Kieran Moore – I think we can all agree that Muppet people are an awesome bunch – watching “Below the Frame” pretty much confirms that. However, even amongst this pantheon of perfect performers we all have favorites. And mine is Richard Hunt. Even though there are Muppet performers that do/did equally amazing work, Richard was my first true Muppet love and I don’t think anyone will ever take his place.
There’s lots of love in this week’s chart. I love Muppets. I love Christmas. And I love Richard Hunt’s incredible body of work. Thankfully for me, these things combine quite often and that’s made compiling this list of Richard Hunt Christmas songs an absolute joy. And that’s an appropriate word as Richard seemed to bring such joyous energy to everything he did.
Joy. Love. Christmas. Muppets. I can’t wait to get started!
10 – Little Saint Nick – The Muppets and John Denver: A Christmas Together
Ok, so I feel about this big (tiny) for putting this song at number 10. First, because it’s from one of my favorite ever Muppet things and second because the performers are giving it their all as The Electric Mayhem. It’s a spirited performance that captures the essence of the song and the band well. Unfortunately, even bearing that in mind, I have to mark it down for several reasons… Chief among them is that, personally, I’m not a huge fan of this song. Also, on an album of spiritual and heartfelt (though fun) songs; this track stands out like a clown at a funeral and just doesn’t fit. Lastly, and this is the one I hate to admit to the most – I feel this is one of the ‘Mayhem’s least successful performances. It absolutely pains me to say it, but singing Beach Boys-style harmonies is really hard and doing that while you’re putting on a character voice is even harder and I just don’t think they quite pull this off. I want to love it, but I just don’t. I feel like The Grinch…
9 – Barbeque – Emmet Otter’s Jugband Christmas
This on the other hand is a fantastic song, that’s performed brilliantly. It’s really only its non-Christmas sentiment that places it so low on this list. Mind you, if you happen to be in the southern hemisphere as some (weird) Muppet fans are, you might actually be looking forward to barbeque turkey on the big day. I guess it just goes to show you shouldn’t judge others by your own standards. Either way, this is staying in 9th place! As Charlie Muskrat, Richard Hunt is providing the high-harmony here and his falsetto is a wonderful thing. I suspect my vocal range is similar to Richard’s (though I wouldn’t claim to be in the same league), but I’ve never got to grips with falsetto singing so I’m very jealous! Every song is made better by the inclusion of Richard Hunt, but in this one in particular he really elevates it to something special.
8 – We’re Happy Little Christmas Elves – The Great Santa Claus Switch
If you ask a normal person (if you can find one) about The Great Santa Claus Switch, they’ll say “What?” and run away from you (particularly if you chase them through the Wal-Mart parking lot you happen to be in screaming “It’s the Muppets! It’s the Muppets!”) If you ask a standard Muppet fan they’ll say “Oh yeah, that was Gonzo’s first appearance!” If you happen to find yourself stuck in an elevator with a Muppet nerd (the only way you’d really want to spend time with one), they’ll reply “Yes! That was Richard Hunt and Fran Brill’s first Muppet appearance!” And they’d be right – because they’re Muppet nerds and they are always right otherwise they wouldn’t be, well you know… The Great Santa Claus Switch is one of the best Jim Henson Christmas productions ever – and yet the sad irony is that virtually no one has seen it. It has fun songs (as this piece proves), brilliant puppetry – with everything from full-bodied creations to marionettes on display, superb performances from veterans and novices alike and is well staged and directed. If you haven’t seen it, I heartily recommend you make it a part of your Christmas viewing.
7 – Annual Carol Sing – Muppet Family Christmas
Ok, so this is by its very nature a group song, but that means Richard Hunt is all over it which means I can legitimately include here! Also, I think there was some ancient law passed in 1600-and-something that says this medley has to be included in a top 10 chart at least once a year. Of course, several of Richard’s Muppet Show characters get solos, including Scooter and Janice, but really this is representing Richard’s contribution to Sesame Street as it’s the only song today to feature those characters. Richard Hunt was a huge presence for many, many years on Sesame Street – in fact it’s hard to think of the golden age of the show and not think of his voice. However, for some reason, none of his characters really became the cult classics that are Bert, Ernie, Big Bird or Grover. Because of this, he doesn’t really appear on the multitude of Sesame Street Christmas albums or feature heavily in the specials. That basically means we sadly miss out on a lot of Sesame goodness today. This is at least some consolation…
6 – Christmas is Coming – The Muppets and John Denver: A Christmas Together
This song featured in last week’s Dave Goelz chart and I’ve already rambled on lots in the previous song’s write ups so I won’t write reams now. Suffice to say this is a fantastic, fun, festive feast for the ears and Richard’s contribution can’t be ignored. I defy anyone not to sing along with this. For those of you who appreciate chart trivia (I know you’re out there), this song was also number 6 on the aforementioned Dave Goelz list and it didn’t rank at all on Jerry Nelson’s. Perhaps when Frank Oz gets a Christmas chart it might crack the top 5!
5 – Jingle Bell Rock – Muppet Family Christmas
I’ve been an especially good boy this year so I’m asking Santa for my very own copy of the new Electric Mayhem album. (In case you suddenly take to Amazon to order your copy of this must-have item, I’m also asking for seasons 4 and 5 of The Muppet Show on DVD, a new Muppet Movie and a personal meeting with Kermit; so you get the idea…) In the grand scheme of things Richard’s involvement with the band now seems like a fleeting moment, but without him there’s no way their music would be as memorable and Janice certainly wouldn’t be the valley girl we know and love today. Richard has like, totally earned his place in the home for the chronically groovy. Janice gets a good amount of lead vocals here (she surprisingly sings solo very rarely) and provides some wonderful harmonies as always. This is probably my favorite Electric Mayhem Christmas song.
4 – Brothers – Emmet Otter’s Jugband Christmas
I flit back and forth on whether I prefer “Brothers” or “Brothers in Our World” as I really like the way the two songs fit together, but today I’m favoring the simpler version because on a percentage level Richard does more singing here. As on the previous Emmet Otter song I wrote about, I love his high harmonies here. This song perhaps more than any other Muppet song has that signature Paul Williams style (Bugsy Malone, anyone?), and Richard’s part really emphasizes that. In my head I always feel like this special came before the Muppet Show days – I think because on home video release it was lumped in with those that did. The upshot is I kind of forget that by this point the “core” Muppet performer gang was established and that Richard was a large part of that. “Emmet Otter” is a wonderful production; the art direction in particular is stunning. If you’re a Muppet fan who hasn’t seen this, I heartily recommend you fix that as soon as possible.
3 – Blanket of Snow – Fraggle Rock
I’m not sure if we can technically call this a Christmas song – Christmas doesn’t really exist in Fraggle Rock and the episode itself first aired in January, but does that really matter? It’s got that cold, snowy look and feel which is about as Christmassy as “Jingle Bells” and a lot of other festive songs get. Either way, it’s from Fraggle Rock so by my own rules instantly counts for every chart ever written. As the seasons went on, Richard Hunt played less and less one-off characters on the show, but his performances as Junior Gorg and Gunge continued until the end. Philo and Gunge are the forgotten heroes of Fraggle Rock as far as I’m concerned; after all without them there is no trash heap. I don’t feel they get their proper dues. If nothing else I’d love to see plushes or beanies made of them. This song bowls along quite nicely with a country-lite (isn’t that a lemonade?) vibe that was used regularly to great effect on Fraggle Rock.
2 – Sleigh Ride – Muppet Family Christmas
Muppet Family Christmas is full of fantastic music and although I think my absolute favorite piece is the Annual Carol Sing this is a very, very, very close second. It’s a perfectly jolly Christmas song that feels fun and festive and is finished off by two of my very favorite Muppet performances from Frank Oz and Richard Hunt. They’re a combination we don’t see that often. However, when it does come up (like in Simon Smith and his Amazing Dancing Bear) you are pretty much guaranteed magic is going to happen. The Snowman has become an iconic Muppet despite his few appearances – he even graces the Muppet Wiki every Christmas to remind us that we should really be watching our favorite Muppet Christmas special instead of looking up the performer of Mel from “Monster Clubhouse” (everyone knows that’s what the long wait for January’s pay day is for). An iconic character deserves an iconic voice and Richard gives Snowman such a “Richard” voice that in some ways this feels like the very essence of what he offers as a performer.
1 – The Peace Carol – The Muppets and John Denver: A Christmas Together
I’ll often write about how close it was between the songs in first and second place, but I genuinely can’t think of a time where it came to the wire in quite the same way. I truly couldn’t decide between this and the previous song and had to start writing this chart without a clear winner in sight or I wouldn’t have started at all! I’ve been deliberating for over a week and it came down to one final listen to each song just a few minutes ago (as I write). Both songs are perfect to me, but I had to decide whether I was going for the festive or spiritual side of Christmas. In the end what actually swung it was simply how good Richard sounds duetting with John Denver. They have very similar, yet completely distinctive, voices which blend together beautifully. Ultimately they melt my heart in a way that “Sleigh Ride” just didn’t. The fact that this sung by Scooter and he gets so few proper lead moments (certainly in proportion with characters on a similar level) is another plus. The arrangement here with soaring strings, flute, banjo and simple percussion is just perfect. It’s intimate, but equally feels all encompassing which matches the song and its message in a very special way. Christmas or otherwise I think you’ll have to go a long way to find a better singing performance from Richard than this.
What a fabulous way to end my last Christmas chart for this year! Christmas really is coming and the goose can’t get much fatter – listening to these songs has really imbued me with the spirit of the season. Thank you Richard for, well, pretty much everything; but in particular for making me feel Christmassy! Thank You.
While I’m in such a festive mood, I must also say a quick Merry Christmas to you, my readers. I hope you all get something Muppety in your stocking. Perhaps by next year we’ll all have a copy of Richard Hunt’s biography on our Christmas list! In the meantime, have a wonderful holiday – however and whatever you celebrate, and I’ll see you soon for my wrap up of 2017!