The Top 10 Songs of: 1981

The Top 10

 

Kieran Moore – 95498-jimkermittmssignI guess if you wanted to, you could see 1981 as a sad time in the history of The Henson Company as it was the year The Muppet Show ended, but you’d really be misdirecting your tears. Instead, we must celebrate the fact that the show ended on a high, with Jim Henson wrapping things up so he could try new artistic endeavors. The Muppets were still everywhere in 1981 with TV and radio appearances, albums and a certain Brit-centric caper movie all garnering plaudits and award nominations. This was definitely a time to be celebrational – even if Gonzo was about to blow his last trumpet.Before I get onto the chart proper I want to break with tradition and give special honourable mentions to two tracks I wanted to feature here, but couldn’t because there don’t seem to be any decent videos online. First is “Hawaiian Cowboy” from the Chris Langham episode of The Muppet Show. I’ve always thought Chris was hilarious and this song is the proof. He’s fantastic. Second is “I Believe in Music” from the Mac Davis episode. It’s a lovely song, staged brilliantly. If you can track down a watchable copy of either let me know…

10 – Riders in the Sky – The Muppet Show
I always knew this song as “Ghostriders in the Sky”, but Muppet Wiki lists it simply as “Riders in the Sky” and I’m happy to take their word for it as that’s probably how the production team referenced it too. Either way, I’ve always enjoyed this song as it reminds me of my Dad. He loves this type of music. I don’t know if I’d call him a country nut per se, but he definitely likes the western part of “country and western” and is a big fan of the movie genre. Because of him I grew up with music like this so I feel all nostalgic when I listen to it. I’ve also always liked songs with a bit of drama as well, so this scores on two counts. On that note, I feel that Gonzo’s placement in this scene is a little awkward and as much as the Muppets adore mayhem they aren’t shy of drama so it’s a shame they didn’t go full on “The Gambler” with this. There’s one for the Muppet slang dictionary…

9 – Scarborough Fair – The Muppet Show
This song appeared in one of my charts a few months ago and I still think it’s awesome for a whole host of reasons. First, I really, really like Scarborough Fair in (almost) any form anyway. I say almost because a choir mistress I once sang for had arranged her own truly awful version. Second, it’s sung beautifully by Paul Simon, but the real kudos goes to Frank Oz who as Miss Piggy AND Fozzie Bear (with help presumably) shows just why he’s a master of upstaging. Third, the mashup with “Greensleeves” at the start is awesome! Fourth is pretty much everything else. The musical arrangement with flute and strings is melodic and relaxing (even if the action onscreen isn’t) and in my opinion (obviously) this is one of the best musical moments on The Muppet Show. The history of Scarborough Fair is quite interesting – if you have a few minutes you should wiki it sometime…

8 – Fuzzy and Blue (and Orange) – Sesame Street
This song has seriously been hampered in its chart position by a certain movie that’s coming up soon. I love it’s smooth, jazzy vaudeville style. It’s pure Sesame Street. And yet, I’d like to hear it out of context – it would make an interesting ballad. I must look out for cover versions… Anyway, Jerry Nelson as Herry and Frazzle aside, once again Frank is in the driving seat here. His performances as not just Cookie Monster, but also Grover (who is essentially leading this one) are fantastic. Grover is so lovable! Don’t tell anyone, but he might be my favorite Sesame Street character. It’s neat that in a song about physical characteristics and how they can separate us into groups, we get a reminder of how that’s only one way to define who we are. It’s quite an important science lesson, but also a vital humanitarian one too.

7 – Couldn’t We Ride – The Great Muppet Caper
I have a confession to make and I feel awful for saying it, but I might as well address it now. After Muppets from Space, Great Muppet Caper might be my least favorite Muppet movie musically speaking. That’s not to say I don’t like it. Just that it’s not top of my list. I could never work out why, and then one day I sat down and looked at the tracks I do like and compared them to the ones I don’t and I twigged what it was. I’m not keen on the choir. I guess I prefer it when the Muppets are doing the singing. “The First Time it Happens” might be my least favorite Muppet Movie song ever (Oscar nomination and all) and I can only think it’s because there’s not enough Muppet in it. This does have that choral element, but also has plenty of Muppets singing and, you know, Muppets on bikes so it’s pretty hard not to think it’s one of the best ever Muppet movie moments. To this day I’m still not sure how every effect was done and I’m not sure I want to.

6 – 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover – The Muppet Show
Paul Simon’s storming this chart so far! I’m not a particular fan (though I do think he’s talented) (Note from the editor – ‘You Can Call Me Al’ is the perfect song), rather the real reason this is here is because of Floyd and Janice and Jerry Nelson and Richard Hunt. I know I sounded like a broken record last week, but I have to repeat it again now. They sound amazing together. Just listen to those harmonies on the chorus. They are truly the reason music was invented. Listening to this almost feels like an act of spiritual devotion. It makes my soul swell. It’s astounding (time is fleeting…) Jerry brings a superb element of drama to the verses and Richard’s ad-libs are perfectly in character and add an extra layer of cool. Speaking of which, how cool is it that Rizzo gets to join in here? I love it when he pops up on The Muppet Show. It feels a bit like “Where’s Waldo?”

5 – Singing in the Rain – The Muppet Show
This is another track that featured recently and was a chart topper. On another year, it may well have been number one again. There’s really nothing to fault. From the opening medley to the atmospheric close, it’s pure perfection. I’m listening to it as I type and even without the visuals you just know that this is on another plane. The best Muppet moments have a quality I wish I could bottle, but even more than that I wish I could describe as it would make writing this paragraph a lot easier! There’s something magically wonderful about this. You know the feeling. That moment when the spark of entertainment and soul come together and catch fire. This song has that in spades. It could feel tired and hackneyed and by rights probably should, but Gene Kelly’s chops and the Muppets’ sense of reverence make this shine like a multi-faceted diamond. Speaking of which…

4 – Piggy’s Fantasy – The Great Muppet Caper
I must admit that I was surprised this track doesn’t have a better YouTube presence, but no matter – this video is a lot of fun and the audio is good! This song might have minimal Muppet involvement, but how could you not dive deep and headlong for it? There’s so much to mention here. I guess first I have to talk about the amazing water effects. Do you know how many watches it took me before I realised part of this is played backwards? Lots. But to be fair most of those were when I was very young. Frank Oz is quoted as saying how fun it was to see Muppets swim, but I wonder if he thought so on the umpteenth day of shooting? Then there’s the stunning music. Jim Henson is on fire as Kermit who’s ramping the emotion up to 11 and Nicky’s (dubbed) voice is in proper operatic mode. There’s a theory that this is Richard Hunt singing and while I genuinely don’t know, it very well could be. It certainly sounds right so I hope it is. Finally, I get a kick out of how seriously this fantasy is played. It takes it to whole new levels or awesomeness.

3 – Steppin’ Out With a Star – The Great Muppet Caper
Watching this song takes me right back to my childhood. I watched this movie A LOT when I was younger and this number is so visual with dancing shadows, Muppets getting dressed and spring-loaded beds that it was an instant favorite when I was a young’un. That said, it’s not just the fun onscreen that attracts me, it’s also Joe Raposo’s brilliant song writing. Joe is a legend in every sense – the fact he can write something snappy like this AND the melodramatic opera of the previous entry is a testament to his skills. As I mentioned earlier, I really enjoyed this movie as a kid, but I appreciate the fact that as an adult I get to watch it on a whole new level with jokes I missed previously landing head on now. Fun elements like breaking the fourth wall went right over my head as a youngster – now I see how clever they are. This song is equally as clever as anything else in the movie for me.

2 – Hey A Movie! – The Great Muppet Caper
I guess for a lot of people this song would be number one. It’s certainly a stand out moment in the movie. There’s so much going on this whole sequence is a visual whirl. There are chickens, sign painters, singing fruit, Richard Hunt and Kathryn Mullen, some guy in a pink tracksuit and even a super quick costume change! And that’s without even mentioning the robbery of Lady Holiday’s jewels. Man, Diana Rigg knows how to scream! I have to quickly mention Dave Goelz at this point as he hasn’t had a shout out yet. He’s brilliantly funny all through this movie and lets Gonzo’s excitable enthusiasm shine through. As a kid I never got Kermit’s line of “I wish I were you people seeing this for the first time”, but, as above, now I think it’s awesome. This is the spiritual cousin of “We’re Doing a Sequel” from Muppets Most Wanted and I always thought this should have been reprised at the end of the movie instead of “Together Again” considering the parallels between the two films. Never mind – there’s always next time!

1 – Happiness Hotel – The Great Muppet Caper
This is my absolute favorite song from The Great Muppet Caper. It’s got all the best elements of a Muppet song. Fun lyrics and humorous asides (I still quote Pops’ “Very popular choice” on an almost daily basis); brilliant music that sounds terrifically Muppety whilst still standing on its own two feet as a fantastic song in its own right; a huge cast of Muppets – everyone from Lips to Lou is present and correct; and the whole thing just feels like a joyous expression of family and acceptance. I barely need to mention that all of the performers on set are fantastic and doing some of their best ever work, but I guess I just did. This is a romping, stomping bundle of excellence that just couldn’t be toppled by anything else. Hearing Dr. Teeth mention that this establishment has the wrong address is an added bit of fun for me as last month I visited the real life location of The Happiness Hotel (Photo below). It’s actually in a rather nice part of London near Paddington station. I’m sure at one point recently you could actually stay there (options A and B only), but I’m not sure now. It’s always fun to visit Muppet locations and my little excursion ties me to this track even more now.

So that’s 1981 in a 10 track nutshell. Honorable mentions go to “Dance Myself to Sleep”, “Nightlife”, “We’ll Meet Again”, “Barnyard Boogie”, “Another Opening, Another Show” and “Heatwave”. Look them all up and have a thoroughly awesome half hour. The Great Muppet Caper was one of the defining moments in my Muppet fandom and I will forever be in its debt. As I say my traditional thank you to everyone who worked with the Muppets in 1981, I guess I also have to thank my mother for recording the movie when it was on TV one Christmas. Who’d have thought that tape and its repeated viewings would one day lead here?  So, next we’re on to pastures new. 1982 was the year things got a bit more “real” for The Jim Henson Company. I’ve set up 10 songs for trial by stone. Come back next week to see who’s victorious…

happiness-hotel

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