Kieran Moore – 1977 was a heck of a year for the Muppets. The Muppet Show was riding high completing its first season and becoming a sophomore, Sesame Street was continuing to go from strength to strength with a creative period that saw lots of new audio content and to cap it all off everyone’s favorite otter, Emmet (sorry Tarka), was being sweet and lovable and generally filling us with the holiday spirit.
Of course, this deluge of creative output is wonderful and something to celebrate, but if you’re currently taking all the incredible songs from these sources and ranking them from 1-10 you might feel like your diamond shoes are too tight. Don’t get me wrong – I’m loving listening to all this classic Muppet music, it’s just deciding which do and don’t make the chart is like picking which Labrador puppy to kick.
Anyway, that’s enough of my first world Muppet problems. You want to revel in musical goodness, and so do I. This first song will only cost you a “buck”…
10 – Baby Face – The Muppet Show
I’d love to tell you that I enjoy singing along to this, but unfortunately I don’t know the words! Ok, so that joke is lame, but the performance certainly isn’t. Can you imagine going to work and seeing your first job for the day is for you and your colleagues to go to a professional recording studio and sing a full song as a bunch of chickens? You might feel like a dumb cluck. I’d like to say it would probably seem like one of the most surreal days of your life, but as a Muppet performer I guess you’d be used to it. Everything about this number is just brilliant from the idea to the staging, singing and Muppet performances. This is truly a classic of the genre. This track appeared in the album “The Muppet Show 2” and the VHS home release “Muppet Moments” so was clearly a favorite with the gang as well.
9 – Simon Smith and His Amazing Dancing Bear – The Muppet Show
I must admit the songs at the lower end of this chart bobbed around a bit in terms of placement and not all of them have even been in every incarnation, but I do love this one. Throughout my chart writing career there have been songs that have been so close so many times and this has twice previously been a number two. Sadly here with so much competition it’s slid to number nine, but someday I’m sure it’ll be number one. There’s really nothing bad to say about this (not that I’m trying). It’s great. Fozzie is hilarious, even from episode 101 he was slaying us in the aisles! Scooter sounds superb – I think this is Richard Hunt’s best vocal as Scooter and that’s really saying something. His voice is pure and crystal clear, but also young and eager and full of fun – everything we know Scooter to be. Even Rowlf in the background (doing very little) is captivating to watch. If this is the bar that was set at the outset, you can see why The Muppet Show was quickly the biggest show on TV.
8 – Brothers in Our World – Emmet Otter’s Jugband Christmas
This is our first trip to Frogtown Hollow to visit Emmet and his Ma. Both “Brothers” and “Our World” are fantastic songs written beautifully by Paul Williams. “Brothers” in particular seems to be channelling Paul’s “Bugsy Malone” soundtrack which is fine by me. They sound so much better once combined though. Ma Otter is a genius. It still sucks that neither act won the talent show, but I guess this song and its eventual outcome make up for it (almost). Marilyn Sokol performs Ma’s vocals which are sweet without being sickly. Her voice swells magnificently on those high notes. She sounds amazing. Sokol actually started out as a puppeteer with The Henson Company, but decided her talents lay elsewhere so she “hung up” her hands and went into voice work. She performed lots of female characters around this time particularly for Sesame Street so if she sounds familiar from your childhood, that’s why.
7 – Happy Feet – The Muppet Show
From here on out pretty much any song on this list could be number one and picking the order became a task I needed divine inspiration for. This song is a fantastic display of the comedy that made (and still makes) the Muppets so beloved. Irreverent and silly, yet intelligent and artistic; when it came to making you laugh the gang can do comedy on many different levels. Speaking of levels this song might have several, but we definitely only see one! When I was younger this number inspired me to write to a TV show to see if they could arrange for me to tap dance with Kermit. Sadly, my wish never came true. Kermit, if you’re reading this, next time you come to London can we hook up for a quick dance? If you’ve taught me one thing in life (and in truth it’s more) it’s that you should never give up on your dreams. I guess I promised me and I think you know how that feels…
6 – This Frog – Sesame Street
Completing a Kermit 1-2 is this truly inspirational song. As I listen to it now it’s making me feel about 2 cents for putting it in sixth place. This has been number one twice before though so I don’t think it’ll mind too much. Jim Henson’s vocals here as Kermit are pitch perfect and I don’t just mean in terms of tuning – they are strong and forthright and powerful, but also comfortable and assured. This is a man who knows Kermit inside and out (literally I guess). Kermit’s acting here is superb – probably his best dramatic performance outside of the movies. There’s so much to love here: Kermit’s dishevelled suit, the Bob Cratchit vibe of the opening scene, the puppetry of Kermit picking up his coat… I’m slightly surprised this didn’t appear on The Muppet Show at some point a la “Bein Green’”. I’m not sure why that never happened.
5 – Time in a Bottle – The Muppet Show
This is another emotional performance from Jim and one that just about breaks my heart. It would be cliché to write about how this song parallels Jim’s life and his early departure from the world, but this really does lend itself to that theme – particularly so close to his birthday when we’re all looking back at his life. It gives this piece extra depth and meaning and makes it so much more poignant. When you look at the episode this song came from (the Edgar Bergen one) and see that it was sandwiched between Fozzie’s classic ventriloquist act and four chickens playing the piano it just makes it all the more incredible. This sensitive glimmer of hope and sadness bookended on either side by Muppet silliness is just mind blowing to me. When I hear songs like this and see them performed in so touching a manner I just can’t fathom how people can say they don’t like the Muppets.
4 – We Got Us – The Royal Variety Performance
This song was first performed by the Muppets with Dom DeLuise on his episode of The Muppet Show in late 1977. Two days later they were singing it again (this time without Dom) on The Royal Variety Performance in front of The Queen. That performance is the one that was subsequently used on audio releases and is probably the one you know best. I’d sort of forgotten about this track until I got my hands on the 25th anniversary CD “Music, Mayhem and More”. I was instantly struck all over again with how perfect it is for the Muppets and I’m sure for most families in general. That’s why I love it so much – it just makes me think of my family and how we cannot each other, but ultimately have each other’s backs. Anything that makes me compare my family to the Muppets is fine by me.
3 – When The River Meets The Sea – Emmet Otter’s Jugband Christmas
I’ve never heard a bad version of this song. Whether it’s the original as performed here, John Denver duetting with Robin, Jerry Nelson and Louise Gold singing it at Jim’s memorial or even Jimmy Fallon with Robin and Kermit – this is one of the all-time greats, Muppet or otherwise. It’s a feat of song writing. I saw a quote recently that said “The more personal I get with my writing, the more universal it becomes” and I think that’s true. Paul Williams must have been writing from personal experience to get the emotion so spot on and because of that there’s a truth here that resonates with every listener. This track in one form or another is on my festive playlist every year, but to only appreciate it’s elegance at Christmas is a real disservice. Marilyn Sokol is joined here by Jerry Nelson who appears in all, but one of the versions listed above. This song is particularly associated with him in my mind and that’s certainly no bad thing.
2 – Wishing Song – The Muppet Show
Man, if this chart doesn’t make you cry then you’re probably at least 75% wood. I don’t even have to watch this, simply listening to it is enough to make we want to crawl into a ball and sob myself to sleep. Not from sadness, but from a jumbled-up feeling of all human emotions in a way that only a Muppet “whatever” can. A lot of what I said for the previous song holds true here as well. It’s just stunningly written and wonderfully sung by Dave Goelz. This incredibly moving piece comes from a man who wouldn’t describe himself as a natural performer. That’s enough to make you cry. I’d love to have one ounce of this man’s ability to connect with a song. This has been number one multiple times on my chart so you all know I love it. Surely, it has to be something monumental to knock it into second place…
1 – Just One Person – The Muppet Show
Sometimes something just floors you. It takes you by surprise and simply knocks you off your feet. I’m not even talking about this incredible song – I’m talking about the fact that this song has NEVER appeared on one of my charts before. That’s right, in just short of two years this song hasn’t fitted into any category before. I really, really looked, but I just couldn’t find it. This is possibly the greatest Muppet number ever. I’m not just talking about on The Muppet Show. I mean EVER. I don’t honestly know if I can put the magnificence of this song into words so instead I’ll tell you a personal story related to it. I’m sure you all have your own… Many, many years ago my younger sister came to me really upset because she was having a tough time at school with bullies. She felt sad and useless and unloved just like Robin does at the start of this song. I told her exactly what Bernadette Peters sings so beautifully to Robin. That I believed in her and that there were other people that felt the same. I dug this song out on VHS or DVD (I don’t remember which) and we watched it and had a little cry. I know this song made her feel better about herself and that’s why it’s the best thing the Muppets have ever done.
I think we can all agree that 1977 was a phenomenal year. I’d like to give a few honourable mentions to “Lydia, The Tattooed Lady”, “I’m My Own Grandpaw”, “Barbecue” and “Mr Bassman”, and that really is just the tip of the iceberg. This chart has been a joy to listen to and a swine to compile, but that’s the best possible outcome for me so I’m super happy! I need to thank everyone who has appeared here – particularly Frank Oz who has been all over this chart, but hasn’t had a name check yet. Everyone who was part of the Muppet world in 1977 has contributed more to the world than they’ll probably ever know. Thank you guys. Here’s to 1978!