Kieran Moore – Here in my native UK, the first half of 2012 was taken up by people gloomily saying “We’re hosting the Olympics – it’s going to be busy and expensive. This summer will be a disaster.” The second half of the year was filled with the same people cheering “Hooray! We hosted the Olympics! It was incredible and put Britain on the map. What an amazing summer!” For me personally, the whole of 2012 was worth getting excited for because The Muppets (2011, ironically) and its DVD/Blu-Ray release both debuted in the first part of that year. That meant lots of Muppet moments to enjoy, including some really fun personal appearances. With their trajectory most definitely in the ascendancy, the Muppets were everywhere – from live musical performances and guest spots on other artists’ albums to countless chat show gigs. It was like the 1980’s all over again!
To continue that 80’s vibe we also saw Fraggles again in several places. And, after being shut out by Kermit and Piggy in 2011, the Sesame Street gang were back with a vengeance in 2012 – in fact there’s so much great stuff from them in particular I’ve been struggling to fit it all in…
10 – Belly Breathe – Sesame Street
This was one of the toughest choices I’ve had to make for 11th spot for a really long time. In the one corner, I had this rap song about keeping calm. And in the other, just losing out on a judge’s decision, was “I am Special” – also from Sesame Street. It was a real tussle. “I am Special” is Frank freakin’ Oz performing as Grover which is always guaranteed to be, well… special. I love his performance in that clip. Ultimately though, I actually prefer this song musically and since it’s really the music I’m judging I had to let my own personal feelings for Frank and Grover take a back seat to this enjoyable number. There’s a nice swagger to this that I find irresistible. It’s well performed and seeing Elmo channel his inner Frazzle is brilliant fun!
9 – Rainbow Connection – Jim Henson’s Musical World
Last week I mentioned that because of a general love of Muppet nostalgia in 2011 I had multiple versions of Rainbow Connection to choose from. In 2012 there was also more than one available, and both where live performances. This track is kind of representing both, but it’s mostly standing as a shining example of how great the Jim Henson’s Musical World Carnegie Hall event was. Sadly, this is today’s only song from that show. Not that the others aren’t good enough, it’s just that there aren’t any good clips online. At the show, there were medleys performed of Muppet, Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock and Emmet Otter songs; as well as appearances by John Tartaglia, Stephanie D’Abruzzo, Paul Williams, Rachel Dratch and the Sesame humans. It was an incredible event that I’m sure no one will forget. This song stands out to me for all the obvious reasons, but I really want to praise Steve Whitmire’s puppetry here – Kermit looks so natural and at ease. I wonder, will we ever see all these characters together again (again)?
8 – Share it Maybe – Sesame Street Online Video
This song is a previous number one, but has tumbled here to 8th place. That’s a shame really as it’s a huge moment for Cookie Monster, with around 22 million views online. The love for this piece really is testament to Cookie Monster’s status as a pop culture icon. It’s also proof of how good David Rudman is. Because some of his recasts are relatively recent, I forget how long David has been performing with the Muppets. I constantly have to remind myself that he was around in the “Jim Henson era” – with performances in Labyrinth, Muppets Take Manhattan and The Tale of the Bunny Picnic on his résumé. I love David’s take on both Scooter and Janice, and as Baby Bear on Sesame Street he has been one of the show’s unsung heroes for years. This song is the perfect pop parody – the lyrics are fun and clever, the performances hit the right balance between sincere and comical, and it honors the source material. Wonderful.
7 – Five By – Sesame Street
You wait ages for a pop parody and then two come along at once! This one holds a special place in my heart though as it was likely Jerry Nelson’s final musical performance on Sesame Street. Although Jerry was suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease when this vocal was recorded, you wouldn’t know it. This whole piece plays like a love letter to The Count and, by extension, Jerry. The final “Ha, Ha, Ha” is just about the best tribute anyone could give. On August 23rd 2012, the world lost one of its brightest stars. It’s incredible to think of the characters Jerry brought to us – from guitarists Sgt. Floyd Pepper and Gobo Fraggle to the slightly sinister Blind Pew and Uncle Deadly. We will never see another Muppet performer like him and my yearly charts will be a little less bright from now on.
6 – Count Me In – Sesame Street
Count Me In was originally added to the Sesame Street roster in 1997, but this version brought the piece bang up to date (for the time) with a more modern arrangement. The differences between the two are undoubtedly subtle, but this feels a bit punchier and uses the call and response chorus to full effect, ramping up the Gospel vibe. This is sung by Deon Mitchell who is a former member of the PS22 Chorus who had, just the year before, recorded a new version of Somebody Come and Play for the show. This fantastically talented group have also appeared live at a Sesame Street benefit gala. My school choir never did anything quite so exciting! I’ll admit I didn’t know this song until I heard it for this chart, but I was instantly struck by its sing-and-dance-along feel and uplifting message of acceptance and giving things a try. The lyrics to the chorus should be written on the inside of everyone’s front door so they’re seen each morning. What a world we’d live in then!
5 – Me Am What Me Am – Sesame Street
Over the course of my yearly charts we’ve often touched on the controversy surrounding Cookie Monster and whether he was single-handedly making kids fat. And the subsequent furore over the fact that he occasionally went for an orange instead of an Oreo. I’m not sure if this song (and its street story about all that confusion) was deliberately written to try and put an end to the whole thing or simply to poke fun at it, but either way it’s tremendous. There can’t be many heartfelt, emotional ballads that name check okra and lima beans, but this does! Cookie (I feel like we should be on first name terms) is drawing a line in the sand here and saying quite literally “Me am what me am”. He’s daring the listener to leave their preconceived notions at the door, open their mind and learn something new. David Rudman does an amazing job of making Cookie Monster’s gruff voice sound sweet and soft while the final rousing lines are big and bold.
4 – Do it Anyway – Ben Folds Five Music Video
Who’d have thought the fraggles would have made a comeback in 2012? I’m guessing the area around Doc’s old workshop has had some work done in the last 30 years – it didn’t seem like the sort of neighborhood that would have housed a recording studio! Although Fraggle Rock was musically diverse, seeing the fraggle five rock out like this makes me wish they’d done more with this musical genre as part of the show. Mind you, this song is bluesy enough that it does fit perfectly into the canon of the show. Whether paired with folk, rock n roll or Gospel, the fraggles often weaved the blues into their music. Seeing these puppets and Gobo and Wembley’s cave makes me wish they’d done a bit more with the Fraggles at this point. John Tartaglia was waiting in the wings as Gobo, and several (if not all) the other fraggle performers were available. Small, fun internet videos worked wonders for the Muppets and the same should have happened for the fraggles. I really feel it was a wasted opportunity.
3 – All I Need is Love – Cee Lo’s Magic Moment
This is another track that seemed to come out of nowhere. Of course I knew this song, but it wasn’t until the last few days that I’ve really been struck by just how good it is. It has an old-school Christmas vibe mixed with a dash of doo-wap and some modern RnB. Although I guess that definition does slightly ignore the elephant in the room that is Mahna Mahna. It works so well here it’s hard to imagine that refrain didn’t originate as part of this song. I defy anyone not to fall under its spell. This song and video is pure Christmas joy. It’s also incredibly Muppety – though that might be the same thing. Everything here works perfectly. Even Pepe being slightly leery feels just right. Make sure you stay tuned to the end of this video as Zoot’s final sax note provides a warm Christmas hug, Statler and Waldorf get a fun final joke and the credits offer some neat character moments.
2 – Canada Is – The Muppets All Star Comedy Gala
Presented from the Montreal Just for Laughs comedy festival, this song pays tribute to the Muppets’ host nation of Canada. As part of a comedy festival you might expect this song to be funny, but it’s actually downright hilarious. The “facts” about Canada including that it’s the capital of Narnia and America’s hat, are sublimely silly and marvellously Muppety. Pepe’s joke about how it doesn’t matter if the song is all wrong because the Canadians will still apologize plays brilliantly into that well known cultural stereotype. In fact you could say the whole premise of this – that Sam the Eagle got new facts about Canada from Americans, is looking at another stereotype and actually saying something quite daring about it. Have we slipped into satire? Of course it’s all sorted out by the final verse as Kermit reminds the Muppets just how amazing Canada really is. You can tell the Muppet performers have been working together a lot by this point as they are so tight and together. It’s a joy to behold!
1 – Muskrat Love – The Muppets All Star Comedy Gala
I wouldn’t usually include a video of this quality, but I couldn’t pass up the chance to include this song. It’s perfect for this couple – a sweet number full of whimsy and reflectiveness, but with enough edge to keep it interesting. Until the song is curtailed early, the real joke here is that Miss Piggy wants her chance to show Montreal (the home of Celine Dion) just what a diva she can be. That’s so Piggy it instantly grounds this in her character, making the pay off so much funnier as a result. Up until the point that Kermit mentions bacon (it was bound to happen in Canada) everything is going great, but Piggy’s reaction to the line and subsequent “Hi-Yaaa” is funny and natural. The reason this is the number one song is just how well it fits the characters of Kermit and Miss Piggy.
And that’s probably the overarching theme of the whole of 2012 – characters actually being themselves. Following on from the success of 2011, everything in 2012 felt like it was coming back together just how it should. Muppets are everywhere, Sesame Street is teaching important lessons, fraggles are having fun and Jim Henson is being remembered. It truly was a golden age! So I have to say a huge Thank You to everyone who was part of that extraordinary team in 2012. Thank You – your continued efforts filled the world with Muppety joy!
Join me in 2013 as Fraggle Rocks turns 30, Sesame Street turns 1 Billion and the Muppets turn a little Gaga…