Kieran Moore – 2016 was a pretty grim year with political turmoil, celebrity deaths a-plenty AND a cancelled Muppet show under its belt. However, for many Muppet fans, those 12 months simply look like the “opening act” for what could have been our very own annus horribilis (to quote Queen Liz).
So how do you sum up the tumultuous events of 2017? It really has been a year of incredible highs and some very dark lows. As we look forward to a quieter, gentler 2018 (Muppet Babies, anyone?) I guess the best way to really explain it all is through the medium of interpretive dance. But since that doesn’t make sense on a record, I’ll do the next best thing and present The Top 10 Songs of 2017 instead!
NB: Before we start I don’t suppose I’m giving much away to say that several of today’s songs were from live performances and as such the video quality here is a little up and down – please enjoy these videos in the spirit in which they were recorded.
10 – Song About Songs – Sesame Street
There were some brilliant guest star songs this year – not just on Sesame Street, but all across the Henson/Muppet universe. This song is representing them all as I just couldn’t fit everything in. Very honorable mentions go to Try a Little Kindness (Sesame Street) with Tori Kelly and Sing What’s in Your Heart (Julie’s Greenroom) with Josh Groban. Both were truly a hair’s breadth from being included and on other, leaner years probably would have been. There were many factors that gave each piece the edge, but this track featuring Sia is all about songs, which is kind of what I do around here. In the end it made so much sense contextually, I just had to list this number over the others. It’s fun and jaunty and feels like the Sia song that never really existed. Except now it does…
9 – Suffragette City – The Muppets Take the Bowl
Suffragette City was originally written and recorded by David Bowie, but is given a fuzzy makeover here with a rocking lead vocal from Janice. I love that Janice is back! David Rudman has really grown into the role now and it’s an absolute joy to see. His Janice is undeniably different from Richard Hunt’s, but works so well for the 21st century that it’s hard to imagine her any other way. David’s vocals have come on in leaps and bounds since he first started performing as Janice and live shows like this give him a real chance to shine. Speaking of which, Animal’s drum solo is a nice lead moment for him too and it adds immeasurably to the whole thing.
8 – Movin’ Right Along/I’ve Been Everywhere/On the Road Again – The Muppets Take the Bowl
Every time I read/write “The Muppets Take the Bowl” I can’t help but think of toilets! That’s an unfair association for this piece though as it deftly mixes three travel-themed songs into one fantastic whole. The beauty of this number is that each individual element gives us something special. In Movin’ Right Along we’re reminded of not just the Muppets’ contribution the world of motion pictures, but also of Kermit and Fozzie’s friendship. Second, we get a Rowlf number of the type that would have been a staple of the original Muppet show. To have Rowlf do something musical seems like a no brainer, but it’s a surprisingly rare occurrence these days. He had very few musical lines in the recent movies (many of which were cut) and he was used only minimally in The Muppets (2015), so this is a call back to a golden age when Rowlf was tickling the ivories on a regular basis. Lastly, with the final segment we have a guest star song that also harkens back to the good old days. This really is a triple threat!
7 – Hello – The Muppets Take the Bowl
I have mixed feelings about this and I can’t decide just how much I love it! The opening verse where Piggy sings Hello in a way that’s much more in keeping with the original track is stunning. Eric Jacobson sounds incredible and I can’t think of a time when I’ve seen Piggy look more captivating – she owns that stage in ways that only a true diva can. It’s the next part I have problems with. It’s perfectly fitting that Piggy would miss the point of a song that’s trying to say “sorry” and turn it into a jazzy production number – apologizing has never been her strong point. It also works that Miss Piggy missing one too many rehearsals would result in problems with her fellow performers – it’s been done before. I’m just not sure about the execution here. Thank goodness Disney finally seem able to acknowledge that Kermit and Co. are puppets, but there are moments here where the dancers are essentially throwing around a Miss Piggy shaped soft toy and the Muppet performance is lost. It really takes me out of the moment. I can’t fault the performers, but I also can’t help but feel that Piggy deserved more.
6 – Sunny Days – Sesame Street Online Video
Before I write about this song I suppose I should add in the spirit of full disclosure that I actually haven’t seen much of Julia on Sesame Street as the show isn’t that easy to find in the UK. Instead I have fallen in love with her online. Either way, if you’re anything like me you’ll actually be surprised it took as show as inclusive as Sesame Street this long to feature a Muppet with autism. To be fair, Julia’s origins do date back another few years in other media forms. As we know her today, she was first seen in a series of online videos that provided a gentle and thoughtful introduction to the character. This video of Julia and Abby singing the Sesame Street theme song is wonderfully enchanting. The way they sing the song together bit by bit is incredibly endearing and, dare I say it, a little bit magic. This might be the best ever version of this song.
5 – 80s Music Mashup – Sesame Street Online Video
There are often occasions when I hum and haw about what should or shouldn’t be included on my charts and this is one of those times. In essence this is really more of an extended skit than a song, but when it’s as musical as this I think a case can be made for its inclusion. You’ve probably guessed by now which way I went with this wonderful tribute to the 1980s. Everything about it is perfect (though I am missing a few of my favourite regulars). The idea of Cookie Monster eating Grover’s music player is just goofy enough to work and is the perfect plot device for the clips that follow. Particular highlights for me are The Count as Dexy’s Midnight Runners, Rosita as Boy George and Cookie Monster’s take on Take on Me. Prairie Dawn keeps everything in check and we even get rick-rolled at the end! What more can I say?
4 – Bohemian Rhapsody – The Muppets Take the Bowl
I’m not sure any of us thought the Muppets (and the people behind, beneath and under them) would be brave enough to tackle a live performance of this song. In fact, Queen themselves very rarely did (certainly not the whole thing). This is in some ways a potted highlights package of the original viral video with the “opera” section significantly pared down character-wise and lyrics specifically rewritten for this version, but who cares? It’s funny and inventive and features great moments from the Muppet performers, Bobby Moynihan, The Hollywood Bowl Orchestra led by Thomas Wilkins and especially The Levite Camp Choir who are clearly having a ball. I’d love to know how tongue in cheek Dr. Teeth’s comment about rehearsal really is as I’m sure a tonne of planning went into this, yet I like to imagine it’s all on the fly at the same time!
3 – Rainbow Connection – The Muppets Take the Bowl
Forget “Why are there so many songs about rainbows?”; a better question is surely “Why does Rainbow Connection affect me so much?” I know it’s not just me either – I’ve noticed you’re watching too. I just can’t put into words how this song speaks to me. It’s a visceral reaction to a purely emotional feeling. Apart from the inclusion of Paul Williams and Bobby Moynihan this feels very similar to the version seen in The Muppets (2011), but has 100% more Gonzo so is automatically better. I think I also prefer this “straighter” arrangement which makes full use of the orchestra to highlight the beautiful strings. This song, and in fact this exact performance can be seen as a hugely important moment for Muppet fans and its impact several months on is still hard to deny.
2 – El Patito – Sesame Street Online Video
There are plenty of franchises that have made their name by parodying the popular entertainment of the day, but I can’t think of anyone who does it in quite the same way as Sesame Street. For a start, unlike something like Saturday Night Live, they aren’t first and foremost a comedy show so use humor in a slightly different way. They are also able to use their established cast of household names to create mash ups that work on several levels – just like this one. Of course Ernie and Rosita would sing a Spanish song about Rubber Duckie – it’s basically an everyday occurrence on Sesame Street. The fact that this event melds flawlessly with Despacito, one of the most annoyingly catchy songs ever, is just a brilliant coincidence. Peter Linz is the best Ernie we’ve had since Jim Henson. He and Eric Jacobson (as Bert) are working so well together at the moment. Please give them more to do!
1 – Happy Feet – The Muppets Take the Bowl
Is it an elephant–sized frog or a frog-sized elephant that I see in this room? Either way, I guess it’s time to address one of the biggest events ever to happen in the world of the Muppets. Yes, you guessed it – Muppet Thought of the Week was launched this year! Oh ok, 2017 was when Kermit changed permanent performer for only the second time in his 60+ years. I’m fairly confident I don’t need to spell out exactly what happened, nor give my 2 cents on the controversy, as it’s all out there for anyone who cares to look. Instead I’ll write about how this song made me feel when I heard/saw it for the first time. It was early morning when I was finally able to catch up with the first Hollywood Bowl show (thanks to international time zones) and I watched this clip bleary-eyed and half awake. Needless to say, I wasn’t that way for long. To call this performance one of the most pivotal moments for Muppet fandom, not just the Muppets, might be hyperbolic; but it doesn’t feel far from the truth. Of course your mileage may vary, but the praise online for this piece in particular was pretty much universal. Not only was this the Muppets as they should be, it was Kermit as he should be. This song, as well as Rainbow Connection from the same show, assured us the frog would be fine. He is, quite literally, in safe hands with Matt Vogel. I know Matt feels very keenly the importance and legacy of being the world’s most famous frog. The Hollywood Bowl shows are evidence of that fact and give me hope for the future. Come on 2018, don’t let us down!
In 2015 when I wrapped up my yearly chart I made lots of wild predictions for the following year – pretty much none of them came true. They were kind of tongue-in-cheek, but I’m still bummed I didn’t see the Fraggle Rock movie I was expecting in 2017…
Last year, instead of getting everything wrong, I simply wrote about how the Outside Lands show had given me hope for the future – and that was well-placed it seems. The Hollywood Bowl shows have only enhanced my hopeful feelings further. I’ve revised my expectations on what may come (or not) for the Muppets, but I’m certain there are big things afoot. The performers have never been better and that’s a commodity to good to waste.
My final act of the year (even if it is 2018 now) is to say thank you to everyone who worked in any way, shape or form with the Muppets and Henson in 2017 – you guys rock!