Kieran Moore – The mid-nineties were a wonderful time to be alive! The Spice Girls were riding high in the charts, Titanic was sinking low in movie theaters and the Muppets still (just about) had a regular spot on TV. They were halcyon days for sure. Muppets Tonight! aired its second (and last) season on The Disney Channel in what could be seen as a coup for that particular channel and a disappointment for our favorite felt friends.
But, when one door closes another one opens and The Henson Company were poised to takeover children’s television once again with a hit show that is still beloved by those of a certain age. I’m talking, or course, about a certain bear in a certain brightly-colored abode. Yes, that’s right, 1997 saw the debut of “Bobo in the Maroon Mansion”. Who can forget his signature salsa dance? Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself – first we need to start with a finale…
10 – Lean on Me – Muppets Tonight!
Sometimes there’s such a wealth of great material for my charts I struggle to whittle them down to 10 songs. That’s exactly what happened here with two tracks vying for this spot even as I wrote the paragraph above. Lean on Me has just won the battle, but I also have to mention the song that just lost out and that’s Starfish and Coffee by The Artist Formally Known as Prince (I can’t keep up, is he just “Prince” now?) Starfish and Coffee seems like a celebration of all things Muppety and I hope I can include it some other time. Funnily enough, the reason this song found itself in 10th position is also because of how Muppety this feels. If you’re reading this site you’ll probably appreciate the parallels between this scene, with a guest star singing encouragement to a sad Muppet only to be joined by an increasingly large group of backing singers, and a classic moment from The Muppet Show that has gone on to hold a special place in Henson history. I also love Sam’s summing up of the situation. Everything about this clip gives me warm fuzzies.
9 – Strolling Through the Park One Day – Muppets Tonight!
Heather Locklear goes from being reasonably ok to pretty funny in this scene, but the real star of the show here is Kermit. Over the course of his 60+ years on this planet, Kermit has tackled an incredible range of musical styles from disco to African chants. As good as he is at all of these I really think the style of this piece is one that suits him best. It’s got that “old school” Muppets vibe that brings to mind The Muppets Show’s vaudeville/music hall traditions. Put it this way, if Kermit’s in a boater we know everything’s going to be ok with the world just a little bit longer. I was probably being a little unfair on Heather earlier – she does actually do a very good job of switching from sweet to sassy and the premise behind this clip is a lot of fun.
8 – Red and Blue – Sesame Street
This song appeared in my recent Elmo chart where I praised the way it splits up before coming back together for a perfect conclusion. I also called out “A Green and Red Christmas” for essentially stealing the idea (even though I love that song). It occurred to me as I was putting this list together that each song has a connection (even tenuously) to the one before. The previous two were both Muppets Tonight! closers with female guest stars. This and the previous piece are similar musical styles. Speaking of musical styles, so much Sesame Street music runs along this vaudeville/light jazz line that I guess you could say it’s their signature sound. Elmo and Grover work well together here in a number that should really be too cutesy, but somehow works anyway.
7 – The Goodbye Song – Bear in the Big Blue House
I don’t suppose with the last song being “Red and BLUE” I need to labor the connection here. This is such a lovely song and Noel MacNeal as Bear and Lynne Thigpen as Luna sing it so beautifully. This could very well be my favorite closing number from any Muppet production (though it has tough competition). It’s calm and soothing and perfectly matches the friendly ethos of the show. The Goodbye Song featured regularly throughout the show’s run and as such is one of its best known and most beloved tracks. It has appeared in theme park shows and also on several audio releases. Speaking of which, if you get the chance be sure to seek out Bear in the Big Blue House CDs or downloads. The music from the show is just about on a par with Fraggle Rock for me – it really is that good. I hope to feature more over the next few charts. Speaking of which…
6 – The Bear Cha Cha Cha – Bear in the Big Blue House
This song is quite rightly seen as a children’s TV classic. To go back to the Fraggle Rock comparison, other than the theme song I’m not sure there was ever a breakaway hit song from that show (despite how good the songs are). With Bear… there is no disputing the fact that this song was massive. Perhaps it’s because there was a Bear toy that danced to this tune or maybe it’s just a great song… Speaking of that toy, my nephew had one so this track always makes me think of him. Because of that, it will always hold a special place in my heart. I mentioned before that Noel MacNeal sings beautifully and it really is true. He has a voice that is pure and clear, yet expressive enough to handle a range of musical styles including rock and blues. The rest of the cast back him up brilliantly and really get into the swing of things. Ooh-la-la!
5 – The Coffee Song – Muppets Tonight!
This song also holds a special place in my heart as it takes me back to one of my very early charts where I mistakenly credited this vocal performance to Leslie Carrara-Rudolph only to have her husband Paul (who also happened to be the music co-ordinator for Muppets Tonight!) write in to tell me I was wrong. Far from being upset at having made a mistake, I was over the moon as this meant Leslie had read my words and (hopefully) enjoyed them. Whether it’s vanity or whatever, I must admit I get a kick out of thinking that Muppet people might read what I write. It was especially cool in this case as Leslie is a particular favorite of mine. Anyway, it is actually Mavis Davis, the Muppets Tonight! stage manager, singing here and although I’m sure she’s wonderful at stage managing I hope she’s still singing somewhere. I love the madcap vibe of this number and playing spot the random Muppet as it goes on!
4 – Opposites Attract – Muppets Tonight!
It’s two for two for Ms. Abdul on today’s chart! I just adore the staging and puppetry on display here. I’m going to go out on a limb and say if there isn’t something very similar to this number at the Hollywood Bowl shows I’ll eat my hat. It uses several Muppets that were designed purposely to be used in big arenas so showcases “full-bodied” puppetry brilliantly. I must admit it’s a little weird seeing Clfford with legs, but I often find Muppets with legs weird. The scene in the ghost town in The Muppet Movie always jars a little for me, as much as I love it. Anywho, speaking of Clifford as we begin to make our last few visits to the KMUP studios, I must praise Kevin Clash for doing a stand up job as the host of Muppets Tonight! It can’t have been an easy task for a whole variety of reasons, but he was never anything less than fantastic.
3 – She Gave Her Angels – Muppets Tonight!
In the war for chart supremacy, Prince (I’m going with that name) has ultimately beaten Paula Abdul so I guess all is fair in love and Muppet charts. I must quickly say for those of you with an encyclopaedic knowledge of Muppets Tonight! that I know most of these songs come from the same handful of episodes, but I promise everything was considered. Do I think this is Prince’s best song? Definitely not – yet there’s something about this clip that I can’t shake off. Maybe it’s the sentiment behind it or the staging, but it’s most likely the fact that this is what the Muppets do best – take a production full of silliness and slapstick and then punctuate it with a scene that’s full of beauty and emotion. It makes both sides of the coin so much more powerful. This song reminds me of “We Must Believe in Magic” from the Crystal Gayle episode of The Muppet Show and that’s no bad thing.
2 – Things That I Remember – Sesame Street
I should probably warn you that from the previous song onwards this chart gets emotional. You might need a tissue. This sweet song is so beautifully performed and staged. I love that it shines a light on just what makes Bert and Ernie the best of friends. I don’t know if I can say much about their relationship that hasn’t been discussed already, but this track probably sums up not just their friendship, but every single one across the world. The strongest bonds, whether they are between friends or families, are made that way by shared experiences. We’ve all got someone in our lives where a single word can bring about laughter or tears or any number of other reactions. That’s what this song is about. Bert and Ernie are the poster boys for friendship and this sweet song proves that their bond will never be broken.
1 – You and Me Against the World – Muppets Tonight!
As with 10th position there was also a tussle for top spot. It was very close between this track and the previous one. This has truly been one of the hardest charts to rank in a really, really long time. Things That I Remember is such a classic that if in your own head you want to swap these songs I wouldn’t blame you, but let me try and explain just why this deserves the top spot first. In a lot of ways it combines many of the elements that have made all of today’s songs so successful. The Muppets Tonight! Production team often cite this episode as the moment the show really clicked and worked out what it wanted to be. Looking back, in hindsight it feels like a cross between the original Muppet Show and the 2015 series; with larger backstage stories sharing space with the show within a show. This song is one of the few examples we have of what might have been. Despite first appearances, it’s also very funny. I laugh out loud every time Mama Fiama goes for the clown. It’s perfectly timed. Bill Barretta is superb here and seals Johnny’s fate as a Muppet star. Johnny and Sal are definitely ready for a comeback. Finally, this song is truly emotional and I defy anyone to listen to it and not be thinking of someone special. I know I can’t. This song is personal to me and I dare say to a lot of other people too. Only the best Muppet music can have mass appeal whilst talking to the individual – this song manages it perfectly.
I’ve written so much about the last song I’d better wrap this up quickly. As Muppets Tonight! fades further into the past I think it’s important to remember just how much this show got right as it’s gone down in history as a bit of a misstep. Everyone who worked on it deserves a huge amount of praise for helping cement the Muppets’ status as a star vehicle when it could have been very different in the 90s. So I must say “Thank You” to everyone who worked on that show as well as everything else the Muppets did in 1997. Thank You – I think it’s only now, 20 years on, your contribution can be properly appreciated.
Join me next time as Bear continues his reign over kids’ TV, Sesame Street gets a brand new segment and the world goes mad for a certain red monster…