Kieran Moore – Where would we be without horses? Probably sitting forlornly at an empty stable wondering why we weren’t going anywhere, but you know what I mean – they are invaluable to human life thanks to their transport, farming and recreation uses. They are also vital to Muppet existence. After all, without horses how would Super Grover move a cart or the “Readers of the Open Range” get from place to place to read their signs?
Because of their incredible contribution, I thought I should honor Muppet horses in the best way I could think of; then I realized Beyonce and a private jet would be quite expensive so I decided to write this week’s chart instead. (Incidentally, the third best way to honor a horse is laughter.) Anyway, having trawled the archives this week’s runners and riders are now under starter’s orders and lined up ready and raring to go. So let’s see which horse (and song) wins the Muppet Derby and takes top spot. They’re off…!
10 – Ballad of the Sad Café – Sesame Street
This song is actually much better than its tenth position would suggest – but as the horses are really just part of the chorus it loses a few points for this particular list. The song itself is a good old rousing Country and Western number that makes me sway back and forth. I could imagine the late, great Tammy Wynette singing this, but in lieu of her we get some fantastic Muppet greats instead. Present on this track are Jerry Nelson, Louise Gold, Martin P. Robinson, David Rudman, Pam Arciero and Camille Bonora. What a list! Is it just me that finds obviously over the top crying funny? I really want to laugh along with this. It’s true what they say at the end – you do always feel better after a cry!
9 – Rap against Boredom – Sesamstraße
This number represents two firsts for my charts (I think). It’s most definitely the first song from Sesamstraße I’ve ever featured and it might also be the first rap song I’ve used (but I’m happy to be proved wrong on that one). I must admit to not knowing much about what Elmo and Pferd (the horse) are singing about, but even I know what “hot chicks” means! I think that’s a great joke, but I wonder if it would fly on Sesame Street itself. According to Muppet Wiki, Pferd was created in 2000 as a comedy character for Sesamstraße, and is one half of the double act along with Wolle (his best friend who just happens to be a sheep). Pferd’s performer, Carsten Morar-Haffke and Martin Paas (who puppeteers Wolle) write all of their own sketches which is kind of neat. I’m not sure if that arrangement happens anywhere else, but it’s a great idea to let comic performers write their own material as they can allow their comedic voice to grow with the characters.
8 – A Girl and Her Horse – Sesame Street (Song starts at 8:17)
This is a fun Broadway style number all about “a girl and her horse”. Sadly, it’s incredibly short, but during its diminutive running time it manages to put a disproportionate smile on my face and get my toes a-tapping so it must be doing something right. It seems odd to me that the powers that be would give the character of Judy to Leslie Carrara-Rudolph when she also plays Abby in this storyline. Surely whoever was “under” Judy could have saved Leslie the extra work by doing the voice as well? Either way, Leslie sounds superb and her fantastic singing voice is really allowed to shine. It’s a crystal clear vocal and that’s something I always appreciate. Judy’s a very cute puppet and there’s something about her design that despite its simplicity I find incredibly endearing.
7 – Different yet the Same – Sesame Street
I guess one day this might also appear on a “cow” chart, but for now we’re focussing on the horse part of the song. One of the best things Sesame Street teaches is how we’re all “different yet the same”, but that life is much more fun when we see the similarities rather than the differences and I guess this song is the epitome of that message. I’ve noticed as I’ve gone through this chart that as far as Muppets are concerned horses and cows are often seen together and are sometimes interchangeable (as you’ll see later). Perhaps the writers really do think these animals are the same? I love listening to Richard Hunt play female characters – he does it so well and this duet with Martin P. Robinson is a perfect example of why.
6 – Remember Me, My Darling – Sesame Street
I’m not sure if this parody of “The Ballad of High Noon (Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darling)” has an official title so the name above is all my own work! (As a side note: how long is the real song title – it must hold some record…) Buster the Horse sings this so well I just wish there were more of it. That seems to be a recurring theme on the top end of this list! Buster has a great bass singing voice – it’s enough to give you goosebumps! As a tenor I’m always impressed with people who can go as low as I go high! Make sure you watch this whole sketch – it’s clever and funny and just about every performer is doing their best to steal the scene which only serves to elevate it even higher.
5 – Horse Sense – Sesame Street
I’ve written before about how much I enjoy Judy Collins’ work with the Muppets and while I hate to repeat myself, I just have to say it again. Judy is one of those celebrities that gets the Muppets in a way that some don’t. They have an instant connection and a rapport that makes their relationship completely believable. Another thing I like about Judy is her flexibility as a performer – this song has a vaudeville feel that is so different from the quiet folk style of “Leatherwing Bat” or the classical “Alphabet Madrigal”. Of all the non-Muppets that have appeared on these charts Judy must be one of the most featured. One day when I find myself with too much time I’ll go through and have a look. This song itself is a lot of fun and has some hilarious lyrics that are not to be missed!
4 – Skyball Paint – The Muppet Show
I have to say that the Roy Rogers and Dale Evans episode of The Muppet Show is one of my favorites. My Dad is a big fan of Western movies and their soundtracks so I grew up around this type of music. To see two of the greats having fun with the Muppets is a real treat. Roy really makes the yodelling look easy. It’s almost as if he’s a ventriloquist at some points! Watching the clip I like the assortment of characters present; Beauregard is brilliant with his harmonica and determined eyes (I’ve never noticed how expressive they are before) and alongside various whatnots and jugband members we also get a “Where’s Waldo?”-esque appearance from Jim. The song namechecks “Cross-eyed Jim” so I can only assume the writers thought it would be a fun Easter egg to include the Jim Henson Muppet. And they were right.
3 – Four-Legged Friend – The Muppet Show
Speaking of Jim, here he is paired with his regular singing partner Jerry. These two sure do sound good together! This is probably the most horse-centric song on the chart (even if there aren’t actually any present). As I mentioned earlier, the Muppets do seem to play fast and loose when it comes to cows and horses. There’s something inherently funny about cows I think so I can see why they do it. This sketch is peppered with fun moments and puns and ultimately that’s what elevates it above the usual UK spots. However, the rapport between Jerry and Jim should not be underestimated either. There’s something comforting about having them together for this song. As soon as it starts you know you’re in safe hands. I’d love to see that’s going on below the camera though – presumably Jim and Jerry’s heads are inside the cows, but it must be like twister then having puppeteers performing the animals as well.
2 – Cripple Creek – Sesame Street
I first discovered this song when I wrote my Jerry Nelson chart last April and it was a very close thing between this and the next song for first place. This is probably as close to a tie as I’ve ever had. I guess it’s fitting that a horse chart would have a photo finish! Jerry and Buffy Sainte-Marie sound beautiful together. Their voices are each distinct enough to be interesting, yet they blend so well. This song is almost a cappella and what I find interesting about the mouth bow is that if you listen carefully you can hear it singing especially at the end of the song. It’s not just a string or percussion instrument; it actually adds a third voice. That unique aspect is really what makes this stand head and shoulders above (al)most everything else. On a purely musical level this song wins hands down every time.
1 – Don’t Fence Me In – The Muppet Show
As good as “Cripple Creek” is, this Bob Hope “Cowboy Sketch” really is a classic bit from a classic episode and it’s that status that ultimately pushed this ahead in the race. This number is gloriously funny – even if it is corny. This ain’t sophisticated comedy, but does that really matter? I love that the Muppets can do both. The tape deck joke for example might make your eyes roll, but you’ll be laughing as you pick them up and put them back in. This is another favorite episode of The Muppet Show for me – I love the recurring joke of Bob having to dash off to do charity work throughout the show and it also includes one of the best things the Muppets ever did in the shape of “For What It’s Worth”. Bob Hope is a true all round entertainer so there’s no question that he’d have any problems putting in a great performance and the same can be said for Jerry Nelson who has incredibly appeared in every song in the top five!
So there we have it! As I mentioned earlier it was definitely a photo finish, but I hope your favorite horse/song placed well. I should warn you – if you did have a cheeky flutter and got the number one song correct this chart comes with a no money back guarantee so I’m afraid you were just playing for pride. Speaking of which, I think this chart has conclusively proved that horses are a proud and noble race. So all I have to do now is pay tribute that pride with a huge thank you. A Muppet horse has not yet been a breakout star (although some have been high profile), but either way they are integral to the casts of lots of Henson shows. Thank you guys for always being there – whether you’re trying to be a rap star or making wisecracks you’re always our “four-legged friends”. Thank you.