Kieran Moore – Wow! Can you believe The Muppet Show is 40 years old? (The answer should be yes, because a few weeks ago I talked about how the show first aired in the UK on September 5th 1976. Please pay attention at the back!) Anyway to celebrate this momentous occasion, I’m launching a new series of charts based on the years since The Muppet Show first aired.
I’ll be going through the years in turn, starting today with 1976 and going through them in order until I hit 2017 (or whatever year it happens to be when I’m done). This is a mammoth undertaking and I’m more than a little nervous – partly because it’s a 40 chart commitment and partly because I know there’ll be years with too much or not enough good music to feature. I’m sure we’ll get through it together. (Hold me.)
Songs can be from any Muppet/Henson property/production, but must have premiered in the corresponding year. Where the Muppets have performed a song before, but in a different version (i.e. different characters or arrangement) the new recording will be deemed eligible for that year’s chart. For example: for 1976 “Bein’ Green” is out – “Money” is in. Finally, I’m using the UK airdates for The Muppet Show because I personally feel the ATV showings as its home network are the “official” ones. Your mileage may vary.
So I think we’re about ready to get started. Let me just kick this off by offering my commiserations to the fantastic songs that haven’t made today’s list. My notepad resembles a scene from “Kill Bill” with classic tunes lying in a pool of crossing out. This chart has been through at least three incarnations, but it’s now or never so let’s begin…
10 – There’s a Hole in the Bucket – Sesame Street
It feels somehow fitting that a chart devoted to the anniversary of The Muppet Show should start with a Sesame Street song, but then I do have a strange sense of humor. This song is pulling double duty though as it’s not just representing Sesame Street, it’s also Rita Moreno’s only appearance on this list. Yes, somehow none of Rita’s performances from her classic episode of The Muppet Show have made the cut. Not even “Fever”. I can’t believe it either. This is a fitting replacement though, it’s brilliantly hilarious and as great as Jim Henson is, it’s really Rita’s vocals that get this into the chart. She’s brilliant. Is it just me or does she sound spookily like Leslie Carrara-Rudolph? If I didn’t know better I’d bet all the money in my pocket on this being the same performer as Lolly Lardpop.
9 – Try to Remember – The Muppet Show
It could be argued that this song is punching above its weight here, but there are plenty of counter arguments for that. First, this is sung brilliantly by Sandy Duncan and the cast. Second, it’s beautiful to look at. Third, and perhaps most importantly, this song is significant because it’s a trailblazer. This is the first example on The Muppet Show of a female singer performing to Kermit. It’s also the first example of the Muppets joining in with harmonies etc. in the second half of a ballad. Both of these tropes continued throughout the entire run of the show. Quite frankly, if none of those reasons float your boat then just listen to those harmonies. If they don’t deserve at least 9th place then nothing will!
8 – Happy Together – The Muppet Show
Ok, I’m going to be honest here and say that I agree – this song doesn’t have the classic status you might expect every song on this chart to have, but I don’t care. I’ve always liked Happy Together in any form so it scores big from me. What this song has got going for it are some tremendous lead performances from Florence Henderson, Jerry Nelson and Richard Hunt. It’s sung with gusto and bowls along at a great rate. It’s also a nice showcase for the Frackles who had appeared as part of the Muppets for around six years by the time this episode was aired. As The Muppet Show continued, its cast of characters grew and we slowly started to see less of these guys, but they were a constant presence and deserve to be honored. This song gives us the perfect opportunity to celebrate their contribution to The Muppet Show.
7 – To Morrow – The Muppet Show
This song is a previous number one so that should give you some sort of indication of how tough this chart has been to write. It also shows the quality of what’s to come. Despite from the witty lyrics that turn my brain inside out and a string arrangement that I just love this song really is all about for the central performances from Jim, Jerry and (to a lesser extent) Frank Oz. Their singing is fantastic. It can’t have been easy to get those lyrics out at speed and yet they make it look simple. On top of that to get out such a pitch-perfect performance is something that really needs to be commended. Rita Moreno might not have appeared on this list in her The Muppet Show guise, but this song is at least representing her episode so it’s not all bad.
6 – Halfway Down the Stairs – The Muppet Show
Placing this song at number six makes me feel about as evil as an ABC executive. It’s impossible to listen to this song and not be moved. Robin’s voice sounds so fragile and personifies the innocence of childhood so much it’s astounding that this was sung by the then 42-year-old Jerry Nelson. This is why he’s one of the most incredible Muppet performers that ever lived. I was born during The Muppet Show’s initial run, but I can just imagine how I’d have felt to sit and watch this thing of beauty on my TV screen without knowing it was coming. It’s hardly surprising this song made enough of an impact that it actually reached the UK top 10 singles chart. It’s astounding.
5 – I Feel Pretty – The Muppet Show
Fran Brill didn’t make many appearances on The Muppet Show, but for me this is the one that made the biggest impact. I doubt there are many fans of the Muppets that don’t remember seeing this for the first time. Aside from the strong performances from Fran and Jim (who takes over in monster form), it’s also brilliant fun to watch. Of course, this was a tried and tested bit that by this point had already featured in different forms on The Ed Sullivan Show and a Sesame Street special so the gang knew that it worked. That’s probably another reason why it stands out – it’s an assured performance that knows exactly how to hit the right notes musically and comically. It’s such a Muppety thing to do to start removing and replacing body parts. From any other group of characters this could be quite creepy, but here’s it’s just about perfect.
4 – Lazy Bones
The Phyllis Diller episode of The Muppet Show is filled with some of the best music you’ll hear from The Muppets and I could have filled half a chart just with that one show. Not including something like “The Entertainer” was a tough choice to make. I guess I won’t ruin anything now by saying this is The Electric Mayhem’s only appearance on the chart. I’m really pleased they made it though. I think I mentioned on another chart recently that I’m not a huge fan of early Mayhem. I really think they found their groove later on, but at this stage in my opinion they were still a little lost (They even tried Hare Krishna). Not that you’d know it from this wonderful performance – which is also a previous number one. Dr. Teeth sounds like melted chocolate. His vocals are silky smooth and luxurious. I could quite happily jump in an inflatable ring and float on down the Mississippi to this.
3 – The Muppet Show Theme – The Muppet Show
It seems like sacrilege to only list this song in third place, especially in a chart honoring The Muppet Show, but that’s what’s happening folks. I’ve talked about classic tracks all the way through this list, but this really is right up there with the best of them. There can’t be many more iconic Muppet songs than this. And yet it went through so many incarnations over the course of five years that it’s probably one of the best known theme songs that no one can ever sing properly. We’re all fine for the first verse and then do we go into “To introduce our guest star…” or “Why do we always come here…” or… or… It’s a weird anomaly. This song was written by Jim Henson and Sam Pottle. Sadly Sam died whilst The Muppet Show was still on air – he wrote many classic tunes, but hopefully the fact that this song was still being heard so often was some kind of consolation to his loved ones. What a legacy to leave.
2 – In My Life – The Muppet Show
I think this is one of the best things that ever appeared on The Muppet Show, even if the Muppets themselves barely appear. It’s a really sweet moment that’s filled with emotion and pathos. Songs like this are the real reason I love the Muppets. We can all laugh at the funny monsters changing their faces or the comedian bear that messes up his act or even marvel at the weirdness of a performance artiste easting a tire, but these tender moments are why we care about those things. There’s real weight to this performance. I’ve spoken before about how much I love Twiggy on The Muppet Show. I wish she’d worked with them more. It’s never too late you know… She sings this beautifully. It’s hard to imagine that she started her career as a model, however by this point she was also an award winning actress and singer. You all know by now that I’m a big softy, but it’s impossible to listen to this song and not relate it to your own life. The best Muppet moments will do that.
1 – Hugga Wugga/You Are My Sunshine – The Muppet Show
It’s incredible to think that this song has never appeared on one of my official top 10’s, it did top an “unofficial” chart earlier this year though so now goes from unofficial number one to the real McCoy. This song is a great contrast to the previous one and exemplifies what I was talking about with The Muppet Show straddling the line between heartfelt and hilarious felt. I love that the range of songs and sketches is so diverse we can go from Twiggy singing about people she has loved and lost to a smoking monster blowing up other monsters in a fantasy landscape and no one bats an eyelid. It’s what the Muppets are all about. These puppet designs are such fun. I can’t see the Muppets of today performing a song like this unfortunately, but they really should. Maybe it would fly online if they cast it with Animal, Beaker and The Swedish Chef?! Frank Oz, Jerry Nelson and John Lovelady are on fire here. It just doesn’t get better than this!
So there you have it. I won’t list a top 20 even though I could because quite frankly it could be a top 50 and still not cover it all. Instead I’ll give honourable mentions to “Fever”, “The Entertainer” “I Never Harmed an Onion” and “Little Sister is a Big Girl Now” (the latter from Sesame Street). All were very close to being on this list. 1976 was a phenomenal year for the Muppets and cemented their status as family entertainers. If the universe had skipped a year not only would we have been deprived of all these wonderful songs, this website might not even exist! Thanks to everyone who contributed to The Muppet Show, Sesame Street or the Saturday Night Live sketches in 1976. You really made a huge difference to pop culture.
Now onto 1977 – which funnily enough was even busier for The Henson Company…