Kieran Moore – There have been times over the last 60+ years when things didn’t always seem rosy for the Muppets and/or Henson Company. Since the dawning of the internet, many hours and countless megabytes have been devoted to discussing whether Kermit was about to croak. This last decade, however, has thankfully been much more reassuring and by 2013 the Muppets were slap bang in what could be described as a fourth(?) “golden era”.
That’s not to say the muppets were unequivocally Midas-flippered at this time, but they were in the eye of a wonderful storm of creativity and success. The Sesame Street and Muppet franchises were producing some of their best work and 2013 was really all about keeping that momentum going.
10 – Me Want It (But Me Wait) – Sesame Street
Following on from the huge success of Share it Maybe, this song sees Cookie Monster covering another modern pop hit to extol the virtues of controlled cookie consumption. Unfortunately for this track, the source material -I Love It by Icona Pop – just isn’t as good as Carly Rae Jepsen’s Call Me Maybe and this comes off a bit like one of those 90’s dances remixes they did of kids’ songs back in the day. You know the kind of thing – I still have my copy of Disney’s “Mouse House” somewhere! That said, the lyrics are clever and David Rudman is every bit as good as he always is. This might not be Cookie Monster’s best moment of recent years, but it’s still a very solid way to start this chart.
9 – The Sesame Street Alphabet – Sesame Street
We’re sticking with Sesame Street for this fun alphabet song. (Today’s chart has an even-ish split between the main franchises, which is nice.) I don’t think I’m being too outrageous by saying that over the years Sesame Street has featured lots of songs that recount the alphabet, but this is definitely up there with the best of them for its fun rhymes, simple visuals and nifty bounce-along tune. The other reason I love it is that it’s a real group performance – in fact, there are so many favorite Sesame Street characters here I like to play “Spot the Character Who Doesn’t Appear”. So far I’m up to two regulars – Mr Snuffleupagus and Count Von Count. Can you spot any others?
8 – Dream House – Good Luck Charlie
I flop back and forth on this a bit – not because of the song or performances, which I really enjoy, but because it causes a bit of a Muppet dilemma for me. In my mind at least, the Muppets are in this show in order to promote the franchise to the Disney Channel crowd – which is exactly what Studio DC was doing and I can’t work out which method I prefer. In this clip they are at least part of the story of the episode, but they are most definitely shoehorned in and not really required. In Studio DC they are the story and once again doing what they’re best known for by hosting a variety show. It seems to me that Studio DC is actually the most Muppety of the two and yet it gets trashed online while this gets a free pass. I’m going to go out on a limb and say the dates in which these two shows aired is a big part of why one is shunned and the other isn’t.
7 – Good Things Come to Those Who Wait – Sesame Street
Part song, part sketch – all fun! I think we can see in today’s chart that the concept of waiting was a large part of the curriculum of Sesame Street in season 44, as both this number and the song in 10th place feature Cookie Monster practising the art of self-control. I guess it can be argued that this song should appear before the other one chronologically (I’m not sure if this is the case in terms of airdates), as Cookie Monster seems to have things a bit more under control by the time he sings Me Want It (But Me Wait). It’s good to see after finally putting the “Veggie Monster” debacle to bed that Cookie Monster is reinforcing the message by coveting a cookie! Guy Smiley and his singers are played by Eric Jacobson, Stephanie D’Abruzzo and John Tartaglia and all three are showing just why they are modern Muppet legends.
6 – Counting the “You’s” in YouTube – Sesame Street Viral Video
I clearly remember the sensation that hit the Muppet community when this “Top Secret” video dropped. Of course it was wonderful that our favorite educational show’s YouTube channel had become the first non-profit organisation to reach 1 billion views, but the ripple of excitement that the new video featured Count Von Count was something special. It had only been a very short time since Jerry Nelson’s final vocal performances on Sesame Street had aired so I think it’s fair to say it was too soon to properly be missing The Count, but we were all curious to see what would happen to the character after his originator’s death. This old-school, eastern European style number told us we had nothing to worry about. King of the recasts, Matt Vogel took over vocally as The Count from this point on and neither has looked back since. This is a big moment for many reasons in Sesame Street’s history.
5 – The ABCs of Moving You – Sesame Street
I really like the simple clapping accompaniment that goes with this song. I’m not sure if the track is fully a cappella or not, but it very easily could be and as an unaccompanied singer myself I really appreciate that element. It sounds fresh and interesting, but also lets Usher’s vocals stand out – and when they’re as good as his are, you really do want them too. In a chart full of doubles this is another simple alphabet song from Sesame Street, but again it’s one of their best. You don’t need to take my word for it this time either as this track as nominated for a Daytime Emmy (as was “Rhymes with Mando” that didn’t make the cut). This song cleverly combines learning your ABCs with a message to get up and be active so might just be one of the most educational pieces Sesame Street has ever done.
4 – Gypsy – Lady Gaga and the Muppets’ Holiday Spectacular
I guess there’s been a Lady Gaga shaped hole in my chart so far today and now is the time to address it. There were lots of things wrong with this holiday special, but there were also plenty of things that were right. First, we got Muppets in primetime in their natural habitat – a holiday special (not a Studebaker). That can’t be ignored. Secondly, Lady Gaga is a huge star who likes the Muppets and, despite this show’s best efforts, does work well with our felt friends. When it’s not getting too bogged down in weirdness ( a strange criticism for a Muppet production), there’s a lot of fun stuff going on and several of the musical performances are memorable, including the Gaga/Elton John duet and Piggy’s rendition of Santa Baby. You could say Gypsy is a microcosm of the whole thing. There’s some clunky dialogue (that I hope was adlibbed otherwise a scriptwriter deserves to lose his licence), but Kermit and Lady Gaga work well together when singing and the song is pretty good. Sadly Kermit is suffering from “Muppet Beach Party Syndrome” where he seems incapable of letting a line go by without chipping in with a useless comment, but at the same time this really is not just the standout moment of the special, but a pretty special standout Muppet moment in its own right.
3 – Dueling Banjos – Funny or Die Online Video
The Steve Martin episode of The Muppet Show is quite rightly a classic that just about everyone knows, but I’d wager most people think of his balloon animal act before they remember that he played Dueling Banjos with Lubbock Lou and his Jughuggers as the show’s closing number. Several decades later, he joined up with the Muppets once again to perform this well-known piece of music. This time, instead of performing it as a group number, the song really is a battle to the musical death – albeit a good-natured one! Steve and Kermit work brilliantly together and their rivalry is played to perfection, making me smile and laugh throughout. Kermit’s snarky remarks are perfectly in character and hilarious – I love that he’s picking up Steve on his playing! He needn’t bother though, the music is wonderful. I love the light, metallic sound of Kermit’s banjo in particular. Finally, this video is beautifully shot and feels like a love letter to Kermit, Steve, music, swamps, Muppets, banjos…
2 – I Need a Word – Sesame Street
There’s probably not much new stuff I can say about this song, as it has appeared several times on my lists and was even placed at number 18 in last year’s 100th chart celebration piece. Once again in another double, this song is the second to prominently feature a banjo today. I know banjos can be a bit love them or hate them for some, but I think it’s impossible to be a Muppet fan and not enjoy their clang-a-lang-a-lang tones. It’s a harsh sound, but in the hands of a skilled performer like Kermit or Dave Matthews (as in this clip) it can bring about wonderfully soft, sweet emotions. The idea of a glum Grover is heartbreaking, but for me where this song really shines isn’t just that we see a downhearted Muppet, but that they get this emotion so right. I’ve felt exactly the same way before. They’re not describing a broad brush feeling – Grover isn’t just sad, he’s going through a range of emotions that are tying him in knots. Teaching children (and adults) that feelings are complex and that that’s ok is such an important lesson.
1 – Sesame Street Theme – The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon
To my eternal shame, the Sesame Street Theme has never topped one of my charts even though its Muppet Show and Fraggle Rock counterparts have. I’m happy to be fixing this now. This version, from Jimmy Fallon’s late night talk show, features a large group of Sesame Street Muppets. However, unlike previous group numbers on this list, both Snuffy and The Count are present and correct this time. Jimmy Fallon has been a friend of the Muppets for many years and the guys and gals from both of the main franchises appeared regularly on his show. At the same time, Jimmy and his house band The Roots often played well-known songs on classroom instruments as part of the show so it was only a matter of time before the two collided and we got this strange, yet strangely musical, interpretation of the Sesame Street theme. The inclusion of a rap break fleshes this version out and adds a fun twist. The best thing about this video though is just how fun it is. It’s a celebration of everything that is so beloved about Sesame Street, and that’s a joy to behold.
One of the things that really strikes me about today’s chart, is how many different productions the songs come from. There’s a large Sesame Street presence of course, but away from that we also have viral videos, guest spots, holiday specials, talk show appearances – apart from the viral videos it could be the 1980s all over again. So I have to say thank you to everyone who contributed to the world of the Muppets in 2013 – you’re creativity continues to be inspiring. Thank You.
Join me next time as Sesame Street takes Salt Lake City, the Muppets take Europe and The Furchester Hotel takes reservations…