Kieran Moore – What a difference 12 months can make! After a busy year of TV shows, specials and theatrical releases in 2008, 2009 looks a bit sparse in comparison. Sesame Street and new show Dinosaur Train were your only place to get a Henson-esque fix on a regular basis, and other than a few Sesame Community specials there wasn’t much original programming out there. Even the Sesame Street 40th anniversary felt a little subdued compared to previous efforts; with events, web playlists and merchandise taking the place of a big TV special. On paper at least it could look a bit ho-hum.
That really is only looking at one side of the story though. Muppets were appearing as guests on TV shows as diverse as America’s Got Talent, Scrubs and Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader? – the list is huge. There were also public appearances, charity events, press conferences, and the Muppets had a huge presence at Disney’s D23 expo. Add to this books, comics, home video releases a-plenty and even a top 40 chart hit in the UK and it’s fair to say the guys weren’t resting on their laurels. Whichever way you slice it – 2009 was a great year for Muppet music…
10 – What Makes Music?/Sing – Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
There’s never a bad time to watch and listen to a Sesame Street Macy’s Parade performance. They’re bright, beautiful and brilliantly musical. Compared to some other years you could say this was a little simplistic, but I think that’s part of its charm. I like the fact that in its 40th anniversary year the show has gone back to its musical roots with songs all about the love of music from way back in the archives. The medley/mashup of What Makes Music? and Sing work so well together. The cast are clearly having fun and I love seeing the Muppets dressed up in their winter clothes. For those of you that don’t know – Big Bird’s tie is a clever way of letting the performer see what’s going on during live performances. Ain’t that neat?
9 – Set Your Piggies Free – Sesame Street
This reggae number gives us our first guest star song of today’s chart as Ziggy Marley extols the virtues of taking our shoes and socks off and becoming one with nature. In total, there are what I’m deeming to be seven and a half guest star songs on this list (I’ll explain the half when we get to it). I’m gonna go out on a limb and say you’d have to go back as far as the Muppets Tonight or The Muppet Show eras to get the same level of celebrity. I’m not gonna check, because I prefer to leave it out in the ether, but I’m guessing it’s around 1997 – and this year might just beat it. This song also comes with added celebrity cameos as Ricky Gervais, Cameron Diaz, Paul Rudd and their pals all show us their feet.
8 – Song about Elmo – Sesame Street
Another song, another celebrity singer. This time we’ve got the toast of the Golden Raspberries, Adam Sandler. The merits (or lack thereof) of his movie career aren’t relevant here though, as this song is a heck of a lot of fun. Adam has great chemistry with Elmo and I love how quickly our favorite red monster catches on to what’s happening and joins in – he’s a smart guy! This song gets sillier and sillier and more and more surreal as shrimp, bananas and dinosaurs all join in to sing about things that don’t quite rhyme with the name Elmo. It’s a simple piece, but very effective.
7 – I Believe – Muppet Music Video
In the last decade I wrote about there was a new version of the Alphabet Song almost every week. So far for this one there have been a slew of Christmas songs replacing them. The Muppets have had a longstanding relationship with Christmas and it’s produced some of their best stuff, but it does feel a little bit like once Disney had Kermit and Co. in their employ they decided Muppets and Christmas go together like Laurel and Hardy, The Captain and Tennille and Statler and Waldorf and made the most of it. In this video, Kermit takes his previously solo number about believing in Santa and shares it with Tiffany Thornton, who somehow dodged Studio DC and got this instead. It’s a sweet version of a sweet ballad that might sound over-produced, but isn’t faking it when it comes to Christmas charm and chemistry.
6 – Jingle Bells – Andrea Bocelli & David Foster: My Christmas
You’ll get cleaner audio on the album, but I like the performance aspect of this version of the song. Now we’re firmly in February, it should really be time to hang up our stockings (no, scratch that) and wave goodbye to Christmas for at least another couple of months (it won’t be long before your local store has a tinsel department). In some other years, this song would certainly appear higher than 6th place. I feel kind of bad about the fact that this hasn’t cracked the top 5. I really, really like the arrangement of this song and the interplay between Andrea’s slow, comforting interpretation and the Muppets’ faster, more jolly version. It’s a really clever way to do a very familiar song. The performances are great (I’m always impressed when the guys do live stuff like this) and Piggy’s solo at the end reminds me of Rowlf duetting with John Denver, which is really all you need in a song.
5 – Outdoors – Sesame Street
Every time I watch it, I find myself captivated by this jaunty song. There’s a lot to like. First, there’s the track itself which is smooth and warm like a sunny day. The lyrics and feel of this piece make me long for lazy days lying in the grass with the sun shining down upon me. I can’t help but have a little shoulder shuffle to this! I’ll admit, I sometimes find Elmo’s voice a bit shrill, but Kevin Clash is perfect here with cool harmonies that tie in beautifully. Then there’s the video itself. This really opens up the Sesame Street set to show it off to its fullest extent. It feels like the real life sunny day the kids in the theme song are singing about. Can’t somebody tell me how to get to Sesame Street?
4 – This is My Home – Sesame Street
This is the song I’ve given half a guest star mark to as Lin-Manuel Miranda is actually a big part of this storyline and scene – he just doesn’t appear in this song, despite being seen just before and after it. His song “It’s a Habitat” placed at number 11, for what it’s worth. Although Lin-Manuel was a big name when this episode was shot, I think it’s fair to say his star has been in the ascendency since then. He’s only an Oscar away from an EGOT (damn you, La La Land), has a Pulitzer Prize and is about to get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame! Some people are just greedy! The star of this song though is most definitely Caroll Spinney who is melting my heart with his vocal as Big Bird. This is sweet and lovely and makes me want to give him a hug.
3 – Bohemian Rhapsody – Muppet Viral Video
I don’t suppose there’s much I can say about this former number one – it’s one of the most famous Muppet moments of the last 10 years. It’s officially Queen and The Muppets here as this is the original band’s recording the gang are using as the basis for their version. I’d argue this might also be the best thing Queen have done for quite some time, but I’m sure there are fans that will disagree. Other random thoughts: That’s an ugly Scooter puppet – thank goodness it’s gone. As a Scooter fan I was crushed he wasn’t in this video as the song was finishing up – after all there are some pretty obscure Muppets on display here. I’m so pleased he got a starring role at the end! This is written, performed and directed by Kirk Thatcher and he and the Muppet performers should be incredibly proud of what they achieved in just a day! You’ve seen it before, but treat yourself and watch it again now. I’ll wait…
2 – Celebrity Lullabies – Sesame Street
This is not just one of the funniest Sesame Street moments ever – it’s one of the funniest Muppet moments ever. I know that Ricky Gervais has a lot in common with Adam Sandler when it comes to whether people find him funny or not, but I’ve always appreciated his egotistical shtick and it’s played up brilliantly here. Musically, Ricky is actually very accomplished and you can easily find some very well-crafted songs he’s written online (though fair warning – they aren’t always as wholesome as this clip). This song was co-written by Ricky and Joey Mazzarino and is just hilarious. The soft, gentle verses which lull Elmo towards slumber and the loud raucous chorus that could wake the dead are wonderfully musical, but crack me up every time. Elmo’s face at the end says it all really. I love the idea of a celebrity lullaby; someone really should start that service.
1 – Say (What You Need to Say) – Coming Home: Military Families Cope with Change
As much as I love Celebrity Lullabies and think it’s an incredible example of the humor the Muppets can bring, this song (though performed by a guest star) shows how the characters we love can transcend their trademark silliness to share real messages and feelings. It’s an incredibly powerful notion. If you’re reading this you’ll probably already be aware of just how soulful the Muppets are, but we need to share that message with the world. This is a beautiful song, sung with such powerful emotion. It’s already a very moving moment, however coming at the end of this special, which shows how the best way to cope with huge changes in a family situation is to be open and honest, it just means so much more. I’ve watched this whole video just recently and I’d honestly recommend it to everyone. You don’t need to be in this exact situation for the message to be relevant and you never know when you might need it. In terms of how this affects me while listening, I’ll put it on par with Pictures in My Head or I’m Going to Go Back There Someday. It’s that good.
Something else incredible happened in 2009 – no, not the discovery that octopus (octopi?, octopuses?) use coconut shells as shelters – this very website came into being. It might not have 8 tentacles (or maybe it does), but I think the way this site has brought us fans together is pretty amazing. So in my usual Thank You to all the Muppet guys and gals out there I also have to include everyone who got The Muppet Mindset up and running as well as those that continue their fine work today. Thank You.
Join me next week when Grover gets twice as super, Angelo gets cooking and Red Fraggle gets her geek on at San Diego Comic-Con.