Kieran Moore – 1987 was a year of great highs and very sad lows for Jim Henson fans. On the plus side Jim was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame. In the minus column Fraggle Rock finally left the magic of TV by telling us we cannot leave the magic of pretty much everything else. In the realm of awesomeness, The Storyteller premiered to great acclaim; but for every yin there’s a Puppetman-shaped yang. Finally, Muppet Family Christmas saw the largest collection of Muppets in one place until… well; let’s not get that sad just yet…
Anyone who reads these charts often (or ever) will know I love Fraggle Rock music and as this will be my last chance to feature them in any significant capacity for a while it should be no surprise that they feature quite heavily today. You’ll have to indulge me. One thing to mention before we start: sometime last year online videos of Fraggle Rock that were in any way good quality started disappearing (presumably because of the HBO deal) so not all of these songs are presented as well as I’d like. Sorry.
Anyway, that’s enough jabbering. In a chart that can’t make its mind up how it feels let’s start with something funny!
10 – Sleigh Ride – Muppet Family Christmas
This is one of my favorite songs from Muppet Family Christmas (hence its inclusion here), but I didn’t get the chance to list it this past Christmas as it didn’t work with my theme(s). At least I can do so now. I’m not sure if I like this so much because Sleigh Ride is one of my favorite Christmas songs or if Sleigh Ride is one of my favorite Christmas songs because I like this. Either way I don’t suppose it matters! Fozzie has always been funnier with the right partner – even if it’s accidentally – it’s just a shame that this partner has a rather short shelf life! He really won’t get much more than his 15 minutes of fame. Frank Oz and Richard Hunt work so well together here. They aren’t one of the traditional Muppet performer partnerships, but based on this track they certainly could have been.
9 – You’re On Your Own – Fraggle Rock
There were a lot of solo songs from Fraggle Rock that competed for a spot on this chart so this is kind of representing all of them. Tracks like “It Makes You Cry”, “Still So Far”, “There’s a Lot I Want to Know” and “How Wide, How Far, How Long?” would all have made an extended list if I’d allowed myself the luxury of cheating. I’ve refrained recently from saying “Oh, woe is me for having to pick brilliant songs” as I’m aware that my diamond shows are also too tight, but this week really has been tough – not just to pick the songs, but also to then rank them. (Spoiler Alert: The song at number five has been number one in the past.) All of this is my convoluted way of telling you that I like this song a lot. Its snappy, vaudeville feel is a lot of fun and Jerry Nelson sings it perfectly. I was going to make reference to Gobo in a boater, but that sounds like the happier sequel to “Girlfriend in a Coma” by The Smiths so instead I’ll just leave you with that thought!
8 – The Rock Goes On – Fraggle Rock
Part of me wanted to put this song nearer to the top spot just because of its name, but you can read my previous entry for why that just wasn’t possible. One thing strikes me as I watch this – how come the Fraggle Five always get to start these things off? I wonder if the other Fraggles get a bit fed up with them being front and center all the time. I can’t remember if it ever happened on the show, but did they ever write an episode where the main Fraggles just wandered in at the end of a big musical production number having missed it all because they were washing their hair? I don’t recall it, but it seems like the kind of thing they might have done. I just can’t keep still to this track. I love a Gospel choir. This totally makes me get my tambourine on! Despite the fantastic singing from the Muppet performers (especially Dave Goelz who starts this off), they are all rather sadly upstaged by an Inkspot with a fabulous voice!
7 – I Give to Thee – Fraggle Rock
Before I go into details about why this song is one of my favorites, I just wanted to tell you all to carry on watching this video after the song has finished as it shows some cool behind the scenes clips of the making of this scene. If nothing else it’s worth watching just to see Jerry Nelson and Cheryl Wagner in the flesh. They are actually the first reason why I enjoy this song. Jerry has a nice gruff tone to his voice as Pa Gorg and Cheryl as Ma Gorg is his polar opposite with a sweet silky singing voice that occasionally (and intentionally) veers into the comic as her Gorg heritage undermines her efforts. As well as that element we also have the fantastic work of Messrs. Balsam and Lee, the main Fraggle Rock songwriters. The mock baroque feel of this song mixed with the jazz stylings of Jr. Gorg are poles apart and yet work brilliantly adding a fun edge to this otherwise serious song. Probably my favorite thing about this though is that it shows how much Ma and Pa love each other. As the only representation of a traditional family on Fraggle Rock, it’s good to see their love on display.
6 – African Alphabet – Sesame Street
This is simply beautiful. I have no doubt that one day this will be a number one track and yet it finds itself as low as sixth place on today’s list. If it weren’t for what’s still to come I’d feel even guiltier than I do now. As well as making me love the alphabet even more than I already do, this version of the “ABC” song also leaves me with a huge grin on my face. Ladysmith Black Mambazo have appeared several times on Sesame Street, including in the celebrity version of last week’s entry “Put Down the Duckie”. They also sang at Richard Hunt’s memorial service. How cool is that? I don’t care who you are and how unimpressed with the world you happen to be, that’s cool. Over the years Sesame Street has presented the alphabet in so many memorable ways from madrigals to Motown, but this might just be my favorite.
5 – Annual Carol Sing – Muppet Family Christmas
It feels a bit weird to be writing about this track now. Not because it’s one month too late, but because it featured twice only a few weeks ago so you’re probably sick of hearing me go on about it. I promise to put it away until at least March! I can’t say fairer than that. But for now I still have some space to fill so I’ll tell you that if you haven’t seen this special (and a surprising number of Muppet fans haven’t) then what are you waiting for? Finish reading this chart (please) and then hop, skip and jump to your nearest out of print DVD store and bang on the window until they call the police. If enough of us do it, it will get recognized as a protest and we might just get this released again. Weirder things can (and frequently do) happen. In all seriousness, this special is pretty much never getting a repeat airing or release now that the characters involved are owned by so many disparate groups. You don’t see Boober, Big Bird and Beaker (“B words!”) onscreen together very often and when you do you know something special is happening.
4 – Petals of a Rose – Fraggle Rock
This song just about kills me every time I listen to it. I have a love/hate relationship with it because it’s such a great song and yet listening to it makes me hurt. If it was just that Gobo was sad that would be enough (a Fraggle in despair is surely one of the worst things that could ever be possible), but it goes deeper than that. Fraggles are a symbol of friendship and relationships and being and working together and here Gobo is singing about how friends always tell you goodbye. It’s heartbreaking. But even that isn’t as bad as it gets because quite frankly you can forget the Fraggles and listen to this song on a personal level and it will cut you like a knife. Whether it be a lost love or a friend who you drifted apart from or any other kind of separation, this song speaks to us all. As Jerry Nelson sings this beautiful song any trace of kids’ TV has well and truly disappeared. This is sophisticated stuff and I’ve never seen a show do it better than Fraggle Rock.
3 – Magic Be With You/Fraggle Rock Theme – Fraggle Rock
Thankfully this song goes full circle and redeems (thematically) the previous one. It doesn’t matter if your friends have said goodbye because they can’t leave the magic and that magic is you. We are all a part of everyone we meet. This song is the very last piece of music that you’ll hear from Fraggle Rock marking the culmination of a wonderful five years. As I watch this video now with Magic Be With You dissolving into the theme song and all of the various creatures of the show having their final moments I’m actually getting a little choked up. How pathetic am I? This song is the perfect way to end Fraggle Rock – it’s upbeat and fantastical and everything the show was ever about. I’m so pleased that new generations are now getting to grow up with Gobo. Fraggle Rock’s message is so important. Please listen to it, live it and share it. Let magic be with you…
2 – Jim Is – Television Academy Hall of Fame Ceremony
This is such an awesome song. I said earlier that Muppets from the various Henson franchises don’t get together very often unless there’s something special to celebrate and here we are celebrating the whole reason we’re here! It’s odd really to think how different my life would have been without Jim. There are so many people and places I’ve met and been to because of him. For the way he’s touched so many lives Jim deserves to be honored every day. This song is so clever. It was written by “The Other” Ray Charles (who worked on lots of Muppet productions) and Larry Grossman (who co-wrote “Just One Person”, which would also be used to honor Jim). The lyrics to this are as funny as they are smart. Rhyming “companion” with “grand canyon” is genius and Big Bird and Grover’s grammar discussion is spot on for the characters. Kermit and Piggy’s interlude is also wonderful. The risqué humor of consummating a deal being punctured with a punch line about soup perfectly illustrates how the Muppets can be grown up, but never smutty, and silly all at the same time. That’s the perfect way to celebrate Jim Henson’s career.
1 – Just a Dream Away – Fraggle Rock
I’ve always loved this song. I must admit that several months back I had a quick rummage through the Muppet archives to see what songs this would be competing with for number one and was a little sad to see it up against such stiff competition. If I’m completely honest it probably is only my own personal bias that sees this song come out ahead of any of the previous four or five tracks. They were all very close. The Fraggles have the best songs about death and the life cycle. This one I think just about tops them all. It has such a lovely message – that even though one day I might not be here with you, I’ll simply be somewhere else instead and that’s ok. I find it incredibly powerful and have shared this song with friends if they happen to be bereaved. It always garners very favourable comments. Mudwell is such a great character. Played with precision by Richard Hunt, he nails the character and pitches the whole thing perfectly. Very few Muppets have ever died, particularly onscreen, and those that have generally do so for laughs. Here we see an actual death take place and the story allows the characters to explore the consequences of that happening. Amazing. This tune has a happy-go-lucky feel to it which mirrors Mudwell’s acceptance of his fate. I’m in awe of how phenomenal this is. Looking at Fraggle Rock over the last few yearly charts has been a real treat and if it must end I’m pleased it’s finished with this incredible song.
And 1987 was an incredible year all-round. Once again, the Muppet Show gang were largely missing though they certainly made their presence felt when they did appear. In the meantime, Fraggle Rock, Sesame Street, Muppet Babies and now The Storyteller were picking up the baton and going for gold. In 1987 Henson fans had much to be happy for, so I need to thank everyone who worked with Jim in that year (and Jim himself) for giving us so much to enjoy. Thank you for the lessons you taught me 30 years ago that continue to shape my life today.
Next week we venture to 1988 where we’re going to get very, very “Street” indeed…