Kieran Moore – When I embarked on this mammoth celebration of the 40th anniversary of The Muppet Show (writing 40 yearly charts for every year since 1976), I knew there would occasionally be times when the lack of Muppet output would make things tricky. In fact, I didn’t think it would take this long to get to a time when that actually happened; but now I find myself in the year 2000 and I’m afraid it’s been slim pickings.
In 2000, the core Muppet Show gang were virtually nowhere to be seen; Bear (from the Big Blue House) was too busy doing home improvements to be on TV and the Sesame Street gang seemed to be relaxing after spending time so much time visiting Grouchland. What this means, ultimately, is that there hasn’t been a whole lot of brand new content for me to wade through this week. Whereas over the last few charts I’ve been turning songs away with a heavy heart, here I’m welcoming all comers. The upside to this is that it means I can shine a light on songs from sources I might not otherwise feature – such as Sesame Street animation…
10 – Every Kitty Sleeps – Sesame Street
Every Muppet fan knows Ruth Buzzi and, if you’re anything like me, loves Ruth Buzzi. Not only was she one of the first (and funniest) Muppet Show guest stars she also had a regular gig on Sesame Street as Ruthie for six years. Here she’s at her obnoxious best as Suzie Kabloozie, a precocious child who seems determined to keep her cats sleep-deprived. Suzie appeared on Sesame Street on and off for around 10 years – meaning she outlasted several well-loved Muppet characters and even the character of Ruthie herself! As I mentioned above, I don’t often get to talk about Sesame Street animation, but I do love the interesting way they can bring semi-regular characters into the fold. This song is an update on a Joe Raposo classic and I like the fun spin it’s given here.
9 – Alam Simsim Theme – Alam Simsim
Another Muppet thing I don’t get to talk about much is the wealth of international Sesame Street productions that exist. Over the last few years I can only think of an Elmo-sized handful of times they’ve been featured on one of my lists. I’m pleased to (slightly) tip the scales in the opposite direction here. Alam Simsim debuted in 2000 and was co-produced by Sesame Workshop and Al Karma Edutainment. According to Muppet wiki the show airs all across the Middle East and Iraq and features three main Muppet characters as well as dubbed appearances from other Sesame productions. Now that the UK has its own international Sesame Show with “The Furchester Hotel” I find it interesting to see how other countries interpret the philosophy of the original show to fit their own audiences. Alam Simsim, for example, seems to be set in much more of a fantasy world than Sesame Street.
8 – The Quack – Sesame Street
Ernie and Rubber Duckie get to channel their inner James Brown here! I can kind of see Ernie as the “Godfather of Soul” although for some reason I think Count von Count is more suited to playing that kind of role – I have no idea why. There’s minimal singing here really, but Steve Whitmire gets to indulge his love of scatting so that’s a real plus point. Another thing I love about this clip is the dialogue that leads up to it as Big Bird gets progressively more and more annoyed at Duckie and Ernie. Caroll provides some great sighs and other disgruntled noises that I’m not sure were scripted. Now he knows how poor Bert feels! This episode’s street story talks about how people can unwittingly be oblivious to the feelings of others and I like how it shows this from both sides so no one is to blame. With that thought hanging in the air I’ll leave you to get down with your bad self… OWWWWW!!!
7 – Me and My Jacket – Sesame Street
This is another song from a Sesame Street storyline. It seemed to be in 2000 that most new musical moments were as part of the episode’s story rather than stand-alone numbers. This jazzy piece takes its inspiration from “Me and My Shadow” and teaches that much-loved Sesame Street lesson of appreciating everyone’s differences. When you really think about it, all of Jim Henson’s creations and worlds have that philosophy running through them. It’s certainly there in Fraggle Rock, The Muppet Show and movies such as Labyrinth. This track might lack some of the sophistication of something like The Dark Crystal, but the message is no less effective. The Jacket puppet is awesome and Fran Brill and Stephanie D’Abruzzo do a wonderful job with this fun number.
6 – Everybody Nap – Sesame Street
Although I said this week eligible songs were thin on the ground, that doesn’t necessarily mean the quality is diminished. Certainly from here on out I’m happy that all of these songs would have appeared on a 2000 chart even with lots more to pick from. This track is a poppy, preppy, doo-wap style piece that I can’t help bopping to in my chair – I guess I shouldn’t be writing this at the dentist’s office! Stephanie D’Abruzzo is once again featured prominently here as Lulu – a monster that underwent quite a makeover in the space of just a few years. It’s a bit of a shame Lulu didn’t become more of a permanent fixture. I do think her design might be part of the problem as she didn’t really have much of a visual hook. Changing her appearance probably also didn’t help matters. Whatever the problem was, it certainly wasn’t Stephanie’s performance which is wonderful.
5 – Thath’ iphepha – Takalani Sesame
We’re travelling by map once again and heading all the way to South Africa for this cool, African-inflected piece. I think “cool” really is the right word for this track. Back in the 1990s when “the environment” became a hot topic, kids were tortured with all kinds of preachy songs that tried to be “hip” and “relevant”. Although Sesame Street is pretty good for that sort of thing, even they’ve been known to fall into that trap now and then. This song is the exact opposite and makes it effortless. It’s slightly grimy (for want of a better word) and has a swagger that says “Here’s my message, now listen.” This is another one that makes me move about in my chair – I guess I picked the wrong day to become a life model. I might not know what all of the words mean, but I do know the lyrics are inspired – rhyming river with liver surely wins a prize of some sort.
4 – Pride – Sesame Street
This song appeared in my recent Elmo chart in 10th place so is slowly creeping up the rankings (next stop number one!) I suppose through my charts it’s been well documented that I wasn’t the hugest fan of Elmo in the past (hey, we all like different things – it’s hard to believe, but some people don’t like “Bless us All”). However, over time I have come to appreciate him much more. There will always be hurdles I have to get over with Elmo, but my stance has softened somewhat. In this track he is the acceptable side of sweet and sickly and it’s hard not so share his sense of “Pride” as he sings about his accomplishments. I must admit I don’t know his name, but the Goo Goo Doll in the bright red hat is clearly the star of this clip though. Someone get him his own show!
3 – I Will Survive – Muppet Monster Adventure
I like Robin the Frog. There, I said it! One of the things I admire him for is his tenacity and staying power. If you look down his list of Muppet credits he’s been in just about everything they’ve done. Although there might be accusations of nepotism surrounding his starring role here, I prefer to think his longevity is down to talent first and foremost. In all seriousness, his enduring nature, I think, is due to Jerry Nelson and his brilliant characterization of our second favorite frog (sorry Bill fans). This song is a Muppet epic – most of their tunes don’t come in at 4+ minutes, but this does. I like that this song has various “movements” which take the song in different directions and the ending is a real “spirited” moment that’s wonderfully Muppety. This reminds me a little of the music from Muppet Treasure Island which is never a bad thing.
2 – Dance Myself to Sleep – Sesame Street
This song is wonderful from start to finish. In fact I think its ending might just be one of the best finales to a song I’ve ever seen! It makes me laugh every time I watch it. In the year 2000, possibly to catch up after “The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland”, Sesame Street really seemed really make use of its back catalog of songs with new versions popping up several times. In fact, many of this chart’s entries fall into that category. Michael Jeter does a fantastic job here. I guess to Sesame Street fans he’s best known as Mr Noodle’s brother, Mr Noodle; but he’s an accomplished actor and singer so it’s no surprise he can tackle this track with aplomb. I pretty much love everything about his performance here – his singing, his dancing, his ability to work with a herd of sheep (Heard of sheep…?) I especially love his outfit – I’ve found my next cosplay costume. In an alternate world this would be number one, but then I’m a sap so the next track had me hook, line and sinker…
1 – Different People, Different Ways – Sesame Street
From the moment I heard Alan’s version of this classic tune I fell in love with it, which makes sense given its theme of love in all its forms. This song dates way back to 1976 where Buffy sang it to Big Bird to let him know that she has the capacity to love him as well as her new baby. It goes without saying that this is an important message for kids. My younger brother is around 18 months my junior and apparently I was awful to him because I was so jealous of the attention he got. I think he still has the scars. Today, we have such an amazing bond so it’s all good. Although this song has a very literal meaning that can be taken at face value, its true strength really lies in the way it can be re-interpreted to suit other meanings. With family structures changing all around the world this song’s message states that love is, quite simply, love. It can manifest in all sorts of ways, some of which you might never fully understand, but that makes them no less valid. Love should be the thing that brings us together. Even when it’s different, it’s really the same. Alan Muraoka sings this beautifully and Sam Pottle and Tony Geiss wrote one of the best Sesame Street songs ever with this one. Bravo!
So there you have it. 2000 might well have been one of the leaner Muppet years, but I hope I’ve conclusively proved that quality will still find a way to shine. I guess after the busy years the guys had at the end of the 90s a rest was well-deserved, but I’d be happy if they could pick things up again. When “Porridge Alphabet” is a serious consideration, you do start to re-evaluate your life! So even though 2000 saw a lot of Muppet people sunning themselves on tropical beaches, learning the saxophone or organising their sock drawer; I do have to say an enormous Thank You for allowing me to consign that track to the “almost” pile! Thank You from the bottom of my porridgy heart!
Join me next time when the Muppets take the Santa Monica Civil Auditorium, Sesame Street takes the Boston Symphony Hall and Bear in the Big Blue House continues to take a break!