Kieran Moore – Think of some of the most iconic movie openings. The Lion King, Diamonds are Forever, The Rocky Horror Picture Show. What do they have in common? Amazing songs. The Muppets are immensely musical so it stands to reason their movies would feature incredible opening songs too. When done correctly these nuggets of musical wonder introduce us to the setting, theme, characters and overall style of the piece. They can be funny or dramatic (or both), but they have to sell the movie and tell us why we should carry on watching. That’s not easy to do in a couple of verses, choruses and maybe a bridge or two.
Muppet movie songs are almost universally considered to be some of the best music our felt friends have ever made. The list of award-winning composers who have contributed to this canon (did somebody say cannon? [I’m sorry it’s a compulsion]) is truly mind-blowing so it’s little wonder.
If this introduction was an opening song it would be a huge production number with a lion wearing diamonds being lifted by a monkey with bright red lips, but it isn’t so instead you’re stuck with this very dull line saying “Let’s get on with it”.
Let’s get on with it…
10 – Brick House – Muppets from Space
Something had to be the lowest ranking song on today’s chart and sadly this drew the short straw. Ultimately, I found it hard to place this song higher than one with actual Muppets singing. There’s a lot to love here though, including the whole sequence with Animal in the bathroom, Rowlf dancing, Kermit’s pyjamas, Swedish Chef cooking and the Happiness Hotel-esque ending. I wish two things about this; first, even if the song had remained, I with the Muppets had sung it. Second, I wish we’d seen more of their sleeping arrangements. I want to see The Electric Mayhem’s room full of lava lamps and beanbags. I want to see Lew Zealand and Chef sharing a room where Lew is constantly worried about his fish. And I really want to see Rowlf and Scooter sharing. I don’t know why, but this pairing in particular appeals to me. I think they’d compliment each other really well. Scooter and Rowlf sharing an apartment is a show I’d join Netflix to watch!
9 – Together Forever – The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland
Like the previous movie, this is a film that often gets ragged on. I’ve always loved the songs though. There’s a world music vibe that runs through them which was very of the time, but also somehow keeps everything feeling contemporary. Other than the actual Bohemian Rhapsody this might be the Muppet equivalent of Bohemian Rhapsody in that it tells its story in three separate movements. Like the Queen song, the first part is a ballad which then segues into something more experimental. The Laundromat sequence is quite possibly one of the best parts of the whole movie. I love seeing how it all comes together. It’s very, very clever. Then the piece explodes into a joyous finale that really should go on longer. Altogether this is a very satisfying piece that probably deserves better than ninth place.
8 – Scrooge – Muppet Christmas Carol
This is another song that really could have been higher. The dramatic first few bars are taking no prisoners here, but then neither does Scrooge as a character. I’m going to contradict myself when writing about this song, but first let’s talk about what’s good in this piece. Almost across the board the performers are sounding phenomenal – Jerry Nelson, Louise Gold and Karen Prell in particular are so entertaining. I also appreciate the direction here as Brian Henson takes full advantage of the set and creates a Victorian London that’s dark and dingy, yet Muppety enough to be fun. This sequence is fantastic at world building. Here’s where it gets tricky – an opening song must set the scene and often that includes imparting back story or plot exposition (do I really need to do that joke?), however I find it grates a bit here. Perhaps it’s just because the song does nothing, but beat us over the head with how mean Scrooge is (something we’re about to see anyway). I think it comes off a bit heavy handed. Finally, Frank Oz is a man with a vocal range that gave us everything from Animal to Miss Piggy and yet here we get three separate characters all using his “sounds a bit like Fozzie” voice.
7 – We’re Doing a Sequel – Muppets Most Wanted
I’m going to stop writing “This really could have been higher”. From now on just take it as read – it’ll be quicker. I love Muppets Most Wanted. It’s a great film and should be better regarded. It’s certainly funnier than The Muppets (2011) – just like The Great Muppet Caper is more humorous than The Muppet Movie. And that’s not the only parallel you can draw between these two sets of films. Anyone who’s seen them will know the former movies in each set feature the Muppets getting together and the latter took them off to London for a fun-filled crime caper. This song even works as a gentle parody of Hey A Movie! from The Great Muppet Caper. Where the similarity ends, but should have continued, is that this doesn’t get a reprise at the end of Muppets Most Wanted.
6 – The Grouch Anthem – Sesame Street Presents: Follow That Bird
Quite frankly this is one of my favorite ever Muppet songs and here it is in what I think is its lowest position to date. It really only loses out on the criteria set out earlier in that it doesn’t really set up anything we see later on and is a completely separate entity. It could just as easily be a viral video on YouTube. That doesn’t take away from how good it is though. Caroll Spinney sounds perfectly grumpy as Oscar and delivers some of the most quotable Muppet lines ever. I still say “Brace yourself, I’m gonna sing” on a regular basis! Maybe it’s just because they’re two Oscar the Grouch memories from my childhood, but I always associate this song with Oscar’s Book, the Little Golden book from the 1970’s. Both show Oscar’s snarky, misanthropic side. In Oscar’s opinion you’ve read the best part of this chart – now have a rotten day!
5 –Shiver My Timbers – Muppet Treasure Island
Aside from the music itself, the visuals in this piece are one of the main reasons this song is so good. Picking up from Scrooge, Brian Henson once again shows why he’s such a talented director – instantly submerging is in the world of Muppet Treasure Island. This is hot and humid and dusty. It’s oppressive and dangerous and feels like we’re right there with those pirates. This sequence lets us know straight away that this is a Muppet movie with bite. There’ll be villainous doings ahead! It’s a warning to go no further that is to enticing to heed. Jerry Nelson steals the show with his singing and the puppetry performances are universally arresting. This was recently named as the best Muppet song of its era (on my yearly chart rundown) and I can still see why. This video doesn’t include the luscious score piece Treasure Island which to me plays as an extended intro to this song. To clarify: for several of the movies listed today the opening song isn’t actually the first piece of music you’ll hear, but I’ve discounted instrumental pieces and those that act purely as credit sequences with no Muppet involvement. Which leads us neatly to…
4 – Life’s a Happy Song – The Muppets (2011)
There was a version of today’s list that had this song at number one, but this really was a tricky chart to put together so every track was checked from top to bottom and shaken twice to see what fell out. That said, there’s very little to criticise here. Jason Segel and Peter Linz are perfect. It’s impossible not to fall in love with Walter when he’s so enthusiastic. This is a huge song and dance number that very subtly foretells what’s coming up later. Both Gary and Walter sing “I’ve got everything that I need right in front of me” and yet as we see by the end of the picture only one of them actually does and they both question that fact at some point. This supremely cheerful song (it’s literally a happy song) has hidden depths! It’s also foreshadowing Kermit’s need to reconnect with the rest of the Muppets making it incredibly clever as well as devilishly catchy.
3 – Together Again – The Muppets Take Manhattan
From one whistler to another! It’s just occurred to me that all the Muppet movies open with a shot either of, or taken in, the sky. I have no idea if that’s intentional, but it’s a pretty cool bit of trivia. I’m not sure I can top that so I might just end this article now! (But then you’ll never know what the number one song is and I couldn’t be that mean.) The aerial shots at the start of this song are the perfect example of show it, don’t say it. We open on a picture of New York, and with the movie’s title we know it will be a big part of the story, but we slowly pan out and move away from the hustle and bustle to find ourselves in a progressively more rural setting. We get to see that the idea of going to the city would be a big deal for these characters and get a sense of the scale of the task the Muppets are undertaking. Finally, we learn that the Muppets are students and everything we need to get into the film has been explained without words. It’s a masterstroke in storytelling from Frank Oz.
2 – Rainbow Connection – The Muppet Movie
To a certain extent we could be playing spot the difference between this scene and the previous one. It’s another aerial shot with Kermit singing over the top. In much the same way as the track above, it’s a great way of showing the audience where Kermit is geographically, as well as spiritually – all backed up by Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher’s wonderful music and lyrics. Of course, we know the words to this song are beautiful and profound and emotive, but the music itself is just as affecting. Listen to an instrumental version of this song and you’ll be stunned by it in a whole new way. This song perfectly encapsulates the overarching theme of the movie without really telling us anything about the plot. I love it for that. Under Jim Henson’s guidance, the movie’s writers and director have created a mood piece that feels like an abstract waking dream. At this point, the relatively thin plot is incidental to the main themes of wanderlust, family and putting on a show.
1 – Hey A Movie! – The Great Muppet Caper
So what song managed to knock Rainbow Connection off the top spot? Really, it could only be this one. Is there a better opening for any movie than a song that says “we’re gonna be a movie”. Talk about setting out your stall. This is breaking the 4th wall to the nth degree. The Great Muppet Caper is genuinely a very funny movie. Whether you’re a Muppet fan or not, you’ll find something to make you laugh as you watch. A big part of the humor is its ability to wear its heart on its sleeve and openly talk about the fact that it’s a movie. We get Kermit critiquing Miss Piggy’s performance, Lady Holiday offering up “plot exposition” and a plethora of other meta jokes sprinkled throughout. This song is probably the largest and most obvious example – not just in the content of the song itself, but also as Kermit basically tells us the premise of the whole film. Where I criticised Scrooge for being a bit inelegant with its verbal story setting, this is light and funny and just exquisitely done. It gets everything out the way in a very clever manner. We also get fun jokes, a big production number, straight into the plot, and a Richard Hunt/Kathryn Mullen cameo. What more do you want for the price of a movie ticket?
And that’s today’s list. I wish I were you people reading this for the first time. There was spectacle, there was fantasy, there was derring do and stuff like you would never see; it was a movie (chart), is there anyway to stop it? Well, actually there is. I’m going to stop typing soon. But first I have to thank the many composers, lyricists, scriptwriters, directors, performers, best boys, dolly grips, gaffers etc. that worked on the movies featured today. You’ve certainly made my world a little more cinematic. Thank You.