Kieran Moore- Well, I can hardly believe I’m coming to the end of another “decade” of charts – and what a great year to do it with! 2005 marked the Muppets’ first real splash as part of the Disney family, and Sesame Street had a productive year that included a controversial moment people still talk about now. Add to that a renaissance for Bear, a Henson produced movie, a slew of Muppet appearances all over the world and more merchandise than Santa could fit in your stocking (even if you’ve been really good), and you see it really was a bumper 12 months.
Although the 2000s often get a bad rap from Muppet fans, some of my favorite ever Muppet music appears on this chart so I can’t wait to get going. I might just have 40 winks first, though…
10 – Naptime – The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz
As far as the Muppets are concerned, 2005 is really all about Oz (and I don’t mean Frank [I figured it was best to get that pun out of the way now]). Although over the year the gang went everywhere from L.A. to London, it was really all to ensure everyone knew about their latest TV movie. The Muppets and the Wizard of Oz are a match made in heaven for me and although the two franchises have crossed yellow-brick roads on several occasions, this production is the peak of their union. The Oz stories to me are the original American fairy tales and continue the tradition set by European masters such as The Brothers Grimm – likewise I consider the Muppets the American brothers of traditional European puppets. If you’ve never read the Oz books I implore you to do so. As much as it’s partly to not get sued, I really appreciate that the Muppets stuck closer to the book than the movie with their version. Although Naptime is pretty slight as a song, it does mark new material for The Electric Mayhem, which in 2005 we hadn’t heard for a while. It gets 10th place for that alone.
9 – The Breakfast Song – Breakfast with Bear
A couple of weeks ago I mistakenly said we were unlikely to see Bear in a chart for a while, but I hadn’t reckoned on there being such good music in Breakfast with Bear. Sadly, this really is likely to be Bear’s last appearance for a while. The Breakfast Song is loud and upbeat and really should be the perfect early morning track. Most mornings though my internal soundtrack is more likely to be “I’m So Happy” from The Muppet Show. Again, I’m in awe of Noel MacNeal’s singing voice. I’m not sure this much jealousy is healthy, but it’s a cross I’ll happily bear (no pun intended – though I kind of wish it was).
8 – The Alphabet Song – Sesame Street
I was certain that I’d featured this version of The Alphabet Song in a previous list, but I can’t find reference to it anywhere. I obviously like it enough to remember it, but not enough to have charted it before! It’s becoming a tradition at the moment to include a version of this song every week and today’s is another celebrity edition. Regular readers will know I often only know Sesame Street guest artists from their appearance on the show and India.Arie is another who has passed me by in non-Muppet life. I really must get more international with my music. Here in the UK she has barely charted, which is a real shame as, based on this clip, I find her to be a talented and charismatic performer. That’s the main thing that comes through in this clip for me – India has a great presence and rapport with Elmo and her sense of fun entices me in. This is a chart full of divas and I feel bad that India is so low down, but that’s the nature of this song. I definitely want to see more.
7 – A Cookie is a Sometime Food – Sesame Street
Over the last 12 years, nothing has really diminished the appetite for healthy eating to be a major topic of discussion between policy makers, health professionals, and educators – not even this song. In fact, this song only gave us more to talk about. To the point where the Muppet Wiki even has a page dedicated to the question “Is the Cookie Monster now the Veggie Monster?” Such is the confusion surrounding the status of our favorite food-gobbling monster that Cookie himself (meself?) has even had to state publicly several times “Me Am What Me Am”. Anyone who’s been keeping track of these yearly charts will know this isn’t the first time Cookie Monster and healthy eating have been the subject of a song, but for some reason, the masses decided to get outraged over this newer entry. I blame the internet! The song itself is a parody of “A Woman is a Sometime Thing” (sometimes), and Kevin Clash as Hoots sings it with jazzy gusto. He’s such a talented guy!
6 – Stretch, Wiggle, Yay! – Sesame Street
I’m honestly not sure what I like best about this clip! Is it the fact that this is a super-awesome parody of a well-known song (YMCA) in the best Sesame Street tradition, or it is that it’s sung by Oscar the Grouch in a moment which seems so out of character it’s actually perfectly in character? Not only is Oscar willing to do anything for the worm in his life, this cheerful ditty is obviously not the sort of thing he’d normally sing. Which makes him grumpy which makes him happy, which (well, you get the idea). That inner turmoil is one of the things I love about Oscar (which makes him grumpy…) The worm puppetry in Sesame Street is always brilliant. Seeing these guys lift weights and swing at punch bags puts a huge smile on my face. Not to diminish the fine vocal work of Oscar the Grouch (and Caroll Spinney), but I think I could watch this with the sound down and still have just as much fun!
5 – The Witch is in the House – The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz
I mentioned earlier that this is a chart full of divas, but if you go by the traditional dictionary definition of the word – “pig with an insatiable appetite for eating scenery” then this is today’s best example! I have had a love/hate relationship with this song in the past. For years I really didn’t care for it and then on a re-watch of the special I suddenly found a new appreciation for it. You see, I really think this is a song that benefits from being able to see what’s going on and after a first watch I’d only been listening to it on the soundtrack album. When it’s audio only, elements such as Johnny Fiama’s interjections just sound annoying; but in context they are actually quite funny. Likewise, Piggy’s slightly off kilter vocals can be grating, but when you see her move and command the stage it adds a new perspective. I kind of wish that as the villain’s song of the piece they’d gone down a creepier route and made this less of a rock-inspired number, but that’s a minor quibble really.
4 – Time to Say Goodnight – Sesame Street
Time to Say Goodbye is one of the biggest selling songs worldwide so I guess it was just a matter of time before Sesame Street did something with it – it only took them 10 years! I don’t really feel like I need to explain why this classic clip is so good – it’s all there on the screen. I guess since we’re here I might as well though. First off, this song is a superb piece of music which I think we’ve all secretly had a go at singing along to at some point (or is it just me?) Then there’s Andrea Bocelli’s wonderful voice. It seems it’s both him and Noel MacNeal that I have to be jealous of. On top of that, I also find the lyrics to this piece funny, clever and charming (a Sesame Street trademark). Then there’s Elmo and his musical attempts to stay up late. If I was looking after Elmo (and I’m not saying I’m not), I’d let him stay up just for the sheer brilliance of his tactic of singing to not have to go to sleep. The joke at the end is obvious, but worth the admission on its own!
3 – Dancin’ – Sesame Street
I’m probably a little biased when it comes to this as I love the original Alicia Keys song (Fallin’) this is parodying. I think it’s a fantastic track and one of the best RnB pieces of its era. Alicia sings it wonderfully and I just can’t help joining in with it. I think I make a great diva, and so does my mother (the neighbors have mixed feelings apparently). I like the Sesame Street spin that’s put on this – it’s about movement and being more active, but also just about letting the music take you wherever you want to go. Adding Elmo to this allows for some interesting harmonies and Kevin Clash (who’s storming this chart at the moment) gets to put his own spin on it while allowing Alicia to do her thing too. All in all it’s a brilliant performance which is, unfortunately for them, just a shade under mine. I’m sure they’ll improve with practice…!
2 – Kansas – The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz
Before I get into writing about this song proper, can I just bemoan the fact that I can’t find the full version online? This cut down edit just doesn’t cut it for me. Your mileage is likely to vary (to the point where I’m well away from Kansas and you’re still on Kansas Street, Kansasville, Kansas County, Kansas), but I really, really, really, really, like this song. I know I should probably despise it for being a song in a Muppet production that doesn’t feature Muppets, or because it’s from Muppets’ Wizard of Oz or any number of other reasons, but I can’t help it. I really, really, really, really, like this song. It’s a fantastic “I want” song in the well-worn path of other Disney/Broadway classics and more than earns its place amongst them. I’d like a little less emphasis on fame and a bit more on the music, but that works nicely to show that Dorothy still has some growing up to do and sets up her character development for later on. Ashanti gives this song some noughties-pop polish and Jeannie Laurie and Brandon Christy have written the perfect vehicle for her vocals. It’s another great slice of RnB in that grand old tradition of the Muppets!
1 – When I’m With You – The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz
This is one of my favorite ever Muppet songs and I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to make it number one. Not for nothing was this (quite correctly) nominated for an Emmy. Sadly, it (rather incorrectly) didn’t win. This has it all for me. It’s funny, musical, well-performed, well-written, carries the story forward and stays true to the Muppet characters… This song is a real gem in what is admittedly a so-so TV special. Speaking of which, I’ve read comments online criticizing Ashanti for having less acting range than the forest she sings this number in. Whatever your opinion on that, I think this song at least proves that she has chemistry with Kermit and Co. That’s something that just can’t be bought and goes a long way in any Muppet production – to the point where it can make or break it. She definitely isn’t breaking this. Steve Whitmire, Bill Barretta, Dave Goelz and Eric Jacobson get this absolutely right, putting lots of character into the song’s punny lyrics. Any musical moment that features washing instructions as part of its finalé is always going to be pretty tough to beat!
As I hit the 10th edition of another round of The Muppet Show anniversary charts, I find myself looking back over the past 10 lists and thinking how wonderful it is to finish on such a high. The late 90s and early 2000s were an interesting time for the Muppets (and Muppet fans), but things were definitely picking up at this point. There are dark days ahead, but let’s remember in less than a decade from this point the Muppets had released two movies and won an Oscar and that’s not including anything Sesame Street or the other Henson franchises did. So thank you to everyone who worked with the Muppets in 2005 – you were trailblazers (even if you were standing on the shoulders of giants!) Thank You.
Join me next week as we take a look back at the last 10 charts and (adopts wrestling announcer voice) try to pick the ultimate (ultimate) champion (champion)!