Kieran Moore – Is it possible that there’s a Muppet performer more Christmassy that Caroll Spinney? After all, it’s right there in his name. But that’s just the start of it – in all his years as Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch he’s appeared on countless numbers of holiday-themed specials, TV episodes, concerts and albums.
And so it is that at this special time of year my attention turns to Caroll and his vast array of work to present another Christmas top 10 chart.
I think it’s fair to say that on the whole Big Bird feels the holiday spirit more than Oscar the Grouch, but that isn’t always the case…
10 – Winter Wonderland – A Special Sesame Street Christmas
I’ll admit I’m not overly familiar with A Special Sesame Street Christmas. I probably know it more for its notoriety than anything else. A search of any good Muppet site will show that this special is regarded at best with mild curiosity and at worst as something so terrible it’s beaten only by The Star Wars Holiday Special in awfulness. As I say, I don’t know if I know it well enough to really pass judgement… The idea of drawing comparisons between Oscar and Scrooge is an interesting one, but they are in essence very different characters. Oscar might not like Christmas, but he’s not a character without love or passion or a sense of enjoyment so the similarities kind of fall down there. Anyway, this song makes today’s list because of two things – first, is the slightly strange fact that Oscar is singing it; and second, is the fabulousness of Ethel Merman, who I love as a performer.
9 – It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas – A Sesame Street Christmas
This song with its talk of “glistening” and “glowing” is so evocative of the season and the beauty and majesty of the world at this time of year. It conjures up twinkly lights and other holiday decorations. Every year my Christmas tree looks like an explosion in an ornament factory with baubles and garlands of all sorts of colours and designs doing their best to stand out and fit in at the same time. Any sense of theming goes straight out of the window in favor of using decorations with personal meaning or special memories. Big Bird’s youthful innocence captures the mood of this song brilliantly. Sometimes I wish I were a kid again…
8 – Yakety-Yak – A Special Sesame Street Christmas
For exhibit A as to how weird A Special Sesame Street Christmas is you only need to look at this song. Although it’s a fun Oscar moment and one that pretty much anywhere else would be perfect, here it just sits kind of weirdly and falls a bit flat. Who ever thought including this song in a holiday special was a good idea? In general having Oscar perform this isn’t a bad idea, but here…? It’s hard to believe that the cast of this special, including poor old Anne Murray who has obviously upset the costume designer in a previous life, aren’t just thinking about the paycheck here. There aren’t many people who escape this show with all of their dignity intact. Anyway, I shouldn’t be so down on this – as I said earlier I don’t really know it well enough to give a proper review so you can judge for yourself. What isn’t in any doubt though is how good Caroll Spinney is as Oscar so at least there’s that.
7 – Here Come Santa Claus – Elmo Saves Christmas: Holiday Favorites
I love the combination of Big Bird and Zoe together! It’s a fun mix up that I don’t think we see/hear often enough. It’s nice to see them breakaway from their usual partnerships of Snuffy and Elmo respectively to have a song together. I know this chart is all about Caroll, but I have to take this opportunity to write again about how much I love Fran Brill. If you’ll pardon the pun (it is Christmas), I think she’s Brill-iant! There’s an overarching theme of anticipation opening up over this chart which I think makes sense for Sesame Street. Zoe is always so excitable, she really works for this. I love her giggles and chuckles. Does “Santa Claus Lane” really exist? If I ever become a city planner I’m totally giving a street that name!
6 – Countdown Christmas – Elmo’s Christmas Countdown
I guess it’s not really giving anything away to mention that “I Hate Christmas” is coming up later in this chart, but first we must look at this fun rewrite that (once again) talks about the run up to Christmas. In some ways I actually think I prefer this version as a Christmas song because it’s more upbeat (in places). This number has a fun Broadway style arrangement that is perfect for letting the fast-paced lyrics shine. Caroll (as always) excels at singing this style. He’s so expressive as Oscar it suits his delivery brilliantly. Stiller the Elf is voiced by Ben Stiller and puppeteered by Matt Vogel. While I can usually take or leave Ben Stiller, I think he does a fantastic job in this special. It’s quite possibly my favorite role of his. Finally, I really like the stylized set design. It’s simple yet effective.
5 – The Christmas Song – Muppet Family Christmas
Ok, so this song featured last week too, but I couldn’t honor Jim’s contribution as The Swedish Chef without doing the same for Caroll as Big Bird. I recently took part in a group watch of Muppet Family Christmas and one of the things we discussed was how cleverly written this scene is. It was commented that if at any moment Big Bird caught on to what Chef’s intentions really were the whole scene wouldn’t work at all. It’s touching that one act of kindness can make such a difference. It makes me wonder – perhaps if Roadrunner had been kind to Wile Coyote just once things might have turned out very differently for them (Acme would’ve gone out of business sure!) There’s not much to say about this track that I didn’t say literally last week, so suffice to say this is one of my favorite Muppet moments from a special that’s full of them.
4 – I Hate Christmas – Christmas Eve on Sesame Street
I told you it was coming! As I touched upon earlier, as much as I love this song (and Caroll’s performance) I find it a bit mean-spirited. Not just for a Christmas special, but also for Oscar in general. Giving oozing gifts, destroying instruments, tearing decorations, covering people in snow and breaking presents just seems a step too far. Maybe it’s me… Anyway, it can’t be all bad as the song is in fourth place. I do really like it, honest! I especially love the line of telling Santa where to put his toys – that’s comedy gold! This show and A Special Sesame Street Christmas were recorded in the same year and this one is much more beloved by both fans and critics. It even won an Emmy. (Take that Leslie Uggams!)
3 – Counting the Days – Sesame Street Christmas Sing Along
This is another song that’s all about the anticipation of the season. I’ve written about this track very recently so I won’t go into chapter and verse, instead I’ll share an extra bonus video. I threatened to get my singing group performing this underrated song and we actually did it! Here for your pleasure and delectation is a work in progress version of said track. I say it’s a work in progress because this isn’t in the key we finally settled on, but anyway… I’m the one in the Kermit sweater (in case you weren’t sure). Finally, I should probably explain that I’ve counted this in the Caroll Spinney chart as Oscar is the only named character to get a solo verse!
2 – All I Want For Christmas Is You – Elmo Saves Christmas
No, this isn’t Oscar the Grouch going full-on Mariah (I wish), instead it’s Big Bird singing about how much he’s missing Snuffy over the holidays. I’d like to say it’s horrible being away from your loved ones over Christmas, but I once spent it on my own and had a thoroughly wonderful time so I don’t know if I can wholeheartedly endorse that opinion. It was bliss! I could watch what I wanted on TV; I had no stress over wrapping gifts (I did them on Christmas day itself) and generally just pleased myself. Big Bird obviously doesn’t agree with me, but one thing we do concur on is that people are more important than gifts at this time of year. I know this is how he feels as it’s not just the theme of this song, but also the next…
1 – I Want a Snuffleupagus for Christmas – Elmo’s Christmas Countdown
This has to be one of the strangest Christmas songs ever – and there are certainly a few to choose from. Caroll’s vocal performances throughout this chart have been exceptional and this is no exception (if you see what I mean). He does a fantastic job of portraying the excitement of a kid before Christmas and I should know as I’ve just spent an evening in the company of a nine-year-old who is about to burst! I really think that as great as Caroll always is, the addition of Anne Hathaway in this song has helped lift him even higher vocally. We all know Anne can sing (she even sang her way to an Oscar), but she also sounds particularly impressive here. I think what these last two songs have proved without a doubt is that rather than a new PlayStation or an iPhone, what we should all be asking for this Christmas is a Snuffleupagus. It’s this year’s must-have gift!
It’s not really Christmas without Sesame Street in some way shape or form and since without Caroll, Sesame Street is less Christmassy, I think I have conclusively shown that Mr. Spinney is the ultimate Christmas Caroll. Ba-dum-tish!
So it just falls on me now to wish Caroll a very merry Christmas and say thank you to him for giving everyone such wonderful holiday memories. Caroll, I hope Santa brings you (and everyone) a Snuffleupagus…