Kieran Moore – Hey you!
Are you a fan of the popular entertainment franchise known as The Muppets?
Are you also a fan of the singer/songwriter Paul Williams?
You are?! Then you’ve come to the right place!
Writing a fan chart for The Muppet Mindset is one of my greatest joys. I so enjoy trawling YouTube looking for the loving musical tributes you’ve all paid to our favorite felt friends. Over the past couple of years I’ve written charts about the broad subjects of cover songs and instrumental covers, so I thought I’d try and narrow things down a bit this year. When looking at categorising Muppet songs, splitting them out by songwriter is a great way to do it – some Muppet composers are hugely prolific. In amongst that handful of legendary names it’s hard to deny that Paul Williams has had potentially the greatest impact (I know there are others – they’ll get their turn). So today I’m going to honor Paul alongside all these other Muppet fans who have done the same. These songs are all fantastic so you’re really in for a treat here – you lot are talented!
(As always in these fan charts, each song is only presented once.)
10 – Riverbottom Nightmare Band – Ruckus Juice Stompers
There are those that say you shouldn’t attempt a cover song unless you can do something different. I agree – to an extent. This list is littered with songs performed very differently from the source material, but I don’t think that means cover versions have to stray away from what went before. This is a very faithful tribute to the original Emmet Otter’s Jugband Christmas song, but there’s nothing wrong with that. The version from the show is probably as hard as the Muppets ever got musically (sorry Electric Mayhem) and because of that I’m honestly not sure I see any other way to do this. Who wants this song presented as a soft ballad? The band are obviously fans of the special and song – and that comes through here, loud and very clear!
9 – Can You Picture That? – The Viennagram
Speaking of The Electric Mayhem… This is another rock song performed quite closely in style to the original. What I love about this though (and it ties into the fact that this is similar to the Muppet version as before) is that I can picture the band performing this in a jam session or rehearsal and it sounding just like this. If you watch this video imagining that Dr.Teeth and co. are performing, it’s like you’re there in the room with them. I often get accused of thinking the Muppets are real by my friends (and of course, they are), but this is what they’d be like really for real. The voices are bordering on impersonations, which I know can be a turn off, but here I accept that these are authentic rock voices rather than impressions. These last two songs really show just how hardcore the Muppets (and their fans) can be!
8 – I Hope That Somethin’ Better Comes Along – Jon Tony
There’s something about a guy/girl/whatever playing an acoustic guitar/ukulele/banjo that generally turns me off of cover songs. It’s not that they’re bad – it’s just that there are usually so many of them that they struggle to stand out. The very best covers have to do something unusual with the song and/or something that captures the spirit of the original. This does both. Sure it’s a guy with a guitar, but the song is quite famously piano driven so this is a good few steps away. It also captures the dogged (sorry!) resignation of Rowlf and Kermit’s version and highlights the fun lyrics. The inclusion of the harmonica is also very welcome and provides an extra element. This is a great version of one of my favorite Muppet songs.
7 – One More Sleep ‘til Christmas – Jaron Davis
I had a conversation with a friend I’m educating in the way of the frog today and one of the topics for discussion was the assertion that The Muppet Movie is the most magical Muppet film. He thinks it is – I think it could be Muppet Christmas Carol. There’s certainly a lot of heart and joy in The Muppet Movie, but I think for Muppet fans given the context of when Muppet Christmas Carol was released (after the deaths of Jim Henson and Richard Hunt), there is a reverence, a beauty and a magic that is perhaps not seen or felt in any other Muppet production. It was the movie Muppet fans, Muppet performers and possibly the whole world needed so they could grieve and move on. That’s magic. Paul Williams caught that mood beautifully with this song and this cover does the same with an extra Christmassy flourish. It’s beautiful.
6 – Rainbow Connection – Priscilla Hernandez
There are a lot of covers of this song that are very similar to Kermit’s original and as I listened to them this really stood out from the pack because of how different it is – while still honoring the original. This has the strings that the movie version has, but is quite clearly not trying to copy them. The violins in the original help build a sense of wonder and this is happening all over again here, but in a lighter more whimsical way. This song captures the feel of Rainbow Connection perfectly. It’s otherworldly and ethereal, full of dreams and questions and loaded with longing. It’s also incredibly pretty. I really, really like the video that goes with this too. The clips of Kermit and Jim are delightful.
5 – I Wish I Could Be Santa Claus – Gladia Jagadesh & Joshua Pereira
Anyone who doesn’t like a cute kid should probably look away now. And then you should turn around and watch this lovely rendition of what I’m sure is Paul Williams’ most underrated song. These aren’t your average stage school kids. I don’t know much about either performer here, but their version of I Wish I Could be Santa Claus is too authentic and pure to be anything other than straight from the heart. And that’s why this song is so good. It’s about what’s inside you and how being small and meek can still be enough to do amazing things and touch people’s lives. Other than a bear and a whatever I can’t think of anyone better to sing it than two children. This video really deserves to have more views. Watch it now and bookmark it for the holidays.
4 – Movin’ Right Along – SeaStar
I once read that this was one of the toughest Muppet songs to sing because of the offbeat metre, need to allow the lyrics to breath, and comic timing required. SeaStar say this took eight goes to get right so I guess that must be true. Why this stood out to me, aside from the brilliant musicianship and beautiful voice of the the lead singer, is how much fun the band are clearly having here. This is obviously a band that enjoy each other’s company, love performing and might even be best friends – just like a certain frog and bear I know. This video puts an enormous grin on my face and I keep coming back to it over and over again.
3 – Never Before, Never Again – Stephanie D’Abruzzo
I guess you could call “foul” over including Stephanie D’Abruzzo on a fan chart, but I think we can call her a fan and this isn’t an official event so I think it counts. I hate to offend Miss Piggy, but I guess you could say the biggest difference between her’s and Stephanie’s versions are an ability to sing in tune. I’ll let Piggy inform you of which is which! You must listen to Stephanie’s introduction to this song because it really helps puts the track into context of the big diva love song that it really is. The song is played for laughs to a certain extent in the film and I think for Muppet fans who are quite happy to suspend disbelief and accept that a pig can sing a love ballad the joke doesn’t land as well as it might. Stephanie is showing us what we kind of already knew, but maybe didn’t realise. The song doesn’t have to be funny. In fact, it plays better when it isn’t. Her straight rendition shows us just how good this track really is.
2 – I’m Going to Go Back There Someday – Northland Church
Although this song could reduce anyone to tears, the saddest thing about this write up is that I don’t know who this vocalist is. If anyone does, please let us know via email (email@example.com) so we can credit her here as I just love her voice. It has that beautifully pure quality that Gonzo/Dave Goelz has and it draws me in every time I listen. The music box arrangement and sweet vocals make this light and airy which matches the lyrics perfectly and gives it a dreamlike quality that is just fantastic. So many people get this song wrong and this is oh so right. In fact, I think it’s fair to say that as a general rule so many people get the songs of The Muppet Movie wrong. They are easily dismissed as whimsical, childhood tunes, but they are actually grown up and full of complex emotions. They are musically and lyrically sophisticated and sometimes, as is the case here, the best way to tackle them is by keeping them simple and authentic.
1 – When the River Meets the Sea – The Grace Kinetic
I honestly don’t know what to say about this song. It’s breathtakingly beautiful. Cold and haunting, yet warm and comforting. I don’t even know how that’s possible, but it is because this song has done it. Although there are several possible interpretations of this track, it will forever be associated with death, mourning and grieving. Paul Williams has captured that feeling better than just about anyone ever has with this piece. It’s a funny thing that you don’t really know until it happens, but when you lose someone close to you it becomes really easy to spot other people who have been through the same. I could sense that this was the case here and reading the description to this video it states it was performed after a period of grief. This person gets it. This really is something very, very special and it breaks my heart that it has so few views. Please, please, please watch it.
I hope through this list I have managed to show you just how great you all are. Muppet fans are a creative bunch that really know their stuff. It takes something special to be a Muppet fan – I wish I could bottle whatever it is and give it to everyone. It’s a soul, it’s a spirit, it’s a joy, it’s a reverence, it’s a love for life, it’s a cynical eye, it’s a sense of wonder, it’s a wish to be better and a feeling of contentment in who we are. You all have that.
And so does Paul Williams.
He, alongside Kenny Ascher (who I have to mention), has helped us make sense of what it means to be part of the Muppet family. Listen to these songs and feel them. Then you’ll be a Muppet, my son.
Thanks to Paul and Kenny, and also a huge thanks to everyone who’s ever uploaded or performed a Muppet cover song regardless of whether you made this list or not. There are some wonderful songs that fell foul of my “each song once” policy. Spend an evening online enjoying them.
There are a couple of honorable mentions I want to give before I go, so please take a look at these songs that just missed out on the top 10. I was so disappointed not to be able to include them…
BBQ – Michael Holcombe
Brothers – Broken Records Inc.