Kieran Moore – Wow! It’s been a crazy year for the Muppets. Over the last 12 months we’ve seen “The Muppets (2015)” come and go; “Sesame Street” undergo its biggest changes since I don’t know when; The Electric Mayhem perform live and release a single; Walt Disney World open a permanent Muppet restaurant and a brand new show; and the number of personal appearances by the Muppets soar to a level that comes close to rivalling their 1980s heyday.
Add to that the fact that “Muppet Babies” is coming back, Fraggle Rock is entertaining young and old in remastered form and “Pigs in Space” has returned and it really has been a rollercoaster year for Kermit & Co.
What this has meant for me now is that there are lots and lots of awesome songs from 2016 to listen to and rank. Creating a top 10 has been really, really difficult, but also really, really enjoyable. So many songs deserve a space on this chart, but only 10 could ultimately make it. To get a place here songs really did need to be smarter, stronger and kinder…
10 – Smarter, Stronger, Kinder – Sesame Street
As the new closing theme for season 46 of Sesame Street, this version of this inspirational song debuted way back in January 2016. I’m incredibly thankful for the new reworked version of Sesame Street as it means it’s finally being shown here in the UK after a very, very long hiatus. Most UK TV channels balked at the idea of an hour long kids TV show so the new half hour format has solved the problem and British kids can finally see what the fuss is all about. This is a fun, sunny number that twinkles along giving kids lots of encouragement to grow in all sorts of ways. It’s an important message that is really much more in keeping with the ethos of the show than the opening theme song in my opinion (as untouchable as that is).
9 – The Way I Am – The Muppets
This song is the very definition of short and sweet. I would have liked to have featured more songs from The Muppets (2015), but they couldn’t all make the cut. This number makes it onto the list because of the way it shines a spotlight on one of the most important aspects of the show – Miss Piggy and Uncle Deadly’s relationship. There were many breakout stars on The Muppets: Yolanda, Chip and even Scooter spring instantly to mind, but no character “broke out” more than Uncle Deadly did. What Matt Vogel did with the character was a revelation and I truly hope we see more of him and Piggy in the future. It’s about time she had some proper friends – which brings us neatly back to this track. I must admit I’d never heard of either Ingrid Michaelson or this song before they appeared on the show, but nearly one year on I can safely say both are fantastic. Ingrid’s voice is pure heaven.
8 – Look for the Slime – Sesame Street
It was with great sadness that I read earlier this year there would be less celebrity cameos on Sesame Street going forward. So imagine my happiness when I came across this awesome performance from Alan Cummings. I’ve been a fan of his for years. Ironically, for someone with such a great singing voice my favourite performance of his is an almost silent turn in “Cinemagique” at Walt Disney Studios Paris – an award-winning look through the history of cinema. I can’t watch this video without having a big old smile on my face which is kind of funny considering the song’s all about looking for the grouchy and icky that’s all around us. Alan shows off his rock credentials with a gruff voice that wouldn’t sound out of place on most metal tracks. Sesame Street Rocks!
7 – Great Moments in History – The Muppets Present… Great Moments in American History
I must admit I’m not sure of the exact name of this song so I’ve gone with my best guess based on the lyrics. This show, in both its incarnations, is such a lot of fun. However, as a Brit I have to defend my country from the terrible, completely accurate, truthful slander that goes on throughout both shows! I know the idea for this has been kicking around at Walt Disney Imagineering for a while, but it seems unbelievable that it took until 2016 to become a reality – it’s such an obvious and easy idea. It’s been a good year for the Muppets at Walt Disney World. Not only have we gotten this show (which is still playing today despite fears to the contrary), we also saw the return of Muppet Mobile Lab (another obvious idea that needs rolling out further) AND the creation of PizzeRizzo, an all-new Muppet themed eatery opposite Muppet*Vision 4D. This sudden influx of theme park goodies gives me hope of something Muppety eventually coming to Disneyland Paris, which has been crying out for Muppets for almost 25 years now! Anyway – fun song, fun show (what more can we ask for?!)
6 – Holiday Lights – Once Upon a Sesame Street Christmas
This is the most recent song to make today’s chart as it’s barely a month old. There were a few songs from this new special up for consideration, but this is the only one that made the cut; due in part, to its big production number feel. This song really deserves to become a holiday classic, but as we’ve been seeing recently in my Christmas charts, just because a song is good enough it doesn’t mean it will join the hallowed ranks of the best-known holiday tunes. Hopefully, this will get a shot despite its short running time… With its renewed vigour I guess the time was right for another Sesame Street holiday special. There’s a real buzz around the show at the moment and I’m glad to see that translate into more than just standard episodes. This song is sung beautifully by all and is sure to get your toes tapping!
5 – Hey! It’s Macy’s – Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade
This song scores so highly in part because of shock factor. We all know “Hey a Movie!” like the back of our hand, but for the vast majority of people this song would be very obscure. Whoever came up with the idea to rework the lyrics for this performance is a genius and deserves a raise (and not the sort Kermit, Fozzie and Gonzo get in “The Great Muppet Caper”). It seems that Steve Whitmire had very little to do with this performance (probably because of time constraints), but I love the fact that that means characters like Scooter get a little more screen time. It made my heart jump for joy when I saw him at the very start kicking this performance off. This is a bright, brash, colourful total tour-de-force from the Muppets and Muppet performers and I love it!
4 – You are The Sunshine of My Life – The Muppets
I just love the opening riff of this song. It takes something that could be all sweetness and light and adds an element of drama and some much needed punch. Who would have thought this would be Kermit and Piggy’s song? There’s no reason why it shouldn’t be, but this is definitely not what I would have expected in my head – perhaps it’s a little too sweet? When I mentioned in the opening paragraph that The Electric Mayhem had released a single this year this was the song I had in mind. Sadly, I don’t think it set the charts on fire, but still – The Electric Mayhem released a single in 2016, that can’t be ignored. Jack White was an interesting choice of guest for The Muppets, but he worked surprisingly well. His scenes with Kermit were very believable and I’d like to see him work with the gang again at some point. Of all the songs the Muppets performed in 2016 I can genuinely see this being the one I come back to as the years pass. I don’t think I can give it higher praise than that.
3 – With a Little Help from My Friends – Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival
You were probably thinking I’d forgotten this performance had even happened as I got closer to the number one spot. Of course I hadn’t! How could I write a 2016 chart without featuring a single song from The Electric Mayhem’s awesome live festival debut? Not featuring every song was a real wrench and in lesser years I’m sure they would all be presented here, but 2016 has been an exceptional year and this chart had to reflect that. Bill Barretta’s voice just blows me away here. Even taking into account the incredible puppets and puppetry on display (and truly everyone involved deserves massive amounts of praise), you can’t deny that Bill and Dr. Teeth are the stars of this particular song. As someone who has actually sung on a main stage at a festival not dissimilar to this one, I know what it takes to keep an audience interested in a space such as this and to keep enough in the tank to pull out this incredible showstopper at the end is nothing short of amazing. I have nothing but huge respect for him.
2 – In Spite of Ourselves – The Muppets
The unlucky song at number 11 on this list is the “Muppet Show Theme” as performed by the cast that appeared on the same episode of The Muppets (2015) as this song. I can talk about both together now because to me they represent kind of the same thing – the fact that the Muppets are stronger together than they’ll ever be apart. This episode (Swine Song) was one of the first points in the show where it seemed that the powers that be were getting it. Earlier episodes often had the Muppets in conflict with each other and although sometimes that was fun a lot of it didn’t quite sit right. Scooter and Rizzo’s back and forth in an earlier episode still stands out for all the wrong reasons for me, with the former almost being bullied by the latter. It just felt uncomfortable to watch. Here we see the gang coming together just as they should. I must give thanks to Kristin Newman in particular for this. Seeing the sparks fly between Kermit and Piggy as they sang felt like the Muppet magic of old being created today and gave me (misguided) hope for the future.
1 – San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)/Can You Picture That? – Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival
As many of you will know I have a soft spot for Can You Picture That?, but the addition of “San Francisco…” sung by Janice at the start really adds atmosphere and seems to bolster the original song’s message. It makes this live version of the track hard to beat in my opinion. It’s almost unthinkable to imagine anything topping the version sung by Jim Henson, Jerry Nelson and Richard Hunt, but I think with this incredible performance Bill Barretta, Matt Vogel and David Rudman really have earned the right to be considered as at the very least equal, if not a smidge better. I do not say that lightly at all. The full-bodied puppetry here is stunning – absolutely breathtaking. It really does blow my mind and also gives me so much hope for the future of the Muppets and what they can do. Not just at festivals and concerts, but this opens up Broadway like never before and could revolutionize theme park performances too. If you’d have told me this time last year that a live performance by The Electric Mayhem would be number one on my 2016 chart I’d have laughed (then wished really hard). Now I’m alive with the possibilities. What a difference a year makes!
2016 really has been a heck of a year. Six months ago things would have been looking pretty bleak – now as the year draws to a close it’s filled with amazing hope for the future. Our Netflips campaign might not have paid dividends (yet), but it almost doesn’t matter. The future is bright, the future is green!
As the year ends I must say a huge thank you and congratulations to everyone who worked with the Muppets over the past 12 months. You might not have been name checked individually, but you know who you are and we are indebted to you for your contribution to this incredible period for the Muppets. Thank you for making 2016 so memorable.