Kieran Moore – Christmas. As the song says, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year”. Sure, you might be a huge fan of Hallowe’en or Thanksgiving, or even National Artichoke Day (which I totally just made up, but does exist apparently); but are any of these as wonderful as Christmas?
I’m not here to get bogged down in talking about how this Christmas is going to be difficult – because heaven knows we’re bombarded by that statement every time we watch TV or listen to the radio or go online and quite frankly it does us no good, but I do acknowledge there’s a good chance we’ll be celebrating the season differently this time around. For some it might be a quieter, more reflective day and for others it’ll be a bright spot that can bring some much needed levity to a troubling time – both are equally valid.
If you’re anything like me though a Christmas tradition that is going nowhere (and, dare I say it, might even be more necessary than usual) is celebrating with the Muppets. From classics such as Muppet Christmas Carol and Muppet Family Christmas to newer fare like Letters to Santa and Once Upon A Sesame Street Christmas by way of “very special episodes” of Fraggle Rock and Bear in the Big Blue House – every Christmas production the Muppets touch is filled with holiday magic.
The array of Muppety offerings make them an especially perfect way to enjoy Christmas this year. If you’re looking for peace on Earth and goodwill to all men they have you covered; if you want to rock around the Christmas tree you totally can! But how do I encapsulate that with just 10 songs? I don’t. I do it with 20. Today’s top 10 chart positions actually offer two different songs, each representing a different Muppety mood. Riotous and raucous or quiet and complatitive -you decide! Or don’t, listen to all 20 for double Muppety goodness!
(Note: The songs were ranked individually then paired by a loose connection. Each pair’s score was then averaged out to get this final top 10 ranking.)
10 – I Wish I Could Be Santa Clause – A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa/Sleigh Ride – Muppet Family Christmas
What’s better than one Fozzie duet? Two Fozzie Duets! Interestingly enough, despite featuring Fozzie both times these songs are sung by 4 different performers… That’s kind of neat. Although he’s one of the main Muppet characters, Fozzie duets are quite rare – there are some high profile numbers like Movin’ Right Along and Simon Smith and His Amazing Dancing Bear, but considering the volume of his output it’s a smaller list than it could be. I Wish I Could Be Santa Claus is a lovely, touching song that really deserves to be better known. It should be a holiday standard by now. We really get to see Fozzie’s huge heart in this number. On the flipside, Sleigh Ride showcases Fozzie’s comedy chops and makes a nice counterpoint. If we were still in the days of 7” singles this would make a perfect double A side.
9 – True Blue Miracle – Christmas Eve on Sesame Street/All I Want For Christmas Is You – Elmo Saves Christmas
This duo of Sesame Street songs talk of how it’s the people around us and our relationships with them that make Christmas special, but do so in very different ways. True Blue Miracle is a wonderful song that lifts my spirit every time I listen to it. Ably led by Alaina Reed as Olivia, it becomes a joyous group number that really does encapsulate the grandeur of the miracle of Christmas. (That said, if I was on the subway and a group of random people all got on and started singing I’d probably change carriage!) Meanwhile, All I Want for Christmas is You really does feel like the theme song of Christmas 2020. For lots of us this year all we want are our loved ones nearby. They might not be sitting around the Christmas table, but as True Blue Miracle shows they can be in our hearts instead and maybe that’s enough…
8 – Silent Night – A Christmas Together/One More Sleep ‘til Christmas – Muppet Christmas Carol
These two heavy hitters are paired together with the tenuous link of Christmas Eve (don’t judge me – they’re like plot exposition, they had to go somewhere). This version of Silent Night is probably my favorite ever – it’s peaceful reverence perfectly evokes the story of the Nativity in a way no other ever has. John Denver’s telling of how Silent Night came into being is a lovely way to punctuate the verses and the harmonies are outstanding. Those Muppet performers really were/are amazing vocalists. In contrast, One More Sleep… brings to mind the excitement we all feel on Christmas Eve as we can finally put the preparations to one side and simply revel in the warmth and wonder of the evening. It would be totally remiss of me not to mention the fantastic puppetry on display here – from Kermit blowing out a candle to Rizzo tapping his foot this is pure Muppet magic!
7 – Together at Christmas – The Christmas Toy/It’s The Most Wonderful Time of The Year – A Green and Red Christmas
A song called Together at Christmas feels especially poignant this year. The video presented here is the full version that includes a sweet verse sung by Rugby Tiger to his best friend Mew when he thinks he’s lost him forever. It’s an emotional moment that sets up the group sing that follows. There’s a carol that mentions comfort and joy in its lyrics and those are the two emotions I most feel when listening to this. I’ve paired this song with another track that features Dave Goelz and Steve Whitmire. As Gonzo and Rizzo respectively, the guys have given us one of the Muppets’ tightest ever partnerships and arguably they’re biggest friendship outside of Kermit and Fozzie. I think A Green and Red Christmas is one of the best things the Muppets have done in the last 15 years. It’s not perfect, but when it’s right it’s very right. And this is right.
6 – Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas – A Christmas Together/Run, Run Rudolph – A Green and Red Christmas
I mean how do I even begin to describe this incredible version of Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas? It might be an impossible task. This is, and always has been, one of the standout tracks of this album for me and I’d be surprised if that wasn’t the case for everyone. This is pitch perfect. Speaking of which – I recently had a conversation with someone about this song and whether it was jolly or melancholy. I must admit I fall into the latter camp. I’ve never seen Meet Me in St. Louis so I can’t put it in context, but to me this song is as much about the people we can’t be with as the ones we can. Altogether a very different proposition is Run, Run Rudolph – another keyboard heavy tune sung by a character originated by Jim Henson. This is unadulterated joy with its upbeat arrangement, uptempo beat and upwardly mobile vocals. It’s easy to forget listening to this that Bill Barretta was new to performing Dr. Teeth at this point. This is masterful work from him!
5 – Bless Us All – Muppet Christmas Carol/It Feels Like Christmas – Muppet Christmas Carol
Gonzo might be the MVM (Most Valuable Muppet) in Muppet Christmas Carol, but Jerry Nelson is the MVMP (Most Valuable Muppet Performer). His characters handle some of the most important moments of the movie, but even better he crops up anywhere and everywhere as seemingly frivolous characters like rats, pigs and singing food. It’s these characters that bring the world of the Muppets to life so their contribution cannot be overstated… Bless Us All is a Christmas prayer that I know the management of this site holds in particularly high regard so I’m glad it got to feature here (Note from the editor: This song is a weak spot in the film. Don’t @ me). It Feels Like Christmas is a Muppet classic that thanks to its position as a linchpin moment in such a popular movie has become a legitimate Christmas classic too. I love hearing performers like Louise Gold and Karen Prell taking on some of the vocals, however the Ghost of Christmas Present performed by Jerry Nelson and Don Austen really is the star of the show.
4 – Keep Christmas With You – Christmas Eve on Sesame Street/Counting the Days – Sesame Street Christmas Singalong
Christmas Eve on Sesame Street is the best Sesame Street Christmas special. You can debate me on this, but you’d be wrong. I am probably biased as it was released the year I was born, but if you don’t think full-sized Sesame Street Muppets ice skating is one of the best things to ever happen you might want to re-evaluate your life. When you add to that the fantastic music, including this piece led by Bob McGrath, you can see how it’s pretty unstoppable. Children’s choirs can either make or break a song, but this is definitely the former. I’ll also admit to being biased towards Counting the Days. I recorded this track with my old A Cappella group and it even became the lead track (and title) of our Christmas album. I particularly enjoy hearing Oscar singing about how he can’t wait for Christmas to be over, but in actual fact this is full to bursting with neat character moments.
3 – The Christmas Wish – A Christmas Together/The 12 Days of Christmas – A Christmas Together
I’m not ashamed to say The Christmas Wish has the power to turn me into a blubbering mess every time I listen to it. Whether it’s Kermit’s solo or this duet with John Denver, its message of togetherness and love at Christmas regardless of faith, colour or creed are incredibly powerful. Christmas really is a time to come together, but this is more than a physical togetherness. It’s about uniting in heart and mind and soul too. That’s something the world forgets to do all too often. By contrast The 12 Days of Christmas is a fun, lightweight affair that the Muppets serve up with comedic panache. The version from the TV special allows the performers to include physical comedy as well as hilarious vocals so I’m featuring that one today. It also gets props for Fozzie’s running joke of getting his part wrong… Anyone who doesn’t sing “Badum, Bum Bum” after “5 Gold Rings” should probably be struck off your Christmas card list! I’m just sayin’…
2 – The Annual Carol Sing – Muppet Family Christmas/Jingle Bell Rock – Muppet Family Christmas
Christmas isn’t Christmas until I’ve watched Muppet Family Christmas and the Annual Carol Sing is the highlight for me. The songs selected, and their arrangements, make this one of the best carol medleys you’ll ever hear. Add to that the fact that a whole host of Muppets get to lead at some point and it makes it even more special. I love the inclusion of Muppety songs like Together at Christmas and It’s In Every One of Us – it adds a very special Muppetness you won’t find elsewhere. This is one of the defining Muppet moments for me. Jingle Bell Rock meanwhile is every bit as good but in a very different way. This is the definitive Electric Mayhem Christmas song. It’s a barnstorming performance done as only Dr. Teeth and co. could do. The fake out Kermit and Robin opening is inspired and makes the raucous nature of the song pop even more. Hearing Jerry Nelson as Floyd and Richard Hunt as Janice will always make my heart soar and every other member of the band (including Lips) gets a moment to shine too.
1 – The Peace Carol – A Christmas Together/Christmas is Coming – A Christmas Together
Christmas is Coming is such a simple piece, but therein lies its beauty. Timing out at not much more than a minute, it’s over before it’s started but it packs a lot into its short running time. Fun performances, character moments and infinite singability combine to make this a justified first place song. Meanwhile, The Peace Carol is a duet between John Denver and Richard Hunt. No further justification for putting it in first place is needed, but since that’s why I’m here I guess I should keep going. The theme of peace and brotherhood runs all through A Christmas Together and this might be the best example of that – it’s right there in the name. Everything about this song is perfect – the arrangement never gets ponderous, but lets us listen to the song’s message; the instrumentation is folksy in the best Muppet tradition, but never feels simple; and John Denver and Richard Hunt could sing the phonebook with emotional resonance. This verse seems particularly important this year…
“Add all the grief that people may bear;
Total the strife, the troubles and care;
Put them in columns and leave them right there;
The peace of Christmas Day”
There’s an old adage that every snowflake is unique and one of a kind – and that’s true, but if you zoom out it’s just another white blob in a sky full of them. I feel like Christmas is the same. Yes, every year’s celebrations are special and add to the moments we treasure for the rest of our lives, but one specific Christmas really is just another white blob in the sky if we zoom out and look at the bigger picture. This year will be different, but it won’t be your defining Christmas. In my family we still laugh at how someone guessed “Peggy Flip Flop” instead of “Peggy Sue” in charades – even though it was 25 years ago. In another 25 years time we’ll probably be laughing about how my Dad couldn’t get Zoom to work and we spent half an hour looking at his ceiling. Christmas is bigger than 2020 and will endure way beyond whatever the world is going through right now. And so will you.
Before I sign off I want to add in a couple of “Honorable Mentions” to songs that didn’t quite make the cut for one reason or another… “There’s a Promise” from Fraggle Rock; “12 Days of Christmas” from the Keep Christmas With You Concert; “The Legend of The Winter Berry” from Bear in the Big Blue House; “Little Saint Nick” from A Christmas Together and “When The River Meets The Sea” from Emmet Otter’s Jugband Christmas. All are worthy of a listen.
So I just need to wrap up by saying Thank You to everyone who performed or contributed in any way to the songs presented today. All 20 are Christmas classics. Thank you to all and to all a goodnight!