Kieran Moore – So here we are in 1982 – officially the first year on our charts without a regular television gig for the core Muppet gang. I was tempted to glibly call this a “wilderness” year, but even without The Muppet Show on our screens that really couldn’t be further from the truth. First and foremost, Sesame Street was still going strong, delighting kids and adults alike. As Henson projects come and go through the years its constant presence on our screens ensures the Muppets are never far away.
But that doesn’t mean the “Muppet Show” characters are resting on their laurels – particularly one pouting porcine prima donna. Miss Piggy was everywhere in 1982. With her very own special and exercise album she was living the highlife as a proper bona fide celebrity. But it didn’t end there – she had a float at the annual Tournament of the Roses Parade, appeared on Night of 100 Stars and (along with the rest of the gang) starred in the I Love Liberty TV special.
To top off a jam-packed 12 months The Dark Crystal, Jim’s first foray into the fantasy motion picture genre (if you don’t count the Muppet movies as fantasy), was released to theatres. For a “wilderness” year, that’s not too shabby at all!
10 – Stereau Warmup – Miss Piggy’s Aerobique Exercise Workout Album
Thanks to the wonderful Miss Piggy I get to start this chart in probably the most perfect way possible. What better way to get ready for a rundown of 10 top songs than to give your stereo a warm up? Ok, so thanks to the wonders of modern technology you might be listening to this on a laptop, tablet, phone or having it beamed directly into your brain by Spotify’s new Neuro-Notes service, but the point still stands. In fact, I think ALL charts should start like this from now on. It’s important before undertaking any kind of strenuous music listening to ensure you and your stereo are properly warmed up. I also recommend cooling off by listening to the muzak version of “Night Life” from The Great Muppet Caper. As I mentioned in my introduction, by 1982 Miss Piggy was a proper celebrity in her own right and back then any self-respecting star was positioning themselves as a fitness and lifestyle guru (I guess some things never change) and this album was a gentle pastiche that hits the genre nail right on the head.
9 – Lonesome Joan – For the First Time
I guess with less output from the main Muppet gang this is the first year on my chart that Sesame Street gets a proper chance to shine and this song is the perfect way to kick that off. Volumes have already been written about how great Jim Henson and Frank Oz are as Bert and Ernie, but that’s not going to stop me doing the same here. I love listening to Sesame Street albums because it allows me to really focus on the voices and I find Bert and Ernie’s vocals here to be about as good as they’ve ever been. Jim and Frank are harmonizing beautifully on this country track all about poor old “Lonesome Joan” who wouldn’t accept help and consequently lived a very sad life! Does anyone else think this track has echoes of “Happiness Hotel” in places? I must admit Bert’s final exclamation of “Yippee-Ki-Ay” had me a little nervous until he finished it with “pardners”. Thanks John McClane!
8 – Love Theme – The Dark Crystal
I don’t often feature instrumental pieces on these charts as it treads the fine line between what is and isn’t technically a song, but this isn’t the first time and likely won’t be the last. For me, although this is obviously very orchestral it’s just begging for lyrics of some sort. Surely a Dark Crystal fan has already had a go? Perhaps we should set up a lyric writing contest! Either way, with or without any actual singing, this piece is beautiful. Within the first few notes I’m instantly transported back to the world of Thra, which is a bit worrying as it’s a pretty creepy place to be… Jim Henson created such an immersive world and Trevor Jones has encapsulated it brilliantly in his score. It’s funny really because this is billed as a love theme and yet I never really get a romantic vibe from Jen and Kira. To me at least it always felt more like a platonic relationship, though I guess as the only chance of repopulating the world with gelflings it’ll have to move to the next level eventually…
7 – Brotherhood of Man/When the Saints Go Marching In – I Love Liberty
The musical portion of this sketch is pretty minimal, but it’s worth watching the whole thing just to see the Muppets’ humorous take on one of America’s most important hysterical (historical) moments. If you couldn’t afford air fare, hotel rates and park tickets to go see the recent Walt Disney World Show, you can use this video to recreate the experience; stand in line in your living room for three hours, get rammed in the ankles by a stroller, pay the cost of a small family car for a bucket of popcorn and then watch this video. Staycations are the new going out! (Actually, I joke as I really like Disney parks and would be at one right now if I was an Arabian prince with more money than Scrooge McDuck.) Anyway, as regular readers will know I love a mash-up so this is right up my street. It might be another track my group can “borrow” at some point.
6 – Big Bird’s Going to Camp – Sesame Street
What I love about this song is how much it sounds like the opening number of a Broadway show that sets up the action and introduces us to the main protagonist. This is serving the exact same purpose in Sesame Street as these are the first moments of season 14 which featured Big Bird (you guessed it) going to camp. I guess it’s hard not to draw parallels with the awesome “Avenue Q.” anytime puppets and Broadway are mentioned together, but there are also twinges of “Belle” from “Beauty and the Beast”. This is a lot of fun, but I think if I were Big Bird I’d be a bit concerned that everyone on the street seems really happy I was going away. If you like your Sesame Street songs big, bold and brash then this is the track for you!
5 – You Light Up My Life – The Fantastic Miss Piggy Show
Throughout the Muppet Show days (including the Muppet movies) it always felt to me that Piggy’s romantic songs were played slightly for laughs – if not at the absurdity of a pig being romantic then scoffing at her vampish nature. This seems like one of the first examples of Piggy being allowed to be genuinely touching about her relationship with Kermit through music. The lyrics dovetail nicely with Piggy’s back story of coming from humble beginnings, but having a dream of something bigger and Kermit being the key to those dreams coming true. Whoever chose this number did a fantastic job. If you skip back a few minutes in this video you’ll see that this song comes off the back of a trademark Kermit/Piggy argument so the moment where Gonzo notices Kermit is glowing is more than just a cool trick – it also marks an affirmation of their love.
4 – The First Day of School – For the First Time
According to Muppet Wiki the first appearance of this song on Sesame Street itself is from 1983, however it actually originated on the album “For the First Time” which was released in 1982 so qualifies here! This track appeared in 16th place on my extended Jerry Nelson chart. That might not seem particularly high until you remember just how many songs Jerry sang during his Muppet career. I think what makes this a winner for me is the fun Eastern European vibe. It’s a style that thanks to his Transylvanian roots The Count performs a heck of a lot, but that really shouldn’t detract from how well he does it. I like the fluid tempo of this song and how it echoes The Count’s joy at having so many children to count. I think that’s what makes him such a standout character for me – he’s always full of joy and excitement!
3 – I Will Survive – The Fantastic Miss Piggy Show
This is actually the finale of a much larger medley (hence the “Isn’t She Lovely” refrain as it’s how the piece starts). I did consider counting the whole thing as one track, but to be honest the moments where Piggy’s singing with her guest stars (or worse still being sung to) just aren’t as good as this and would have pulled the whole thing down in the rankings. This tune of female empowerment is such an obvious song for Miss Piggy, you wonder why she hasn’t sung it before? I really like the tango inspired arrangement as Piggy goes from sad and forlorn to strong and determined. It may well be a track that really shows off both sides of her personality, but the main reason this is in third place is the incredible work of Frank Oz. His vocal performance is nuanced and pitch perfect and the puppetry is astounding. The wide shots in particular are amazing.
2 – Gelfling Song – The Dark Crystal
If the measure of whether or not something counts as a song is the inclusion of a vocal line this atmospheric track absolutely hits the mark. It’s haunting and beautiful and like the last Dark Crystal piece, just takes me away to another world. It builds and swells from humble beginnings into something glorious and magical – a bit like Jen and Kira do in the movie. The animal noises provide a weird otherworldly percussion and are strangely hypnotic. I reckon I could listen to just them on their own and still enjoy this. For those of you who know “Doctor Who” one of my favorite pieces from the score for that show is “Martha’s Theme” and this has an incredibly similar feel. It wouldn’t be unthinkable to suppose this could be its inspiration – not in tune, but certainly in emotion. I often use “Martha’s Theme” as a vocal warm up and I might add this to the repertoire too.
1 – A Salute to the Year – The Fantastic Miss Piggy Show
I said back at track 10 that thanks to Piggy we had the perfect start to a musical chart, and this is quite possibly the best way to end a list based on a particular year. If there is a song more fitting I can’t think of it right now. Miss Piggy and Frank Oz have been on fire throughout this chart appearing in 50% of it, and this tour de force performance really is the pinnacle of all their fine work. It’s brilliantly musical, fabulously hectic and hilariously funny. The quick change gimmick is exactly the sort of thing you’d find on a variety show back in the day and Piggy only just keeping it together at the seams (literally) is the perfect joke for her. Her exclamation of “What a stupid song!” makes me laugh out loud every time. Finally, we get to play spot the Muppet performer here as Steve Whitmire is occupying one of those ovals as part of the chorus. See if you can spot him! (Hint: He’s not on the bottom right.)
As you can see from this chart, 1982 really was a great year for Miss Piggy and her ample figure pushed several other deserving songs just out of the top 10. This week’s honourable mentions therefore are as follows: “We All Sing with the Same Voice”, “Coconut Counting Man”, “Snackcercise”, “The Pod Dance” and “At the Luau”. When I undertook this task of yearly charts 1982 was the first year I was concerned about finding good material for. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Thank you to everyone who contributed to the Henson Company’s output in 1982 – you truly made it a “time of wonder”.
Join me next week silly creatures as we leave outer space and venture into 1983. After all, there’s ping-pong games that must be played, and songs that must be sung…