibility she gives to her characters. It’s not just the obvious ones like Prunella – even a character like Annie Sue has an indefinable Britishness about her. I wonder if I notice it because of my background or if others see it too…?
4 Calling Birds – Birds in the Trees – Ohboy Bird, Whaddayasay Bird, Forcryingoutloud Bird, Youknow Bird, Ohreally Bird & Righton Bird with The Electric Mayhem – The Muppet Show: Sex and Violence
Again, I guess we could debate if this is actually a song or not, but who cares? When a Muppet fan thinks of “Calling Birds” it’s impossible not to instantly be reminded of this sketch which does, in its favor, feature backing music provided by The Electric Mayhem. This piece is incredibly clever as each bird’s stock statement is used in a variety of different ways. I think my favorite is Frank Oz’s Forcryingoutloud Bird. His continued exasperation is hilarious. The puppetry here is top notch and the whole thing just makes me smile. It’s perfection. At this time of year where we’re supposed to thank the Lord (or whatever you believe) I have to say a huge “Thanks” to Lord Grade for seeing the potential in sketches like this when no one else would.
3 French Hens – Baby Face – Chicken Chorus – The Muppet Show
This has been my favorite Muppet chicken performance since I don’t know when. Actually, I can pinpoint it to the year 1985 if we want to get technical as that is when it featured on the VHS cassette “Muppet Moments”. Two things occur to me based on this – first, I think I still have that video so I must look for it and second, wow – that came out 30 years ago. Gosh, I feel old! I pretty much love everything about this; the hilariousness of chickens singing, the singing itself, the musical arrangement and the puppetry. Let’s be honest there really isn’t anything about this to not love. The way the words are turned into realistic chicken sounds rather than just generic clucks is the icing on the cake. I also dig their ability to be onstage and in the audience!
2 Turtle Doves – Swim Away Hooray! – The Turtle and Billy Bunny – Billy Bunny’s Animal Songs
As I think I’ve mentioned before, I love Billy Bunny’s Animal Songs, not just because it’s awesome, but also because it helped get my nephew into The Muppets. I have a niece and nephew who both love The Muppets as much as I do and it makes me so happy that we have that connection. We’ve shared some great experiences together (like attending the “Muppets Most Wanted” premiere) and it’s given us a really special bond that I cherish so much. This is a very short song, but it’s sung brilliantly by Jerry Nelson as The Turtle and Kevin Clash as Billy. They sing with such a sense of joy that it’s totally infectious. If you haven’t seen Billy Bunny’s Animal Songs be sure to check it out – the performances are some of the best you’ll see in my opinion.
A Partridge in a Pear Tree – Dinner Theater: Pear – Hippie Family – Sesame Street
How cool is it that the Muppet canon is so diverse that I’ve been able to find an awesome musical moment for every single item that “my true love sent to me”? I mean, come on, we’ve even got a brilliant song about pears! And it really is a brilliant song too. I must admit I don’t know the musical “Hair” that well so I’m not sure if this is a direct parody of an actual song or just something that captures its feel, but either way it really does conjure up the late 1960s era perfectly. This is an incredibly catchy tune and I know I’ll be humming it for days!
I couldn’t finish up this chart without including a video of the actual song The 12 Days of Christmas so here’s my favorite version from the John Denver and The Muppets: A Christmas Together Album (Ba-dum-bum-bum). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8MX43ynMvm0
It’s traditional to end on a thank you so I want to “Thank you” to you, the reader, for being with me this year. I hope you’ve enjoyed all of the Muppety gifts I’ve given you on this countdown. As I say we do like to be generous here at The Muppet Mindset, however we should warn you that we’ve lost all the receipts…