Kieran Moore – 1994 was a landmark year for me – you see it marked the momentous (er) moment when I left school (ain’t I old?). As I said goodbye to textbooks and exams I said hello to the next 20+ years of blundering around pretending to know what I was doing. Speaking of hellos and goodbyes there was a similar theme to The Henson Company’s 1994 too. For starters, we saw the last season of “Dog City” on our screens, but far and away the most prominent farewell was that of the show “Dinosaurs”. In what has become a classic finale that graces every list of most depressing TV moments ever, we didn’t just say goodbye to the Sinclair family – we saw the extinction of a whole race and a final scene that tried to explain to a baby that it was the end of the world (as they knew it). Talk about bleak.
On the happier side of life, we got brand new series’ in the form of “The Animal Show” and “The Secret Life of Toys”. Neither show made today’s very crowded list so I wanted to give them a quick shout out here. “The Animal Show” in particular makes superb use of music and may well be featured some time soon.
10 – Who Do You Think You’re Fooling? – Muppet Classic Theater
We’ll talk properly about Muppet Classic Theater in a moment, but in the meantime while I’m giving shout outs to stuff that didn’t make the chart I want to mention the song that ended up in 11th place – “Cooperate” from Sesame Street. It really went down to the wire. One of the main reasons I was keen to feature “Cooperate” (apart from how good it is) is that Sonia Manzano wrote the lyrics and I think they are probably the song’s biggest asset. The track itself is hidden away on YouTube as part of the episode where the Tooth Fairy loses his book, but it’s well worth seeking out. In today’s political climate Who Do You Think You’re Fooling? gets some very interesting comments on YouTube. They’re almost as fun as the song!
9 – Gotta Get That Name – Muppet Classic Theater
Muppet Classic Theater, for those that don’t know, was a direct to video production (is there anything more mid 90’s?) that really should have been shown on TV first – it’s certainly good enough. Following on from “Muppet Christmas Carol” and leading into “Muppet Treasure Island” this bridges the gap by casting our favorite Muppets as characters in classic fables and fairytales. For me the stars of the show are Rizzo, Gonzo, Kermit and Miss Piggy; but I’ll never forget the sight of naked Fozzie wearing more clothes nude than he does when he’s dressed! This special also goes down in Muppet history for introducing the world to Andy and Randy and the Elvises (so there’s something for everyone there). This special features six original songs written by Philip Balsam, Dennis Lee, Mark Radice and Michael and Patricia Silversher. All of these are hugely successful Muppet song-smiths, but Muppet Wiki doesn’t say who exactly wrote this song so I have to congratulate all of them. I love the Gospel feel of this number and its clever lyrics and fake-out ending!
8 – Born To Be Wild – Kermit Unpigged
Following on from last year’s audio releases “Muppet Beach Party” and “Ol’ Brown Ears is Back” we find the Muppets going through their celebrity Rolodex and calling on a few old and new friends for some pretty interesting duets – and this might just be the most interesting. I can’t decide if the combination of Ozzy Osbourne and Miss Piggy is a match made in heaven or the stuff of nightmares, but based on this track I think it must be the former. It’s easy to forget these days after seeing Ozzy shuffle his way through “The Osbournes” and his subsequent career as a reality star just how good of a musician he is. He puts in a great rock vocal here and forces Frank Oz as Piggy to elevate his/her performance to match. “Ozzy, Get off the floor” might be my new favorite Piggy quote… Ozzy’s final request of a kiss from Piggy and her rebuttal are the perfect way to end this hard rocking number.
7 – I’m Sad Because I’m Happy – Sesame Street
There has been so much fantastic core Muppet stuff over the last few charts that Sesame Street has been a little neglected recently and that makes me sad. Being able to make up for it, by including this song makes me happy! (See what I did there?) I flip and flop so much on who my favorite Sesame Street character is, but as I listen to this I’m certain it’s Oscar (or Grover, or Count von Count, or Abby Cadabby – who am I kidding? I love them all!) One of the reasons I love Oscar in particular (aside from the fact that I got my picture taken with him at the Henson Workshop in LA – get me!) is because I love “Grouch Anthem”, the song that kicks off “Follow that Bird”. This has a similar march/mission statement vibe and it’s a style that suits Oscar really well. Caroll Spinney is always superb as Oscar (even better than when he plays Big Bird if I may be so bold) and he doesn’t disappoint here. Finally, I recommend watching this video for the flying sheep halfway through…
6 – Daydream – Kermit Unpigged
After a brief sojourn to Sesame Street our next song finds us back at the recording studio for this cool, calm duet between Kermit and Vince Gill. This is just about the perfect song for Kermit as far as I’m concerned. We know he’s got a wicked temper when pushed, but his ability to rise above it all and remain unflustered in the face of adversity suits the mood of this song to a tee. In fact, in this recording he’s actually using the song to get to that point after Piggy gives him grief in the opener. In fact after that first track, the next few all take the Muppets on a chilled out vibe and it’s one of the things I like most about this collection. I must admit it took me a while as a teen to warm to this CD at first as the tracks are mostly middle of the road and sung by the type of artist your parents liked, but over the years I’ve found more and more to enjoy. Steve Whitmire can scat/adlib like no one I know and that’s in evidence here at the end of the track. Marvellous stuff!
5 – Mr. Spaceman – Kermit Unpigged
We know that Gonzo being an alien in “Muppets from Space” was inspired by classic Muppet track “I’m Going to Back There Someday”, but I think we should credit this song too. Its message of being taken off into space fits the movie so well it’s a shame it didn’t work with the style of the other songs in the soundtrack so it could be included. Dave Goelz sounds nicely manic as Gonzo voice blends beautifully with Jimmy Buffet’s and they work really well together. Jimmy also sings a version of one of my favorite Sesame Street songs – “Caribbean Amphibian”, which he recorded a few years after this. I guess his experience with Gonzo and Rizzo was good enough that he decided to come back to Earth to sing with the Muppets again!
4 – Rosita – Sesame Street
My recent charts have been so jam-packed that the debut of Rosita in 1991 was relegated to a short footnote, so this song lets me give her the mention she deserves (and enjoy Little Richard at the same time). First let’s talk about Rosita. Isn’t she a darling? I just adore the second wave of female Sesame Street characters. It’s kind of stunning to me that I think of these characters as being “new” when Rosita is older than some of the people I work with! I love Rosita’s fun, feisty character, but I also really like that she can be vulnerable and unsure too. Her bi-lingual nature makes her a natural teacher for kids and the fact that that side of her character hasn’t been sidelined makes me really happy. Carmen Osbahr doesn’t have much to do here musically, but she’s an amazing puppeteer. As for Little Richard, what an incredible performer he is! He has a handful of Muppet credits and is a natural with the gang. I wish we could see more of them together.
3 – She Drives Me Crazy – Kermit Unpigged
You wait years for a Little Richard appearance and two come along at once! I’ve included the music video version of this song here as I think it’s a fun curiosity, but truthfully the audio version from the album is much better. How 90s is this though? We’ve got Bruce and Demi, Helen Hunt. Carol Alt and Ricki Lake (“Go Ricki”). I’d like to say this video is a neat idea, but in all honesty it’s just an idea. One I’m sure they’d do differently these days – after all there’s no one from Zach and Cody present, barely a Cheetah Girl in sight and no one’s cameoing as a young florist. Oh yes, today they’d do things totally differently! Anyway… This track works really well for Kermit and Piggy. A couple of lyric changes add to the fun and as an album opener it’s really effective. There hadn’t been any real tension to the Kermit/Piggy relationship for a while at the point this debuted so it felt old school to be getting it back again. Great work all round (except the video – sorry Little Richard!)
2 – Wild Thing – Kermit Unpigged
This track is a real favorite of mine and as such has previously been number one twice before (once in an official chart and once in a roundup), but here it slips to second place. Sometimes you can’t stand in the way of progress… As I mentioned earlier, Kermit has a chilled out demeanour on this record and on this song it’s counterpointed by Animal’s need to rock out and Floyd’s effortless grooviness. All three of these guys combine to create something truly special. I’ve been trying to remember if this trio has ever performed together at any other point over the last 40+ years? I can’t think of a time, but based on this song that’s a real shame. This is pure Muppet pleasure for me. It’s musical and madcap, full of character and wonderfully performed. Someone on YouTube postulates that this is Jerry Nelson’s last lead performance as Floyd. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but if it is that makes me sad that it was so early on and happy that it’s as good as this. (Where’s Oscar when you need him?)
1 – Sing/Our Favorite Street – Sesame Street All-Star 25th Birthday: Stars and Street Forever
It turns out that when you need Oscar he’s right there standing in the way of progress!
Sorry about the poor quality of this video – I’m surprised a better one doesn’t exist (at least if it does I can’t find it). After mentioning earlier that Sesame Street has been neglected recently in my charts I’m very happy that it’s back on top where it belongs. Where do I start with this? A bit like “She Drives Me Crazy” this special was full of cameos that made more sense at the time, but it’s still a lot of fun. Of course nowadays the most famous celebrity appearance of all is Joe Pesci as Ronald Grump. I really don’t think there’s anything I can say about that fact that hasn’t been well and truly documented already, but it’s just mind-blowing today that this exists. I really enjoy this track with its mix of the classic Sesame number “Sing” and new piece “Our Favorite Street”, though I know not everyone shares my affection. I love that this feels fresh while honoring the show’s heritage. Finally, I want to give a quick shout out to Ruth Buzzi and Carlo Alban who are present here and are two of my favorite under recognized Sesame Street humans.
So there you go – that’s 1994 in a nutshell. One thing that stands out for me is how celebrity heavy the year seems – over half of the songs here include famous faces. I’m not sure if there’s anything to be concluded from that? We know “Muppets Tonight” is coming up – perhaps “Kermit Unpigged” was a gentle way to test the idea of Muppets and guest stars for a 90s audience? Anyway, I need to say a huge “Thank You” to everyone who contributed in 1994. The Henson family really grew around this time and it’s neat to see so many people playing a part.
Join me next time as we round out this series of chronological charts with 1995. We’ll be getting furry, feathery and maybe a little bit festive!