Jarrod Fairclough – With Kieran Moore currently on leave, I thought it was about time I rolled up my sleeves and did yet another Unofficial Top 10 List. Of course, I haven’t got the discipline nor the talent of Kieran, so rather than spending a week researching a broad topic to narrow it down, I’ve just picked a movie and shoe-horned 10 songs out of it.
The Muppet Christmas Carol is a beloved holiday classic these days, and part of that is because of the warm, catchy songs written by the legendary Paul Williams. It’s also a film that I have a complicated history with. I adored it as a child, then grew to loathe it as a teenager/young adult. I was annoyed that the Ghosts of Christmas were brand new characters and not beloved Muppets. I was annoyed that Michael Caine got most of the screentime. I once heard someone say of the film “It’s nice the Muppets got a cameo in their own movie”. So then I stopped watching it. Until one day, when I found a link to the album online, and I realised that the music was great. So, I gave it another go, and suddenly I saw what everyone else did. It’s okay that it’s a true adaptation of the book and not a parody, like Muppet Treasure Island could be classified as. If anything, the seriousness, and the fact that it doesn’t shy away from doing something different from what The Muppets usually did was exactly what they needed as the first major project after Jim Henson’s death. So I have to credit Paul Williams’ work as what brought me back to the fold.
I’ve taken a look at both the film and the soundtrack today, as there are a couple of great numbers that were recorded but never filmed. If I’ve been unsure if a song has counted, I’ve gone to Kieran, who is the expert in these matters. So, without further ado, let’s get merry.
10 – Bless Us All
This is going to be a controversial pick for 10th place, because it’s sung by Robin, Miss Piggy and Kermit, and is about appreciating the small things you have and hold dear. And yes, Jerry Nelson is in fine voice as Robin’s Tiny Tim, reminding us all why he was always regarded as the best singer of all the performers. But dag nabbit, if it isn’t just so dull! I’ve always found it brings the entire film to a screeching halt, not adding a tonne to the story that wasn’t added from the far superior ‘It Feels Like Christmas’ just moments earlier. Look, I get it, I get the appeal of this song. I’m just not into it.
9 – Thankful Heart
Okay, truth is I actually love this song. It’s upbeat, it’s fun, and it shows a lot of character growth in Scrooge. The main reason it’s hanging around in 9th place is because of the poor singing voice of Michael Caine. Caine is a great actor, he can do drama and comedy exceedingly well, and he managed to play Scrooge with the upmost sincerity without looking like an idiot considering the circumstances. But dude can’t sing, and it turns what should be a fitting final number in to one that just doesn’t sit quite right. He sounds like your uncle after he’s had too much eggnog and busts out that karaoke machine your cousin got for Christmas.
8 – Christmas Scat
This was a song that I was worried could be considered cheating, as it’s just a different version of an earlier song from the film. Luckily, expert Kieran Moore allowed it, so here it is in 8th place. This song feels very reminiscint of Fraggle Rock, in those moments where Gobo and Wembley would sing a happy tune. Wembley was often scatting, beatboxing, making random noises as Gobo sang, and here their performers are in their same roles playing different characters. Considering the song only goes for 23 seconds, it does a great job of showing the bond between Kermit and Robin (or Bob and Tiny Tim) and sets up their relationship perfectly. It’s also a great bit of puppetry and film making.
7 – Chairman of the Board
Sam the Eagle is only in this film for a couple of minutes, but he still manages to be one of the best things about it. His getting interrupted and reminded about ‘The British way!’ is one of the highlights. So imagine my disappointment when I rediscovered the film that he had sung a song that had been cut from the film. I certainly get why, ‘Chairman of the Board’ adds nothing to the plot, and it doesn’t even really explain much more about Scrooge’s past influencing his present than the rest of the scene does. But it’s always nice when Sam gets on board with the silliness going on around him, and you can tell Frank Oz is having a wonderful time playing with the song.
6 – Room In Your Heart
Hey, look! Another song that was cut from the film! ‘Room In Your Heart’ holds the distiction of being the only song ever sang soley by Bunsen and Beaker (I think – correct me if I’m wrong). Like Sam, Bunsen and Beaker only get a brief moment or two in the movie, but they still manage to do a lot with it. This song would have been the first time we see someone try to push Scrooge to be a little kinder, and with it’s absence instead that job is given to Kermit as he asks, almost begs, Scrooge for Christmas off. It’s a lot more powerful coming from Kermit’s Bob Cratchit, and it’s almost that moment that shows us that Scrooge can indeed change. So, I get why this song was cut. Doesn’t mean it ain’t catchy, though! START DANCING, BEAKER!
5 – When Love Is Gone
Alright, one more deleted song and we’ll get back to normal. There’s a weird history with ‘With Love Is Gone’. First it was in the film. Then it was out of the film. Then it was in the DVD release. Then it was out of the DVD release. Then it was in the DVD release. Then it was out of the BluRay release. MAKE A CHOICE, DISNEY! Apparently the song was removed because some test audiences found it to be too sad, and some small children were confused about why the pretty lady was singing about being sad. In any case, our pal Merideth Braun (who plays Belle) is a great talent, and does a wonderful job of it. And it’s such a favorite of Merideth’s, that she released an album last year called ‘When Love Is Gone’. It’s well worth checking it out!
4 – One More Sleep Til Christmas
This might be my favorite number Steve Whitmire’s Kermit ever sang, and it was pretty much the first! Steve had an impossible job after the death of Jim Henson, and being handed, literally, one of the biggest stars in the world to continue was never going to be an easy task. A lot of people went in to this film with bated breath, unsure what this new Kermit was going to look like, or sound like. And Steve knocked it out of the park with his performance. Director Brian Henson made a brave choice giving this ‘new Kermit’ a full song in their first major production since the tragic passing of Jim, but it was ultimately the best choice. This song is the only one from Muppet Christmas Carol that I don’t limit to just December to listen to, because it gets in my head all year round. The opening lines are also what I need to sing if I’m attempting to get in to my Kermit impression (it’s not great).
3 – Marley and Marley
It’s criminal how few songs have featured Statler and Waldorf over the past 40-something years. This was the first we’d seen of the two hecklers since the passing of Jim Henson and Richard Hunt, their original performers (Jerry’s one-off in 1975 not being considered here as ‘original’). There must have been a lot of concern about using these two as Jacob and (the created just for this movie) Robert Marley, considering the circumstances. But there really aren’t any other Muppet characters it could have been. In any case, Dave Goelz and Jerry Nelson do a fantastic job with the old curmudgeons, with this being one of the catchiest songs of the entire film. I will stand by what I said way back in 2016 though, this entire sequence, and the doorknocker turning in to Statler a little earlier, classify this as a horror film, because it’s terrifying.
2 – It Feels Like Christmas
This could be a controversial pick for Number 2, considering it’s one of The Muppets best loved songs, and one of Jerry Nelson’s finest numbers. In fact, ‘It Feels Like Christmas’ almost took the Number 1 spot, until a last minute change of heart. This song is so beloved in fact, that Disney have used it in their various shows at the Disney Parks, and I’ve even heard the instrumental play while walking through Downtown Disney in California. I wrote earlier that as a teen I hated how the Ghosts of Christmas were brand new characters and not established Muppets, but that’s not strictly 100% accurate. Actually, I’ve always liked The Ghost of Christmas Present, and could have seen him becoming a full fledged continuing character had they so chosen. I’m known in my circle of family and friends as a bit of a Grinch when it comes to the holidays. But this song always softens my stone cold heart a little bit, just as it does with Scrooge. Though I don’t have the warmest feelings towards the holidays, I do have the warmest feelings towards love. And it’s all the ways that we show love that feel like Christmas. Ooh, look at that, my heart just grew 3 sizes! Excuse me while I call an ambulance.
1 – Scrooge
There isn’t one thing in this entire song that I don’t absolutely love. It impresses me everytime I hear it that this song was written in about 10 minutes, as it poured out of Paul Williams’ pen and onto the page. It’s such a well done song, perfectly getting across who Scrooge is, and the feelings of the townspeople. Speaking of whom, I love that pretty much every Muppet who sings a line in this song is a random one, and not an established character. Yes, this film used a lot of pre-existing puppets, from Fraggle Rock especially, but none of them are still playing ‘themselves’ (besides a cameo by Sprocket or Pops). George the Janitor isn’t George, JP Grosse isn’t JP Grosse. It’s a great way to cram a lot of characters in to 3 minutes, and it’s fun for the audience to point out the obscure characters they remember along the way. Another thing I love about this song is that really, it’s a cast of maybe 7 or 8 lead performers, and between them they manage to do around 77 different characters (yes, I counted). That’s an average of about 11 characters each, with Jerry Nelson taking on a fair few extra, and yet not one of them sounds the same. These guys are the best of the best, and this song just goes to show what they can do.
So, all that’s left to do is to thank Paul Williams for the incredible work he did on each and every one of these songs. It’s because of him that I rediscovered this film and finally saw just how perfect it is. There’s a reason The Muppet Christmas Carol such a beloved classic so long after its release, and it’s in part thanks to the music and lyrics of a legend.