Kieran Moore – Several momentous things happened in 1983, including the birth of my younger sister and the official beginning of the internet, but overshadowing all of them is the creation of one of Jim Henson’s biggest ever shows – Fraggle Rock.
That’s not to say it’s the only thing Jim and Co. did that year: the Muppets starred with John Denver in “Rocky Mountain Holiday” (earning a Grammy nomination in the process); Big Bird visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art and, rather more exotically, China; Sesame Street continued apace in its own right – airing the classic “Mr. Hooper” episode; and home entertainment in the form of albums, video games and VHS tapes were plentiful.
But… even in amongst all of that what is arguably Henson’s third most influential show, Fraggle Rock, really did shine through. This epic series explored life, love, the world and our place in it, and was generally pretty amazing. Needless to say, for this year in particular my chart is dominated by Fraggle Rock, but before I venture down below, I think a nap might be in order…
10 – Grandma’s Feather Bed – Rocky Mountain Holiday
Sadly this special hasn’t made as much of a dent on the chart as it might have done in other years. However, this song’s Muppet Show incarnation missed out on a place in my 1979 chart (thanks to another John Denver special) so I get to redress the balance here. I’ve always enjoyed this song – probably because it’s one of my mother’s favorite John Denver songs so it has a higher play count at home than some of his others. Jim Henson doesn’t feature much in this week’s chart as a performer (though he will be back) so I’m pleased I can highlight him here. We know from his performances as part of “The Country Trio” that he excels at this type of song with its tongue-twister lyrics, so it comes as no surprise that he sings this brilliantly. I don’t know about you, but I’d sell my first born child (if I had one) for the chance to sing ‘round a campfire with the Muppets!
9 – The Ballad of Sir Blunderbrain – Fraggle Rock
I guess up against some iconic Fraggle songs this track might be a bit of a shock entry here at number nine, but I absolutely love it. Try as I might I simply can’t leave it out. This is pure drama from the song’s first few gripping notes to its spooky conclusion. It’s exactly the kind of sequence that set Fraggle Rock apart from the competition. I’m sure they’ll get a mention again, but I have to take this opportunity to praise Philip Balsam and Dennis Lee for their extraordinary work on Fraggle Rock. The range of music they produced for the show was nothing short of phenomenal. Everything from folk ballads like this to rock to blues to gospel to marches to songs about soup – is there anything they can’t do? Best of all though, you get the feeling that they never wrote just for children. Their music is sophisticated and the lyrics don’t talk down and are frequently hilarious. Just listen in awe to lines like “A thousand years ago or maybe even 33”. Also, Richard Hunt.
8 – Sail Away – Fraggle Rock
This song is just delicious. I could listen to it forever and die a happy person. And I guess that slightly morbid note leads me nicely into my next point. This song, as well as several other Fraggle tunes could all be interpreted to have a double meaning about the end of life and the journey onwards. Have a listen to these lyrics and see what you think… There’s a great cover version of this on YouTube sung by Scott Stutzman who has made this part of a Fraggle Rock EP and I don’t know if it’s intentional or not, but every song he covers has some sort of overarching theme of death and rebirth. Check it out. Kathryn Mullen is fantastic as Mokey. Her performance is the reason why I’d always count her as my favorite Fraggle (Mokey that is, not Kathryn). I really identified with her as a kid. Which one of the Fraggle 5 were you?
7 – Follow Me – Fraggle Rock
This really feels like Gobo Fraggle’s theme. It would be interesting to think about what other songs could be considered the themes for other Fraggles. I have a few thoughts, but this seems like a fun topic for discussion so let me know your ideas below or on Facebook and we’ll see what we can come up with. This song is sung and reprised several times throughout Fraggle Rock’s run including in the episode “Born to Wonder” where Matt sings it to his Uncle Gobo. I don’t know about you, but the idea that there’s a Great Uncle Gobo just melts my heart. As someone without kids to sell, I like the idea that I can live on through my extended family. This song really does have a special place in Fraggle Rock history – it was Balsam and Lee’s audition piece for the show and was part a memorial tribute to Jerry Juhl. Above all, it’s just an amazing song of wanderlust and the dream of something bigger that really resonates with me.
6 – Gone Fishin’ – Rocky Mountain Holiday
We’re going to leave the rock for a moment, but are staying with the outdoorsy theme as we head off for a spot of piscine recreation with Floyd Pepper and John Denver (ably assisted by the randomly appearing Zoot). This might be the most relaxing song the Muppets have ever performed (or it could be “Lazy Bones”, but that doesn’t help me make my point, so we’ll gloss over that for now). It’s impossible to listen to this and not find yourself floating away on a comfortable cloud of dreaminess. This song could very well be John’s last performance on my yearly charts, so I want to take a moment to mention just how much I appreciate his work with the Muppets. I can’t think of a single time they’ve performed together that has been anything less than the very best of what they both can do. There’s a synchronicity in the ethos of both parties that means they fit together to produce something extra special every time. Here, it’s manifesting itself in partnership with the stunning vocals of Jerry Nelson – and what could be better than that?
5 – Dixie Wailin’ – Fraggle Rock
Regular readers will know that this song holds a special place in my heart as my a cappella group perform it (can I get away with a cheeky plug?), but as such it’s appeared lots of times on my charts before and is a former number one. I dithered a bit with where to place this track and I guess fifth place is a bit of a compromise between my own personal feelings and where I feel it sits in terms of importance to 1983. This song is quite clearly about death and I love the fact that Fraggle Rock didn’t shy away from such things. I always enjoy performing this song and then revealing to a stunned crowd just where it originated. You didn’t get stuff like this on Barney! I’d like this song played at my funeral (along with a couple of other Muppet tracks) as it sums up just how I’d like the whole affair to go.
4 – Friendship Song – Fraggle Rock
This song isn’t just a former number one, it also scored sixth place on my all-time number one chart earlier this year so I think I can safely say it is one of my favorite Muppet songs ever. For many, many years I had a list of favorite Fraggles and Red was sadly well and truly at the bottom of it. I don’t know why – I guess I found her a bit full on and, as I mentioned earlier, I identified more with Mokey as a kid. Red seemed on the face of it to be very different to me with her desire to be the best and love of sports. However, as I’ve re-watched Fraggle Rock as an adult and trawled the musical archives as part of writing these charts, I’ve come to really like her as a flawed and interesting character. In fact, I’d go as far as to say I think she’s the most rounded character on the show. Behind the type-A façade she’s a fragile Fraggle who is looking for her place in the world and just wants to be liked and loved. I think there’s a little Red in all of us and I’m proud to wear my Redness daily as a badge of honor.
3 – Let Me Be Your Song – Fraggle Rock
In my mind I didn’t think anything could topple this stupendous song from the top spot and yet here it is in third place. Mind (well and truly) blown. The opening pipe music that accompanies this track is beautiful, but the second the song proper starts I’m just swept up in its new age rhythms. I’ve never really thought about the musical influences of this track before, but with its bongo drum percussion and Arabian nights feel it is definitely (Fraggle) rocking the Kasbah. I guess it fits Cantus’ shaman like standing within Fraggle folklore (even if geographically standing my references are a little askew). This song has always kind of summed up my philosophy on life and with Cantus seeming like an extension of Jim Henson I wonder if the reason I’ve always been attracted to the Muppets is because on some level we see things the same?
2 – Mothers and Children – Don’t Eat the Pictures
I couldn’t bear not to feature some Sesame Street somewhere on this list so I’m pleased this song presented itself in all its glory. I am 100% confident that in other years this song would be number one and perhaps next year for Mothers’ Day it will get its chance. This is simply stunning with its beautiful European waltz feel. It makes me think of grand balls in snowy palaces somewhere out east. I guess the clock at the start sets the scene… An opulent golden hall filled with dignitaries and Royals conversing over drinks as debutantes come swirling down ornate staircases and join the dancing. Outside snow falls on an immaculately kept garden and a frozen fountain reflects the twinkling lights from within. But there’s a wistful, mournful element here so along with the majesty of the evening a love is lost and a heart broken. I’m completely swept away by this piece in a way a song hasn’t managed for quite a while. It’s just incredible. Also, Alaina Reed.
1 – Fraggle Rock Theme – Fraggle Rock
I really deliberated over which song was going to snag first place this week, but this totally won out because of its iconic status. If there’s another Muppet song that debuted in 1983 that’s as well known I’m afraid I don’t know it. That opening bass guitar line is quite possibly one of the best known since “Smoke on the Water”. I reckon you could play it to anyone of my generation and they would know what was coming next – certainly here in the UK where the show was free to air. Last year DenofGeek.com ranked this as the 24th best 80s kids TV theme song and Mashable.com had it at 22. To put that into context “Muppet Babies” didn’t feature on either list! This song even hit number 33 on the pop charts in the UK. I remember having it on a 7 inch floppy disk (gosh, I’m old), which I think came free; either on the front of a comic book or stuck to the inside of a box of cereal. Who can remember when cereal gave away stuff worth having? Sadly, that doesn’t happen anymore (gosh, I really am old!) Anyway, this track does an awesome job of introducing the various characters and creatures of the show and the extended version, as linked here, is probably the best of the half dozen or so cuts available.
So that’s 1983 in a nutshell. I think we can all agree it was an awesome time to be a kid and a Muppet fan. Fraggle Rock is quite possibly the most important TV show ever made (sorry “Cats do the Funniest Things”) and I’m so glad a new generation will get to grow up with it. This week’s honorable mentions go to “Why”, “A Helping Hand”, “Can You Tell Me How to Get to Yellowstone Park?”, “Letter B”, “Going Camping” “Convincing John” and “Beetle Song”. A huge thank you goes to everyone who travelled the globe in one way or another to bring such awesome entertainment our way. We are forever in your debt.
Join me next week as we see the Muppets get together again to sample “Quelle Différence” and make it big on Broadway.