Kieran Moore – Here at The Muppet Mindset we pride ourselves on being at the cutting edge of not just the Muppets, but also current affairs in general. That’s why today’s chart is based on one of this week’s biggest breaking stories…
Yes, you guessed it; this chart is inspired by the fact that on this very day Emperor Constantine I was succeeded as ruler of the Roman Empire by his sons Constantine II, Constantius II and Constans… in 337AD. Now if Mr. Tarkanian would just pay my way to the Roman Empire, I could crack this story wide open and catch them red-handed (insert running gag here).
Presumably the mention of “Constantine” has tipped you off as to how the subject of this chart fits in with this developing story, but if not it’s because Constantine was a Roman Emperor, the Roman Empire had Gladiators, Sylvester Stallone dressed as a Gladiator and fought a lion on The Muppet Show and if a lion eats you it’s bad (guy).
So let’s get on wi-STOP THE PRESSES! (I always wanted to write that!)
10 – Riverbottom Nightmare Band – Emmet Otter’s Jugband Christmas
The Muppets get heavy! And they ROCK! Does anyone else think this sounds a little like “Foxy Lady”? I guess that works with the overall theme. You know, I can also hear shades of “Can You Picture That?” as well. I guess that makes sense since both are written by Paul Williams. This sounds very early-Muppet-Show Mayhem to me. Next time your mother, father or tax inspector says your music sounds like a load of noise, play them this. They’ll be begging you to put Slipknot back on. That’s not to say this is a load of noise (though it is in 10th place), it’s more that it’s an assault to the senses (mostly hearing to be fair). The “Nightmare” are a big old bunch of meanies! They break the law, tear up the town, rob Emmet of the win and make a massive amount of noise in the process. They are however fun puppet designs and well-performed so it’s not all bad.
9 – Doc Hopper’s Commercial – The Muppet Movie
I had hoped to feature the extended cut of Doc Hopper’s commercial for his chain of french-fried frog leg restaurants, but I can’t seem to find it. If you haven’t seen it you really should (it’s on the Blu-ray) as it’s a lot of fun (as is Kermit trying to ride his bike as if he’s been at the grasshoppers all day). Doc Hopper is a great villain. Like all the best baddies he has a strong motive for being so nasty – even if it is a bit lousy. He firmly believes that Kermit is the key to growing his empire and will stop at nothing to get what he wants. His command of “Kill him” after Kermit’s heartfelt and sentimental (yet slightly reckless) speech takes him from bumbling bad guy to mean-spirited Machiavellian. He’s right though, he does make a lousy frog.
8 – Sweetums – The Frog Prince
It’s easy to forget that Sweetums started out as a bad guy – especially if you first saw him in The Muppet Show or Muppet Movie where he’s much more of a lovable lump. Seeing his origins here actually help to round out his character a bit. Let’s not forget he’s an ogre and, more importantly, also a Muppet monster so seeing him dance with Nancy Walker or sing a duet with Robin has an extra layer in that context. Speaking of Robin, considering their blossoming friendship it’s cool to see him and Sweetums here as adversaries. Sweetums might not be smart, but he sure makes up for it in strength! He’s the original “King of Clubs” and poses a real menace here. This song has an old-school Henson feel. It reminds me of some of the Muppets’ older jazz numbers from shows like Sesame Street or Sam and Friends. Who knew the harpsichord could be so funky?
7 – I’ll Get You What You Want (Cockatoo in Malibu)
Taking this week’s “this has slipped from a previous chart” spot is Constantine’s love ballad to Piggy, which was number one on my Matt Vogel chart (and subsequently number 18 in my Top 50 roundup). It really is a great performance from Matt and one I still love. When working out the order for this chart I did also take into account the villainous action onscreen and I guess offering Miss Piggy a “thingy-thing” just isn’t that evil. It does sound slightly improper now I’ve typed it though. Anyway, movin’ right along… This song is one of my favorite Muppets Most Wanted tracks to sing along to. Aside from my dulcet tones singing it, this seems perfect for a Lionel Ritchie cover at some point. Perhaps next year’s “Lionel Sings the Great Amphibian Songbook” will yield some results. In the meantime we’ll just have to bask in the splendor of Constantine’s soulful sounds.
6 – The Witch is in the House – The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz
I know there were plenty of reasons that fans were less than enthusiastic about this special (for the record: I didn’t mind the nipple joke), but the music is definitely one of the best things about it. “When I’m With You” (which I think is a modern Muppet classic) and “Kansas” are really well written and both have appeared on CDs I’ve made for road trips in the car. However, to be honest this song was the one I generally skipped on the soundtrack. Then, as part of my research for this chart (I know, you wouldn’t believe it, but I do spend time trying to get this right), I re-watched this clip and saw it in a new light. Piggy’s Wicked Witch of the West really is wicked. Watching Kermit have his arms pulled off and Gonzo lose his head is horrific. It’s the stuff of nightmares. That last shot of them lying lifelessly on the ground is shocking and, in what on the face of it seems like a kiddie special, is really dark. I still think this song could do without Johnny Fiama, but it’ll haunt me from now on for all the right reasons. Kudos to Kirk Thatcher for having the guts to get gory.
5 – Let’s Talk About Me – The Muppets (2011)
I’m linking to the full soundtrack version here rather than the movie one because (frankly) I prefer it and Chris Cooper did such a good job with this song it’s a shame to truncate it. “He’s Tex Richman, everybody listen”, except because of a cruel cut in the editing suite you can’t… I’ll admit the opera interlude is perhaps less funny in reality than it probably seemed at the time of writing and recording it, but everything else here is brilliantly musical and hilarious. Just listen to those lyrics. Rapping about gold-plating Twinkles and having more cheese than “super-size nachos” is lyrical genius. Bret McKenzie is one of the best things to have happened to the Muppets in a really long time. It’s strange because it’s such a staple of the musical genre, but the Muppets had never really done much with the “villain’s song” trope before this. You’d have thought they’d have ploughed that particular field more often.
4 – Scrooge – Muppet Christmas Carol
One of the handful of songs sung by or about a Muppet villain that predated “Let’s Talk About Me” is this gem from everyone’s favorite version of “A Christmas Carol”. I could write acres about how perfect the film is, but instead I’ll focus on this song. Scrooge isn’t being particularly mean in this clip and as we all know he actually comes good in the end (spoiler alert: Tiny Tim did NOT die), so on the villainy scale of things this song actually loses a couple of points. It gets them back in spades though because it’s possibly the best Muppet version of “Where’s Waldo?” in existence. Whether you’re watching this song or just listening to it as I am right now you can’t help going “Oh it’s Pops!” or “Oh, it’s Karen Prell!” or “Oh, it’s Mudwell!” or “Oh, it’s Louise Gold!” or… or… We even get singing vegetables! Apart from the end of “The Magic Store” it’s arguably the movies’ best Muppet crowd scene. It’s brilliantly shot by Brian Henson and beautifully written by Paul Williams who’s doing well today.
3 – I’m Number One – Muppets Most Wanted
This song has a special place in my heart as I sometimes sing it with my nephew Jared (who predictably is “Number One”). Speaking of Jared, I just want to take a moment to say how proud I am of him for singing on the main stage at a music festival last week in front of thousands of people. He also performed with Gay and Alan who have also performed with Kermit so that’s pretty special. Anyway, I’m getting sidetracked, but I am very proud… In this song we get two bad guys for the price of one, and one of them is actually called “Badguy” (it’s French). Ricky Gervais handles himself well here. I recently saw the new David Brent movie (which features Ricky’s character from the UK version of “The Office”) and it’s full of great singing and cringe-worthy songs. Check out “Lady Gypsy” on YouTube to see what I mean. Matt Vogel also covers himself in glory here and the full-bodied puppetry is visually striking and fantastically done.
2 – Magic Dance – Labyrinth
Sometimes life makes you do horrible things and one of those is putting this song at number two. This is as close to a stalemate for first place as I’ve had in a while, but I refuse to have a draw. After all, I’ve put myself in this position so I should have the guts to make a final decision. It does sting though to put this fantastic David Bowie track in second place – particularly as this is (to the best of my knowledge) the first time I’ve featured Labyrinth in just shy of two years’ worth of lists. I know. I’m ashamed. There are a couple of nitpicky reasons why this song missed out on the top spot and one of those is that try as I might I still can’t help being slightly freaked out by the goblins. There’s a picture of them that regularly appears with articles about the movie that even today sends shivers down my spine. You’ll know the one. It’s the eyes. How that kid (in the movie and real life) wasn’t permanently scarred I’ll never know. I’m sure they weren’t as bad in real life, but I can tell you now – I wouldn’t have wanted to be the last one out of the creature workshop at night back then. Also, if I’m really clutching at straws – chicken cruelty…? maybe…? This is a great song from an incredible talent that we lost too soon and there are no excuses for it not being number one…
1 – Professional Pirate – Muppet Treasure Island
But I don’t need excuses when this fantastic song is number one. There are four reasons why this won out. First, I’ve been a huge Tim Curry fan for a lot longer than I probably should have, thanks to my older brother’s love of “Rocky Horror”. I’m not sure how old I was when I first saw the movie, but I’m sure I didn’t know what a “Sweet Transvestite” was. Second, Tim Curry hasn’t appeared on a chart before. He certainly deserves a top spot at some point and as he states in the song, this is his “only number” so it’s now or never. Third, this has passed the “hum” test. Usually, after I’ve researched or written a chart I find myself humming one of the songs for the next week or so. That usually becomes my “Honorable mention”. Today I’ve been humming this song like it’s going out of fashion. Fourth, “Our Great and Bountiful Leader” Jarrod mentioned that this is a particular favorite of his and it never hurts to get in with the boss. Above all that though is how awesome this track is. I love it. The way Long John spits out the lyrics at the end is phenomenal and gets me every time. I often struggle to write about the number one song as it’s easier to be mean about stuff, but I could write about this all day. Love, love, love, love, love it!
So there you have it, the definitive list of songs sung by or about Muppet villains, but it’s not the definitive lists of Muppet villains themselves – after all there’s no Nicky Holiday from The Great Muppet Caper, who is one of the best bad guys there is. For the record, I did consider Piggy’s Fantasy, but it was only a fantasy so I deemed it ineligible. Also missing are the movies where the villains are non-corporeal. In Muppets Take Manhattan, New York itself seems to be the antagonist and in Muppets from Space it’s the misguided notion that Gonzo needs to be explained. Anyway, I guess I have to thank the villains for being around. Without them there’d be some real short movies. So thank you bad guys for being you. And thank you for being so easy to catch red-handed…