Kieran Moore – At the end of my chart for 2010, I joked that the Muppets seem to put out all of their good stuff at once to make life hard for me. However, I wasn’t really joking. After a year where not much happened, 2011 suddenly exploded with all sorts of Muppety goodness. In fact I’d say you need to go back to the classic Muppet years of 1996 or even 1979 to find another 12 month period with as much good material.
What is really interesting in this chart though is the juxtaposition (I love that word) of the old and the new. To be eligible for my yearly lists, an existing song has to have been presented differently enough that it can be considered a debut. 50% of today’s songs are based on or inspired by older Muppet material, so fit neatly into that category. 2011 can most definitely be seen as a year of both nostalgia and new beginnings. It’s a really interesting mix …
10 – “Hosting SNL” – Saturday Night Live
So the BIG, big Muppet news in 2011 was the gang’s triumphant return to movie theaters in the familiarly titled “The Muppets”. The movie starred Kermit and friends, as well as human co-stars Amy Adams and Jason Segel. However, although today’s 10th place song goes to a Muppet/Jason Segel duet, it’s not actually something from the film. Instead it’s this hilarious number that replaces Jason’s Saturday Night Live opening monologue. There’s a lot to like here – I’ve already used the adjective “hilarious”, but this really is genuinely funny and that ability to make me laugh is what propelled this up the ranks. In addition I love the fact that this song features, what to me at least, is the definitive old-school Muppet gang. On a show that’s such a staple of US television, and as promotion for a film full of nostalgia this grouping feels just right.
9 – Wishing Song – The Airborne Toxic Event – The Green Album
The Green Album is the perfect example of how nostalgia and newness came together in 2011. For those that don’t know – The Green Album is a concept recording of Muppet song covers performed by modern artists. I remember at the time someone saying these were the kinds of bands and singers you’d hear in “Hot Topic”. I don’t know if that was meant in a derogative way, but I like Hot Topic (despite being 20 years too old!) so I don’t mind that comparison at all. Truthfully, some of the artists on the album I was familiar with and several I hadn’t heard of at all, but that’s part of the fun. Whatever your views on the style of music used, I honestly think The Green Album is a must have for all Muppet fans. The best tracks honor the spirit of the original, but do something different too. That’s exactly why this track made the top 10. This is less sentimental than Gonzo’s version, but no less powerful. In this recording it loses its wistfulness and becomes an uplifting stadium rock anthem instead. I’d love to know what the new lyrics are…
8 – Life’s a Happy Song – The Muppets (2011)
Our first song from The Muppets (2011) is also our second Jason Segel track. I must admit at the very early stages of putting this list together I did wonder if this might actually take the top spot. It certainly was a contender. When I make these lists I give every song a score out of 100 and today you’d have to go all the way to song 16 to dip below 90 points! This track sometimes seems overshadowed by other songs in the movie, but it’s interesting to see just how much love it gets online. In fact I’d say, after a certain award-winning duet, this is the song that resonated most with the general public. And it’s easy to see why – it’s impossible to listen to this and not smile. Its sing-along chorus is infectious and the three leads – Jason, Peter Linz and Amy Adams are fantastic. The best Muppet openers set the tone of their movies brilliantly. This might not be as atmospheric as Rainbow Connection or Shiver My Timbers, but it’s a near perfect opening number in every other sense.
7 – I Hope That Something Better Comes Along – Matt Nathanson – The Green Album
This song does something wonderful and takes a track full of frog and dog puns and makes it completely universal. Of course, some of the credit must go to Kenny Ascher and Paul Williams for capturing the resignation of the romantic conundrum so well, but Matt Nathanson’s interpretation allows us to see ourselves in Kermit’s position in a way that didn’t happen in the movie. This has a similar piano-led feel to the original, but the organ at the start gives this interpretation a Gospel feel that makes it play like a late night prayer pleading for release from the lure of love. Once again, this has that element of twisting a familiar song just enough to make the listener hear it as if it were new.
6 – The Whistling Caruso – The Muppets (2011)
I’ve included a video (above) of the lead up to this song (as well as the track itself) because to me that’s part of what makes it so special. The song is wonderfully virtuoso and Andrew Bird did a fantastic job writing and whistling this piece. It’s suitably dramatic for the moment in the movie, but fun and playful enough to be a Muppet performance. I’ve always loved when the guys mix high-culture with Muppet madness and this is right there. Who amongst us wouldn’t want to be Walter at this point in the film? To become part of the Muppet troupe of performers and stand on that stage would be a dream come true. Walter is doing this for each and every one of us who’ve ever had a dream and that’s a very powerful, Muppety moment. Well done Walter!
5 – The Rainbow Connection – D23 Expo Disney Legend Ceremony
2011’s focus on nostalgia can be highlighted by the fact that there were at least five versions of this song eligible to appear on today’s chart. Each one has something to commend them, but this for me is the best. It’s hard to define the emotion this conjures up – seeing Jim’s two signature Muppets perform this song in his honor I find it incredibly moving. It’s slightly sad that this duet is made easier because of Jim’s passing and subsequent re-castings, but I feel tremendous joy that this is actually possible at all. The song itself is as good as it’s ever been, but hearing these lyrics sung in Jim’s memory and considering him to be the Rainbow Connection makes this even more special. I’ve often been critical of Muppet live performances. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the difficulty of what they’re doing or the talent displayed, but I think the performers were generally used to filmed performance and the two skill sets aren’t necessarily the same. Anyway, this is a long-winded way of saying I actually really like the slight slip here and how they deal with it. It’s in keeping with the characters and shows off Steve Whitmire and Bill Barretta’s improv skills brilliantly.
4 – Pictures in My Head – The Muppets (2011)
I don’t even know where to start. This song just about rips me apart every time I listen to it. I know people sometimes complain about Kermit being downbeat in this movie, but I think this shows just enough glimmers of hope to be acceptable. It’s hard to watch our favorite Muppets being sad, but I find this song particularly tough to listen to for personal reasons. This movie was released less than a year after a close family member passed away and I can’t help but associate this song with my feelings for that person. I guess that’s the beauty of the Muppets – in amongst all of the brightly colored doll wiggling, there is real heart and emotion that we can relate to. That’s why the Muppets have endured. They speak to our souls and offer life lessons we can’t ignore. Plus they have boomerang fish throwers and fart shoes…
3 – Bein’ Green – Andrew Bird – The Green Album
Wow, this chart got introspective quick! I have a strange relationship with this song. It’s undoubtedly beautiful and full of emotion and conveys a very special message – it’s just that this message has never resonated with me in the same way that a lot of other Muppets songs have. I think maybe in myself I’ve always been nearer to how Kermit ends this song than the way he feels at the start. Growing up with the philosophy of the Muppets from an early age, I wonder if the lessons I learned from this song are exactly why it doesn’t seem to apply to me in adult life. That’s a crazy thought and one that might actually have given me a new appreciation for the piece. This version, performed by two-time chart appearee Andrew Bird, feels just as heartfelt as Kermit’s version, but much lighter and a bit whimsical. The carefree whistling creates a nice juxtaposition (it’s that word again) with the more serious nature of the lyrics and the violin sets the tone before ripping that up and becoming playful and fancy-free. In a world where everyone has done something new with this track, this is one of the best versions of you’ll ever hear.
2 – Man or Muppet – The Muppets (2011)
Before I go any further, I have to mention Bret McKenzie who wrote this and most of the other original songs for The Muppets (2011). The man is a legend and I can’t praise him highly enough. Is this the most singable Muppet song ever? It’s a wide open field, but this has to be a real contender for the title. This is the track that finally won the Muppets an Academy Award and in many ways paved the way for the next movie and how that was presented. Its contribution to the franchise can’t be understated. So many non-fans were asking me about this song when it was released it was incredible! Once again, Walter is speaking for all of us, but here he’s joined by Gary who is also pondering the question we’ve all secretly asked ourselves. We may not be made of felt or fur or have a hand somewhere unmentionable, but we know being a Muppet is so much more than a simple choice. It’s who we are, it’s in our DNA. We can control it no more than our hair color or whether we have freckles, and yet at some point we all have to decide – am I a Muppet of a man or a very manly Muppet? It’s a state of mind and a state of being.
1 – Our World – My Morning Jacket – The Green Album
At this point most of you are probably wondering why your favorite song didn’t make the top 10 – rest assured everything was considered! When The Green Album was released this cover of a song from Emmet Otter’s Jugband Christmas seemed like such a leftfield choice it immediately stood out. Although Muppet fans were the intended audience for this collection, I wouldn’t mind betting for some this was actually their introduction to the song. I should probably whisper this, but I think I prefer this version to the one in the special. It still has the down home charm of the original with its bluegrass feel and arrangement, but the otherworldly elements such as the backing vocals and instrumentation make it feel ethereal and grand. This sounds like it’s asking the big questions the universe might just have the answers to. I also love the drama this rendition creates – all in all I think it’s just punchier and more powerful. This elicits real emotions that I can’t ignore. The only thing that could improve on this for me would be hearing Jerry Nelson sing it. That would be heaven.
Speaking of heaven, having such a great selection of songs to chose from often felt more hellish than angelic and it meant a wonderful collection of pieces were denied top 10 places even though they deserved them. To give a few more tracks their dues here are the songs that ranked from 11-20:
20 – Rainbow Connection – The Green Album
19 – Night Life – The Green Album
18 – Halfway Down the Stairs – The Green Album
17 – Mr Bassman – The Green Album
16 – Lever Lover – Sesame Street
15 – Smells Like Teen Spirit – The Muppets (2011)
14 – Movin’ Right Along – The Green Album
13 – Muppet Show Theme – The Green Album
12 – Super Grover 2.0 – Sesame Street
11 – Rainbow Connection (Telethon Version) The Muppets (2011)
After playing such a big part in the last few charts, please spare a thought for Sesame Street. Despite being as good as ever, the show has found itself completely shut out of the top 10 today and could only hit 12th spot. I feel kind of bad. But let’s dwell on the positive and be thankful for such an amazing year. Thank you everyone who contributed to the songs on this list – and the ones that didn’t make it. You’re all Muppets AND men (or women)! Thank You.
Join me in 2012 as the Fraggles make a welcome return, the Muppets make us laugh and Big Bird makes headlines.