Kieran Moore – Over the last week I’ve been lucky enough to shine a spotlight on the Christmas music of Jim Henson – who started the Muppet’s passion for the holidays; and Caroll Spinney – who in my opinion is the ultimate Christmas Caroll. Today, I’m focusing on a man I can’t help but think of at this special time of year – Jerry Nelson.
Jerry is in so much of the Muppets’ Christmas output it’s actually a bit overwhelming (in a good way). His Christmas credits pre-date The Muppet Show by several years and continue right through to 2002’s It’s A Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie. During that time he had lead roles in films and TV specials and appeared on several classic Muppet Christmas albums. In fact, it’s harder to find something Muppety and Christmassy that Jerry hasn’t appeared on than the other way around.
As you’ll hear over the next 10 songs, there’s something about Jerry’s voice that just nails the soul and spirit of Christmas. I am truly humbled and honored to present what I consider to be not just 10 of Jerry’s best Christmas moments or even simply 10 of Jerry’s best moments period, but actually 10 of the very best Muppet moments you’ll find anywhere ever.
10 – Brothers – Emmet Otter’s Jugband Christmas
I should probably start my write up for this number by explaining that it’s only really this low because it’s not that Christmassy, despite hailing from a Christmas special. There’s so much to say about this song. I love the vocals with Jerry’s lead line; I love the jugband/skiffle sound of the track; I love how much it reminds me of Bugsy Malone, which was also written by Paul Williams. I love Bugsy Malone, but that’s a subject for another day… A while back I featured “Brothers/Our World” which is the mash up of this song and “Our World” (obviously) and I stated that I thought that track was greater than the sum of its parts. That being said, I’ve featured this non mash-up version here as it showcases Jerry’s talents better in my opinion. “Emmet Otter” is a fantastic special with some incredible puppetry. If you haven’t seen it, why?
9 – Blue Christmas – Elmo Saves Christmas: Holiday Favorites
This seems such an obvious idea; I can’t believe it wasn’t done sooner. I also can’t believe we didn’t get Frazzle joining them at the end for “Blue and Orange Christmas”. I think if that had happened you could safely say this would jump a few places on my list. I suppose as Grover and Cookie Monster both feature you could say this is more of a Frank Oz number, but I’ve always loved Jerry as Herry (Hey that rhymes!) Grover is certainly good at sounding sad and wistful, but Herry’s New York accent, gruff voice and delivery gives this song the “Rat Pack” vibe it’s crying out for. This number is a real Heinz 57 – it has elements of the blues (obviously), but also big band, jazz and country. All in all this is a fun number that really showcases the talents of its performers.
8 – Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow! – Elmo Saves Christmas: Holiday Favorites
This song seems a weird choice for a Sesame Street album as although it’s definitely on the tamer side of PG there are a few risqué moments that other versions have used to take it in another direction. Interestingly for me, I never considered this a problem for Wayne and Wanda on The Muppet show, but it did give me pause the first time I heard it here. That said, if a Sesame Street character is going to get away with a song like this it’s most definitely Count von Count. He’s arguably the most “grown up” Sesame Street Muppet. I’m trying to think now which of the other Sesame Street Muppets have established partners. Grundgetta is the only other one I can come up with… Now I’ve thought of that I really want to hear Oscar and Grundgetta’s take on this song. I’m guessing there’d be a few lyric changes, but it could be a lot of fun. That’s not to take away from Jerry’s performance here, which is pretty good as it is.
7 – Pass it On – A Muppet Family Christmas
There’s so much I love about Fraggle music that I could probably write a book on just that subject (I would love that!), but one of the things I love extra specially is the way Jerry’s Gobo and Steve Whitmire’s Wembley sing and harmonize together. The first few lines of this song are absolute proof of why. Jerry has such a keen sense of melody that Steve can do his thing with total confidence. Melody is the bedrock that good harmony sits on. It was very cool that Jim Henson and Jerry Juhl found a way to include the Fraggles in this Muppet All-Stars special. It does raise a few continuity issues and possibly muddles Fraggle canon, but does that really matter at Christmas?
6 – Christmas Scat – Muppet Christmas Carol
Talking of Jerry Nelson and Steve Whitmire – here they are once again. Scatting was a very important part of the music of Fraggle Rock – it was essentially the closing theme song after all – so it was fun to hear these two performers doing the same again here. This is, in essence, a short reprise of “One More Sleep ‘til Christmas”, but its vocal style and memorable puppetry really make it the stand out moment in the film. I guess if you look it’s pretty easy to see how this effect was achieved, but that makes it none the less impressive. Seeing full-bodied Kermit (Bob Cratchit) strutting down the street with Robin (Tiny Tim) on his shoulder is very cool. If I have one complaint about this number it’s purely that it’s much too short. I really feel like this could have been expanded. Still the movie’s pretty much perfect, so what do I know?
5 – All I Want for Christmas (is my Two Front Teeth) – Merry Christmas from Sesame Street
This song is just perfect for Count von Count. Not only does it feature a number in the title, it makes reference to his “two front teeth” which I think we can all agree are pretty much essential for any self-respecting vampire. He’ll have a thirsty Christmas without them! Of course, all of this depends on if The Count actually is a vampire as the official consensus seems a little confused. Anywhoo… I’ve always loved Jerry Nelson’s singing voice and I’ve always especially loved it when he’s playing The Count. He suits the Eastern European accent and music style brilliantly. It’s something he can really sink his teeth into (pardon the pun).
4 – Bless Us All – Muppet Christmas Carol
I was so, so tempted to put this song at number one after it was so scandalously described by this very website as “so dull” and “slow” (Note from the editor: It really is). Someone has to redress the balance and set the record straight… I can only imagine the monster who doesn’t love this song will be visited by three ghosts on Saturday night – after all, it’s never too late for redemption. This is a beautiful song, full of the sweetest yuletide sentiments. Emotion-filled and affecting, it embodies the spirit of the season. Tiny Tim’s humble prayer speaks of family and love and kindness and how no matter what, we all deserve to be blessed at this special time (even strange people who don’t appreciate this exquisite piece of music). Yes, no matter how heinous your assessment of the prayers of a dying child, there is still room in his heart to wish you peace, love and blessings at this time of year. (I’m so fired…!) (Note from the editor: Get out)
3 – When the River Meets the Sea – A Christmas Together
Ok, so this might not be the original version and arguably not the most emotional (see Jim Henson’s memorial for that one), but for me this is the definitive incarnation of this song. Any time I write about a song that touches my soul in a special way I find myself struggling to find the words to explain why and that’s happening again here putting it in a very special category that includes songs like “Wishing Song” and “I’m Going to Go Back There Someday”. To me this is actually very similar in how it makes me feel. It goes beyond simply enjoying this song very, very much and tips over into pure emotional resonance. It resounds. That’s probably the best way to describe this song – it resounds. Looking at a dictionary tells me that word has two meanings; first to echo, fill or ring out. This echoes within my body and fills my soul. Resound also means “to sing the praises of” and not only am I literally doing that here, but John Denver and Robin are singing praises to the human race and it’s frailties. Resound is definitely the right word for this…
2 – It’s in Every One of Us/Annual Carol Sing – A Muppet Family Christmas
I listed this medley as part of the Jim Henson chart because of how often his characters perform throughout. In essence the same holds true for Jerry with characters such as Emily Bear, Count von Count and Floyd all having solo lines, but the part that really elevated this track into second place (and as such shares billing here) is Robin’s beautiful rendition of It’s in Every One of Us at the 5:18 mark. It’s just amazing and rings out loud and clear to kick-start an emotional and reverent ending to this mammoth medley. This is Robin’s fourth appearance in five songs (not counting Pass it On). At the inception of his character, Robin was an adult and as he morphed into Kermit’s nephew his outlook became younger, but some of that old soul stuck around thanks to Jerry’s fantastic characterization. I guess his youthful spirit and soulful demeanour make him perfect for the season.
1 – It Feels Like Christmas – Muppet Christmas Carol
Never has there been a song more obviously destined to be number one than this! If you’re like me, you’ll find about a million reasons to cry at Muppet Christmas Carol. I’m usually a wreck the second the caption comes up at the start of the movie dedicating it to Jim Henson and Richard Hunt and then at various points throughout. Since Jerry’s sad passing the whole character of “The Ghost of Christmas Present” gets me. The part where the ghost fades away is particularly touching, but there’s something about this character in general that just gives me “the feels”. Perhaps it’s to do with his outlook of living in the now? After someone has passed that gets hammered home even further… So as jolly as this song is, it always has the power to make me well up a bit. I just can’t help myself. Mind you, that could just be because of Michael Caine’s attempt at dancing! As we rapidly approach the big day (only 165 days to my birthday!), I think it’s important to hear this song once again and remember what really makes Christmas so special. It’s true, where ever you find love, it feels like Christmas
I think that’s a pretty perfect way to end this run of special Christmas charts. It’s been great fun to put these together and I’ve especially loved listening to this chart. I think what this list in particular has shown is that Jerry Nelson embodies the joy, wonder and spirit of Christmas. Thank you Jerry – for all of the above. You are truly missed, but you’re incredible work has made it a little bit easier to find love and make it feel like Christmas. That’s a legacy to be proud of.