Kieran Moore – On our last chart we focussed on one of the longest running animals in the Muppet canon – frogs. This week we’re looking at another that can remember when Nixon was president. Chickens have been a Muppet stable staple since 1972 when they first appeared alongside Kermit in “The Muppet Musicians of Bremen”. Since then I’m not sure there hasn’t been a Muppet production that hasn’t cried “Fowl!” and featured our egg laying friends at some point. They’re in everything from “Mopatop’s Shop” to “Labyrinth”!
The Muppets regularly go for the silly and surreal and although my charts often reflect that I truly think this might be the wackiest chart I’ve ever produced. So don your best feather boa, cross the street, buy a bucket of hot wings (perhaps not!) and settle down to enjoy 10 weird and wonderful songs…
10 – Chicken or the Egg? – Sesame Street
This song is so perfect to kick off this chart I’d love to say its 10th placing was on purpose, but it really did just fall that way! Which does come first (the chicken or the egg) is an age old question that has taxed philosophical minds for eons. Sadly this number does very little to help. It does, however, get my toes tapping and my body moving and I guess if a song can’t be high-brow it might as well be entertaining! As a vintage (1972) Sesame Street song, it almost goes without saying that this is written by Joe Raposo. He produces such great material. A special mention goes to the opening of this piece which really does a great “bait and switch” job making the viewer think it’s going to be another gentile farm film. Genius!
9 – The Room is Full of Chickens – Sesame Street
This must be a record! Two songs in and not a Muppet in sight! I did wonder about starting this chart in such a way, but both this song and the previous one were too good to ignore. This is high energy and super short, but all the better for it. Some of the best Sesame Street songs work under the adage of leave them wanting more and this is the perfect example. Had this song not dated back to 1991 you could be forgiven for assuming it was sung by Leslie Carrara-Rudolph or Stephanie D’Abruzzo, but it’s actually Ivy Austin. Ivy is an accomplished Sesame Street vocalist and voice artist responsible for some of the show’s most memorable hits including “Cereal Girl” and “Stand by your Can”. Her vocals here are perfectly matched to the song and a heck of a lot of fun.
8 – I’m Gonna Wash that Man Right Out of My Hair – The Muppet Show
Finally, we get to a song sung by a chicken! As I write this I realize that eighth place seems a little harsh for such a great number, but just wait until you find out what didn’t make the cut at all! Camilla will obviously feature again – she is to this chart what Kermit was to the frog one (almost) – but I must take this opportunity to say how much I enjoy her character. It would be very easy to dismiss her as a random chicken who just happened to get a starring role, but even if that was the case she is now so much more. She has her own offbeat character that really compliments Gonzo’s. They truly are soul mates. I think if we’re honest, as Muppet fans we were much more disappointed by the Gonzo/Camilla split than the Kermit/Piggy one. Despite the lyrics of this song – it’s clear that Gonzo and Camilla are meant to be.
7 – Give a Peck/Safety Dance – Sesame Street
This is a bit of a two for one video so we’ll call it a double A-side (remember those?). If I’m honest I think I prefer Give a Peck for its bold, brassy diva vocals, but I’ve always loved the song Safety Dance so I can’t really split them. The Safety Chickens are performed by Stephanie D’Abruzzo on lead vocals with Peter Linz and John Tartaglia on back up. That line up alone is enough to score both songs a chart place. As I mentioned earlier, Give a Peck brings to mind the big soul singers like Aretha Franklin or Etta James. It’s a no nonsense track that really spells out the importance of safety. Safety Dance is a straight up parody that like the original is equal parts random silliness and serious 80s synth-pop. It’s a stellar combination.
6 – Ain’t Nobody Here but Us Chickens – The Muppet Show
I love the opening to this number featuring the unmistakable vocals of Steve Whitmire. He has such a great voice for this kind of song. In fact, everyone involved is clearly having fun putting on a range of comic voices that work well. This song comes from a later episode of The Muppet Show and you can instantly tell because the sets are bigger and the scene more fully realized. I think this piece looks fantastic. The barn is suitably moody and the critters are genuinely menacing. Probably the best thing about this number though is the finale where the sharpshooting chickens mount a rescue attempt. I love the way the shots are perfectly timed and the idea of chickens with guns is beaten only by the idea of chickens with guns shooting KFC buckets!
5 – Down at Papa Joe’s – The Muppet Show
This song is really here to represent all of the “Musical Chickens” moments from The Muppet Show. They are generally short and sweet, but always funny. I find it quite interesting that when all is said and done the chickens are some of the best performers on the show (when they don’t lay an egg). Equally talented at singing and playing music they are also a dab hand (wing?) at comedic or dramatic roles when need be. In terms of versatility I’d put them up there with the real multi-talented Muppet stars like Rowlf, Gonzo, or Kermit. It’s such a simple idea to have what is essentially a hand puppet playing the piano, but it’s incredibly effective. I’d love to see the ideas for the show they thought were too wacky…
4 – Forget You – The Muppets (2011)
I think without a doubt this is Camilla and the chickens’ biggest role to date. I love that the recent movies have seen characters like Camilla and Scooter finally getting solos. I have to remind myself that this isn’t the 1980s sometimes! There was a heck of a lot that the 2011 film got right, but the non-Muppet press reviews often singled out the second half of the movie as being especially fun because it reminded them of the original show. I know songs like this and “Smells Like Teen Spirit” put a smile on my face when I see them – even now. We’ve recently seen some impassioned arguments for why a rebooted “Muppet Show” wouldn’t work (including on this very site), but tracks like this do make me wonder… Perhaps an annual Christmas Muppet Show would be a good compromise?
3 – Cock-a-Doodle Blues – The Muppet Musicians of Bremen (Song starts at 4:35)
The Muppet Musicians of Bremen is one of my earliest Muppet memories. In fact it’s one of those memories that’s so early you kind of only partly remember it. I have no clue how old I was, but I definitely saw this on TV at some point. Muppet Wiki says it was released on home video in 1983, but I think it was before that. Either way, it wasn’t in ’72 when it first aired as I didn’t exist! A few months ago I made a point of watching some old Henson stuff on YouTube (including this) and I must say it holds up incredibly well. The puppetry and performances are excellent, and it’s creepy and humorous in just the right ratio. I heartily recommend it. The songs are brilliant and Jerry Nelson is fantastic on this one. It’s fun to hear the chickens talking rather than clucking, but I think we just caught out Seth MacFarlane on where he got the voice for Family Guy’s Herbert from…
2 – Baby Face – The Muppet Show
While it’s true that “Forget You” is perhaps the chicken’s biggest role, I think this probably stands out as their best known. Of course when you’re in the eye of the Muppet storm it’s hard to be objective, but I’m sure if I asked a casual fan to name a song sung by chickens this would be the most proffered answer. It even appeared at Jim Henson’s memorial service! It’s just perfect. Every last cluck is exactly right. I can only imagine how hard this must have been to perform. Not just getting the vocals correct, but to then have to puppeteer to the track and get every last beak movement in the correct place must have been devilishly difficult. It’s moments like this that really show the level of talent and commitment that went into The Muppet Show.
1 – I Am Chicken – Sesame Street
It was feather close between this and the previous song for number one and it really did go back and forth, but ultimately this won out for two reasons. First, as well as being sung by a chicken it’s also about chickens and second, Louise Gold. I’ll happily say that I’m biased towards Louise because of her Brit connections, but also because she’s just that good. If you need proof (and I don’t know why you do all of a sudden) just have a listen to this song. It’s an incredible vocal that is perfect in every way. Each note is hit head on like a musical John Henry. However, more than just being in tune and on time (which I admit is kind of crucial) this is exactly how a singing chicken should sound. The gruff tones and half squawked words just sound like a chicken… singing! How is that even possible? The song was written by Christopher Cerf and Norman Stiles and although it’s a parody of a Helen Reddy song they give it a fun girl group twist that makes it much punchier than the original. It’s a style that really works for the song and chickens in general.
Before I wrap this chart up I really want to add a nod to Matt Vogel for his recent performances as Camilla. I wanted to mention him earlier, but ran out of room!
Muppet chickens are everywhere. In fact, there might even be one reading this over your shoulder right now! (Put your hand up if you looked. Then put it down again as you look silly on the morning bus with your hand up!) I think their success is down to their familiarity. Chickens are all around us in real life and it’s not hard to imagine them being just like Camilla and Co. Yet when we see them sing or dance it’s still unexpected and funny. Muppet chickens are almost 45 years old now so I have to thank them for their years of loyal service. They’ve been shot at, tossed through a hoop and thwacked over a badminton net and yet they’re still with us ready to give more. Thank you for all you’ve put up with. Here’s to 45 more years of the same…