Kieran Moore – There’s no way of dressing this up – 2010 was a quiet year for the Muppets. Outside of Sesame Street (and its international off-shoots) there was very little original content being released. If you wanted to see Kermit, Animal, Miss Piggy or Angelo you were going to have to work hard to do so. As the gang prepared for their big screen comeback (I hate the term “comeback”, but I guess it was), you needed to go online or look for a Muppety appearance on someone else’s show to get your fix. I guess in light of what came next we can let them off.
That being said, while it was quiet for the Muppet Show guys, it was very much business as usual for Sesame Street so it will come as no surprise that they make up the bulk of today’s list. From award winning guest stars and introspective solos to pop parodies and empowered anthems this list really has it all. With added Elmo…
10 – Z-Zebra Song – Sesame Street
This song might be light on lyrics, but it’s full of fun. The lack of words is a bonus though because you’ll want to be joining in with Elmo as soon as you can! From a more serious standpoint (if I must), the simplicity of this piece really lets the letter its referencing take center stage to aid learning. This was one of the last (fittingly enough) of a series of videos that featured Elmo or Cookie Monster singing about letters. The songs are all essentially the same, but feature an interesting mix of words that include the obvious (A-Apple) and the more unusual (S-Sandwich). This is unlikely to win a Grammy (hang on while I check), but is educational, cute as a button and very hummable.
9 – Hop this Way – Sesame Street
This song is today’s first guest star song and our first parody – in that context I feel a bit bad for putting it as low as 9th place as it ticks both boxes brilliantly. Rev Run from the legendary Run-DMC adds some much needed “cool” to this piece (and I instantly feel like a square for saying that – what do the kids say these days?) I can’t put my finger on why, but there’s something about his performance here that really makes me laugh. I think on reflection he’s got just the right ratio of gravitas to tongue-in-cheekery. The song is of course a send up of Walk this Way and on that score it’s more successful than Healthy Food which apparently is a parody of the same song – I’ve never been convinced about that. Two other random thoughts – Elmo makes a great Steven Tyler and Maria and Luis are excellent in their background roles.
8 – There’s an App for That – Sesame Street
For those of you who are less than 9 years old, you might not realize it, but this song is referencing and old iPhone advert that basically told us all about the wonderful things a smart phone could do. Funnily enough it didn’t mention making phone calls! Sad to say, I feel the reference was so of its time that this clip has dated quite badly – despite being reasonably recent. Sesame Street always apes pop culture and fashions, but because this is so centered on the item in question (the iPogo) I feel it’s fared worse than most. For example, a disco song in the late 70s is still as much fun to listen to today as a piece of music, regardless of its inspiration – I’m not sure the same can be said for this. None of my ramblings, however, take anything away from Joey Mazzarino’s performance as Mack or Chris’s incredible dancing!
7 – Just One Person – Extreme Makeover: Home Edition
Ok, so if you’re looking for the best Muppet version of this song, you’re not going to find it here, but does that matter? For any Muppet fan this song will always illicit an emotional response – I long for the day the Dr. Phil Van Neuter scat version brings me to tears. Speaking of which I can’t imagine how I’d feel if that was me they were singing to. You’d probably be scraping me up off the floor. Ultimately this is a sweet, heartfelt version of a classic song that just needed more frogs and dogs and bears and chickens. It wants to soar more. Including a Muppets Take Manhattan reference above and the nature of this song has made me think of Louis Zorich (that movie’s Pete), who at time of writing has just passed away. It’s funny how the death of someone who had such a small part to play in Muppet folklore can affect a fan so much, but the guy who uttered the immortal phrase “Peoples is peoples” will always be dear my heart.
6 – Give Your Heart A Little Time – When Families Grieve
I feel like a big old meanie for placing this song so low. I’ll admit my ranking here is based purely on my own feelings rather than the quality of this song or its performances. Both are top notch and really are worthy of first place. Unfortunately I can’t help but listen to songs like this and be reminded of my own experiences of bereavement. That on its own makes this a tough listen, but I often found as I was going through the grieving process that on the wrong day, at the wrong time advice like this would make me want to claw someone’s eyes out. This song is doing incredible good and I don’t want to detract from that, but it’s important to remember we all handle these things differently and I’m not sure a one-size-fits-all approach always works. This is a very, very pretty song though.
5 – What I Am – Sesame Street
After a couple of heavy, emotional moments here comes something much lighter to change the mood. That’s not to say this doesn’t have an important message though. Sesame Street has always been about empowerment and I think that’s one of the reasons the show is as loved as it is. This song won an Emmy for Sesame Street and became so important to the show it was even used as their Macy’s Parade piece a few years later. Written by Broadway star Chris Jackson and Tony winner Bill Sherman with arrangement by Will.i.am, this has an “of the period” sound that still works today – a bit like the disco song I mentioned earlier. On the subject of Will.i.am, he’s clearly a talented guy who can write, produce and perform to a world class level, but I wish he’d stop pretending he can sing!
4 – The Elmo Slide – Sesame Street
I’m finding myself in a slightly strange position here. Despite appearances, I do actually spend time researching these lists and ranking the songs, and as I look at my notes now I’m a little flummoxed as to how this song beat out the previous one. I think I’d be lying if I said this song had more substance than the other, but then it’s not always about that I guess. This is a parody (I feel like “pastiche” is a better word for this, but I don’t know why) of Cha Cha Slide by DJ Casper. If you aren’t familiar with it, then well done you! I first heard it at a party and was completely befuddled to see everyone get up and do the same dance (as per the instructions). As someone who is slowly coming round to Elmo’s charms, I’m worried this might set me back a bit. In its favor, this video is a lot of fun and the puppetry is great – I think that must be what tipped it into 4th place!
3 – I Wonder – Sesame Street
I suppose, bearing my opening paragraph in mind, I’m not spoiling anything by saying this is the first of three big Sesame Street songs that head up today’s list. What is it about the characters Jim Henson originated that gives them so much soul? I guess the clue is in the question, but no character is an island (unless the volcano from Lava counts). Anyway, what I mean is there are lots of people who have a hand in the creation and development of a character – even if only one person (or two in Ernie’s case) actually has a hand in him. Anyway, what I’m getting at is there is something about characters like Kermit, Ernie and Cantus Fraggle that make asking big questions an even bigger deal. Speaking of Cantus and Fraggles, the bumble bee in this video sounds like a Doozer so I’m imagining this as a Wembley song (same performer) and it works just as well!
2 – Hot n’ Cold – Sesame Street (almost)
There can’t be many people who don’t know about the controversy surrounding this video and Katy Perry’s costume. The potted history is that after this was shown online, several parents complained about Katy’s low-cut dress and the segment was pulled from the broadcast version of the show. For what it’s worth, I can’t see anything wrong with what she’s wearing though I can understand where the negative comments came from. Apart from anything else, there is clearly a flesh-colored panel that goes up to her neckline. I find it slightly odd that if that piece of fabric had been brown, blue or purple polka-dot none of this would have happened. All that aside, this is very catchy as befits its status as a worldwide hit. Katy acts out the song well, the animation is fun, the Oscar cameo adorable and Elmo is sweet as ever. It should be mentioned here that Elmo has had a great time on my chart today, appearing in over half of the listed songs. Well done Elmo and Kevin Clash!
1 – I Love My Hair – Sesame Street
This is another song that made headlines, but for an entirely different reason. Its message of loving what makes you different is one that Sesame Street has always shared – I even mentioned it earlier so you know it’s true. Bearing this in mind, it seems odd that it took so long (and this particular reference) for the media at large to notice. Joey Mazzarino wrote this with Chris Jackson (him again!) in response to his adopted daughter’s concerns about her own hair. Realizing it was a problem for lots of little girls, Joey put this track together at the 11th hour in order to have it ready for season 41 of the show. One of the things I love best about this is the character of Segi who is singing here. She’s so vibrant and enthusiastic it’s impossible not to be drawn to her. She’s voiced by Chantylla Johnson who has chops as a Broadway performer – her ability to act whilst singing is most definitely one of the high points of this song.
I love my hair is a simple song that’s well presented and I think that’s possibly the overriding theme of today’s chart. With a few exceptions the 10 songs here are fairly low key, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t great! So I’m going to keep this simple too and just say thank you to everyone who worked on the songs listed today – as well as the ones that didn’t make it. You’ve made me laugh, cry, sing and think about Katy Perry. Thank You.
Join me next time as I question whether we’re men or Muppets, what would happen if Grover was bitten by a radioactive spider and why is all the good Muppet stuff released in the same year making my job even harder…?