Kieran Moore – Are you feeling brave? I am. You see I’ve been taking courage lessons from one of history’s greatest explorers. No, not James Cook or Marco Polo – Gobo Fraggle of course!
Gobo is the unofficial leader of the “Fraggle Five” and I don’t think it’s overstepping the mark to describe him as the main character of Fraggle Rock. He loves to explore (like his uncle Matt) and his curiosity and ability to lead are often the driving force behind whatever weekly adventure is about to unfold. Thankfully for me, he’s also the bravest Fraggle.
So this week I’m setting off on my very own scary adventure, to explore just why Gobo is such a charismatic guy. Since he’s a Fraggle it seems music might be the best place to start. So screw your courage to the sticking place and join me as we venture where no chart maker has gone before…
10 –The Me I Wanna Be – Fraggle Rock
Sometimes assuming the awesome responsibility of leadership is as much a curse as it is a blessing. That means Gobo can often get introspective, overly-thoughtful and perhaps, dare I say it, a bit grumpy. That’s what’s happening here. Poor old Gobo is having a crisis of confidence in his abilities as an explorer and, as often happens with those who are usually supportive; he feels he has no one to turn to when he needs help. His friends’ attempts to cheer him up finally push him over the edge and he lets everyone know how he’s feeling with this bluesy, angst-ridden number. All this background is purely so I can make the point that Fraggles are inherently flawed creatures (even one like Cantus) and I’m constantly impressed with how grown up this “kids’ show” is. The storytelling is incredible and allows the characters to grow and expand as the seasons roll on.
9 – I Knew I Was Good – Fraggle Rock
I guess to illustrate the point I was just making, here we see Gobo at the other end of the scale brimming with confidence to the point of being cocky. As Henson fans, we appreciate the value of puppets as three dimensional characters that can exist in the real world; but when created like this, puppets aren’t just three dimensional in physical terms, they’re also relatable personality types with light and shade and, simply put, feel much more real than anything generated by computer. This is a good-old-fashioned rock ‘n’ roll number and Fraggle Rock loved to go retro when it came to their music. Gobo was played by Jerry Nelson for the entire run of the show and he’s a man who can turn his voice to anything. I’ve always particularly loved the amount of spirit he gives upbeat numbers and that’s in abundance here. If it weren’t for the fact that Gobo has so many iconic moments I’m sure this would rank higher…
8 – Catch the Tail by the Tiger – Fraggle Rock
All of the “Fraggle Five” seem to have a song that sums up their personality and for me this is Gobo’s entry into that exclusive group. (The rest are “Why” for Mokey; “I’m Never Alone” for Boober; “Do it on my Own” for Red and “Here to There” for Wembley, but I’m sure your mileage will vary). Is it just me or does Gobo sound like John Wayne at the start of this clip, and do we think it’s intentional? One of the reasons why I love the music from Fraggle Rock is its diversity. Here we get a dramatic acoustic intro that melts into a cool calypso chorus which works well with the nonsensical nature of the lyrics. As much as this is the eighth song on my Gobo chart, it’s really Steve Whitmire as Wembley, with his awesome harmonies and Dave Goelz as Boober, with his cry of “Ole” that catch my attention every time I listen. Bravo fellas!
7 – Fraggle Rock Rock – Fraggle Rock
It’s funny, after all these years my spell check doesn’t bother to flag up the words “Fraggle”, “Gobo”, “Mokey”, “Gorg” or “Doozer”; but it doesn’t like the title “Fraggle Rock Rock” because it thinks I’m repeating a word! When talking about iconic Fraggle Rock moments I don’t think they come much better known and recognised than this one. I guess it’s partly because it occurs so near to the start of the series, and also because it’s a near perfect pastiche of “Jailhouse Rock”; but really it’s simply because it’s so good. I defy anyone listening to this right now to not be tapping their feet or banging along in some other manner. If you can listen to this and keep still you might need to check you’re still alive! Jerry Nelson is brilliant here. I can’t imagine how hard it must be to sing this in such a high register. Of course, he’s a professional (and a wonderful performer) so it shouldn’t really be a surprise and yet he constantly astounds me.
6 – Follow the Road – Fraggle Rock
Gosh, I love this song so much. Why is it as low as number six? Next time you’re a wartime General whose troops have taken a beating and you need to get them motivated to mount a counter attack you need this song! Or if you’ve been put in charge of a ragtag band of kids who play ice hockey and they’ve somehow gotten to the biggest game of their lives and are losing, but you have to get them back out on the ice you need this song! Or if you’ve been stiffed by the village of Hamelin and are stealing their children – well you get the idea. Whatever the situation – you need this song in your life. This is folk-Gospel fusion at it’s finest (even if it’s a genre I just invented). The call and response chorus here is simply sublime and Jerry is as good as he’s ever been. Why is this as low as number six…?
5 – Shine On, Shine on Me – Fraggle Rock
This is one of my absolute favorite Fraggle songs and I don’t mind admitting I listen to it on a regular basis aside from any Fraggle/Muppet context. It’s simply a great song. Gobo’s guitar playing does point him in the direction of music that is led by such an instrument and here we are fairly firmly in folk territory. Particularly once that flute kicks in. Yes, the flute fairly firmly fixes folk as the favored fashion. I fink. A wise person once said “The darkest hour is just before dawn” and this song embodies that perfectly. Things seem pretty dark for Gobo until he figures out that music is the magic that can save the day. Music was a major part of the ongoing storyline of Fraggle Rock – not just because the show was a musical, but in the Fraggle-verse music had magical properties that were still only being discovered as the show drew to a close. I wonder if the Ditzies played any part in the music/magic element of the finale? Man, I love EVERYTHING about this show.
4 – Follow Me – Fraggle Rock
And now the song you’ve probably been waiting for. If the number of YouTube covers is anything to go by this is probably the most popular and best known Fraggle song after the theme itself. It’s a wistful, soulful track that sets out part of the ethos of the show – appearing as it does in the very first episode. It’s also one of a handful of songs that was reprised over the next few years, helping it achieve an extra level of notoriety with fans – especially since it appears in a very cool flashback sequence. I’ve suddenly realized I’ve gotten all the way to song number four without mentioning Philip Balsam and Dennis Lee! This song was part of their audition tape for Fraggle Rock and it’s pretty amazing that they got the characters of Matt and Gobo so right so quickly. Balsam and Lee are true song writing legends and, since I owe much of my love of music to the Muppets, they have directly influenced me and will continue to do so I’m sure.
3 – Count on Me – Fraggle Rock
As a kid I was fascinated by Gorg butter (the purple goo that’s used here to free Sprocket) as we had a candy in the UK that looked really similar and I always wondered if it was the same stuff. As strange as it sounds for me this might be the most Jerry Nelson-est song on today’s chart. This is so unmistakably him. Jerry’s best performances have an indefinable quality that makes them stand out – unfortunately for me, since I’m writing this I’ll have to attempt to define it! I guess in essence it’s the musicality he imbues into everything. Each of the Muppet performers have this quality to one degree or another, but some like Louise Gold, Richard Hunt and Jerry Nelson just seem to have musical bones. This means that Jerry is able to switch effortlessly from the quieter moments in this song (where he’s essentially talking in tune) to the more boisterous parts (where he gets to let rip). The other thing I love about this track is that there isn’t a single word being sung by Gobo that I don’t 100% believe – it’s a fantastic acting performance too!
2 – Petals of a Rose – Fraggle Rock
It’s just occurred to me that with this track at number two we’ve gone from the very start of Fraggle Rock to the very end in the space of just three songs. That’s pretty cool. Judging by the love this melancholy number gets online I think it’s fair to say it’s stuck with people right through from childhood. It plays very differently when you listen to it as an adult though. This song’s message of love, loss and the bittersweet side of friendship resonates much more now than it did then when I was younger and it was just a sad Fraggle who was having a bad day. I think this track probably has a slightly different meaning for every listener though, as we mould it to fit our own particular circumstances. It’s an affecting piece and Jerry’s hauntingly beautiful vocals really hit my heart. Recently, here on this very website, someone spoke about the scene in Sesame Street where Big Bird learns about Mr. Hooper’s death and they praise the show for dealing with it in such a responsible manner. I’d like to add that for me this scene shows a similar level of emotional sophistication.
1 – Goodbye, Goodbye (Just a Rainbow in the Sky) – Fraggle Rock
With these last two songs you could be forgiven for thinking this is the top 10 songs of Boober Fraggle! Actually though, there’s a lot of hope in this track, even if it is about parting from the people and places you love. When you listen to the lyrics they are much more about being retrospective and accepting than being sad and upset. When I sat down to put this chart together I fully expected Petals of a Rose to score the number one spot, but as I listened to this I couldn’t help but be drawn in. I find the lyrics of this piece hit me even harder than the previous one, and that’s saying something. There really is nothing I’d change about this. If I ever do hang up my keyboard and stop writing charts (“Heaven forbid”, I hear you cry!) this piece will most certainly fight with “Saying Goodbye” as my last ever number one song. It’s perfect.
But we can’t end on that note!
Instead let’s quickly bring the mood up again by talking about Gobo’s hats. We’ve had everything from trapper to bobble on today’s list and I like to think the hat he wears during “Shine On, Shine on Me” is a nod to Jerry from the Country Trio. There are lots of similarities between Jerry’s characters (not just hats), and we’re back to that indefinable quality he possesses again. It threads Gobo, Count von Count and Floyd Pepper together and I’ve just figured out that as well as musicality it’s also passion. Whether it’s for exploring or numbers or music, Jerry’s characters are passionate about what they do. Thank You Jerry, and everyone else involved, for making Gobo such a passionate Fraggle. It’s why he’s loved so much and is the reason he’s the perfect lead for the show. Fraggle Rock wouldn’t be the same without him.