Kieran Moore – It seems that every week for these anniversary charts my opening paragraph has been all about how busy the Muppets were that year and what a great time it was, and I’m starting to think that’s getting a bit stale. So I thought I’d mix it up a bit. Instead of a lovingly written synopsis of The Henson Company’s 1984, here is the same information in the form of a Haiku.
Big Bird and small frog
Entertain New York City;
Fraggles and babes play
I think that’s covered it! Shall we…?
10 – Danger’s No Stranger – Sesame Street
When you see the songs that did and didn’t make this week’s chart you may wonder how a simple song like this made the cut, but I just couldn’t leave it out. It sounds like the 80’s personified. So much so that it puts me in mind of the parody song “Pop Goes My Heart” from the movie “Music and Lyrics”. Like that song, this is presented with tongue firmly in cheek. It’s also got an infectious bass line mixed with doo-wap pianos – thanks to one Christopher Cerf (who loves a bit of a 1950/60s vibe in his compositions). Christopher is also voicing How Now Brown (the lead singer). The slightly daffy lyrics are provided by Jon Stone who you might just recognise from being instrumental in the creation of Sesame Street!
9 – Goodbye, Goodbye (Just a Rainbow in the Sky) – Fraggle Rock
Last week’s chart was a Fraggle-palooza. This week out of necessity I’ve toned it down a bit, but I could very easily have presented 10 Fraggle songs and have been more than happy with the finished chart. I can’t help myself. I love Fraggle music. I’m sure I was one in a previous life. This song is truly touching. There’s nothing sadder than a sad Fraggle and here we have a whole gaggle of them. Is gaggle the collective noun for Fraggles? There must be an official one, but I love the idea of a “gaggle of Fraggles”. We could also have a “Palooza of Doozers” and a “Gorge of Gorgs”. Thinking of words that rhyme, have any fan artists ever produced a Gorg/Borg crossover? That’s a shirt I’d buy. Junior as Seven of Nine, anyone? Perhaps not. Anyway, I love this song (and rhymes – but not mimes).
8 – Right Where I Belong – The Muppets Take Manhattan
So it’s time to address the elephant in the room. All my messing about writing silly (yet Nobel prize-worthy) Haikus has meant I haven’t explicitly stated yet that in 1984 the Muppets released a movie (is there any way to stop it?). The Muppets Take Manhattan very easily ranks amongst my favorite Muppet movies though I know some disagree. I’m not sure why. I think for some it was odd seeing the Muppets play straight characters (even with their own names) as apposed to having them either playing themselves or playing themselves playing characters. I think I’ve turned my brain inside out if that’s any help… Anywho, I love The Muppets Take Manhattan – I think that was my point. And, I especially love the music from the film. Jeff Moss did a wonderful job and I feel is underrated for his contribution here. The opening few bars of this always give me a lump in my throat. I think the excitement of being six or seven and seeing Kermit back to his old self with his friends around him has never left me. It’s a powerful moment for sure.
7 – Counting the Days – Sesame Street Christmas Sing Along
We’ve had Halloween now so it’s not too early for a Christmas song is it? Either way, this fun doo-wap track is at number seven so you’ll just have to listen to it whether you like it or not! And you really should (listen and like). This is the very epitome of “undiscovered gem”. How this isn’t a Christmas classic is beyond me and yet I’ve barely ever seen it mentioned in Muppet circles let alone on Civvie Street. What a terrible waste of a song. Thanks to my research here my singing group is now working on a version to present this Christmas – I’ll try and get a video. I like the way that Dennis Scott (whose Sesame Street career ran three decades) really captures the excitement of a child waiting for Christmas. It reminds us jaded adults that in amongst the plans and the shopping and the travelling and the decorating, Christmas is actually fun and should be looked forward to.
6 – Muppet Babies Theme – Muppet Babies
When your world looks kind of weird and you wish that you weren’t there you could do a lot worse than digging out your old Muppet Babies videos (and your “Garbage Pail Kids” cards) and remembering just why this was one of the most successful cartoons of the 80s. The show was excellent. Mixing live action scenes from well known movies (sadly making a DVD release unlikely) to present fun, humorous character-driven stories. It had great music too. On top of all that, it was incredibly influential – how many other franchises suddenly had “Babies” or “Kids” streams to promote? I’ll tell you – lots. From Fred Flintstone to Bugs Bunny, they were all at it. This theme song is surely one of the best ever Saturday morning cartoon offerings. I actually hold the genre in fairly high regard (Thunder, Thunder, Thunder, Thundercats!) and genuinely think this is about as good as it gets.
5 – I’m Gonna Always Love You – The Muppets Take Manhattan
I guess it’s fitting that the Muppet Babies Theme has lead straight into the movie sequence that inspired it. With UK release dates I can’t remember if I saw this before or after I actually saw the cartoon, but in my hole-riddled memory I think it was before. I do know that I was a ways behind on this film though as my older brother babysat for some American friends that lived nearby and saw The Muppets Take Manhattan at their house well before I got the chance. I don’t know if he saw it on video or some sort of forces TV as they were military, but I do remember him telling me all about this moment and wishing I could see it for myself. I’d have been six in 1984 so the wait must have been torture. I recently read someone joking about how Piggy would actually be a bad mother if these lyrics are to be believed as she’ll abandon her newborn babies to go mountain climbing! This is definitely in my top three Miss Piggy movie songs.
4 – Dream a Dream (and See) – Fraggle Rock
This is our last trip to Fraggle Rock this week and as I wrote earlier I could have picked any number of songs, but this won out because of how amazing the main Fraggle Five performers are. We all know that individually Jerry Nelson, Dave Goelz, Steve Whitmire, Karen Prell and Kathryn Mullen can sing beautifully, but when you put them together and ask them to harmonize something magical happens. Each of them becomes so much more than the sum of their parts. Not since the days of The Muppet Show (and the inclusion of the wonderful Richard Hunt) have I heard such incredible close harmony on a Muppet production. The beauty of this is that it’s such a simple piece, yet the vocal arrangement takes it in unexpected places and is just breathtaking. Kudos to Philip Balsam and Dennis Lee for getting the absolute best from their performers.
3 – He’ll Make Me Happy – The Muppets Take Manhattan
I genuinely can’t think of a better song to walk down the aisle to than this one. I haven’t taken the plunge yet, but I can imagine that this perfectly encapsulates the feeling you get as you prepare for the rest of your life – that and abject terror! It’s a beautiful song though and is, as far as I’m concerned, the crowning achievement in an amazing musical finale that encompasses five fantastic songs. It takes the movie firmly into a fantasy world (if it weren’t already), but it honors the musical tradition it’s referencing and is a lot of fun to boot. For me, I think this whole section rivals (and possibly beats) “The Magic Store” as the best Muppet movie finale. I remember my brother (remember him from two songs ago) telling me about Kermit and Piggy’s wedding and I don’t think I really believed him. Even back then as a kid I think I kind of got that if they did tie the knot it would mess with the giant reset button the Muppets always push. I guess this is the closest the frog and the pig will ever get to the real thing…
2 – Together Again – The Muppets Take Manhattan
Despite the obvious intended similarities between The Great Muppet Caper and Muppets Most Wanted (MMW), this was the track that was chosen to finish the latter. Whilst it didn’t seem like the most obvious choice (and I’m still not sure) there were at least a few links from MMW and The Muppets Take Manhattan. Primarily, the aforementioned wedding, but also things like Kermit’s separation from the gang. Either way, whether it’s opening a movie or providing Nadya with her big finale this is a great song. It’s cheerful and upbeat and with two very different moods feels like it could almost be described as having “movements”. The opening is laidback and carefree with low-impact scatting and whistling suggesting the relaxed feeling you get when you’re back with old friends that know, love and get you. And then it picks up the pace to suggest the excitement you experience when the whole gang’s back together and the fun can begin. There’s a real sense of joy here.
1 – Saying Goodbye – The Muppets Take Manhattan
This is pretty much the exact opposite of the previous entry. It’s a sad, touching song all about inevitable break ups and how hard they are. Sometimes saying “Goodbye”, this song suggests, is the very best way to convey everything you’re feeling. I know this to be true. At my sister’s funeral, each of her brothers and sisters (I’m one of seven) took turns to speak. I started with a joke (as one always should when public speaking), and then put her death into the only context that made sense at the time – The Muppets. I spoke about how she was the Gonzo in our family; always artistic, a little bit weird, not afraid to be silly and above all, soulful with a big heart. Then I read the lyrics to this song:
Saying goodbye, going away
Seems like goodbye’s such a hard thing to say
Touching a hand, wondering why
It’s time for saying goodbye
Saying goodbye, why is it sad?
Makes us remember the good times we’ve had
Much more to say, foolish to try
It’s time for saying goodbye
Don’t want to leave, but we both know
Sometimes it’s better to go
Somehow I know we’ll meet again
Not sure quite where, and I don’t know just when
You’re in my heart, so until then
Wanna smile, wanna cry
It’s time for saying goodbye
I think Saying Goodbye says it all really.
I’m afraid that’s a very downbeat way to end this chart – perhaps we need another poem? There once was a big yellow bird,
Who said “I know a very good word –
Is the best word there is.”
And the rest of the world all concurred!
We also need some honourable mentions and this week they go to: “You Can’t Take No for an Answer”, “The Gorg’s Lament”, “I Sniff the Rose”, “Rat Scat”, “Music Makes Us Real (Ping)”, “Somebody’s Getting Married” and “Bring Back the Wonder” (amongst others). Thank you to everyone who was involved with The Muppets in 1984 – especially the songwriters of this incredible body of work.
Join me next week as Sesame Street finally gets a proper chance to shine. I figure I can write that chart in, oh, about three hours. I might even count the telephone poles (Ha Ha Ha)…