Kieran Moore – 1978 was an amazing year – Ben and Jerry’s opened their first ice cream parlor, Grease was the word and I was born. Oh, and a little thing called The Muppet Show went into its third season (whatever happened to those guys!)
In terms of The Muppet Show, 1978 actually contains the end of the second season and the beginning of the third (going by the UK airdates, as I am), and it was now that the big stars came knocking – all desperate to be part of this entertainment behemoth. It was a giddy time to be a Muppet for sure. On top of that, Jim’s other show Sesame Street was celebrating its 10th season with not one, but two Christmas specials, some classic skits and songs and a plethora of awards and nominations.
It was a very creative time. As I look down the list of songs that have made this chart, I’m struck by the diversity on display – we’ve got folk-rock, bluegrass, gospel, ragtime, musical theater, calypso, vocal harmony, holiday, disco and even a song co-written by Frank Oz! I guess I’d better get on with it!
10 – Do-Re-Mi – The Muppet Show
The song Do-Re-Mi actually appeared twice on The Muppet Show in 1978 and as much as I love Judy Collins’ version, my pick is actually the comedy rendition performed by Kermit, Robin, Scooter, Annie-Sue and Co. It’s hilarious! I guess on the face of it this might seem a bit lightweight for a list of the best songs of 1978, especially when you see (or don’t) the classic Muppet songs that didn’t make the cut. However, watching the guys have fun with a song and making us laugh in the process is such an important part of the show that it has to be recognized. Even though I doubt this is on anyone’s favorite Muppet moments list, it’s a sketch that I always remember – possibly because in my house you’re only ever two seconds away from a spontaneous rendition of “Do-Re-Mi” at any given moment. Great song, great version, great fun – what more can you ask for?
9 – The Rhyming Song – The Muppet Show
Having promised diversity on this chart, the song in ninth place does feel a bit like a repeat of the previous one. I guess you could say this is the more iconic version of what I was talking about above with the guys having fun and being silly with a song. I think it’s iconic partly for the song itself and its appearances on several Muppet albums, but also because of its setting outside of the Muppet Theater. The Loretta Lynn episode (which this number comes from) takes place at a train station as the gang’s usual home is being fumigated – I wonder how many cast members were lost…? This song is the one co-written by Frank Oz that I mentioned earlier and is one of only a handful of original Muppet Show songs. For no other reason it deserves its place here.
8 – Rocky Top – The Muppet Show
I just can’t get enough of this track! There are some big musical guest stars from 1978 that didn’t make this list and eliminating them was tough, but this piece always shone through for me. It’s fast-paced and rolls along at such a banjo-pickin’ lick that I’m drawn in every time. I 100% associate bluegrass with the Muppets and this musically one of the best examples there is. Of course for that we have to thank the multi-talented Roy Clark whose virtuoso performance is breathtaking. I must also save a small portion of the praise for Lubbock Lou and his Jughuggers too – without them this track wouldn’t be anywhere near as good as it is. Is it just me or does Roy sound a little like Gonzo when he sings – especially in those first few words?
7 – Keep Christmas with You (All Through the Year) – Christmas Eve on Sesame Street
I mentioned earlier that Sesame Street had two Christmas specials in 1978 and this song features in what is arguably the better of the pair – Christmas Eve on Sesame Street. If you’re of a certain age this is as much a holiday must-watch as “It’s a Wonderful Life”, “A Charlie Brown Christmas” or “Nestor, the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey”. It was nominated for three Emmy awards (winning one) and a Grammy. This song actually predates the show by three years as it had already appeared on another (Grammy nominated) Sesame Street Christmas album. Bob McGrath could sing the phonebook as far as I’m concerned and I’d be happy to listen, but his mellow tones suit this pretty Christmas song perfectly. It’s sweet, but not saccharine; reverent without being dull and ideal for a Christmas Eve in front of the fireplace.
6 – Sesame Street Fever – Sesame Street Fever
This track completes a duo of very different Sesame Street songs. In 1978 the Sesame gang released this disco inspired album. It features extended disco remixes of popular songs like “C is for Cookie” and “Rubber Duckie” and two brand new tracks – of which this is one. The big selling point of this collection was the involvement of an actual Bee Gee – namely Robin Gibb who sings on this track. Joe Raposo wrote this song and I love how it references the Sesame Street Theme with the refrain of “come and play”. Sesame stars like Count von Count (who sounds suspiciously like Constantine) and Big Bird (who sounds suspiciously like a young Big Bird) get to join in and the whole thing makes me want to break out my platform shoes, pick up some paint cans and get strutting.
5 – Play a Simple Melody – The Muppet Show
This is another case of a simple song (it’s right there in the title) stealing the show from other more flashy pieces. I swear this song has some kind of strange enchantment placed over it because one listen is never enough. I feel I should apologise for picking this because I guarantee tomorrow you’ll find yourself humming it in the shower, whistling it on your way to work and la-la-la-ing it as you rescue a kitten from a freak waffle-iron catastrophe. It’s just that catchy. Jean Stapleton is another celebrity that works well with the Muppets, which I’m sure made it much easier for Frank Oz to put in such a fantastic performance as Fozzie. Someone should have signed these two up as they made a sublime double act. All Fozzie ever really needs is the right partner and she’s here in spades.
4 – My Soul is a Witness – The Muppet Show
I mentioned this song a few weeks ago when Pearl Bailey appeared on my “Queens” chart. I said back then that I enjoy every musical performance of hers and that’s just as true now as it was a month ago. Truthfully this could have been almost any song from Pearl’s episode, but I picked this one because of how passionately she sings it. She means every single word here and when an audience can feel that it creates musical magic. Just look at her eyes – they tell a whole story without words. The classic gospel switcheroo of going from soulful ballad to up tempo devotional in the space of a musical bar is executed brilliantly and the way the song swells and becomes bigger and bigger is just phenomenal.
3 – Inchworm – The Muppet Show
There are several reasons why this song has a special place in my heart. First, it reminds me of my childhood because I learnt it in my school choir when I was about 10. Not that I want to blow my own trumpet or anything, but we regularly reduced our choir mistress to tears. Ok, so that sounds bad – it was our singing voices that did it (actually, that doesn’t make it better!) Second, although this video cuts it off this scene features one of my most used Muppet quotes where Danny Kaye asks if the gang can sing close harmony and Scooter replies “No, but a near miss”. Not only is it a clever line, as a singer it comes in handy more often than you’d think. Danny sings this beautifully, but I honestly believe he’s outshone by the Muppet performers here. They have never sounded better together and leave me awestruck and jealous in equal measure.
2 – True Blue Miracle – Christmas Eve on Sesame Street
This is one of the best Christmas songs in the whole Muppet canon as far as I’m concerned and it’s a category filled with the crème de la crème of Muppet music so I don’t make that claim lightly. It captures the spirit of the season beautifully. Christmas really is a miracle no matter where you fall on the spirituality scale. I love Alaina Reed. I was disappointed to lose her a couple of weeks ago on the 1976 chart for “Little Sister is a Big Girl Now” so I’m pleased she gets a decent chunk of airtime here. Pretty much everything about this song is perfect. The lyrics get shared around the cast (emphasising the fact that Christmastime is special to all), we get to see Bert on a subway train, there’s some very impressive millinery on display and the whole thing feels grand and intimate at the same time. My only complaint is the weirdness of seeing Oscar’s feet under his trashcan. I feel like I need to bleach my eyes.
1 – For What It’s Worth – The Muppet Show
A bit like last week’s number one, this is another classic Muppet song that hasn’t had the love it deserves on my charts, but it’s not for the want of trying. I’ve even considered in the past constructing a theme purposely so this could be number one, but sadly it’s never quite happened. This song truly is iconic. It’s up there with “Mahna Mahna” and “Crocodile Rock” for me in terms of identifiability (though I accept as a Muppet fan it’s hard to judge). While the first song on this list is all about making you smile this is all about making you think and pause for a moment. Just a few weeks ago this website told how Richard Hunt counted For What It’s Worth as his favorite Muppet Show moment and I’m sure that holds true for a lot of us. It’s certainly right up there. I’d be interested to know how many other people submitted this as their favorite moment as well… Jerry Nelson takes full credit for the soft-spoken lead vocals, but I can also hear Richard in there loud and clear. This is a true masterpiece and nothing else from 1978 (except maybe me [he adds modestly]) even comes close.
I think we can all agree that 1978 was a stupendous year for The Muppet Show and Sesame Street. It’s now customary that I add a few honourable mentions and this week they go to “If”, “Windmills of Your Mind”, “That Ole Black Magic” and “I’m a Woman” amongst many, many others. The songs that didn’t make it could easily fill another top 10 and no one would complain about the quality. Thank you to everyone who has appeared here – you are all amazing (kissy kissy).
Now on to 1979 which is a year that’s very important to the lovers, the dreamers and you…