Kieran Moore – 2004 was a landmark 12 months – it was the UN’s International Year of Rice; Janet Jackson introduced the world to the phrase “wardrobe malfunction”; Shark Tale earned $47.6 million in its opening weekend and Disney bought the Muppets. I don’t know your thoughts on rice, but I think we can all agree at least one of those happenings has had far-reaching consequences that are being felt even now.
Your mileage may vary, but as a life-long Muppet and Disney fan this news made me very, very happy. We would finally get the “Great Muppet Movie Ride” attraction we’d cried ourselves to sleep over; a sequel to Muppets at Walt Disney World was surely imminent and all 5 seasons of The Muppet Show were a shoo-in for DVD release. It was a golden age of optimism. One day I hope to tell my grandkids all about just how amazing life was back then…
To capture this zeitgeist of good feeling almost all of the songs featured here are uplifting and joyous. Get ready to dial your smile all the way up to 11…
10 – Me and My Chair – Sesame Street
Me and My Chair originally started life as a live action segment back in 1982. Here it is animated and given to the character of Tyrone “TJ” Jackson – known somewhat dubiously as “Traction” Jackson). The animation is good rather than great, but appropriate to the budget available, I’m sure. What it lacks in photorealism it more than makes up for in charm; with bright colours and a fun, fantastical look. Khalid Moultrie and his singing voice are also totally charming and the look of the piece and his vocals combine to make this a much more enjoyable watch than it could have been. Sesame Street has always been a flag-bearer for inclusivity and this song and character continue that tradition.
9 – A Smile Connects Us – Thanks & Giving All Year Long
I have mixed feelings about this song. There are moments, such as the bridge, that I absolutely love and it’s very close to being the underappreciated classic it really should be; but there are a few niggley things that mean this track somehow trips itself up at the finish line. First off, sad to say, is Steve Whitmire’s performance as Kermit. I really don’t think it’s as strong as it could be. That said, I don’t put the blame completely on his shoulders – to my ear this song is pitched too high and it sounds like there are moments where he’s really straining to hit the notes and put in a good performance at the same time. Places like the aforementioned bridge where he can sing a little lower are much more effective. That part also has a really cool tune that, when paired with some effects and backing vocals, has a neat glam rock/bubblegum pop mid-70’s feel that I really enjoy. I so would love to love this song more.
8 – Christmas is Number One – Saturday Night Live
Sadly, we don’t get SNL here in the UK. I think for many years it was thought to be too American, but we get several other US topical comedy shows so who knows…? This means I generally miss anything interesting on the show and this song and its roots were a part of that until just a few days ago. The song itself is fine and is obviously not intended to be somebody’s opus, but it does what it needs to which is give the sketch something to hang on. Instead, this is all about the performances. In stark contrast to the previous piece, Steve is fantastic here and gives Kermit a sense of fun and mischief that we don’t always see – it’s cool to watch him really get into the performance – I guess being live ups the ante. A big shout out also has to go to Eric Jacobson and David Rudman who are sharing performing Animal. I did wonder how Animal and Fozzie were performing live together and Muppet Wiki says David was puppeteering to Eric’s vocals. I’m guessing Eric was doing both sets of vocals live – I can’t hear Fozzie and Animal talking at the same time anywhere. If that is the case, this is a real feat of puppetry.
7 – Everybody’s Song – Sesame Street
This video is rather ungallantly entitled “Bad Singing” on YouTube and the comments single out Desiree Casado as Gabi as the worst culprit. This is wholly unfair in my opinion. Desiree is a very good singer and as is today’s theme (apparently), if she’s let down anywhere it’s simply that the song is too high to accommodate her range in places – this is common in group songs and duets where someone has to suffer to find a middle ground. Anyway, I’m not going to spend anymore time giving the subject oxygen. This smooth jazz number makes me want to invest in a drum kit so I can hit a cymbal with a pastry brush-thing and get down with my bad self. Or maybe I should get a double bass I can spin around… Truthfully, this isn’t a type of music I’m massively drawn to, but this track bucks the trend and gets my toes a-tappin’. The Muppet characters add a lot to my enjoyment – I’m particularly drawn to Carmen Osbahr as Rosita. The gruffness in her voices invokes past jazz singers like Louis Armstrong and adds an air of credibility.
6 – That’s Pretending – Sesame Street
Martina McBride is perhaps best known to Muppet fans as the singer of the “pop” version of When Love is Gone from Muppet Christmas Carol. You know, that moment at the end of the movie where entire audiences scratched their heads and said “Why are they taking a wonderful, uplifting ending and tacking on a melancholy love song?” Martina sings that song beautifully and she doesn’t disappoint here either. That’s Pretending is a parody/homage of That’s Entertainment and while it doesn’t seem an obvious fit for Martina (a lot of Sesame guest stars tend to stick to their own songs or genres); she is giving this her all and succeeding with aplomb. She is also clearly having a wonderful time and that joy is infectious – I can’t watch this without smiling. And when that final gag with Horatio comes in I just can’t help laughing too. Great fun!
5 – The Alphabet Song – Sesame Street
Another week, another alphabet song! They’re coming thick and fast at the moment… Last time we had a hip-hop version and now we get to enjoy Ruben Studdard’s “Soul Alphabet”. After winning American Idol it should come as no real surprise that Ruben can sing as well as he does, but to infuse so much life and passion into singing not just an alphabet song, but The Alphabet Song is the sign of someone who is absolutely at the top of his game. Sadly, this track is very short, but Ruben does at least get to go round twice and improvise a bit at the end. The power behind that last note is phenomenal. As this chart is showing, Sesame Street had some wonderful musical guest stars in 2004 and if Ruben had sung something with a bit more meat on it I’m sure he would have been the guy to beat today.
4 – Don’t Know Y – Sesame Street
I just want this song to carry me away on a cloud of relaxation. The original track this is parodying is a classic of easy-listening that feels like a big old hug on a warm spring day. It’s a shame “easy-listening” sometimes gets used as a derogatory term as often that kind of music is exactly what you need. This is today’s chart’s only venture into something a little more subtle and wistful and as such I’m finding it a nice contrast. It’s becoming cliché to praise the musical guest star in a song clip now, but when the singers are as talented as today’s bunch it’s hard not to. Norah Jones’ voice is sublime (does that mean it’s not as good as citrus fruit?) The joke of “Y” showing up halfway through really makes me laugh – it’s a classic bit that never gets old. Kevin Clash as Elmo is very funny and David Rudman as “Y” adds some life into what could be a very straight character indeed.
3 – Everything’s Coming Up Noses – Sesame Street
This is the last song in our quartet of Sesame Street guest stars. I don’t know him personally, but certainly from a performance point of view Harvey can do no wrong for me. From Hairspray to Mrs. Doubtfire and Mulan to his turn as the Easter Bunny in Elmo Saves Christmas, he’s never less than 110% perfect. His voice could cut glass from 100 paces, and I want to offer him a throat lozenge, but I think that’s part of his charm. All the best singers have distinctive tones. I’ve been trying to work out with this clip if the noses have been assigned to the characters in advance or if it’s pot luck; certainly most of them seem to fit really well, but is that the joy of the Henson Whatnot? If they were planned that meant Harvey had to be putting everything into singing and performing and finding the right nose. I realize cuts mean that maybe only a few noses were required at a time, but that’s still pretty impressive.
2 – Do the Macaroni – Sesame Street
I say that the previous song was the last of today’s guest star songs, but truthfully I could be wrong on that as I can’t find a credited singer for this track. This video is no help as it’s a fan cut and Muppet Wiki doesn’t have the information. I’d say it sounds like Olamide Faison (which makes sense as this number is supposed to be sung by Miles’ grandfather when he was younger), but I can’t find any conclusive proof. Either way; this is a fun, toe-tapping track that very nearly took top spot – it was really close. It’s a perfect spoof of music from the 1950’s and Joey Mazzarino and Mike Renzi have crafted a song that just makes me want to get up and dance. I’m guessing there was a dance move to go with this, but since I can’t see what it is I might do another food-inspired dance like the mashed potato instead. They’re both comfort foods after all! Looking at Muppet Wiki, I’m surprised to see this has never made it onto a Sesame Street audio release – I definitely think it’s good enough and deserves more exposure for sure.
1 – The Street I Live On – The Street We Live On
I think this song was destined to be number one this week. It was written as part of Sesame Street’s 35th anniversary celebrations and as such gives me a chance to congratulate the show on 35 wonderful years – even if I am 13 years too late! I guess what I’m trying to say is it would be wrong of me to write about 2004 and not mention this landmark occasion. So now I am. Being on TV for three and a half decades is an extraordinary achievement for any show – let alone a children’s show that started out humbly on a public television network. So many talented people worked oh so hard to not just make the show, but make it the best it could be. Never has the quality slipped and Sesame Street quite rightly gets to shout about its legacy every time an anniversary rolls around. This song builds from sweet and childlike to big and triumphant and in that sense follows the trajectory of the show itself as it became a major player in the education and entertainment worlds. That very end note reminds of The Magic Store from The Muppet Movie and that seems kind of apt in a round about way.
So that was 2004. As we can see, Sesame Street was still holding its own in terms of quality output, but little glimpses of The Muppet Show gang are starting to appear again and by the end of the year Disney has them front and center presenting part of their annual Christmas broadcast. My optimism was being rewarded! That spirit of hope can be seen in all of today’s songs, so with that in mind I have to say my traditional thank you to all of the incredible people who worked on any of the Henson/Muppet projects that took place in 2004. Thank You for allowing me to believe!
Join me next time in 2005 as Piggy eats pizza, Bear eats breakfast and Toto escapes being eaten by staying in Oz!