Kieran Moore – It’s universally accepted that dogs are a man’s best friend. However, when it comes to the Muppet-verse I find myself unsure if this is true. For every dog like Sprocket that is fiercely loyal to the human in his life there’s an independent soul like Rowlf to balance the scales. There are definitely two types of Muppet dog and this dichotomy (I can’t believe I knew what that meant!) has made researching this week’s chart really interesting.
Speaking of which, as you can imagine there are a lot of “dog” songs across the various Henson productions and my list of possibilities just kept expanding. I’ve had to make some tough choices and unfortunately a lot of really good stuff has been lost. However, I truly believe this is the best of the best. So Sit. Stay. Rollover. Relax and enjoy…
10 – Do the Dog – Sesame Street
I was really pleased when this song scraped into the top 10 as it meant I could talk about Henson’s third most famous dog, Barkley (at least he is in my opinion). He’s such a fun puppet – big and shaggy and brilliantly expressive even though he communicates only in “woofs” and body language. It’s a trait that was later expanded upon for Sprocket (who sadly isn’t in this chart). He is slightly reminiscent of a Chinese dragon puppet and I guess that’s why he followed Big Bird on his visit to China. Sadly though, Barkley hasn’t been seen for a few years. Is it time to start putting signs up on the lampposts of Sesame Street? This song featured in a different guise on my Prairie Dawn chart, but I really enjoy this version sung by Carlo. For a fairly obscure character this is actually his second appearance on my charts!
9 – With a Little Yelp from My Friends – Sesame Street
We’re sticking with Sesame Street for this excellent parody song. Sesame Street parodies, in my opinion, are some of the best things you’ll ever see on the show. It’s a little sad that they’re being pared back going forward. I think it’s a little short-sighted to be honest as these songs and sketches not only speak to kids, but they keep their parents entertained too and that’s what attracts viewers. I guess the feeling now is that children are watching TV on their own or online. Which brings me to my next point – here in the UK often the only time Sesame Street gets any kind of notice is when something like “Game of Chairs” goes viral so having parodies online surely helps the show hit a wider audience. Anyway, I’ll get off my soapbox now! This song is sung by Paul Jacobs and I love it!
8 – Dog Paddle Song – Sesame Street
Taking this week’s Sesame Street wildlife video spot is this fun ragtime number written and sung by Joe Raposo. That guy’s so talented it could almost turn you green with envy! For those that don’t know, if you can think of a classic Sesame Street song there’s a good chance Joe wrote it. From “Bein’ Green” to “C is for Cookie” to “Doin’ the Pigeon” this man knows how to compose a tune. He was Oscar nominated for “The Great Muppet Caper” and won several Grammy and Emmy awards over the years. As you can plainly hear he is also a fantastic singer, able to turn his hand to just about any style. I like the old-school microphone effect on this track – it makes a real impact and if I’m honest is probably what earned this song the couple of extra points it needed for eighth place.
7 – Doggin’ It – Muppets at Walt Disney World
Who can believe it’s taken until song number seven to have a Rowlf number? As the Muppet world’s king canine I guess he had to let a few loyal subjects appear first – it’s only fair. This song is classic Rowlf with him sitting at the (conveniently placed) piano singing away with his poochy pals. (Spoiler: you might see that happen again in this chart). I guess this could be seen as a tribute to Rowlf’s postcard moment from “The Muppets Take Manhattan”- it certainly has a similar vibe, however here Rowlf & Co. seem to be much happier with their lot. That’s the magic of Disney I guess. Speaking of which, one day I hope to wake up in an alternate universe where Disney have released this special on DVD or perhaps a streaming service. I know! It’ll be a bonus feature on season four of “The Muppet Show”…
6 – Dog Walk – The Muppet Show
I’ve made no secret of my love of Richard Hunt and this is probably one of his best musical performances ever. The way he rattles through the lyrics with such precision is something that definitely takes skill (and I should imagine a lot of practice). Apart from actually getting your lips around the lyrics you have to know the words completely as you have no time to think about them. His voice is crystal clear and expressive and funny. Sorry Wanda fans, but Wayne really was the talent in that partnership. For my full thoughts on the Wayne and Wanda relationship check out the top 10 based on them that I wrote last year – I may have been taking it a little too seriously!
5 – Dog Eat Dog – The Muppet Show
This was one of the first songs I listened to when ranking this chart and based on its score I honestly thought it would end up higher than number five. It’s a fun mix of great musicianship and brilliant humor and just has absolutely everything going for it. It features the classic pairing of Rowlf and Baskerville the Hound (who first worked together in 1962 on Purina Dog Chow commercials), and is sung brilliantly by Jim Henson and Jerry Nelson. I love the way Jerry sings exactly like a dog should. This has a lazy, laid-back vibe that conjures up hot, dusty afternoons in a small southern town somewhere. I can picture the dog in the song and the whole story unfolding in my head. Baskerville is one of the Muppets’ unsung heroes. He’s appeared in the aforementioned adverts, but also “Sesame Street”, all five seasons of The Muppet Show, “Muppets Tonight”, “Muppets at Walt Disney World”, “Mopatop’s Shop” and two Muppet movies. Phew! He’s a character I’d dearly love to see again someday.
4 – Best Present Ever – Bear in the Big Blue House
This is such a sweet song. I don’t know if it’s because it’s sung by Dave Goelz, but this song really reminds me of Gonzo’s heartfelt Christmas songs, “Everyone Matters” and “I Wish I Could be Santa Claus”. I could totally see Gonzo singing this – especially with its message of being an outsider looking in. Seriously, listen to lyrics of the first verse and tell me that this couldn’t be a Gonzo song. I’ve said it before, but it “bears” repeating – the music on Bear in the Big Blue House is without fail some of the best Muppet music you’ll hear. This track was written by Peter Lurye and is Christmassy enough to tug the heartstrings, but not so sweet that it’s sickly. I love it.
3 – Old Dog Trey – Ol’ Brown Ears is Back
I couldn’t write a dog chart without selecting something from Ol’ Brown Ears is Back, and there really was only one option if I’m looking for a dog-based song. This is simply beautiful. It’s definitely an emotional piece and another one where the lyrics need to be listened to properly. Jim Henson really takes us on a journey through this song thanks to his incredibly poignant delivery. Every word has been thought about and is sung or spoken with intent. It’s easy to forget that Jim and the other Muppet performers are actors because we don’t tend to see them and they are often performing comedy, but songs like this really serve to remind us of just how gifted these guys are. It still amazes me that the recordings of the vocals of this album and the final orchestral arrangements were made nearly a decade apart. They come together so cohesively – I just find it incredible!
2 – A Dog’s Best Friend – Dog City
You didn’t think I’d miss Dog City out did you? I couldn’t possibly write about dogs and not include this dog-centric episode of “The Jim Henson Hour”. I haven’t watched this fun take on the detective genre for a while so I must admit I don’t remember every plot point, but my abiding memory of the show is that it’s incredibly written and brilliantly funny. This song just proves that point. The lyrics are witty and full of my favorite type of humor – puns, and even with Rowlf’s quick bit of censorship this song still works on two levels. Colleen Barker sings this song in the show, but in real life it’s the multi-talented Fran Brill that’s doing the heavy lifting. Boy does Fran have range – let’s not forget this is the lady best known for Prairie Dawn and Zoe on “Sesame Street”. The joke about the final note that only dogs can hear is sublime. Jim Henson cites Dog City as his favorite amongst all of his productions. It’s a bold claim, but well deserved in my opinion.
1 – Mad Dogs and Englishmen – The Muppet Show
I guess this could be seen as a slightly strange choice for number one over more obvious tracks, but I just love this song. Firstly, I think Noel Coward is a genius – that can’t be disputed as far as I’m concerned. Secondly, this is sung brilliantly with the crisp, clear delivery that has to be used when performing such a song. Every beat is en pointe. It’s an absolute master class in everything The Muppet Show was. Jim Henson and Jerry Nelson have appeared together on this chart already, but here they are joined by Louise Gold who shows just why she was hired to join the troupe in season two. It seems that lyrics have been a recurring theme throughout the top five songs and this is no exception. I’m not sure nowadays some of these lines (which pour far more scorn on the British than anyone else) would fly but I think historical context is always important in such matters. One other recurring theme in the top five has been Rowlf who appears in four of the five songs presented. I guess this was kind of inevitable, but certainly not on purpose.
I’m still slightly torn on whether Muppet dogs are a man’s best friend. I know we all like them and they hopefully like us back, but they certainly don’t depend on humankind (well ok, I guess they kind of do, but I’m talking about the characters here – not the fuzzy pieces of felt and foam). What I do know is that without Muppet dogs things would look very different now. In fact, we might not even be here (well ok, our mothers and fathers would still have met and…, but I’m talking about this website). Had Rowlf not been a big star who knows what might have happened? So I have to thank Muppet dogs for pretty much everything. Their glossy coats. Their wet noses. And above all their ability to stay. Thank you.