Kieran Moore – “Let’s all sing like the birdies sing; tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet!”
If any of you are familiar with “The Enchanted Tiki Room” at the Disney parks there’s a good chance you’ve had that line stuck in your head at some point. Today at The Muppet Mindset we’re all about singing like the birdies sing as we explore the wonderful world of our fine, feathered friends – the Muppet birds! (FYI: For those of you visiting the Disneyland Resort this summer and lamenting the lack of Muppet*Vision, try the “Tiki Room” instead. I was taken aback by how Muppety it felt. Each song is like a sketch straight out of “The Muppet Show”.)
Anyway, back to the subject at hand… There are a lot of Muppet birds. In fact, The Institute for Made Up Facts claims that if you stood every Muppet bird on top of each other eventually you’d reach Mars (or Snickers). I think you’ll agree that’s a crazy statistic! Not every bird, therefore, will be listed here and I apologize if your favorite didn’t make the cut. They say a bird in the chart is worth two in the bush, so let’s get on with it and see which songs will soar with the eagles…
10 – Alabamy Bound – The Muppet Show
I couldn’t write a chart about birds and not include Muppet penguins. They’ve been a staple of the Muppet world since “The Muppet Show” and feature in pretty much everything the gang have done since. I think my favorite penguin moment is in “Muppets Take Manhattan” when a bunch of them wander into Pete’s looking for work and get very short shrift. You can find the clip on YouTube if you don’t remember it. This song is just ridiculous (a trait that appears a lot on this chart). The song with it’s “Choo-Choo” train motif set to the visual of a ship is the best kind of silly and the penguins made to look like the Pilgrim Fathers is right on the money. The Plymouth Rock joke is inspired and I’m in awe of the puppetry. It can’t have been easy to do.
9 – The Bathtub of Seville – Sesame Street
I said there was more ridiculous to come. If you told someone you’d just seen a flamingo singing opera in the bath they’d most likely start backing away and hiding sharp implements, but it’s par for the course on Sesame Street. Placido Flamingo was introduced to the show as a way to get kids interested in classical music and his fun takes on opera are brilliantly inventive. They’re also incredibly well sung by Richard Hunt. I can’t imagine any other Muppet performer from his era being able to sing these songs as well as he does. He really is an incredible singer and handles these faux-classical pieces with great aplomb. Placido Flamingo gained the ultimate validation when he sang with Placido Domingo in the special “Sesame Street: 20 and Still Counting” and Richard is right there with the real thing.
8 – This Song is for the Birds – Sesame Street
These charts simply haven’t featured enough Biff and Sully so I’m pleased to redress the balance a little now. Jerry Nelson is great fun as Biff. I love his “New Yoik” accent. There’s something inherently funny about construction workers singing and it’s made even better once they start to add in birdcalls. I think Stella might be the MVP of this piece though; her vacant stare and percussion breaks are hilarious. Is it just me or does she remind anyone else of Cotterpin Doozer? I guess it’s quite sweet that Biff and Co. would take time out to acknowledge the birds around them – it’s certainly not what you’d expect from your average construction worker. I love the Caribbean vibe going on here. I’ve noticed in recent weeks that it’s a musical style Sesame Street likes to employ quite a bit.
7 – Big Bird Doesn’t Fly – Sesame Street
The other musical genre that I’ve noticed Sesame Street uses a lot is exactly this one – girl groups of the 1950’s/60’s (and it’s male doo-wap equivalent). It’s a great genre to use as it’s loud and up-tempo, but all about the lyrics so songs really get their point across. The point here being that Big Bird doesn’t fly. The Squirelles are a fantastic group and Rhonda, the lead singer, is voiced by the always superb Lillias White. Lillias won a Daytime Emmy for her Sesame Street work in 1992, though I must admit I know her best for her performance as the lead Muse in “Hercules”. Regardless of where or what she’s singing she has a stunning voice and I’m pleased that I can shine an extra spotlight on her work today.
6 – Rockin’ Robin – The Muppet Show
I’m a little disappointed that this song hasn’t cracked the top five, but we’re already listening to songs that scored over 90 points out of 100 so it’s not for want of trying (as my dad would say). Why didn’t Janice sing lead more often? We’ve already established that Richard Hunt was a phenomenal singer so I can’t work it out. Perhaps he found singing as Janice difficult? If anyone knows of a reason I’d love to hear it because female-led rock bands are always interesting and I feel the Electric Mayhem were missing a trick. I really like the staging for this song – having the band in the tree is a great visual and I think it’s helped make this number even more memorable. The titular Robin is played here by Fraggle Rock megastar Karen Prell in a rare Muppet Show performance so that’s another feather in this song’s illustrious cap!
5 – Take a Chance on Me – The Muppet Show
This is one of my favorite ever Muppet moments – based not just on its silliness, but also on the song and musicianship. I guess I mostly remember it because it was on the VHS home release “Muppet Moments”. We were one of the first families in the area to get a VCR back in the day and my brother and sister and I spent many happy hours watching all sorts of tapes borrowed from the video store. The brightly coloured birds jumping, sliding and dancing on the stretchy telephone wires is visually striking and makes a real impact. For me this encapsulates what the Muppet Show was all about. Interesting to look at, a joy to listen to, full of fun and packed with perfect performances. The twangy arrangement is something I find really appealing too. It sounds bouncy and works well with the action onscreen. All in all a Muppet classic methinks!
4 – Fly to the Sky (Learn to Fly) – Fraggle Rock
I didn’t really expect to feature Fraggle Rock in these “Animal” charts and I figured if I did it would be for Sprocket, but sadly he didn’t sing as much as I’d hoped. Either way, I’m pleased to have found a way to include the show as I was suffering from “Fraggle Withdrawal Syndrome” (it’s a real thing – The Institute for Made Up Facts lists it as one of the main 17 reasons for shouting “whoopee” at inappropriate moments!) I love a Fraggle group song and anything with Wembley instantly gets extra cool points. This really does have it all – Fraggle chanting, solo lines for most of the main cast and a funky guitar led arrangement. Love it! Does anyone else hear shades of “Music Makes Us Real (Ping)” in this? The Baby Tree Creature is a fun puppet. It has a great goofy look and Karen Prell (her again) captures the gangly movements of a baby bird brilliantly.
3 – Tit Willow – The Muppet Show
This is hilarious! You really have to watch this song and not just listen to it. Sam’s reactions are such a huge part of the humor, yet despite that fact this piece has appeared on several Muppet audio collections! It tickles me no end that Sam the Eagle has won a Grammy and topped the UK album chart. He is a brilliantly conceived character. To have someone in the cast pick at the ridiculous things happening onstage instantly stops dead the arguments of those viewers that might want to do the same. To then have the rest of the cast make their biggest (serious) critic a figure of fun is a stroke of genius as again it does the same in real life. It’s brilliantly synergistic and set the template for plenty of other shows going forward to do the same.
2 – That’s Co-operation – Sesame Street
This was very nearly number one. It’s a great Broadway musical style piece that with slightly more risqué lyrics could have originated in “Avenue Q”. In fact, I’d go as far as to suggest that this was written as an “Avenue Q” parody. With its uber-cheery theme and “Co-operation” refrain it’s exactly the kind of thing the show would have sent up. That said – it’s definitely a book number! Caroll Spinney sounds fantastic. The song demands a show style delivery and boy, does he deliver! The Sesame Street team is full of theatrical types so the cast really excels here. I genuinely can’t find anything to fault. The onscreen cast highlights the different types of birds that Sesame Street has at its disposal and in that sense it is probably the most “bird-y” song on the list. Surely only an absolute classic could beat this…
1 – Put Down the Duckie – Sesame Street
You didn’t think I’d write a whole chart about birds and not feature Hoots the Owl did you? That’s simply unthinkable! Hoots is one of my favorite Sesame Street characters and very easily my favorite Kevin Clash character (sorry Elmo fans). I often feel bad that Kevin Clash doesn’t get more love on my charts – when compared to his output I’d say he’s probably the hardest done by of all the Muppet performers. At least this song gives him another number one. His musical performances as Hoots really show off his vocal range and ability to perform jazz and blues. There are several versions of this song including a non-celebrity mix which I guess I should have selected for the sake of purity, but this is the one that I know best so that’s why it’s here. When I was about 13 I tried to learn the saxophone. I wish I could put my poor performance down to the duckie I held in my hand, but sadly I just wasn’t very good!
So, included in this chart we’ve had flamingos, robins, owls, eagles, penguins and whatever Big Bird is and whilst those birds are all very, very different they come together in the most important way possible – they are some of the finest Muppets around. Seriously, the quality on display in this chart has been off the scale. Every character (even the bit part ones) looks fantastic and is performed with flair. I guess birds of a feather do flock together after all! So whether you’re flightless, on the wing or somewhere in between if you’re a Muppet bird you’re in good company. It only really remains now to thank the Muppet birds for all their hard work. Thank you. As Sam the Eagle might sing, “You are the wind beneath my wings”…