Kieran Moore – As our journey though the years brings us to a whole new decade we find the Muppets not exactly moving into new territory with us, but rather consolidating their position at the top of the entertainment food chain (though there always seems to be a Muppet at the bottom of the food chain too).
In 1980 Kermit and Piggy attended the Academy Awards, Oscar and Big Bird went to the symphony, Sesame Street launched a theme park land and live show, the Muppets took the Billboard charts, the Muppet Stuff store opened in New York and generally the gang were plastered across the media in an unprecedented way.
Both The Muppet Show and Sesame Street were in exceptional form and as the decade began it really seemed that everything Jim Henson and his team touched turned to gold. All this translates into some fantastic music for us to listen to so grab your Sony Walkman and join me as we go through my 1980 Muppet mix-tape…
10 – The Cat Came Back – The Muppet Show
Most weeks it’s tougher to pick which song will be number 10 than it is to choose the one that tops the chart. That’s because it means I have to lose a track (or two) that I really feel deserves a place. This week there were three songs in contention for tenth place and the two that didn’t make it are so good they really do deserve a mention here. The first is “My Way” and the second is “Leave Me Some Magic” (both from The Muppet Show). Both are excellent, but for some reason neither one hits me like I think they should. They don’t get me *here* the same way Gonzo and Robin’s other songs usually do. I’m not sure why, but I just don’t connect. You could argue that The Cat Came Back is hardly a song to get mushy about, but that’s just not true. You see, I used to have a ginger cat with an eye problem (he nearly had it removed) so this song always reminds me of him. I wish he’d come back…
9 – Will the Circle Be Unbroken? – The Muppet Show
If it weren’t for a song that’s coming up later I’d be tempted to say this might be the ultimate way to end an episode of The Muppet Show, but instead I’ll simply have to say it’s one of the best. If it weren’t for a song that’s coming up later I’d also say this is one of the best examples of peace and unity on The Muppet Show, but instead… Anyway, you get the idea… Believe me, I’m not trying to run this track down – it’s beaten some stiff competition to get this far, but almost everything I’d like to say about it applies to another song higher up on the list! I do love the staging for this though. It’s fun to see Muppet’s backs and the exponentially growing circles are visually appealing and different. I like them a lot. By 1980 the core Muppet gang was fairly set. We’d lost a few and gained a few over recent years, but things were starting to settle down. At the start of this clip though we see possibly 1980’s most prominent newcomer – Rizzo as performed by Steve Whitmire. Whatever happened to him, eh?
8 – Guest Star Song – The Muppet Show
Ok, my love of Scooter and Richard Hunt may be clouding my judgement on this one, but if I’m honest I really don’t think so. Richard really is on fire with this track that runs down every guest star of The Muppet Show up until that point (and beyond). I don’t know how he managed to get through it without stumbling over his lines. He must know the lyrics by heart and that’s a tall ask on the tight schedule of a TV show. Even with the words in front of you it’s easy to stumble. He really did an exceptional job. As I mentioned earlier, I love Scooter and his cold openings with the guest stars, so I was disappointed and perplexed when he lost out to Pops for season 5. I’m not sure why that happened. Even if they wanted to move away from the dressing room, Scooter still could have been at the stage door. Either way, this song is genius. Muppet Wiki doesn’t list a lyricist so I guess it was one of the show’s writers. Well done to whoever it was for that final joke.
7 – I’m So Happy – The Muppet Show
I adore this song. Everything from Jerry Nelson and Richard Hunt’s slightly off-key vocals to the staging to the puppetry to the song itself is perfect. Speaking of Jerry and Richard, the eagle-eared (is that a thing?) amongst you will notice that they appear a lot this week. It really wasn’t on purpose, but between them they have some sort of lead vocal on over 50% of this chart. I guess it goes to show just how superb they are. They make a great partnership – working instinctively together just as Jim Henson and Frank Oz did as Kermit and Piggy/Fozzie or Bert and Ernie. Some of the great Muppet partnerships, from Pa and Junior Gorg to the Two-Headed Monster to Janice and Floyd, have been performed by Jerry and Richard. And their singing prowess is legendary. It might not be obvious here, but I believe as Muppet performers they were unsurpassed musically.
6 – Sing – Sesame Street
Just a quick reminder since we’re 5 weeks in now that existing Muppet songs are eligible for these yearly charts as long as they’re significantly different arrangements or sung by new performers. This fits under the second of those clauses and I’m glad it does. I mentioned a few weeks a go that I love Alaina Reed and her amazing singing voice and I’m also a big fan of this song so I’m so happy (“so happy he could die”) to be featuring it here. Sing is truly a classic song – not just a classic Muppet song, but a proper bona fide real world classic thanks to its many covers and pop chart success. To be perfectly honest, I knew The Carpenters version before I even knew this was originally from Sesame Street so you can imagine my surprise when I found out. Tonnes (literally) of celebrities have sung this song for the show, but I prefer it performed simply as it is here. The sign language addition is a nice touch too.
5 – Six String Orchestra – The Muppet Show
This song has been number one in the past, but usually finds itself hanging ironically around sixth place when it does feature. Here it’s gone one better. This number appears on the “Star Wars” episode of The Muppet Show which is one everyone remembers thanks to its stellar (pun intended) cast. Whilst it’s true that after a year or two The Muppet Show had no problems drawing in the big names, I must admit that as a 38-year-old Brit, to me some of the guest stars of 1980 read like a “Who’s That?” of celebrities. Truthfully, there are a few names on the list I probably only know thanks to their Muppet appearances. That’s not to do them down, but perhaps to suggest that as the years went on the show started to choose guest stars more for their American viewership than their worldwide fan base. It’s just a thought… Anyway, I’ve run out of space now to write about this song so suffice to say I love it!
4 – With a Little Help from My Friends – The Muppet Show
I’m never sure if this is an official Electric Mayhem song or not. I’ve always considered it as such and Muppet Wiki agrees, but it’s pretty obvious that the band aren’t playing instruments here (aside from Janice’s percussion). This is a song that everyone seems to remember – probably because Janice takes the lead, but also because of its immersive staging and story. This is essentially a mini movie with a beginning, middle and end. It wouldn’t look out of place as a Muppet Viral Video on YouTube and I don’t think you could say the same for every Electric Mayhem performance. The stone deity is a great character that has shades of The Mighty Favog from Saturday Night Live. I guess it’s just as well they made him a figure of fun otherwise this might have gotten a little scary for the more sensitive members of the audience; it is quite atmospheric and foreboding. Richard sounds great as Janice, taking his voice up a few notches and hitting that high note at the end brilliantly.
3 – While My Guitar Gently Weeps – The Muppet Show
I was really tempted to make this song and the previous one a double A-side (ask your grandparents). They’re both covers of Beatles songs performed (virtually) solo by Electric Mayhem members AND they both appear in the same episode – that’s surely not a coincidence. Back in the day The Muppets released several singles and this genuinely would have made a brilliant double A-side had they decided to go down that route. It might even have made up for the fact that The Muppet Show Album knocked the Beatles off the number one spot. Floyd (and Jerry) sing this beautifully and give it even more emotion than the original version. As with the previous track it’s staging it full of atmosphere and looks simple yet stunning. My group sing a very unusual instrumental a cappella version of this track, but even so I still think Floyd wins this battle of the bands.
2 – The Devil Went Down to Georgia – The Muppet Show
When I first started researching this chart I was convinced this would be number one and wouldn’t be beaten. Its previous highest chart place was number two on my USA Road Trip chart so at least it’s consistent! I’ve always loved this kind of virtuoso fiddle playing. I tried to learn violin when I was around 7 or 8 and absolutely sucked (apparently not practicing doesn’t make perfect) so I’m in awe of anyone who can play like this. I really wish I could. After a long absence from the chart we get to hear Jim Henson again here and welcome Dave Goelz for the first time as a soloist. I also have to acknowledge Jerry (again) who always made a great Devil. Away from the music I love the use of special effects in this piece. Other than puppetry effects such as chroma key, visual effects are fairly minimal on The Muppet Show so they tend to stand out. The little demons here are no exception. This is one of my all-time favorite Muppet Show moments.
1 – United We Stand – The Muppet Show
It seems that every week a song comes from nowhere and surprises me and this is today’s entry onto that auspicious list. You just can’t beat the Muppets and a guest star harmonizing together for an inspirational finale. As alluded to earlier, I really do think this is one of the best closing numbers in the history of the show. Lola Falana is a natural performer who works well with the Muppets and has just the right kind of voice for this song. As a veteran performer who had hosted her own variety series, it’s no wonder she gets this right. (Can I tell you a secret? Despite an illustrious career, the first time I ever heard Lola’s name was in Ellen Degeneres’ book “My Point… And I Do Have One” because she’s mentioned there.) This song is full of meaning and is perfect for the Muppets’ overriding theme of family and friendship. I think “United we stand, divided we fall” should be there motto. In fact, I think it should be everyone’s motto. Finally, whatever happened to Trevor the Gross? Surely he’s due a comeback…
So that’s 1980. It’s been an interesting year. Apologies once again to Sesame Street for getting the thin end of the wedge (your day is coming). Honorable mentions go to the songs that almost made it: “My Way”, “Night and Day”, “Hello, Hello, Hello Song”, “Feelings”, “I Got Rhythm”, and “Leave Me Some Magic”. I could go on… As these seasons of The Muppet Show aren’t on DVD (come on Disney, don’t you like money?) some of the songs featured here are less familiar to me. It’s made working my way through 1980 really fun. Thank you to everyone who contributed to the Muppets in 1980 – you’re all amazing.
Anyway, I hope you’re saving up, gentle readers because if you want to read next week’s chart you’ll have to pay my way to London so I can catch a jewel thief red-handed…