Kieran Moore – It the most wonderful time of the year – yes, you guessed it “Pretend to Be a Time Traveller Day” is here. Funnily enough, I’m celebrating that holiday tomorrow, yesterday and three weeks next Wednesday as well… I just love this special day which is why I’m packing up my TARDIS and jetting off to my second favorite holiday – Christmas – for this week’s chart!
Last December I produced special Christmas charts for Jim Henson, Caroll Spinney and Jerry Nelson and I’m continuing this brand new tradition today by honoring Dave Goelz (surely the finest man to ever put his hand up Charles Dickens). Dave has been performing with the Muppets for well over 40 years now. I’ve been trying to think if Zoot (as one of the earliest Dave-originated characters) is now the Muppet with the longest run being portrayed by a single performer. There can’t be many to rival him. Dave’s longevity means he’s been in a lot of Muppet Christmas productions over the years. If the Muppets are a holiday staple then Dave Goelz most definitely is as well.
10 – Together at Christmas – The Christmas Toy
Ok, so I understand that this is a group song really and there might have been numbers that featured Dave in more of a lead role, but I’m not sure anything that might have beaten this to 11th place would make me feel as Christmassy. And Dave is singing this all the way through in his roles as Rugby Tiger, Ditz and Dauntless Dragon. Dave was definitely the MVP in The Christmas Toy, particularly as Rugby. I always forget just how much I love this special, but thanks to a recent DVD purchase I can remember over and over again now. Speaking of memory, this song reminds me of the people I want to be with at this special time of year – even if they can’t physically do so. I just love that aspect of this song and that’s why it made today’s list.
9 – Happy Fourth of Julymas – The Muppet Show
I can’t see that this medley has an official name so I’ve gone with “Happy Fourth of Julymas” This is pure Muppet madness in its craziest form. I just love it when the show goes off piste like this. Who came up with this stuff? Wouldn’t you have loved to be a fly on the wall of the writers’ room when this was suggested? For most other shows this would be the idea that gets everyone laughing round the table before someone says “Ok, now what shall we actually do?” Instead with The Muppet Show it’s embraced and given 3 minutes of prime screen time. That makes me ridiculously happy. These songs go together way better than they should do making the whole thing a musical treat that’s topped off with stellar performances by Dave as Gonzo and Hal Linden as his exasperated stooge.
8 – It’s All About Heart – A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa
“Letters to Santa” is quite possibly one of the most frustrating productions the Muppets have ever been a part of. For every moment of genuine humor there’s a joke so lame even crutches can’t help it and for every Nathan Lane there’s an Uma Thurman waiting in the wings with a cameo so ill-fitting it makes me cringe every time. There are two things this special gets right pretty much across the board though and both of them are present here. First is the music. Paul Williams teams up with the Muppets once again and proves just why he’s been one of their go-to-guys for the last 40 years. The songs are tuneful, soulful and Muppety. The other thing this special has in spades is heart. It really is all about it. From Gonzo’s sadness at preventing Claire’s letter getting to Santa to the warmth of the final scene when the gang stays together, there are enough feelings to go round several times with leftovers for later. This song starts off slow and introspective before kicking in with something much quicker and uplifting. It’s the Muppet Christmas power ballad we never knew existed!
7 – Marley & Marley – Muppet Christmas Carol
I know I should be scared of this scene, but I just can’t help feeling sadness as I watch it. To be honest with you, I have the same problem through most of Muppet Christmas Carol, but I guess the losses of Jim Henson and Richard Hunt are felt most keenly here. Perhaps that’s because Statler and Waldorf were their best-known character pairing or maybe it’s their sadly ironic appearance as spirits – either way, I often find this hard to watch. That’s not to say that Dave Goelz and Jerry Nelson (as Waldorf and Statler, respectively) do a bad job. In fact I think they are terrific. Both manage to somehow sound like themselves and yet keep the essence of Jim and Richard’s performances. Seen through the lens of the netherworld as these characters are, a casual fan could be forgiven for not realizing the change at all. This song would rank higher on today’s list if it were just a little bit more seasonal as it’s a fun romp with spirited (pun intentional) performances.
6 – Christmas is Coming – John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together
What this song lacks in length it more than makes up for in festive fun. I say it every Christmas, but I’ll happily repeat it – I love the album this song comes from and, controversially, I even enjoy the TV special. This is one of my standout tracks for a couple of reasons – first, I have a family who will sing along with Christmas songs at the drop of a hat and this is brilliant for joining in with; and secondly, on a Muppet level this features an interesting mix of characters that I’m not sure has ever been repeated. Obviously it was picked so that performers didn’t have to loop in lines, but even swapping Piggy for Fozzie would have put this on more familiar territory. I love that they were bold enough to mix it up a bit. The simple combination of multiple, overlapping voices and basic accompaniment makes this a nifty counterpoint to some of the other songs on the album so it really stands out and gets the attention it deserves.
5 – Everyone Matters – It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie
It just occurred to me as I was writing out the title of this Muppet special that it might actually be the least merry Muppet Christmas production ever. It has a sweet message and all, but has some pretty bleak moments and occasionally seems downright nasty. I’m gonna go out on a limb and say if you’re looking for “Merry” this Christmas – this ain’t it. This song suffers from some of the same problems – once again, it has a sweet message, but it just feels a bit too depressing to really feel like it’s captured the holiday spirit. Who knew a song called “Everyone Matters” could play so downbeat? I know it picks up towards the end, but I’m not sure it isn’t too little, too late. All that being said; this is a nice Gonzo/Kermit moment and two of the most soulful Muppets it seems appropriate for them to sing it. I just don’t know if it’s festive enough for a “Merry” Christmas special.
4 – It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year – A Green and Red Christmas
This video from the Rockefeller Center is acting as a placeholder for the Green and Red Christmas version which I can’t find online (for some reason those songs are not uploaded as often as you might think). This is essentially the same recording anyway with added vocals from Kermit, Fozzie, Miss Piggy and Pepe.
As I look at this track in contrast with the previous one, I’m struck by just how different they are in just about every way despite both being Dave Goelz/Steve Whitmire duets. Whereas the last one was thoughtful, spiritual and ultimately less jolly; this song is much more about the secular joys of Christmas such as the food, celebrations and decorations. The pairing of Gonzo and Rizzo as a proper double-act originated in another Christmas production – Muppet Christmas Carol. As the narrators/Greek chorus to that movie they don’t have a song of their own within it. It only just occurred to me as I put this list together that that was indeed the case. I guess it must have been intentional to keep Gonzo’s Charles Dickens grounded in as much reality as possible. In light of this, this chart position is celebrating their much-loved partnership in that hallowed Christmas classic as much as it is the song itself.
3 – The Best Present Ever – Bear in the Big Blue House
As a long-time Muppet performer there can’t be many Henson/Muppet productions Dave Goelz hasn’t appeared in. He’s had roles in everything from The Dark Crystal and Dinosaurs to The Animal Show and The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland. It’s a long and varied resumé for sure. As Jack the Dog this is his entry into the cast of Bear in the Big Blue House. The first thing that strikes me about this song is how Jack sounds like a cross between Gonzo and Uncle Travelling Matt. This is in no way a criticism – in fact I find it rather endearing. The familiarity makes it feel cosy, like a warm Christmas hug. In the episodes of Bear… that Jack appears in as part of this story we first meet him as a stray in need of love and a home for Christmas. Of course Bear steps in and saves the day (it would be odd to have a Christmas episode of Bear end with a character still in so bleak a situation). This song is Jack’s declaration that the gang’s love, friendship and affection are “The Best Present Ever”.
2 – Room in Your Heart – Muppet Christmas Carol
This is my favorite song from Muppet Christmas Carol that didn’t make the final cut (don’t tell “When Love is Gone”). There are several reasons, but Dave’s performance as Bunsen is probably the main one. Dr. Bunsen Honeydew might be one of the Muppets’ most underappreciated characters. His wicked sense of humor and sarcastic nature gets completely lost amongst the explosions and gorilla detectors sometimes, but I think is actually much more interesting. From what I’ve read about Dave’s love of engineering and practical jokes I feel like there might be quite a bit of Bunsen in him in real life. The edginess of Bunsen’s character adds a fun sparkle to this song, which could otherwise have possibly slipped into sappiness. It’s a fun, punchy vocal that I only wish could have been followed up by a fun, punchy Muppet performance. I’m sure I read that this song didn’t even make it as far as being filmed and that’s robbed us of what should have been Bunsen’s biggest ever movie moment. In the next movie can we lobby for him to get a song to settle the score? Especially now Scooter’s had one.
1 – I Wish I Could Be Santa Claus – A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa
I’ve written about this song several times in the past as it’s appeared on at least one Christmas chart as well as the standard ones for Dave and Eric Jacobson. It really is one of my favorite Muppet Christmas songs and I’m so happy it’s officially a number one now. Looking through my old write ups I praise both Dave and Eric (naturally), but a recurring theme is also how well this song plays in its own right without needing to be seen as part of this special. I’m also still in love with the idea that Fozzie is the one to reach out to Gonzo in his hour of need. Rizzo, as Gonzo’s best friend, could have been chosen and Kermit would have been an obvious choice, but neither would have the same resonance as Fozzie seeing his friend’s unhappiness and coming to his aid. It’s character moments like this that help elevate this special beyond what it could, and maybe even should, have been. Paul Williams is once again putting the heart and soul of the Muppets into musical form and was quite rightly rewarded with an Emmy nomination for his efforts. I’m not too cool to admit that as I listen to this now I may have some dampness around my eyes…
The Muppets are intrinsically linked with Christmas and Dave Goelz is intrinsically linked with the Muppets – I don’t think I really need to spell it out further. If you’ve ever enjoyed the Muppets at Christmastime, you have (at least in part) most likely got Dave to thank for it. So it only really remains for me to add my thanks to that chorus of appreciation. As we’ve seen from the songs above, whether we’re talking about fairy lights and glitter or the heart and soul of the season Dave has always embodied the true essence of Christmas and the Muppets. Thank you.