Kieran Moore – If you’re a Muppet fan like me, chances are you’re permanently confused. You see, we think – nay know – the Muppets are cool that’s why we love ‘em, but if we’re honest, as characters they’re actually a pretty big bunch of nerds and weirdoes. However, one of the joys of the Muppets is that they’re not rully “with it”. They might know the most fashionable bar in town, but they’re unlikely to visit anytime soon.
As all good scientists know, there is always an exception (or two) that proves the rule, so today to prove that point we’re looking at the undisputed Queen of Cool – Janice. Can we discover fer sure why she has bucked the trend and stayed trendy for a rully long time?
10 – Introduction/Hey A Movie! – Muppets on Location: Days of Swine and Roses
Not to give too much away right at the outset, but one of the things you’ll find as we go through this list is that the songs presented come from several very specific eras/moments in Muppet history. This track is from the early 90s which was a great time to be a Janice fan. As part of The Electric Mayhem, Janice is one of the chosen characters that made the transition from full-screen in theaters to full-bodied at Walt Disney World. Playing slightly against type here, she acts as MC for this show. I’m not sure why, perhaps it’s the lack of female characters, but she often seemed to take the lead around this time. It’s understandable that Dr. Teeth has little to do in this show, and Zoot and Animal are hardly frontmuppet material, but I often find myself surprised Floyd isn’t doing more. Not that I’m complaining, Richard Hunt deserved every opportunity he got to shine.
9 – Rockin’ All Around the World – The Muppets at Walt Disney World
This is another one from the era we looked at above. In reality this song is probably better classed as an Electric Mayhem song, but when you go to the trouble to count (as I just did); you’ll notice that Janice does actually sing more here than anyone else (just). Janice was certainly popular around this period. I’d love to know the thinking behind why, particularly in light of Richard’s illness. Although she’d always been a hip, happening, hardcore muso; it wasn’t rully until Richard became her fulltime performer that Janice became the hippy-chick valley-girl we know and love now. It adds a fun twist to her character and makes her standout as more feminine (even if it is a stereotype) against the rest of the boys. This song has always been a highlight in a production full of them. I’d hoped it would be an extra on the DVDs of season four or five…
8 – The Heart of Rock n Roll – Here Come the Muppets
Completing our trilogy of Walt Disney World songs is this fun Rock n Roll number where, once again, Janice takes the lead. If someone watched just this show and “Muppets on Location”, they’d be forgiven for thinking the band is called “Janice and the Electric Mayhem”. If she wasn’t such a free-spirit immune to the temptation of fame and world dominance I guess this would have been the point where Janice could have started a coup. She rully is fantastic in the lead role and every bit as charismatic as Dr. Teeth. One of my theories for why Janice and the rest of the band have kept their cool when all around are losing theirs (if you can do the reverse you’ll be a Muppet, my son) is that they tend to perform timeless classics from a range of genres. Bearing that in mind this track seems like a rare misstep. Sure, if you’re old enough you’ll know the song, but I’m not convinced it’s stood the test of time or originated from an artist that has either. Sorry Huey.
7 – Act Naturally – The Muppets Go to the Movies
This is the first of several tracks on this chart that were written or performed at some point by The Beatles. You could argue however that this is in fact a Muppet cover. Although it was only a UK spot on The Muppet Show, Act Naturally is generally one of the songs people tend to associate with Gonzo first and foremost. As the King of Cool to Janice’s queen, Floyd doesn’t quite bring the song’s self-deprecating nature out as well as Gonzo does, but instead brings a slightly sarcastic vibe that works almost as well. Richard Hunt and Jerry Nelson were like chocolate and peanut butter – they were meant to be together. Their ease in performing with each other is illustrated perfectly in this track. It’s got superb harmonies and a fantastic laidback feel that only comes when you are truly comfortable as a performer.
6 – San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)/Can You Picture That? – Outside Lands Festival
Over the years Janice has been portrayed by some amazingly talented performers – the full roster includes not just Richard Hunt, but also Eren Ozker, Fran Brill, John Lovelady, Brian Henson, Matt Vogel, Tyler Bunch and, the star of this song, David Rudman. David has been playing Janice for almost 10 years now and over that time has gotten better and better to the point where Janice became one of the breakout stars of The Muppets (2015). She often got some of the best lines and moments. In fact to digress slightly, David was fantastic on that show regardless of who he played. Scooter was given a whole new lease of life too. Based on the live show in this video, I’m rully excited for the future of The Electric Mayhem. I’m astounded that the performers onstage (all of them not just the main six) were able to pull this off. If I wasn’t a whole continent away there’s no chance I’d be missing the Hollywood Bowl shows. Next stop Glastonbury please…
5 – Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da – Muppets on Location: Days of Swine and Roses
I wrote about this song relatively recently for my 1991 chart. My opinion still hasn’t rully changed. The fact that one of Richard Hunt’s last musical performances is a song where the chorus includes lines about how life goes on I find incredibly poignant. It gets me choked up every time – I can’t help it. I wish I’d known Richard personally. Everything I read, see or hear makes him seem like a guy who was very much full of life and I suspect his attitude at this time may very well have been “life goes on”. I like to think of this song as his message to the Muppet fans of the world. I’m very heartened to know, thanks to David Rudman, that Janice’s future is much more assured than it had been in the past and that for her and Richard’s other characters life will truly go on. (For those keeping score, this is another Beatles track.)
4 – Rockin’ Robin – The Muppet Show
Considering how well Janice sings it’s surprising how rarely she provides lead vocals on ‘Mayhem tracks. For that reason, every time she does it’s instantly memorable. I mentioned earlier that Janice tends to get meatier parts at certain points in her career and the last few years of The Muppet Show is another one. Not to give too much away, but four songs on this list come from that very short space of time. The setting of this number is another reason it stands out from the crowd. As Statler and Waldorf mention at the end of this clip, “they’ve never gone up a tree before”. Most of the band’s performances are staged fairly traditionally so taking full advantage of the height of the stage is a fun idea. Seeing the lower half of the band and watching them tap their toes is almost hypnotic. If only there was a recent live stage show that also had full-bodied Muppets we could enjoy…
3 – Home – Outside Lands Festival
I think the whole of the Outside Lands Festival performance is one of the best things the Muppets have done in years. Every song is a classic, but I have a real soft spot for this number in particular. Firstly, I think the song itself has a fantastic sentiment – the lyrics rully resonate. In fact, this might be one of the best love songs ever. Secondly, the idea that Floyd and Janice feel this way about each other just melts my heart. There are varying accounts of how many members of The Electric Mayhem Janice has been through (see The Muppets 2015 for details) and we know that whether it was acting or not, she’s danced romantically with Zoot, but it’s comforting to know she’s Floyd’s girl ultimately. Janice is the greatest rock-chick that ever lived and Floyd is “chronically groovy” so they rully are made for each other. Their partnership is built on mutual respect and admiration and of all Muppet relationships theirs seems the most real and relatable to me.
2 – 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover – The Muppet Show
As much as I love the previous song (and I do) this is my favorite ever Floyd and Janice duet. This track has such a laidback vibe that it’s just irresistible. It’s also one of my favorite vocal performances from Richard Hunt and Jerry Nelson. Jerry is cool, self-assured and relaxed and his voice laps at my mind the way the ocean rises and falls at the shore. For Richard’s part, he supplies incredible, harmonies that soar and swell. This is a song where Janice’s perma-closed eyes work beautifully. I can imagine Richard in the recording studio laying down this track exuding tender musicality with his eyes closed, lost in the moment. It’s been a while since Janice was portrayed by a female puppeteer, but I think this is one of Richard’s most feminine performances and it’s not just because of those amazing high notes.
1 – With a Little Help from My Friends – The Muppet Show
And here’s our third Beatles track! For me this was always going to be a strong contender for first place, but it was very close. All of today’s top five songs scored at least 94 out of 100. What tipped it in this track’s favor is simply how different this version of the song is from those that had gone before. The Electric Mayhem are known for their rocky interpretations of more sedate fare, but don’t often take things the other way so this is a nice departure for them. I mentioned earlier that one of the reasons Janice is cool is because to a certain extent she’s remained timeless through her music, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t a modern Muppet. Over the years she’s been through a range of makeovers that would fer sure make her cringe if she looked back on them today. In more recent times we’ve also seen her on social media, at aerial silk classes and (kind of) attending astral projection lectures. Janice’s ability to be cutting edge whilst acknowledging those that went before keeps her fashionable and classic in one fell swoop. Surely that’s the definition of cool?
As I draw this chart to a close, I’m reminded there’s been so much to say about Janice I haven’t had time to mention her incredible talent for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time or her use of the word “hell” in “Happiness Hotel”. Writing about Janice has been a joy and listening to these songs again has made me very happy over the last few days. So I must thank her for giving the world such fantastic songs and also the performers and writers who gave them to her. Janice, you are a beacon of light and love in an often downbeat world and I think we might need you now more than ever. Thank goodness you’re back – even if you do want to walk around naked…