Kieran Moore – I recently got into an internet debate about the premiere date of The Muppet Show and it got me thinking…
You see The Muppet Show has about a gazillion birthdays due to its syndicated status. I won’t bore you with all the gory details (as it’s well documented elsewhere), but here in the UK where the show originated it was shown on a national channel that was made up of lots of regional broadcasters that shared programmes. This meant shows could air at different times across the country. (I realise that’s not unusual [Like Tom Jones Syndrome], but I have to explain it just in case). The sum total of this means that even before the US is taken into account The Muppet Show has lots of UK premiere dates to consider
As someone who actually lives in the ATV region (the show’s “home” region), I consider The Muppet Show’s birthday to be September 5th (the first day it aired here), but the history books disagree and tend to use September 20th which is one of the US airdates. (Apropos of nothing – September 5th is also Freddie Mercury, Love-a-lot Bear and my brother’s birthday.)
Anyway, all this got me thinking that The Muppet Show is a bit like the Queen in that it has a real birthday followed by an official one slightly after. So in honor of The Muppet Show’s real, unofficial birthday I now proudly present the top 10 songs of Queens.
Just go with it, it’s easier…
10 – Meteora – The Christmas Toy
Long before Toy Story borrowed its plot, The Christmas Toy featured Meteora, a space-themed toy that doesn’t know she’s an action figure. She also happens to be the Queen of the Asteroids. I remember watching The Christmas Toy in 1986 (when I would have been eight) and I also remember watching “The Secret Life of Toys” which came along afterwards, but I certainly don’t remember being 16 when that show aired! I’d have bet my reputation as an Olympic swimmer that the two were broadcast closer together. This is a sweet song that doesn’t really go anywhere, but does flesh out the character of Meteora and features some great performances from Dave Goelz and Camille Bonora in particular. There’s a very grown up feel to Meteora’s vocals. I’d love to hear her tackle a couple of torch songs. Perhaps when that “Obscure Henson Characters Cover the Classics” album comes out…
9 – That’s the Letter O – Sesame Street
Let me start by saying I think Queen Latifah is amazing so it pains me to put this song so low, but I just have to. If anything it’s only Queen Latifah’s involvement that stopped this being dead last (or even not appearing at all). You see (and I feel awful for saying it), I think this is one occasion where the presence of the Muppets actually detracts from the song. Telly is fine enough, but Prairie Dawn and Merry Monster’s voices go straight through me and to misquote Joey Tribbiani, they make me want to rip off my ears just so I have something to throw at them. I feel awful for saying it as I love Fran Brill and Joey Mazzarino, but I’m sorry I just can’t take to either of them in this song. In its favour I like the laid-back, old school (skool?) vibe on this track and Queen Latifah is as good as we know she is.
8 – Queen of Six – Sesame Street
This is counting for hep cats! Sesame Street has such a great legacy of music and world class musicians. A few weeks ago a radio station here in the UK played “Pinball Number Count” as a listener request and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive with lots of people citing Sesame Street as one of the reasons they got into Jazz or experimental music. I’d certainly consider this part of that legacy. This jazzy, drum led number was written by Jim Henson and Keith Vernon Textor and narrated by William “Rosko” Mercer. The animation is fun and has an other-worldly quality that probably scared the life out of some preschoolers. I’m sure after years of therapy they’re all fine now (mostly)!
7 – Hello Dolly – The Muppet Show
The phenomenal Pearl Bailey is playing Queen Guinevere in this Muppet Show sketch. I’ve spoken before about my love of “In the Good Old Summertime” from this episode, but every single musical performance of Pearl’s is a triumph. Her gospel-tinged rendition of “My Soul is a Witness” is beautiful. The idea of performing the jousting scene from “Camelot” using the songs from lots of other musicals is brilliant. It makes what would have been a fun, perfectly serviceable performance a Muppety bundle of joy instead. Pearl makes this seem effortless (as she does with all her numbers) and there’s really nothing to fault here. And if you try, you’re just being churlish.
6 – The Queen of Nacho Picchu – Sesame Street
This song previously featured in my Carmen Osbahr chart as the only non-Rosita number on the list. It was one of the first songs I thought of for this chart. I still really enjoy its serious tone as it introduces us to the scary Queen, whilst simultaneously being incredibly silly and talking about giant dips and skunks. It’s a fun mix. This song makes me think of those 1980s South American adventure movies like “Romancing the Stone” or “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”. Do we think we could see the Queen of Nacho Picchu ripping out someone’s heart? I guess not… As previously alluded to Carmen is obviously best known Muppet-wise as Rosita (who I love by the way), but she does get to break away every now and again and has an impressive line up of Henson credits including “Dog City”, “Bear in the Big Blue House”, “Panwapa” and “Billy Bunny’s Animal Songs”. She’s also a great singer as this clip shows.
5 – I Give to Thee – Fraggle Rock
I considered several songs for Ma Gorg (AKA Queen of the Universe), and there could have been more than one, but I ultimately settled on this track for a couple of reasons. First, it features the full Gorg family so we get three royals for the price of one; second, it shows the loving relationship she has with Pa Gorg (which I feel sometimes gets a bit lost) and third, it’s musically brilliant whilst still being fun. To go back to my second point, sometimes it can seem that poor old Ma Gorg is very put upon and undervalued within her family. Moments like this remind us that Ma and Pa really do love each other and have a very strong bond. It’s tricky for characters in shows like Fraggle Rock to have much character development as often the giant reset button is pressed at the end of the episode, but I definitely feel the character of Ma expands as the show goes on. Whether that’s in the storyline of the show or just the writers “fleshing” her out I’m not sure, but she certainly becomes more of her own entity as the show progresses.
4 – Christmas Queen – A Green and Red Christmas
I just love the grand opening of this song – I guess Miss Piggy demands nothing less! It’s impossible to listen to A Green and Red Christmas and not wish you were able to see each song as well as hear it. Songs like Christmas Queen, “North Pole Comedy Club” and “Christmas Smorgasbord” are just begging to be released cinematically as well as audibly. I’d be more than happy to see the Muppets go back and turn this album into a special or even a series of YouTube videos. This release was the first time for a while that the Muppets felt like they did back in the day in my humble opinion. This song is very, very funny and perfect for Piggy. I love the way the backing singers dish out backhanded compliments. The lyrics just can’t help but make me laugh. I do feel sorry for Piggy sometimes though. It’s easy to take pot-shots, but she is actually quite talented. So is Eric Jacobson who I’m slowly starting to prefer as Piggy to Frank Oz! The noise Piggy makes when she’s dropped midway might just have to be my new ringtone…
3 – Ragtime Queen – Fraggle Rock
Ragtime Queen is a previous number one and was number 20 on my top 50 roundup chart so it goes without saying that I love this song. Truth be told, any of these top three songs could have been number one if the next hadn’t just had something to edge it. Mokey is, was and always will be my favorite Fraggle. I definitely identified with her as a kid watching the show. I was arty (though terrible at art) and thoughtful and probably saw myself as a bit of an authority on everything as she sometimes does. There are lots of fun Mokey songs, but I think she’s at her best when she’s being heartfelt. All of the Fraggle performers are fantastic singers, but I have to give Kathryn Mullen some love for her beautiful, wafty vocals. They’re not just note perfect they’re so emotive they touch your soul. This is simply beautiful.
2 – I See a Kingdom – The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland
Maybe it’s my age or my less than fuzzy feelings for Elmo, but I just didn’t take to The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland the way I did “Follow That Bird”. (I’m sure it’s probably my age…) One thing I will say in favor of this movie though is that I like the music very much. Songs like “Take the First Step” and “Together Forever” are every bit as good as “Ain’t No Road Too Long” or “Easy Goin’ Day” – and I don’t say that lightly. I See a Kingdom is a great Sesame Street song. In fact, no, it’s a great song period. The world music feel has a slight 90’s Michael Jackson vibe, but listening to the lyrics this actually makes quite a nice companion piece to Vanessa Williams’ other big movie song “Colors of the Wind”. They work really well together. This is a Muppet song that works outside the context of its source material and that’s what pushes it into second place. Interestingly enough, the song in first place is almost the exact opposite…
1 – Bohemian Rhapsody – Muppet Viral Videos
Could it be anything else? This song won Webby Awards, has over 52 million views on YouTube and even scored the Muppets a surprise chart hit in December 2009. This is a bona fide Muppet classic with an overwhelming cast of characters present. On that subject, the first time I watched this video I had my eyes peeled for my favorite Muppet, Scooter, and started to get a bit despondent as it came to an end and he hadn’t been featured. I couldn’t believe it! We got Muppet Cacti, but no Scooter? I was gutted. Little did I know there was a brilliant comedy stinger at the end. I was over the moon that not only did he get to appear, he got to speak! Every movement in this song is perfection – Gonzo and his chickens, Animal adeptly dodging the song’s more interesting lyrics, the comedy genius of the “opera” section, The Electric Mayhem rocking out and the Miss Piggy led finale. Every Muppet gets a chance to shine. It’s worth noting that Queen do actually appear on this track and that only happened because of their love for The Muppets and faith that this would be done right. I’ve gabbed on for ages, but I should also mention Kirk Thatcher’s fantastic direction. As I said earlier, in contrast to the previous song this really should be watched to be appreciated fully.
Wow! That was a mammoth write up, but I guess in what is officially The Muppet Show’s official unofficial birthday chart I can be let off for a little bit of indulgence. It’s perfect that the number one song this week features the whole Muppet cast. This track was always destined to be a chart topper, but the fact that it’s this particular week is all the more special. And it is a special week. I’d like to wish The Muppet Show a very merry un-birthday and thank everyone who worked on the show in whatever capacity for all the amazing work they did. See you in a couple of weeks for an official official birthday celebration… Thank You!