Kieran Moore – Last week, to keep things fresh, instead of just writing an opening paragraph about 1984 I presented a Haiku. That’s a bit old hat now though, so instead today I’m representing the fabulous work of the Henson Company in 1985 through the medium of interpretive dance.
Of course, you can’t actually see me performing this incredible tour de force of motion and movement, but if you could; you’d be marveling as I twirl my way through season three of Fraggle Rock, burst forth with a glorious display of Little Muppet Monsters and Muppet Babies, pop and lock Snuffy’s reveal on Sesame Street and Charleston the majesty that is Jim Henson Presents. Above all of this though is the climactic rendition of the Hokey Pokey that tells the heartache, joy, exuberance and pure unadulterated mixolydiousness of Sesame Street Presents: Follow That Bird.
Whichever way you swing, salsa or samba it, 1985 really is all about Sesame Street and the big yellow avian one, but can anyone knock him off his perch?
10 – The Rap-Up – Muppet Meeting Films: Muppet Lift Off
(Click here to watch the video)
This is an absolute first for me. I’ve never included a song from the Muppet Meeting Films in a chart before and I don’t know if I will again, but I’m really pleased I’ve been able to. For those that don’t know, Muppet Meeting Films were created for businesses to perk up long dull meetings, and they certainly do. If your business/employer isn’t showing these at every opportunity I think that’s reason enough to down tools quite frankly. It’s criminal these aren’t seen more widely. You might recognize Leo (the main character here) from his appearance in the Muppet Show Pitch Reel. A few weeks ago I wasn’t able to feature anything from “Convincing John”, but that doesn’t seem to matter now as there’s definitely a whiff of John in Leo. I don’t know what he’s selling, but I’ll take two with all the accessories and extended warranty.
9 – All Around The World – Fraggle Rock
I kind of have mixed feelings about this track. You see, when I hear it I’m instantly transported back to my childhood watching Fraggle Rock – this music is synonymous with Uncle Matt. But I often found the postcard segments in the show to be my least favorite part. Even as a kid I felt they played down a bit and rather than augmenting that week’s story actually just slowed things down. I do think now though, as a grown up, that the Matt moments feature some great puppetry and neat humor so it’s not all bad. I love the idea of this song being sung by a big choir of Fraggles. This track has a powerful sing-along chorus and was released as a single in the UK (though I think it failed to chart). Dave Goelz sounds like he’s having fun and the interjections from Karen Prell as Red in particular make me laugh a lot.
8 – The Batty Bat – Sesame Street
In a week where the chart is going to be dominated by a certain Sesame Street movie you might assume I would give songs from the show proper a swerve, but I just couldn’t dis*count* this track. The Muppet trinity of Joe Raposo, Count von Count and Jerry Nelson is simply too strong to ignore. Joe has written a fantastic eastern European inspired number with slow verses and an irresistible up-tempo chorus. It’s musical and silly in equal measure. Then there’s The Count whose passion for numbers makes him a character that’s easy to love. He gets so involved it’s impossible not to be swept along with him. Finally Jerry Nelson – we know he’s an amazing singer, but I always think his vocals as Count are amongst his strongest. There seems to be a real connection between performer and character there. All in all this is one of the best Sesame Street songs ever as far as I’m concerned.
7 – I’m So Blue – Follow That Bird
I have mentioned this track a few times in the past so those of you with an encyclopedic knowledge of my opinions on Muppet songs will know that for some reason this never really did it for me. It’s incredibly sad. Really INCREDIBLY sad. And yet I don’t know why, but it never really got me in the way it probably should. Maybe even as a youngster I knew Big Bird would be alright or perhaps as I was used to Muppets being performers I figured Big Bird was just doing a very good job of singing a sad song. I don’t know. It is desperately sad though and when you consider the fact that Big Bird is played as a 6-year old it’s not just sad, it’s heartbreaking. I often tell my brother he’s dead inside for not crying at “Bridge to Terabithia” – maybe this song proves I am too!
6 – Workin’ on My Attitude – Follow that Bird
I’ve never done this before, but I’ve actually had to upload this song to YouTube myself so that I could feature it. This song is properly obscure. A few months ago whilst researching a different chart I came across the title of this track online and couldn’t for the life of me remember how it went. I messaged a very knowledgeable Muppet fan online who shall remain nameless (let’s just call him Harrod Hairpuff) (editors note: Sounds like a cool dude) and even he couldn’t place it. As with “Counting the Days” which I featured recently, it’s a real crime this isn’t better known. The song is subtitled “Oscar’s Theme” and features the opening lines “I really feel great when I sing the blues and make you cry; yes I was born to be a dark cloud in a sunny sky”. It’s a superb, laid back track that works outside of the context of the movie and is crying out for a cover or two.
5 – Upside Down World – Follow That Bird
Sometimes Ernie’s messing around is a lot of fun and we quite rightly think Bert is a dumb old stick-in-the-mud, and other times Ernie’s an annoying twerp who you’d gladly throttle. This is definitely a case of the latter as his messing about causes heartache and pain to a 6-year old bird. But, I suppose at least here he’s being entertaining. This song has a fun waltz time and circus styling that reflects its slightly warped sensibilities. It sounds wobbly and wacky and matches the visuals onscreen perfectly. Jim Henson and Frank Oz are, as always, a joy to watch and listen to. Jim is playful and light as Ernie and I just love Bert when he lets rip and loses himself. The best moment of this whole track is when he sings “Whoopside down”. It’s so expressive. This isn’t one of the flashier tracks from Follow That Bird, but it’s one I’ve never forgotten and always enjoyed.
4 – The Grouch Anthem – Follow That Bird
This track is a former number one, but sadly here only comes in at fourth place. I think Oscar would appreciate that though – he probably hated being number one! Speaking of fourth, I’m now on my fourth Follow That Bird song and I still haven’t mentioned Caroll Spinney. That’s a bit shocking really. As Oscar the Grouch and, even more so, Big Bird the whole film really did hinge on his performance. Of course, there would have been no reason to suggest that would be a problem. As a veteran, veteran performer (are there any current Muppet performers who have been at it longer?) you know you’re in safe hands with Caroll. It’s mind blowing to think that Oscar and Big Bird are performed by the same person. It’s a bit like watching the original Ninja Turtles movie and thinking “That’s Elmo” when Splinter appears! This song is brilliant and I quote it all the time!
3 – Easy Goin’ Day – Follow That Bird
The week Grouch Anthem was number one (almost two years ago to the day) this song was number two, so whilst it’s slipped a place it’s interesting to note that it is now ahead of its previous victor. Sometimes randomly I find myself humming this tune for no reason. I guess subliminally at least I must be having an easy goin’ day when I do. This song has such an infectious chorus I can pretty much guarantee that it will be the track stuck in my head this week. It’s usually something Muppety. Nothing in music beats a key change (except maybe a tuba being fired out of a cannon) and this has a killer one at the end that elevates it to a higher plane. I have to take a moment to mention Alyson Court as Ruthie. She’s cute without being saccharine and a fantastic singer. She has a very impressive acting résumé that even includes playing an Ewok! Chances are if you’ve ever watched a cartoon you’ve heard her voice. She’s been in everything!
2 – One Little Star – Follow That Bird
This is another song that has always performed well on my charts (including a top 10 spot in my top 50 number ones chart). I think it’s probably one of the best songs ever – Muppet, Sesame Street or otherwise. This tugs on my heartstrings in a way that I’m so Blue doesn’t. The fact that Big Bird, Snuffy and Olivia are all out there feeling a loss and longing for someone is especially powerful to me. I don’t know why that particular aspect would have resonated with seven-year old me, but it did. This and The Grouch Anthem really stayed with me even after I grew out of watching Follow That Bird on a loop. I’d like to take this moment to point out that this song predates “Somewhere Out There” from “An American Tail” by a full year. Take that Fievel! I also need to shout out to Martin P. Robinson and Alaina Reed. I’ve recently been enthusing over my love for Alaina and this song is the exact reason why I think she’s so special.
1 – Ain’t No Road Too Long – Follow That Bird
I love a song with a message and this really has one. The lyrics are definitely a good guide to live by. There’s really nothing not to love about this track. Just look at the list of singers on hand here: first, of course is Waylon Jennings – a man who despite having his own Sesame parody Muppet actually had much less to do with the show than I first thought; then there’s Gordon (Roscoe Orman) and Olivia (Alaina Reed again) showing us just how soulful country music can be; Big Bird (Caroll Spinney) playing the enthusiastic; Grover (Frank Oz) being adorable and Count von Count (Jerry Nelson) being awesome and puffy in his car. Is there anyway this could be better? Going back to Waylon (who really does deserve extra credit), he adds an element of laid back cool to this track that takes the inspirational words and makes them bright and breezy while keeping true to the meaning of the song. This is an amazing piece and I’m glad it’s finally hit the number one spot.
The eagle-eyed (and patriotic) amongst you will have noticed two things about this chart: first, the top seven songs were all from one movie. So far nothing else has even come close to that (though Fraggle Rock had a good go); second, this is the first yearly chart not to feature the classic Muppet Show characters in any guise (though Kermit was in Follow That Bird in a speaking role). I find that astounding. Here we are in the mid 80’s and there’s no Animal, Gonzo or Piggy. Wow!
So, that’s a full decade of Muppety fun dealt with. It’s absolutely whizzed by! I must give a few honourable mentions and this week they go to “A New Way to Walk”, “All Together Now”, “Goodtime Goombah Soup”, “Little Muppet Monsters Theme”, “One Fine Face”, “Fun’s No Fun at All” and “Talkin’ ‘Bout Germs”. 1985 was a fantastic year to be a Muppet fan and while Fozzie and friends where quiet (in their adult form) everyone else got a chance to shine. Thank you to all the wonderful people who contributed to this amazing year.