Kieran Moore – After last week’s epic countdown for my 100 chart milestone, I thought it might be fun to keep the celebration going a little longer with a special themed chart; so today I’m presenting the top 10 songs from episode 101 of Muppet/Henson productions.
Although several of the eligible shows did reach the milestone of 101 editions over the years, “episode 101” generally refers to the first episode of the first season of a TV show. For simplicity, I’m going with whichever episode is marked as 101 on Muppet Wiki. (This is mostly the first episode, though not always.)
The first episode of any show has a lot of work to do in selling its concept so often a little extra effort is put into getting everything right. In a Henson show that certainly includes the music. This means there are some huge classics and fan favorites on today’s chart – let’s start by trying to get some sleep…
10 – Sleep Rockin’ – Muppet Babies
For such a musical show Muppet Babies has been sadly under-represented so far on my charts. Hopefully, this song is heralding in a new era of mini Muppets (and I don’t mean The Bug Band from The Muppet Show). This track is a rock n roll masterclass led by Rowlf with input from the rest of the Muppet Babies gang. I’d expect nothing less from a show that used the sounds of the 50s and 60s as its musical motif all the way through its run. This is a great way to start off this chart. Although it’s kind of a lullaby I’m totally pumped now. Before we move on spare a thought for the songs that just missed out on this chart – “Safety in Numbers” from “The Animal Show” and “It’s Great to Be at Home” from “Bear in the Big Blue House” both scored the same as the songs in 9th and 10th place – but someone had to miss out. Sorry guys.
9 – On TV – Little Muppet Monsters
Poor old Little Muppet Monsters. Unfortunately, this episode makes up exactly one third of its entire TV run. Muppet Babies had been a runaway hit so it was decided to capitalise on that success by adding another Muppet show into the Saturday morning cartoon canon (Did somebody say cannon? – Oh never mind…). Anyway, to cut a long story short, the show was a bit of a muddle and ultimately Jim Henson didn’t like the mix of puppetry and animation in the same show so this got unceremoniously dumped. I don’t think it ever aired in the UK – although I was vaguely aware of the show and its main stars Boo, Tug and Molly. It wasn’t until I watched an episode on YouTube relatively recently that I realized the opening theme of Little Muppet Monsters was partially used as the closing theme to Muppet Babies. That rocked my world!
8 – Follow Me – Fraggle Rock
I know I always get ragged on for saying this sort of thing, but I truly mean it – I’m surprised this song only made it to number eight. It’s such a classic Muppet track and so fondly remembered – just look on YouTube at the number of fan covers there are. I guess for those of us who grew up with Fraggle Rock this song relates to us now as adults in a different way, but the meaning stays broadly the same. In fact, I guess one of the nice things about this track is that it works on many levels and allows itself to speak to the listener directly – that’s why it’s truly one of the very best Muppet songs. Jerry Nelson and Dave Goelz are in fine form as Gobo and Uncle Travelling Matt respectively.
7 – You and I and George – The Muppet Show
The Juliet Prowse episode of The Muppet Show is filled with classic songs and (spoilers) will make several appearances on today’s list, but sadly this is the lowest position amongst its stable mates – not because it isn’t awesome, but it’s really found itself so low (and it is a “solo”) because of how short it is. Let’s be fair, this song is equal measure monologue and music and if I’m honest I actually think the spoken part just edges the song. Rowlf is hilarious in this clip. I was often told by my father that sarcasm is the lowest form of wit (guess who was a know-it-all growing up?), but when Rowlf is being snarky in a self-deprecating way it’s all good. He’s such a versatile character – a sardonic wit one moment and a dog with an enormous heart the next. He’s a canine who loves himself and that shows here.
6 – Simon Smith and His Amazing Dancing Bear – The Muppet Show
This is another gem from the first ever episode of The Muppet Show. You can see in these first few shows that Jim was using some of his tried and tested variety shows skits and/or his own personal favorite songs. This falls into the latter category – because of Jim’s love for this track it appeared on the first “Muppet Show” album and was sung at his memorial. For me, the real draws here though are Scooter and Fozzie in one of their first major onstage performances. Both characters debuted on The Muppet Show and as such I guess it took a leap of faith and belief in the characters to give them one of the big musical slots in the first show. If there were any fears they were certainly proved wrong by Richard Hunt and Frank Oz who work wonderfully together here.
5 – The Goodbye Song – Bear in the Big Blue House
What I wrote about the previous song notwithstanding, when I was thinking of this track earlier I was reminded how much I enjoy Noel MacNeal’s performances and it struck me that musically I think he might be my favorite Muppet bear performer. As a singer I certainly feel he has the edge over Frank Oz. His vocals are always clear and crisp and he can turn his hand to almost any musical style. He nails the feel of this track and with Lynne Thigpen as Luna’s voice gets it so right. A mention must also be made of Peter Linz who is performing Luna’s puppetry – he’s such a star (which is ironic really…) I was the wrong generation for Bear in the Big Blue House, but I know for some this is the Henson show that can’t be beat. I wish Disney would do something with it. I know a Muppet Babies/Little Muppet Monsters hour didn’t work, but surely a Muppet Babies/Bear in the Big Blue House hour could in 2018? #BringBackBear
4 – Sound Of Music Medley – Muppets Tonight
I must admit I watched the majority of Muppets Tonight wishing it was more like The Muppet Show. I knew that characters like Scooter and Rowlf were out of commission, but the frequent lack of established players in favor of newer ones eventually started to wear thin. Also, I often found the Muppets’ constant need to be hip in the 90s tiresome. I think the variety show/guest star formula drew unfortunate comparisons to The Muppet Show. Strangely, I had no such qualms with AMC’s “The Muppets (2015)”. Anywho, my point is that this song is the complete opposite to much of the series – it’s straight out of the The Muppet Show playbook. Classic song? Check. Lavish set? Check. Miss Piggy sparring with the guest star? Check. Animal going wild? Check. Ending with an injury? Check. Wax lips? Possibly in my other pants – if I had them.
3 – I Seen Troubles – Fraggle Rock
This song has deposed “Follow Me” as my favorite track from “Beginnings”, Fraggle Rock’s appropriately titled opening episode. Both songs show just how important Jerry Nelson was to the show. Marjory the Trash Heap only appeared in around a quarter of the show’s episodes yet she made a huge impression and a major contribution to the ethos of the series. This song is a gloriously bluesy piece that instantly tells us right here in the first episode that this is going to be a sophisticated show that won’t just be sticking to the standard kids’ show formula. Blues is a musical style that is definitely grown up. Philo and Gunge are introduced here as Marjory’s sidekicks and they accompany her brilliantly – Gunge is a virtuoso!
2 – Mahna Mahna – The Muppet Show
When I wrote my top 100 chart last week there were a few glaring omissions from the list. This was one of them. As mentioned above this was a skit/song that Jim had performed many times before so he knew it would play well as the opening number to an episode of The Muppet Show. The first season was full of similar pieces all used to great effect to get the show up and running, but this is certainly the most famous. When I was a child my family owned a copy of Mahna Mahna on record. I wasn’t born until 1978, but the story goes (as my mum tells it) that almost instantly after Mahna Mahna appeared on the show there was an overwhelming surge of people visiting their local record shops trying to buy the song. The original non-Muppet version was released in the UK and hit the top 10 in April 1976 and then the Muppet version was included as the B side to “Halfway Down the Stairs” which also made the top 10 a month later. This is a bona fide classic and one of the Muppets’ calling cards.
1 – Temptation – The Muppet Show
Our number one song doesn’t see us venture very far as we stay with The Muppet Show. This video includes the full scene rather than just the song and it’s well worth watching as it’s the humor of the piece that elevated this into first place. Whether I watch the clip or simply listen to it I can’t help, but laugh at this. Right from the start we see the star power that propelled Miss Piggy into the stratosphere. 40+ years later she is still a huge name that makes headlines wherever she goes. There is often some confusion over whether Miss Piggy debuted in 1976 on The Muppet Show or earlier (even Muppet Wiki contradicts itself), however I see this as the moment her character broke out and gave the performers something solid to work with. At this point the cast were still working out the kinks in Piggy’s personality and she didn’t even have a set performer. In this number for example, Frank Oz is performing and speaking as Piggy and Richard Hunt is doing the singing. Although she would continue to get passed around for a while I think this scene showed Frank exactly what could be done with Piggy. That said, I’m glad Richard is singing here – only he could have put in such an amazing vocal performance.
Before we bid farewell to this selection of classic Muppet tracks I’d like to take a moment to give a shout out to a couple of shows that didn’t make the list. According to Muppet Wiki there were no new songs in Sesame Street episode 101 and I could dig up nothing to the contrary so a song from Cookie Monster and Co. is conspicuous in its absence I’m afraid. I dearly wanted to include both Animal Jam and the Animal Show, but the former had no videos of the necessary songs online and the latter was pipped to the post in places 11 and 13. Sorry guys. As I mentioned earlier, the first episode of a show is the creative team’s chance to set out their stall and show what they can do. Sometimes they get this right and sometimes they don’t, but in the process they usually create a little bit of magic. Thanks everyone for casting your spell on today’s chart!