Another Look at "The Green Album"

Muppets: The Green Album – Riding Up the Down Elevator

 Green Album Fan-Drawn Cover by Danny Beckwith

Catherine Edwards – Some of you younger fans will never know the stunned surprise of listening to elevator music that has been made out of—gasp!—all the cool songs that you sang along with/danced to when you were young, because some of you are too… um… some of you apparently haven’t ever ridden in elevators. But take it from me, a veteran of elevators (and their predecessors, stairs), that there is nothing that will jolt you back in time more than the joyful recognition of an old favorite sung in a completely different way. This album was a lot like that for me—each successive track taking me back and back and way, waaaay off the beaten track as I reminisced through years of Muppet listening.

A word of warning—this isn’t really going to be a review. This is really just going to be a series of musings on the music on Muppets: The Green Album that may or may not be interesting to you. I’m not trying to sell you on the album, or the artists, or the songs or even the Muppets. But for some of you old-school felt fans who have, um, ridden in elevators for years now, I share my thoughts for what they are worth.

I bought the album with an iTunes gift card that I got for Christmas, and—until now—my fear of annoying technology (i.e., iTunes) had prevented me from using the card. But when I discovered that the album was going to be available as a download within 24 hours of an 8-hour-long car trip I was making, well, I galvanized into action and made myself figure out how to use the card AND download the songs for the road. (That’s two—two—scary technology things in one day! Ah ha ha!) And only three calls to customer service! (I was on a roll.)

The first song, and therefore the whole album, starts off with a sort of mad-scientist’s lair technical sound, which buzzed through my ear candy to set my ears aglow. When I heard that sound I kind of figured that all bets were off, and this album was going to be unique—both vocally and musically—and that sounded Muppety to me.

Perhaps I’d better say right now—just for the record—that I didn’t recognize any of the bands or singers on the album—at all. I really can’t imagine that it matters whether I did. I didn’t buy the album because of the bands or singers that were on it—I sincerely doubt that any of the bands or singers on the album will have fans who buy the album just because they have one song on it, so I don’t really understand why that should matter. To be frank (as opposed to Jim, or Jerry, I suppose), the Muppets were equal-opportunity maimers of all types of music and I never didn’t like a sketch because the music wasn’t what I bought when I bought music. Anywho…

The Muppet Show Theme Song – OK Go
The initial sound is edgy and wired, and the other-worldly synthed-out vocals went with that whole vibe. Remember when The Muppet Show was taken over by pigs? This is “The Muppet Show Theme” taken over by mad scientists who have a rock band on the side. It’s full of energy and the bass just thumps you right along. The “Flight of the Bumblebee” bridge in the middle is both a nod to the classics (which most of us heard on cartoons growing up—if you are of an age to ride elevators, that is) and a nod to The Great Gonzo, who attempted to eat a tire to the tune of “Flight of the Bumblebee” on The Muppet Show. I though OK Go brought it—and left most of it with me when the song was over. (And that’s before I saw the music video!)

Rainbow Connection – Weezer and Hayley Williams
I finally had to go and look to see who was Weezer and who was Hayley because I couldn’t figure out from listening who was supposed to be who. Apparently, Weezer is a group, and Rivers Cuomo is their lead singer, so I am assuming that Rivers is the singer I’m hearing first. In my opinion, the first singer (from Weezer) sounded earnest and wistful, the exact sound I would think is appropriate for this song. Hayley, on the other hand, sounded sort of deadly calm and unmoved, which didn’t really work for me. She has a nice voice, and it’s a beautiful song, but as far as I’m concerned, it would have been better with just Weezer. Maybe it’s because the name Weezer sounds sort of like a long-lost Muppet friend  (“…and now, it is my pleasure to introduce Weezer, the banjo-playing Muppet…”), or maybe it’s because their lead singer didn’t seem to be sounding “too cool to sing this song.” The “la da dee do” parts (and you have no idea how much my spell checker hates that phrase) sung by Hayley don’t sound spontaneous at all—which is how Kermit sang them and—indeed—how they are meant to be sung. When Kermit sings this song, I get an actual lump in my throat (no—a lump­—not a frog), but I didn’t get that from hearing this version of this song. What I did get was a huge jolt of nostalgia hearing a song I love sung well but with a little less heart than the original. I’ll take that. Sure. I am definitely not too cool to listen to that.

Mahna Mahna – The Fray
I could not imagine how this song was going to work when I heard it was going to be on the album. Sometimes Muppet humor is… just that, and while I know that Mahna Mahna was not actually written for the Muppets (although many think it was), it has become one of the quintessential Muppet songs. Personally, I thought the song rocked, with just the right touch of bewildered, rocked out (dare I say stoned out) minimalism to last until the song was over. Just a hint, a taste, a soupcon, appetizer… eh, you get what I’m going for here. The song itself is funny, with or without visuals, and I did not mind to wade into this Fray with the band just long enough to get lost in this song.

Movin’ Right Along – Alkaline Trio
This is a written-for the Muppets song, but I think that any band that spends more than six weeks on the road ought to be allowed—by statute—to sing this song at the top of their lungs in any car with the top down. The lyrics are hilarious and just right for a frog and a bear—or a band—on the road. Different voices singing the familiar lyrics was sort of like discussing something that I love with someone who loved it, too—a kindred spirit kind of thing, which is exactly what this song is all about. I’ve read some reviews and some comments about the The Green Album so far, and I don’t think it’s useful to listen to an homage album like this if all you are going to say is, “I liked the original version better.” Of course you did—it’s why you bought this album in the first place. Got it. No, really. We got it—now move on. And while you’re at it, you can sing this song…

Our World – My Morning Jacket
This is a lovely song, full of lovely sentiment, and what I liked a great deal about it was how clearly and crisply I could understand both of the intertwined songs. That is a little harder to do in the original Emmet Otter version. The way this song was presented—the style of the vocals and the old-fashioned instrument sound—brought back fond memories of folk music when folk music was still about making the beautiful world more beautiful through love and peace. When I listened to this song, I thought about Jim Henson’s hope of making the world a better place than he found it. I’m pretty sure he succeeded here as well as he did in other ways.

Halfway Down the Stairs – Amy Lee
This is a different sound for this song, but I found it vocally and musically interesting.  (It actually reminded me a lot of the scene in Labyrinth when Sarah is trying to break out of the spell she is under, but that’s another Henson story for another day.) Although the emotive impact of this song is presented differently, there is still a deep sense of longing that comes shining through. When Robin sang this song, it was a song about the in-between-ness of childhood and the ambivalence and hope and wonder that accompany that time of life. (Unless, of course, it was just a cute song sung by an even cuter little frog.) Amy Lee’s version also speaks to in-between-ness and ambivalence, but the shift that I felt had to do with the choices that we face as adults—the decision to let that wonder and hope slip away or to go looking for it.  (Knew that secondary degree in Psychology would come in useful someday…)

Mr. Bassman – Sondre Lerche
If this song doesn’t light a spark in you, your wood’s wet. It’s got pep, verve and amazingly fun lyrics. While the Muppets did a great, Muppety version of this song, this one is just tons of fun, too. If you can listen to this song and not want to tap your toe, you have my sympathy.

Wishing Song – The Airborne Toxic Event
And here I thought Gonzo had a corner on soulfully singing soulful songs.  I think it takes a certain amount of vision to reshape a song sung by a whatever and a chicken into something that I can easily see being played in school gymnasiums while students thrash about in clumps, and I’m thinking that’s a good thing (in case you weren’t sure). Muppet fans, for years, have bemoaned the fact that our much beloved characters are not being properly introduced to the younger generation, and a great deal of the moaning is being done by people who have never ridden in an elevator, but if we want younger fans to see our guys as relevant, we can’t go around preaching disdain for what drives them. This song would do it, so I’m going to say, “It’s got a great beat. You could totally dance to it.”

Night Life – Brandon Saller and Billy Martin
This is a song that didn’t actually feel Muppety to me when the Muppets did it, so I don’t know quite what to say. This version—like the Muppet version—has a driving pulse and tons of energy. That it’s not my cup of tea doesn’t mean it isn’t a perfectly good cup of joe.

Bein’ Green – Andrew Bird
I guess the violin should have been the first big clue that this song was going to be interpreted more as a dirge than a song of affirmation and hope. Kermit uses this song to examine the things about himself that seem mundane in comparison to qualities that others have, and to finally conclude that what he has is not only okay, but good. There is a sort of cheerful defiance to this song that I found missing—not because Kermit wasn’t singing it, but because that’s what the song seemed to call for. The instrumental section is very… spritely and peppy and completely at odds with the first part of the song, more so because it starts out with the whistling. I really like this song, but I didn’t really care for this version of it. I think it’s because the emotional intent kept switching and I felt a little whip-lashed at the end.

I Hope That Something Better Comes Along – Matt Nathanson
The organ music totally worked for me—this was the song sung as it could be sung in a bar that used to be a church. And since Mr. Nathanson is going to preach to us about the joys and travails of being in love, well, this is a great back-drop for it. What the song shares with the original is the breezy, tinkling-the-ivories feel—that this is a song you sing when you’re a little tipsy, and a little depressed about love, but ultimately optimistic that you’ll get it figured out in the end. This will certainly do until something better comes along—if it ever does.

I’m Going to Go Back There Someday – Rachael Yamagata
When Gonzo sang this song in The Muppet Movie, it made my heart swell in my chest and tears start into my eyes because it made me feel… full, and hopeful and wistful and homesick for something I might never have, or might never have again. Paul Williams was at his most brilliant (which is saying something) when he penned this song. I didn’t think it was possible for this song to fail to move me, no matter who was singing it. Apparently, I was wrong. This one—perhaps the one I most looked forward to—was just too… elevator-y, even for me. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy it playing in the background, but it was just that—background music.

Well, that;s my take on the album—to take or to leave. Jim said, “Write your own ending.” I’ll conclude by saying, “Write your own review.” It won’t be the same as mine, but I’d probably like to read it anyway.

The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier,

One thought on “Another Look at "The Green Album"

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