Kieran Moore – As we enter another series of character-based charts I really want to be able to say I’ve covered the Muppets from A-Z. In order to do that I’ve had to reach right round to the far end of the alphabet and write about a Muppet whose name begins with “Z”. So today I’m presenting the top 10 songs of Zsa Zsa Porkmustard. This lovable pageant contestant from The Jim Henson Hour quickly stole our hearts and has become one of the most recognisable Muppets on the planet. My Zsa Zsa Porkmustard plush sits at home next to my Zsa Zsa Porkmustard Diamond Select figure and I love the image of her they used on the Season 4 box set of The Muppet Show. Since I started writing these lists four years ago I’ve been inundated with requests for a chart about our favorite Koozebanian, so I’m pleased I can make so many wishes come true now.
Or we could just do Zoot…? Yeah, let’s do Zoot…
10 – Lazybones – The Muppet Show
For those of you who don’t know, Zoot is the saxophone player with Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem. As such he appears in every episode of The Muppet Show and every theatrically-released Muppet movie. He’s a guy who really needs no introduction (and yet here we are). Every member of the Muppets’ house band exudes coolness in a different way and Zoot is laid back, effortless and an old soul in a fuzzy felt body. This song is pretty much his persona in musical form. You could argue Dr. Teeth is the star here, but can you imagine listening to this and not hearing Zoot’s sax line? No – me either.
9 – The Muppet Show Theme – The Muppet Show
I guess some might say including this is a bit of a cheat, but as part of the Muppet orchestra Zoot is all over the opening and closing themes of The Muppet Show. He and Trumpet Girl are the MVPs here. With his final sax blast, Zoot probably plays the most famous musical note in Muppet history in this clip. The opening and closing themes of the show changed considerably over the years so this is a good time to mention that so did Zoot (which you can see if you watch the many online clips of this song). It wasn’t until I was prepping this chart that it really registered to me how often Zoot changed colour. I’m guessing he “skipped a groove” every now and again and fell asleep in the sun for a few months! Over the years, he’s been both blue and green in skin tone and had more noses than Miss Piggy’s had breakfasts.
8 – I Heard it Through the Grapevine – The Muppet Show
Is it controversial if I say I prefer the Gladys Knight version of this song to the Marvin Gaye one? Both are excellent, but I like the funkiness of this over the smooth soul of the other. I also really like the staging for this particular presentation. The black background makes the whole thing pop and the puppetry effects are very well done. If Gladys ever loses her Pips then she knows where to go! Zoot’s appearance here is short, but so is this write up so we’re even!
7 – Chopin’s Polonaise in A Flat – The Muppet Show
The Electric Mayhem performed several classical pieces on The Muppet Show and this is probably the most successful. I don’t know if it always plays as well as it should, but I like the joke that Dr. Teeth and the gang are so rock n roll that no matter how hard they try they can’t quite do anything but hard rock or full-on funk. It’s not strictly true as we’ve already seen with Lazybones, but it plays to their chronically groovy personas. Zoot takes the bulk of the melody in this instrumental piece and it really allows him to shine bright like a saxophone (as Rihanna almost once said).
6 – The Entertainer – The Muppet Show
Once again Zoot is popping up to lend a hand to a guest star. This time it’s Phyllis Diller. However while she’s having all sorts of trouble with her teeny-tiny saxophone Zoot is having no such problems. I have to give a huge shout out to Frank Reidy and John Whelan who performed Zoot’s sax lines throughout the Muppet Show years. Both are virtuoso. Dave Goelz who is Zoot’s main performer preferred to let the music do the talking (legend has it that Dave would often give away Zoot’s lines) making Frank and John almost as much a part of the character as Dave himself. Keeping him quiet really helped solidify Zoot’s character and here we get to see him be funny without uttering a single word.
5 – Honeysuckle Rose – The Muppet Show
Speaking of being funny without saying anything – this clip features some wonderful visual humor and a Muppet bee that makes me say “How did they do that?” I’m guessing he’s “green screened”, but it’s so well performed it’s hard to tell for certain. The bee is buzzing around Zoot and bouncing on his hat and shoulders perfectly. I love seeing smaller breakaway groups of two or three musicians from The Electric Mayhem playing together. It gives us a little glimpse into the kind of music they really like. There are always compromises over material in any band and here we see what Zoot and Floyd might choose to play if it was all up to them. Honeysuckle Rose is a sweet, smooth jazz classic that makes perfect sense for their characters.
4 – Nap Time – The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz
Spoiler Alert: This is the only piece on today’s list that isn’t from The Muppet Show. Say what you will about The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz (and I’m sure you will), I’ve always really enjoyed the music. This number was written by Brandon Christy who has few musical credits to his name. However with this he’s produced a funky track perfect for a laidback club and an Electric Mayhem lullaby (going back to the hard rock joke mentioned earlier). There’s a lot going on here and that’s quite a complicated brief so this is doubly good. Zoot’s sax playing is raw and edgy and (dare I say it) blousy as well as bluesy.
3 – Smoke Gets in Your Eyes – The Muppet Show
This chart has been full of musicians jamming together and it’s a real treat to see Rowlf and Zoot chilling out around the piano together. This being The Muppet Show though we can only allow that to play out unimpeded for a little while before mayhem has to ensue. Zoot really is a fine musician. Dave Goelz (who I haven’t mentioned nearly enough today) plays Zoot as an aging jazz musician who is a little world weary and would perhaps be on the way down if it weren’t for his involvement with The Electric Mayhem. He’s probably partied too hard over the years and is definitely legally happy (according to Kermit). I read somewhere that Zoot keeps the band rooted in the real world and I think that’s true. He’s been there, done that and played a mean sax solo over the top of it.
2 – Sax and Violence – The Muppet Show
Would it be wrong of me to say I think this is one of the purest Muppet moments ever? Watching this I am instantly transported back to all those old Muppet clips we see from shows like Sam and Friends, The Ed Sullivan Show and even the Wilkins Coffee commercials. This really is the bridge between old and new Henson, taking all those tropes and trademarks we love and attaching them to (with Zoot at least) newer characters from an emerging show. The first year of The Muppet Show was littered with “old standard” Muppet sketches, but this was a new spin on an old joke. Zoot is great here, going from reluctant performer to won over groover and finally musical mercenary in the space of a few minutes. Dave Goelz at his finest.
1 – Theme From Love Story – The Muppet Show
Next time someone tells you the Muppets are just silly dolls being waggled around with no emotional weight and no ability to do anything but goof around politely tell them you don’t want to buy an encyclopedia and close the door. Or… show them this clip and be prepared for an apology. This is a wonderful piece of music that resists going for the laugh until the very last minute an even then only mildly. Even the comedy writers can see this deserves at least a small amount of reverence. By allowing pieces like this to exist, the Muppets let both the comic and emotional moments shine in a way that wouldn’t happen otherwise. Zoot plays a wonderful rendition of this beautiful piece of music and Rowlf is right there with him, but the best thing about this for me is the camaraderie we can see between these two as they perform. Little looks and acknowledgements of each other’s shining moments make this feel authentic. It’s subtly done, but pitch perfect.
And what better way to end a chart about Zoot than with the words pitch perfect? He might be the quietest member of The Electric Mayhem and he might often stand to the side, but he’s the glue that binds them together and provides their signature sound. Long may he continue to blow!
So I just have to say thank you to everyone who’s appeared here – in particular Dave Goelz, Frank Reidy, John Whelan and the many composers whose work has featured in the top 10. You’re the coolest people I know. Thank You.