Kieran Moore – When it was announced earlier this month that Muppet performer Fran Brill was retiring, the news quickly whisked its way through the fuzzier sections of the World Wide Web and was met with both universal sadness and admiration. The revelation brought about a strange mix of shock and inevitability. A Muppeteer that began her career with The Great Santa Claus Switch was surely going to think about giving her arm a rest soon. Yet, as one of Sesame Street’s longest running performers, a lot of us grew up with her characters, and although they’ll go on, it might be a while before they feel quite right again, if ever. However, we want to dwell on the positive here so let’s relive some happy memories. In honor of this great woman, we count down Fran Brill’s Top 10 Songs…
Last week for my Jim Henson Top 10 I included songs in which only Jim performed. From this chart on I will use songs where the performer in question features in the main bulk of the song and performs at least 50% of it.
10. The Question Song – Mary Lou
This sweet song sung by Mary Lou is the perfect example of why for so many years Fran was the go to performer for little girls on Sesame Street. There’s a real sweet charm about this song that I absolutely adore. With Grover’s fun interjections where he get the answers to the questions so obviously wrong, this song combines all the elements of what the show does best – there’s music, humor, education and heart. What more could anyone want?
9. Girls of the World – Zoe, Prairie Dawn, Betty Lou, and Rosita
Last week I was in the unusual position of being able to include a duet with only one performer – this week I’m confusing things further by including with a quartet where 50% of the lyrics are sung by two characters and one performer! The inside of my brain looks like a set from Labyrinth right now! This is a great sassy anthem for all little girls out there and a fun take on the “I’m a Woman” classic. I imagine my niece (who is the least girly-girl I know) agreeing with this song wholeheartedly. Of course, she wouldn’t be dressed like they do for this song – she’s far too hipster for that!
8. 1-5 – Polly Darton
I’ll admit it, I’m a bit of a closet Dolly Parton fan and 9-5 is one of my absolute favourite Dolly songs (and regular karaoke numbers) so this song had to make the list. I’ll admit that coming from the UK my Sesame Street knowledge is lacking (it hasn’t been shown here for years), but I remember Polly from back in the day which means Fran must have been doing something right. I love the sense of fun that she brings to this song; the little giggles and the way Polly’s hair waves around just put a grin on my face. I could watch this all day.
7. I’ve Been Working on the Railroad – Zoe
As I said in the last entry Sesame Street hasn’t been shown in the UK for years and as a relative newcomer to the main core of characters Zoe has somewhat passed me by. I must admit now having done some delving into Fran’s characters I have become instantly smitten with Zoe and her enthusiasm which is neatly portrayed in this song. We’ve all heard this children’s standard on some kids’ compilation album or other. I’m sure Mickey and friends have had a go and there must be a Chipmunks version, but I’ll bet all the money in my pocket that none of them sing it with as much joy and spirit. You know you’re enjoying a song when you wish there wasn’t a Cookie Monster cameo…
6. Little Things – Prairie Dawn
Anyone who read last week’s chart will know that I love a mellow Muppet moment and “Little Things” is Joe Raposo at his introspective best. There are definite echoes of “Bein’ Green” here. Having Prairie Dawn sing this song, a little thing herself, makes this the ultimate in self-affirmation. It also illustrates the softer side that she presents at first glance, but as we all know there’s more to Prairie Dawn than meets the eye.
5. Wavin’ Goodbye to You with My Heart – Polly Darton
Doesn’t every Muppet fan love a banjo? Growing up with Kermit and all that great country/bluegrass/jug band music on The Muppet Show has really made me appreciate its sound. I’ll admit the sound of the banjo in the Muppets Most Wanted soundtrack when Piggy picks the real Kermit gets me a little choked. Once again, I just love the fun comedy element of this song and the way Fran is able to inject some humor into what could be quite a sad song. The final payoff with “nose” is comedy gold.
4. All By Myself – Prairie Dawn
Completing our Prairie Dawn/Polly Darton/Prairie Dawn sandwich is All By Myself. This song has echoes of Bugsy Malone for me – surely this song was originally written for Tallulah to sing at Fat Sam’s? This is the ying to “Little Things’” yang and shows Prairie Dawn’s fun, independent side. I love the fact that Fran turned her into a fully-rounded character when she was really destined to be the prissy little girl who was the butt of the joke. This is the perfect example of why Muppeteers are master actors and not just people with puppets.
3. I’m in Love with a Big Blue Frog – Mary Louise
What’s not to love about Fran’s only Muppet Show entry on this list? I know I’m sounding like a broken record now, but again Fran gives such a fun and enthusiastic performance that’s impossible not to think this is great. But this isn’t just another example of why Fran is so “Brill” it also shows just how good those core Muppeteers were back in the day. Every Muppet fan knows that if you want to really enjoy The Muppet Show you watch what’s going on in the background and the performers seem to be having a riot here. Watch Kermit from the last verse onwards to see what I mean.
2. My Name is Zoe – Zoe
Just as with last week, my number 2 song could very easily have been my number 1 song on a different day. This is the song that made me love Zoe. I’m sure that for someone out there this is the song that made them hate Zoe – if this is you let me know in the comments, but I just love the way Fran performs this. The super-excited actions and gusto-filled vocal performance full of giggles and squeals just make me want to give Zoe a big ol’ hug. I know I’ve been going on about the way Fran Brill brings such life to her characters, but this is the ultimate example of that in my opinion hence its high placing on the chart.
1. Please Don’t Bump into Me – The Porcupine
Could this song from Billy Bunny’s Animal Songs be any different from the last song? If this song had appeared on Sesame Street I think the porcupine might have had more than just a great singing voice in common with Katy Perry. This song was probably to risqué for Tallulah and yet here it is in a Muppet sing-along video! This is Fran’s musical highlight for me. Free of the constraints of playing the little girls that she does so well she can portray a much more grown up character here expanding on what we saw earlier with Polly Darton. This is the vamp anthem to end all others. I’d love to see a Piggy/Porcupine duet! This song and the Billy Bunny video also hold a special place in my heart as when my nephew started showing an interest in Muppets at age 5 this was one of the things I showed him to get him hooked.
He’s now a huge Muppet fan so I’d like to thank Fran personally for the part she played in helping the Muppets live on for a new generation – not just for my nephew, but for children around the world. Thanks Fran!
The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier, firstname.lastname@example.org