Kieran Moore – Wow! The last 10 weeks (technically it’s 13, but anyway) have really flown by! I can’t believe we’ve reached the end of the series.
It’s been really fun trolling through the Muppet archives looking for animal based songs. It’s also been a treat for me to expand my horizons beyond “The Muppet Show” and “Sesame Street” and take a look at some shows I don’t get to feature much. We’ve had chart hits, award winners, bizarre songs that I still can’t believe exist and enough barnyard animals to make Old MacDonald wish he’d become a plumbing magnate instead.
Every single one of the 100 songs I’ve written about are the best of the best so today we’re honoring the best of the best of the best with this final wrap up.
Let’s head out on safari and see what we can spot…
10 – Mary Had a Bicycle – Sesame Street
This was the first number one song in this series; heading up, as it does, my sheep-based chart. As much as I love this sketch I guess it’s fair enough that it falls in tenth place since it doesn’t really feature many actual sheep! This is hilarious though. Richard Hunt is on fire here as Don Music and is bouncing brilliantly off Jim Henson’s Kermit. This feels like the Richard and Jim version of “The Comedian’s a Bear” as Kermit gets more and more exasperated. I love it when Kermit goes supersonic! It’s such fun to see this usually placid guy lose his cool. Musically, we all know Richard can sing and he does an admirable job as Don, but this really is all about the comedy.
9 – Mad Dogs and Englishmen – The Muppet Show
This is another comedy song. Looking down the list of what’s to come you’d better get used to them because there are some real Yuks to come! For me the star of this song is Louise Gold as Afghan Hound. For obvious reasons (she’s British) her crisp English vocals are exceptional and she’s just a shade ahead of Jim Henson and Jerry Nelson as Rowlf and Baskerville respectively. I guess as an Englishman myself I can relate to this song – particularly in the height of summer – so it perhaps resonates in a way it might not for others. Noel Coward’s wit is a joy to behold and you could so a lot worse than spending some time watching old clips online. Try “Don’t Let’s Be Beastly to the Germans” or “Please Mrs Worthington, Don’t Put Your Daughter on the Stage” – they are two of my favorites.
8 – Don’t Fence Me In – The Muppet Show
If I’m honest I kind of thought this might come up higher on the list. I used each song’s scores from my original notes to rank this chart and we’re already in the high 90’s so it’s wafer thin between every song at this point in. Bob Hope’s episode of The Muppet Show is one of my favorites. The running joke of having him disappear to engage in charity work is genius and a great way to gently send him up. There aren’t really any surprises today so I guess I’m not giving anything away by saying there is more than one track from this episode on the chart (actually it was very nearly three). Jerry Nelson makes a great horse. He actually appeared in every song in the top five of my horse chart, but surprisingly this might be his last featured performance today.
7 – I am Chicken – Sesame Street
The fabulous Louise Gold is back again in this fun Christopher Cerf number. I think I commented on this at the time, but it astounds me how much Louise sounds like a singing chicken here. This isn’t the standard clucking of Camilla and Co., it’s actual words and yet they sound just how I’d expect them to if a real life chicken walked in (having first crossed the road) and started singing. This song has a neat 50’s/60’s girl group vibe that feels to me like Christopher Cerf’s signature sound. If a Muppet sings something of this genre it’s very likely to have been penned by him. He’s a Henson song writing legend who’s up there with Joe Raposo for me in terms of Sesame Street significance. All in all, this is a meeting of two enormous talents at the height of their powers. How is this only number seven?
6 – Hairy Fairy – Mopatop’s Shop
I struggled to discuss the brilliance of this song last time it featured and I find myself suitably lost for words this time too. It’s quite simply amazing. Mary is performed by Nigel Plaskitt who has an interesting mix of Henson credits including everything from “Labyrinth” to “Panwapa” to “That Puppet Game Show”. I really enjoy the way Mary’s deep gorilla voice comes through every now and again; it’s a great character trait that adds some real depth. I said last time that I don’t know if there was more behind the scenes with the character of Mary and her desire to be a fairy and that still holds true, but either way this song makes me happy for its underlying message of acceptance and diversity. It’s something we all need more of I feel.
5 – Put Down the Duckie – Sesame Street
This is arguably the hippest song on this chart and considering it features Hoots on lead vocals it’s easy to see why. I first became aware of this song about 20 years ago when my Muppet love was starting to come to the fore again and I bought a Sesame Street video of the same name. Interestingly enough, I don’t think it was the special listed on Muppet Wiki and was more of a sing-along type thing. The timeline seems like it should be, but I really don’t think it was… Anyway… This is another Christopher Cerf song (with lyrics by Norman Stiles) and Kevin Clash does a great job with its jazz/blues vibe. There are celebrities galore here and watching this clip is almost as fun as listening to it. I particularly love Jeremy Irons getting down with his bad self!
4 – Pig Calypso – The Muppet Show
This is the second song on today’s chart from the Bob Hope episode of The Muppet Show. It’s the perfect combination of humor and musicality. Frank Oz is brilliantly vampy as Miss Piggy here as she regales us with tales of her “gay romance”. She’s really channelling her inner goddess with those calypso trills! It’s a fantastic vocal that blows me away every time. I truly think this is one of Piggy’s best ever musical performances. Of course the stinger really comes in once Kermit joins for the last verse stating that Piggy has no chance in her romantic dreams. The Muppets have made some pretty lazy pig jokes over the years, but this is elevated beyond that thanks to its clever rhyme, musicality and tongue-in-cheek delivery. This is a rare case of a song being written especially for The Muppet Show, penned as it was by Derek Scott. Derek also performed all of Rowlf’s piano tracks for the show as well as for “Ol’ Brown Ears is Back”. What a legend!
3 – Fever – The Muppet Show
“Everybody’s got the fever…” At least I know I have. This song practically sizzles and is the perfect Muppet moment. It’s funny, musical, playful, grown up, has fantastic performances and is just classy from start to finish. When a friend says they don’t like the Muppets you have two options: run away screaming or show them this clip. If even this can’t change their mind then I’d definitely revert to option one! This performance was recently covered by Amy Schumer on her sketch show – when someone is paying homage to your own cover version of a song you know you’re doing it right. Frank Oz has had a couple of storming entries on this chart. It’s a shame that Fozzie couldn’t complete his hat trick of number ones, but then we wouldn’t have this…
2 – Bear Cha-Cha-Cha – Bear in the Big Blue House
Songs don’t get more infectious than this! There is so much going for this song: it’s fantastically musical, impossible to listen to without dancing along yourself and performed with great panache by Noel MacNeal. Noel is one of my favorite Muppet singers. I’m sure I say it every time, but his voice is crystal clear and so expressive. I could listen to it all day. The main reason I love this track though is the memories it brings back, ultimately I think that’s the hallmark of a great song and is something the Muppets do brilliantly. This makes me think of my nephew. He’s about to turn 20, but loved this track so much back in the day. He had a toy Bear that would sing and dance and he would dance along too. The best children’s characters will live on forever and I know that Bear will. The last 20 seconds of this song might be one of the best things you’ll ever hear. I mean that sincerely.
1 – This Frog – Sesame Street
Every single song on this chart has been exceptional – that’s why they’re on this chart in the first place and yet this track is simply on a higher plane. It’s almost peerless amongst Muppet songs in my opinion. Only the crème de la crème can even compete. It’s not just that this song has a “worthy” theme, (after all who decides that a dancing bear isn’t as worthy as an affirmative frog in the first place?) it’s also a beautiful song and a tour-de-force performance by Jim Henson. I think matches anything else he’s ever done with Kermit. It’s not as well known as “Rainbow Connection” or “Bein’ Green”, but this sums up Kermit’s philosophy on life equally as well, if not better. Sesame Street Kermit has had some incredible moments that just floor me (I feel at this stage that I must also mention “A Song from Kermit”). Next time you’re having a bad day, listen to this track. Its inspirational message is incredibly powerful and delivered so beautifully it can’t fail to pick you up. It’s simply stunning.
Where would the Muppets be without animals? Pretty much nowhere I guess. Sure we’d have Gonzo and Scooter and Grover, but imagine a world with no Kermit, Big Bird or Miss Piggy. It’s unthinkable. Genuinely, it’s not hard to see that no animals would also mean no Muppets – they are such a huge part of Jim Henson’s world. I’ve really enjoyed my foray into the animal kingdom and hope to pick up the thread again soon. I have several ideas for follow up charts that I’d like to explore, but in the meantime as attention is turned to something different I’d like to say a huge “Thank you” to every Muppet and Muppet performer that has appeared anywhere over the last 10 charts. You have all made me very happy indeed. Whether you’re a fairy gorilla or a Caribbean amphibian, you make the Muppets a thing of joy and beauty. Thank You.