Kieran Moore – After 1990’s tearjerker top 10, this chart for 1991 finds us in somewhat happier times. Don’t get me wrong there’s still an air of sadness around this period (which will continue for a few years yet), but as Kermit promised at the end of The Muppets Celebrate Jim Henson, the gang would be “back with more Muppet stuff” and we see that come to fruition with very little delay.
“More Muppet stuff” obviously includes the continuation of Sesame Street and reruns of the always on TV (at that time at least) Muppet Babies; but also brand new television specials and shows that would go on to become fond favorites even now. Speaking of fond favorites, 1991 saw the premiere of one of the best-known and most-loved Muppet productions ever. With this weird mix of success and sadness 1991 was a strange year to be a Muppet fan – and speaking of weird and strange…
10 – By the Light of the Silvery Moon/Tea for Two – Muppet*Vision 3D Preshow
I’ve decided to combine these two tracks from the Muppet*Vision preshow into one chart entry as both only (kind of) half count as tracks for this chart – (which means they add up to one in total!) Both are hilarious and full of Muppet fun, but the real reason I wanted to be sure to include the Muppet*Vision preshow is that it’s going to be my last chance to include Scooter for a while. We’ll discuss it properly at a later point I’m sure, but after the death of performer Richard Hunt (in 1992); Scooter was retired for a really long time and even when he did return it was often in very brief cameos. Thanks to David Rudman he’s now a major player again, but for a while there… So soak in this Scootery goodness while you can and watch the whole video. It’s near on impossible to do this show justice on YouTube, but if you’ve never seen the show this will whet your appetite and make you want to start saving for a Walt Disney World trip.
9 – Big Bird’s Beautiful Birthday Bash – Big Bird’s Birthday or Let Me Eat Cake
It takes more than the death of one of its creators to stop Sesame Street! This is the opening number of a Sesame Street special that aired as part of a PBS pledge drive (and later as a regular episode with a few changes as well). As we saw in 1990’s chart, Jim Henson loved a Dixieland Jazz band and it seems Big Bird does too. Quite frankly so do I! Despite it cheesiness I can’t help but be enchanted by this song with its fun lyrical interjections. If there’s there a better lyric anywhere on this planet than “Don’t be tardy, we’re gonna have a party!” I haven’t found it yet! I love it when they show Sesame Street at its full height. I guess it’s often shot with the Muppets in mind so can seem quite small. This in comparison has a real feeling of height and space.
8 – What a Gift – Sesame Street
Back in the early 1990s the world had a really great agent and started forging lots of crossover deals with celebrities to try and raise its profile. This culminated in The Earth Day Special in 1990 (find in on YouTube – it’s awesome), but continued for several years after. Ok, so I’m being glib, but if you didn’t live through this period you have no idea how big of a deal the environment was back then. It genuinely felt like a celebrity in its own right. The Muppets had been championing “Bein’ Green” for about 20 years at this point so had a head start, but did their bit in the 90s with PSAs and songs like this which promote taking care of the world around you and looking after every living creature. This track is a good way to get the message to kids and after all they are arguably the people who can make the most difference. Caroll does a great job adding sweet sincerity to this message as only Big Bird can.
7 – Hey A Movie! – Muppets on Location: Days of Swine and Roses
This is the song that just keeps on giving! I mentioned in my 2016 chart at the end of last year that I was surprised to be including Hey as Movie! and now I find myself listing it for 1991 as well! This show is based around the Muppets filming a movie so it certainly makes sense to include it – it’s the perfect opener. Hey a Movie! really is a superb song thanks to the awesome talents of songwriter Joe Raposo. I absolutely think it deserves to be better known outside of Muppet fandom. The lyric changes that introduce the various characters and their roles in the filmmaking process here are a fun twist. Muppet wiki doesn’t show a screenwriter for this show so I don’t know who to heap the praise on for these lyrics – it could easily be a Muppet writer such as Bill Prady or Jerry Juhl or simply someone from Walt Disney Imagineering – either way whoever re-did this is ace!
6 – Dream a Little Dream of Me – Muppet*Vision 3D
1991 is a good year for Miss Piggy. She is the only Muppet to get a starring sequence in Muppet*Vision 3D and is the featured performer in Muppets on Location: Days of Swine and Roses. That said, based on what happens to her at the end of this performance it wasn’t exactly a great year. Piggy is a consummate professional and even in the face of Bean’s distractions is putting in a fantastic performance – up to a point. Once she’s finally had enough things go from bad to worse very quickly! Poor old Piggy! I actually feel kind of sorry for her when things like this happen. Sure she’s a diva, but she does actually have the talent and star power to back that up, so does she deserve to be picked on for it? Perhaps I’m over thinking it…! Watching these videos is really making me want to go back to Walt Disney World. It doesn’t help that this time last year I was at Disneyland in California. Who’s up for a Muppet*Vision meet sometime?
5 – Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man – Muppets on Location: Days of Swine and Roses
Miss Piggy really was having a good year for solo numbers in 1991. Unfortunately this kind of goes the same way as her previous performance with the other Muppets seemingly doing all they can to puncture her special moment. I do love the joke though of each Muppet doing it in a way that fits the lyrics and the fun twist of Gonzo taking a machine gun to Piggy! After Bean’s fish and Fozzie’s rubber chickens I expected Gonzo to present himself as the one man Piggy’s “got to love” until she dies – instead he tries to kill her! I must admit that did make me laugh. All round this song is great fun. Piggy’s Buster Keaton tribute at the end (as she literally brings the house down) and subsequent reaction are priceless. Frank Oz is in fine voice with a sultry Piggy performance.
4 – On the Road Again – Muppets on Location: Days of Swine and Roses
It should be said at this point (in case you hadn’t noticed) that this show is a musical tour de force! Each of the Electric Mayhem members gets to take the lead on a number during an extended instrumental break and this is Floyd’s contribution. I’ve always thought many of these human-sized Muppet costumes were a bit weird. Let’s be honest if you saw most of The Electric Mayhem coming down the street towards you in this form (bearing in mind they are supposed to be humans) you’d beat a hasty retreat at best. That said, I think Floyd looks pretty good here. The body shape of his performer seems to fit pretty well with what I would expect Floyd to look like in real life and other than his oversized head I actually think he’s pretty cool. Jerry Nelson sounds fab and groovy as always – this type of song really suits him.
3 – 42nd Street/Lullaby of Broadway/Happy Feet/Everything’s Coming Up Roses Medley – Muppets on Location: Days of Swine and Roses
This is classic Muppet territory. Even in 1991 they’ve been singing these songs since forever. As I watch this video now it’s easy to forget that Steve Whitmire was new to playing Kermit at this point as his voice is what we’ve come to expect. That is until he starts singing “Happy Feet” and then it’s really jarring. This isn’t to do Steve down at all it’s just that the Jim Henson version is so ingrained at this point that it can’t help but sound odd. I don’t think it’s because Steve was new to the character (although he has of course sung “Rainbow Connection” since with great success), just that even today you are far more likely to hear Jim’s version than any other. I’m not a person who’s bothered by “wrong sounding Muppets” (we don’t expect Sean Connery’s James Bond to be exactly the same as Pierce Brosnan’s), every performer is free to add their own spin on a character – this just stood out to me. Finally, I want to take this opportunity to praise the performers in the Muppet suits here. They do a great job of dancing and miming whilst honoring each character’s individuality. Well done!
2 – A Salute to all Nations (but Mostly America) – Muppet*Vision 3D
This is the best musical moment from Muppet*Vision 3D and arguably the best part of the whole show (although Fozzie’s cream pie is also pretty nifty). Like all the best Muppet stuff it combines humor and music brilliantly whilst also puncturing pomposity. It makes my heart happy that such a great sequence lives on at Walt Disney World for audiences to see daily, but it makes my heart even happier that that Muppet moment was directed by Jim Henson. I know Disney isn’t sentimental (despite trading on that emotion), but I’d like to think that Jim’s direct involvement in this movie might at some point have saved it from the chop. It’s a nice thought even if it’s not true. This whole sequence is a joy and really does make this show a must-see for any Muppet or Henson fan. If you haven’t seen it in person you really should try. Poor old Piggy gets it again I’m afraid. The writers really had it in for her back then, didn’t they?
1 – Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da – Muppets on Location: Days of Swine and Roses
I mentioned earlier that due to Richard Hunt’s untimely death we are now seeing his final performances of his signature characters and there’s a very real possibility that this is his last performance as Janice (we know he did some promo stuff for Muppet*Vision 3D as Scooter as it’s on YouTube). Janice actually has a really big role in this show which I find both surprising and heartening. Firstly, I’m surprised they gave such a large amount of dialogue to Richard whilst he was ill – Jerry Nelson as Floyd certainly could have taken on Janice’s role as unofficial compare; and I’m heartened by the fact that even in poor health Richard was happy to take on the responsibility. I didn’t know Richard personally, but his joy for performing is well documented and I like to think that this love made him want to be as involved as possible. I feel a kind of happy heartbreak that this song includes the line “life goes on” so prominently. I like to think this song is his gift to us and his fellow performers, letting us know everything will be ok. This might not be Richard’s last entry on one of my chronological charts, but if it is I’ll be happy it’s this song.
So as you can see 1991 was a bitter sweet year for the Muppets. In amongst mourning Jim’s death and sensing the loss of another great Muppet mind looming on the horizon there were actually some pretty amazing moments. I didn’t get to mention it earlier, but “Dinosaurs” debuted (as did Rosita and Baby Bear) and some chap called Bill Barretta joined the gang (whatever happened to him?) Also in 1991 Jim was awarded his posthumous star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, by a strange coincidence it is almost a year to the day since I made my pilgrimage to his star. As I stood there on that dusty urban street I obviously thought of Jim and was hit by how thankful I am for his existence. Today that thanks goes to everyone who worked with him (or without him) on any of the productions that debuted in 1991. You are all amazing.
So as 1991 draws to a close we find ourselves looking for the next classic moment and we don’t have long until it magically appears. After all, classic Muppets moments are in the singing of a street corner choir or going home and getting warm by the fire. It’s true, where ever you find love, it feels like Muppets…