Kieran Moore – Over the course of the last few charts I’ve talked a lot about the passage of time and how around the turn of the last century we were all looking back to the past or ahead to the future. That was the beauty of the millennium I guess. 2001 sees the Muppets giving glimpses of what might happen in the future, but in doing so staying firmly entrenched in the past; returning to some of their most iconic moments and recreating them for a present day audience. This manifested itself in two big events. First, the Sesame Street gang appeared in “Evening at the Pops”; performing some of their biggest hits live with the Boston Pops Orchestra. However, this was topped a few months later by the (never-repeated) Muppet Fest convention in Santa Monica and a live version of The Muppet Show.
Reading this now, only a few weeks after the Hollywood Bowl Shows, we’re blasé about such things occurring (or at least I hope we can become that way), but the significance of this event can’t really be underestimated in terms of showing what could be done by the Muppets AND the power of Muppet fandom. Looking back (as is this week’s theme), you can perhaps see why it took 16 years to do a full live show again, but I’m getting ahead of myself (which is the opposite of this week’s theme)…
10 – Bless Us All – The Muppet Show Live
It seems weird to be sitting here writing about a Christmas song in September, but then you might not read this for a few months so it could be perfectly timely, anywho… I guess before I go too far I should address the elephant in the room which is the false start this song gets off to. As a performer myself, I absolutely know the horror of setting something off wrong. This is unfortunate, but not uncommon in a live environment (I once messed up the words to a song so badly I basically sang it in reverse). It’s a shame it happens to a performer as great as Jerry Nelson, but as anyone who is familiar with this show will tell you – the whole thing was plagued with technical difficulties. At the start of this medley there’s an awkward moment where Steve Whitmire basically has to stop the show while he waits for a monitor and some songs are disasters from a lighting and sound point of view. The upshot of this is that the performers often come across as unsure and nervous and you can hear it here. That said, this is a nice group version of a sweet song and that’s more than enough to earn it 10th place. (Despite the feelings of a certain website owner I know…)
9 – Movin’ Right Along – The Muppet Show Live
This next song sees us zipping around The Muppet Show Live’s Paul Williams Sing-Along Medley to go right back to the start with its first number. Movin’ Right Along is a notoriously difficult song to sing – a fact that is generally hidden by the singing talents of Jim Henson and Frank Oz and their ability to bounce off each other. The track has a certain jaunty rhythm that if not executed perfectly can send it spiralling. Of course, if you want it performed properly, who better is there than the guy who co-wrote it? Paul Williams knows exactly how this should be sung and does so brilliantly, getting the emphasis in all the right places. I love Paul’s voice – those first few lines in particular whisk me away to “Bugsy Malone” territory which is a big favorite of mine. Like The Muppet Movie, that film has a soundtrack I’ll never tire of.
8 – Everybody Be Yo’ Self – Sesame Street
Kermit’s certainly doing well for airtime this week! This is actually one of his last (new) appearances on Sesame Street and it’s possibly one of his most Muppet Show-esque, as he introduces a guest star with a “Yaaaay!” and trademark arm wave. Despite him almost being my namesake in real life, I must admit I know very little of Keb’ Mo’. Maybe I’ve missed him or the whole of the UK has, but without this appearance on Sesame Street I’m not sure I’d know him at all. Not that that diminishes his talent in anyway. He has a superb Blues voice and that’s one of the things that attract me to this song. I like its swagger and chilled vibe also – it perfectly compliments the song’s message of being confident with who you are. There’s a fun range of diverse characters here and, along with Kermit’s inclusion, it really feels like they made an effort to go “old school” in this video.
7 – I’m Going to Go Back There Someday – The Muppet Show Live
There’s probably not much I can say about this song that hasn’t been well and truly covered before, but I love Dave Goelz’s live rendition here. This feels like the most personal, pure and emotional version he’s ever sung. I guess it’s the spontaneity of this performance over the soundtrack recording, which is so well-listened to at this point it has no real chance to surprise the listener. I’m Going to Go Back There Someday is a very personal track that I think everyone connects to differently and this version allows us to see it in an entirely new way. Dave might not have the most technically proficient voice when compared to some other Muppet performers, but it’s hard to dispute he has the power to move his audience.
6 – Where You At? – The Muppet Show Live
I guess the combination of Floyd and Zoot here is the result of them being the only two members of The Electric Mayhem at this point in time to have regular performers. Not that I mind. If I’m honest most of my favorite Electric Mayhem performances from The Muppet Show are the ones that don’t feature the full line up, such as “Lazybones” or “New York State of Mind”. This is a throwback to those classic pieces and I love it. The Electric Mayhem are probably best known for their raucous numbers, but this track and the others I mentioned show their softer side and does so beautifully. Jerry sounds amazing as Floyd, proving that he still has what it takes 25 years on and Zoot gets to take center stage which doesn’t happen often enough in my book. The Electric Mayhem are slowly getting a reputation as a live band worth looking out for and here we get to see the inception of that wonderful occurrence.
5 – The Blue Danube Waltz – The Muppet Show Live
I guess this song gives me the chance to properly compare The Muppet Show Live to The Muppets Take the Hollywood Bowl since it appears in both. That said, it’s in two very different versions. To a certain extent, The Blue Danube Waltz is the song that keeps on giving for the Muppets as they’ve used it multiple times in lots of different ways. Both times it appears in the live shows it’s as a comedy number, but I’d say this is the funnier of the two. As a general rule though I do think the more recent show was more successful. Although many classic moments were presented in both, the Hollywood Bowl show relied on them much less or mixed them up a bit as they did with “Happy Feet”. Also the new shows did a better job of allowing the puppeteers some (literal) down time without having to resort to screens quite so much. Finally, as I’ve touched upon, The Muppet Show Live was beset with technical problems – the newer shows were wonderfully slick as far as I saw and nothing was left to chance. Jon Voight is hilarious here though and probably worth the admission price alone!
4 – Percussion Duet – Sesame Street
The Sesame Street humans don’t get featured in my charts nearly enough so I’m pleased to be able to include Linda here – she’s another of my favorites. Here she is paired up with the incredible Evelyn Glennie, who since this clip was recorded has become Dame Evelyn Glennie. I’m not sure how well known she is outside of her native UK, but here Evelyn’s famous for her TV and concert appearances. I pretty much grew up watching her on various variety and chat shows. In 2001 she recorded 2 scenes for Sesame Street and although the other is perhaps a little more fun – pairing her up with Oscar and Telly to play in the Grouchketeer band – I prefer the music to this one and that’s what this list is all about ultimately. Evelyn really is incredible and her performance on the Marimba at the start of this clip is wonderful.
3 – San Francisco Bay Blues – The Muppet Show Live
Brooke Shields is another human who has a long Muppet resumé, having featured in both The Muppet Show and a Muppet movie amongst other things. She does a sterling job here with a multi-faceted performance that includes singing and playing the kazoo! All concerned are doing a fantastic job in fact: Steve Whitmire as Kermit is the perfect foil for Brooke, and Jerry Nelson’s Floyd provides a little bit of texture to their singing. The real reason this made it all the way to third place though is just how right it feels for the Muppets. It’s as though The Muppet Show got up, walked 25 years into the future and plonked itself down again. This was made to be a closing number to an episode of the original series; it’s musical and fun and features a big crowd of random Muppets who join in for the finale. Doesn’t that feel like home?
2 – When the River Meets the Sea – The Muppet Show Live
This song is one of the best ever Muppet songs and I’ll gladly take on any Muppet fan that wants to argue with me on that. I can’t hear Jerry Nelson sing it without being reminded of both John Denver and Jim Henson (Jerry sang this at Jim’s memorial) and it just gives me “the feels” from start to finish. Maybe that’s why something amazing happened as I listened to this for today’s chart – I actually found myself smiling at Elmo’s cameo appearance! In fact, I’ll go further – I even got a little emotional. I don’t know if it’s the song or Elmo himself, but in the past this is exactly the sort of thing I’d have criticized him (and the production teams) for. Elmo being shoehorned into everything is something I generally find incredibly annoying, but here I love it. Maybe writing these charts has softened my stance to a massive degree, but I consider Elmo’s presence here a plus rather than a minus. What has happened to me?
1 – What Happened to Show Business? – The Muppet Show Live
Before I write about this song I have to mention a couple of random thoughts about The Muppet Show Live that didn’t really fit anywhere else. First, I must admit I always skip most of Joe Pasquale’s act as I don’t find him funny and I’ve had my fill here in his native UK; but I have to ask, did he die as badly as the bits I watched today make it seem? Second, even if you want to skip Joe like I did, you really shouldn’t miss the phenomenally moving Jim Henson tribute that appears about halfway through this show. It’s incredibly touching to hear so many of his contemporaries talk about their memories of him. It’s something that won’t ever happen again in this way. I guess to a certain extent this song could be seen as tribute to Jim as it highlights some of his best moments onscreen as well as the huge creative genius he was behind the camera also. The reworked lyrics to this tune are very funny and the song reminds me of similar pieces, such as Scooter’s “Guest Star Song”. I’ve always found Ethel Merman’s introduction to this song a little moving and a lot inspiring and it hits the same notes in this context too. This whole piece deserves to be better known amongst fans and would make a great extra on the upcoming DVD boxset of The Muppet Show Season 4 (if I say that like it’s real do you think I can whip up some online hysteria?)
What happened to show business? When it comes to the Muppets this clip proves it never went away!
I guess this song brings us full circle. Once again, we’re looking to the past, but in a way that brings hope for the future. In that regard, I don’t feel 2001 is really much different from 2017. Both years are/were an opportunity for the Muppets to show what they do best and remind us how great they can be. Of course, if history repeats itself properly we’re in for a bumpy ride for the next few years, but we’ve done it before and can do it all again! Thanks to everyone who worked with the Muppets in 2001 and in particular those that took part in The Muppet Show Live – it might have taken 16 years to follow up on what you started, but you were trailblazers nonetheless. Thank You.
Join me next time when we visit the Big Blue House to see Bear, the swamp to see a young Kermit and Club Dot to slip something into Scooter’s (Christmas) stocking…
P.S. I’d have loved to feature songs from Sesame Street’s “Evening at the Pops”, but I just couldn’t find a video online – sorry!