Kieran Moore – As a lifelong Muppet fan I know the history of our favorite characters pretty well, and yet as I write about the early noughties I often find myself making little discoveries and comparisons I hadn’t considered before. If you remember, last week’s chart based on 2001 was filled almost completely with songs from “The Muppet Show Live” at Muppetfest. That wasn’t just by choice; it seems over the first few years of the new century many Muppet/Henson productions were taking it easy after a jam-packed 1990s. That all changes in 2002…
Sesame Street was once again loaded with new musical segments, Bear in the Big Blue House was back after a break and the Muppets were everywhere as they had not one, but two specials to promote. What this means for me, is there’s been a veritable cornucopia of varied and interesting stuff to go through for today’s list. I knew that things were “up and down” for the Muppets – particularly Kermit and Co. – for a while, but it wasn’t until just this week I think I grasped that fully.
10 – We Are All Earthlings – Sesame Street
I love the diverse range of musical guests Sesame Street features, particularly as here in the UK it means I get to find out about artists I may have missed otherwise. Sadly, for whatever reason Jill Scott has failed to make much of an impact here – it’s definitely not lack of talent though. I’ll admit to not being the biggest fan of this song in most forms as it can be a bit too sappy for me, but Jill sings it with a kind of regal elegance that feels big and important, whilst keeping it light and fun. It’s a tricky combination for sure, but Jill makes it look effortless. I like the fantastical setting of this piece – it makes Jill seems almost Mother Nature like without going to the trouble of dressing her in leaves or anything corny like that. The final effect with the bird flying away is very cool, too.
9 – A New Way to Walk – Sesame Street
There’s a definite theme emerging with these first two songs as female guest stars record their own versions of classic Sesame Street tracks. You’ll be pleased to know I am well aware of who Destiny’s Child are – I even like some of their tracks! Sesame Street often gets the very biggest stars appearing and in 2002 Destiny’s Child really were at the height of their success. Aside from the song here, the first thing that hit me about this performance is how plainly dressed the girls are (even though Beyoncé got the hat, naturally). It’s quite a contrast from their music video personas, and perhaps something Katy Perry should have taken note of! Of course, because it’s Destiny’s Child you’ll struggle to criticize the singing – even if this does feel a bit “safe” even for Sesame Street. That said, the full-body puppetry does liven things up – I love the way Zoe tiptoes like a ballerina!
8 – Follow Your Star – Kermit’s Swamp Years
I have to be honest and say I haven’t seen Kermit’s Swamp Years in a really long time – I’m probably due a re-watch. I think it’s safe to say this special isn’t that fondly remembered by most Muppet fans, but then I’d wager most Muppet fans aren’t really the target audience for Kermit’s Swamp Years. I seem to remember there being a few fun moments in this direct-to-video movie, and sometimes that’s enough. Follow Your Star appears twice in very different guises in Kermit’s Swamp Years. This is the reprise at the end of the movie and unusually is actually longer than the track’s original outing – a much more wistful solo from Kermit. There are lots of fun call-backs (call-forwards?) in Kermit’s Swamp Years and this brings to mind the iconic shooting star scene in The Muppet Movie. All in all, this is a sweet/fun song depending on which version you prefer – I just with it was longer.
7 – No Harm – Bear in the Big Blue House
2001 was a year when the world changed. With the attacks that took place on 9/11, we entered a new era that meant a whole generation had to learn very quickly that the world isn’t always a nice place. With that lesson though, and thanks to the incredible bravery of so many people, came another important message that rang out loud and clear – when times are tough and the chips are down, people and communities can do wonderful things. And so it came to be that several children’s TV shows indirectly addressed the events of 9/11 and created a way for kids and caregivers to discuss them in a non-scary way. Sesame Street and Bear in the Big Blue House both aired special episodes and this song comes from Bear’s. “No Harm” reminds Ojo that whatever happens there’s nothing that can’t be overcome when people work together. I remember having a similar conversation with one of the kids in my life, although not in relation to 9/11, so this really strikes a chord with me and no doubt will with you too.
6 – Moulin Scrooge – It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie
And now for something completely different… I guess this is more of a scene/sketch than a song, but I think it works so well as a whole piece I can’t really separate it. Gonzo is perfect, Fozzie is perfect, Robin is perfect, Piggy is perfect – the characters work brilliantly as themselves, but also fantastically well as the Moulin Rouge characters they are parodying. Even Pepe, who isn’t really a part of the sketch proper, gets the chance to make me laugh. In fact, just about everything does – the Elvises, the crisscross songs, Fozzie’s backstroke joke. This is the Muppets getting parodies 100% right. It’s a Very Merry Muppet Thingamy-Doo-Dah is another production from 2002 that doesn’t get much love from fans. The whole Fozzie chase scene is awful – in fact I struggle to say much that’s positive about Fozzie’s story in general, but I really do hold this sequence as a shining beacon of what the show did well.
5 – Life as a Pet – Kermit’s Swamp Years
This is the closest to a full blown production number that Kermit’s Swamp Years gets. It’s a Gospel inspired piece that sounds to me like it came straight out of the Fraggle rock songbook (which is never a bad thing). Who couldn’t picture Convincing John singing this one? Steve Whitmire puts a hard edge on his Kermit voice and pitches this somewhere between our favorite frog and Stuckweed from “Elmo in Grouchland”. It’s not somewhere we heard him go very often, but I really wish we had – he does a great job selling this song. As mentioned earlier, this special likes to make nods to other Muppet productions and here we get a “new leash on life” reference. It’s cool how they drop hints to things that come up in later life for Kermit – even if he wasn’t here to hear it. Aside from this joke, there are plenty of other neat moments throughout this song that make it as fun to watch as it is to listen to.
4 – Woodland Valley Cha Cha Cha – Bear in the Big Blue House
As we near the end of Bear’s original TV run there’s every chance that this is his last appearance on my yearly charts, which makes me kind of sad. If we do have to say goodbye for a while though, I can’t think of a better way to do it. Bear is famous for loving a cha cha cha and brings us (and the show) full circle by revisiting that much-cherished art form. He’s even brought all his friends along for a sing along moment that’s impossible to sit still to! Season 4 of Bear… saw his universe expand into new locations around Woodland Valley and this song puts the town front and center as well. As this is my last chance for a while to praise the cast of this show, I have to give a huge shout out to Noel MacNeal, Peter Linz, Tyler Bunch, Vicki Eibner, Tara Mooney, Lynne Thigpen and a whole host of talented puppeteers and performers. The show really was a huge part of so many childhoods and along with the writers, composers and backstage team you really made a lot of people very happy.
3 – Keep Fishin’ – Weezer Music Video
I’ll admit, I had to have a conversation with myself over whether or not this music video was eligible for my charts, but it’s not so different really from many other musical moments that appeared in The Muppet Show proper – it’s just that this isn’t from a Muppet production per se. It does open my charts up to a song about crumpets at some point though, so that’ll do for me! It’s understandable under the circumstances, but my biggest disappointment about this is simply that the Muppets are forced to lip-sync to someone else’s singing. It might have been fun to have a version with their voices included as well. Nostalgia’s a funny old thing – I saw so many people criticize the 2015 show and say “they” should have made a new version of The Muppet Show instead and I just couldn’t agree with them, the gang needs to be constantly moving forward to survive. And yet I find myself drawn to moments that put the Muppets back in their theater setting like the recent Hollywood shows, the 2011 movie’s telethon, the Moulin Scrooge clip and this video. It’s a head scratcher for sure.
2 – No Letter Better Than B – Sesame Street
In the battle of the country and RnB diva groups, country music has won by a landslide this week. I’m loving this groovy tune. To be honest, country isn’t my favorite musical genre; but there’s something about this track I find totally irresistible. I guess it’s partly down to the laidback vibe that’s going on – it makes me think of songs like “Ain’t No Road Too Long” and “Easy Goin’ Day” from “Follow that Bird”. However, it’s mostly down to The Dixie Chicks themselves. I adore their harmonies. Just those opening “B’s” show what they can do – taking something that could be incredibly simple and elevating it to something sublime. The Muppet presence in this clip isn’t too shabby either. Along with a gaggle of chickens (a joke for the hard of subtlety), the combination of Big Bird, Bert and Baby Bear is fun and unusual and nothing can ever go wrong when there’s a cameo by The Count. All in all, this turns a song that could be fairly run-of-the-mill into a real Sesame Street highlight.
1 – Everyone Matters – It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie
I guess on the face of it this song seems like the obvious choice for number one – it’s certainly the most high profile Muppet track of 2002 and, as happens with a lot of Christmas songs, it seems to have really struck a chord with the public. I have to be honest though and say it really wasn’t the shoo-in some might have expected. Let me explain… This is a sweet song and anytime Kermit and Gonzo get together is always special, but I find it a little too downbeat most of the time to really hit the Muppet heights. Sad Gonzo can be wonderful thing, but here I feel it’s taken too far and he seems completely devoid of the spark that makes him, him. I know we’re supposed to feel that not having Kermit in his life has made him this way, but this is a guy who even before he met Kermit wanted to go to Bombay to pursue a movie career – what has happened in his life that he would lose that drive? It’s funny because you could very easily compare this song to “I Wish I Could Be Santa Claus”, which also features a sad Gonzo, but where that song is filled with hope, Everyone Matters just seems overly bleak in places. On the flipside, the song features a great chorus that comes back to provide a brilliant heart-warming finale. Add into the mix fabulous performances by Steve Whitmire and Dave Goelz and this really is a winning track.
As you can see, 2002 was a fantastic year for Muppet music. There were several performances and songs that didn’t make the cut, including more from Kermit’s Swamp Years, tracks from Bear in the Big Blue House and a rather fab version of “Sing” sung by Stephanie D’Abruzzo. Looking back, 2002 was a year that saw the Muppets bounce back a little. Not everything was met with unanimous praise, but there was much to love in amongst it all. So I have to say my traditional thank you to everyone whose work is on display here, and to those who didn’t quite make the cut. You’re all awesome, but you know that already. Thank You.
Join me next time to see if the guys can maintain this level of output into 2003. I’ll give you a hint…