Kieran Moore – In these ever changing times, there’s one thing we can always be sure of – nostalgia ain’t what it used to be… So as we say “goodbye” to one decade and “hello” to another one, it makes sense that we’re looking back as we look forward. (And yes, I know the whole year zero thing means it’s not technically a new decade til next year, but we all include 1920 in the roaring twenties and 1960 in the swinging sixties so deal with it pedants!) That this coincides with a period where the Muppets have one flipper firmly in the past is either incredible serendipity for me or entertainment execs catching the zeitgeist correctly for once. I’ll let you make up your own mind on that one…
All of this is my long-winded way of saying there’s a very nostalgic feel to my yearly chart this time around. We’ve got milestones, retro properties brought back to life and signature songs a-plenty. It’s been a bumper year and I’ve found it difficult to narrow this list down to just 10 songs so I’ll add a few honorable mentions as I go. I’ve got the whole thing written down and planned out and researched (believe that and you’ll believe anything) because I think preparation is really important – and so does this guy so let’s get on with it…
10 – Plan the Play – Sesame Street
It makes sense to start with this song on several levels: first off, it’s all about planning and getting ready; and second, unless you’ve been living under a (Fraggle) rock for the last few months, you’ll have noticed that Sesame Street is celebrating its momentous 50th anniversary! Let’s be honest some TV shows don’t even make it past a few episodes so for a kids show with noble intentions and a big heart to make it to 5 decades is pretty phenomenal. And it is a phenomenon. Sesame Street is an iconic, worldwide, culturally-relevant smash hit that shows no signs of slowing down. And you can bet your last cookie it’ll feature lots today. Andy Grammer takes lead on this song and fills it with such excitement and enthusiasm that it skipped past other Sesame Street celebrity songs with ease. Speaking of which… Honorable Mention: Count Me In – Sesame Street’s 50th Anniversary Celebration
9 – Sesame Street Theme Rap – The Tonight Show
There were several versions of the Sesame Street Theme eligible for inclusion in this list, but this one won out because it did something different and interesting and (let’s face it) included Tariq Trotter’s roll call rap. That breakdown is a fantastic runthrough of characters new and well-known and (like Fozzie’s jokes) also old and rare. This piece pays a real, effective and affecting tribute to the residents of the Street and shows us that without those stars there’s a good chance Sesame Street would have struggled to make it this far (if for no other reason than financial).I love seeing the gang on the bus and the Bus Driver is definitely in the running for Muppet breakthrough performance of the year. Jimmy Fallon clearly loves the Muppets and because of that I clearly love Jimmy Fallon. Honorable Mention: Can’t Smile Without You – America’s Got Talent
8 – This is My Street – Sesame Street
Not a lot of people know this, but I’m a little bit country (and a little bit rock n roll, but that’s a subject for another day) so I love the laid back vibe on this track. This song, as well as being used on Sesame Street proper, was the closing theme to the 50th anniversary special that aired on both HBO and PBS where it was accompanied by some fun animation that looked like kids’ drawings come to life. The special was filled with emotional moments for fans so to finish on something that could make you smile and feel young again was a really smart and sweet thing to do. I’d like to see this song become a real anthem for the show as I think it deserves it. Honorable Mention: Too Much Me – Muppet Babies
7 – Rainbow Connection – Facebook Portal Advert
This advert and song gives me all the feels. It’s just lovely. I first saw this commercial just before Christmas and it instantly filled me with the holiday spirit. And that’s one of the things the Muppets do best. I was taken aback by how beautiful this was. I’m not one to be sniffy about the Muppets hawking stuff on TV – they’ve done it for over 60 years and might not be here today otherwise, but my mind is slightly blown that an advert for a faceless tech giant like Facebook can make me feel the way this does. So there’s nostalgia running all through this – the Muppets as salesmen; the signature song; and the pseudo Muppet Family Christmas storyline. All in all, one of the best things the classic characters have done on TV for a while. Honorable Mention: Frogs and Dogs – Muppet Babies
6 – Kick it Up a Notch – Muppet Babies
Forget Stranger Things, Killing Eve or The Witcher – Muppet Babies is the best show on TV right now. Continually inventive, funny, emotional, musical and full to the brim with likeable characters we care about; it’s a rare TV treat. I don’t get to watch Muppet Babies as often as I’d like, but whenever I do I’m not sorry. Back when people were complaining about Summer Penguin being added to the cast, Toughpigs put up an article reminding us that Muppet Babies was being made for kids – not us older Muppet fans. Two seasons on, I have to say I disagree. The show is full of callbacks and fun nods to other Muppet properties and the addition of characters like Sweetums and Rizzo seems aimed squarely at the parents rather than the kids. I could have filled a chart with Muppet Babies songs and one day probably will, but in the meantime you can enjoy this fun power ballad instead. Honorable Mention: Slow Down Animal – Muppet Babies
5 – Sing – Sesame Street’s 50th Anniversary Celebration
There was no way we were getting through a list of songs this year without including “Sing”. This is a brilliant version, with a wonderful harmonious opening that gives it the appropriate gravitas before breaking into something much more festive – which is also appropriate. There’s also no way we’re getting through this list without talking about the legend that is Caroll Spinney. Just a month after this special aired Caroll sadly passed away making his inclusion here an especially moving and poignant moment. Lots has been said about Caroll recently so I won’t waste words listing his achievements. Afterall, his legacy goes way beyond his trophy cabinet and into the homes and hearts of the whole world. If you were a child over the last 50 years you’ve almost certainly learnt, lived, laughed and loved alongside Caroll at one point or another. It would have been very easy for Sesame Street to have ignored past Muppet performers like Caroll (and Fran Brill), but their inclusion here shows that you can never leave the magic. I know it’s from a different show, but that phrase feels very apt in this situation. Caroll’s magic can never leave us… Honorable Mention: Welcome! – Sesame Street’s 50th Anniversary Special
4 – I Remember – Sesame Street’s 50th Anniversary Special
Sometimes a song comes out of nowhere and defeats the odds to score highly on one of my lists. This is today’s entry into that elite group. I think part of its charm is just how unexpected this was for me. Sure we were going to get Sing, Rubber Duckie, C is for Cookie etc. in a show celebrating Sesame Street’s history, but I really didn’t expect this to appear – particularly so prominently. (In fact, the lack of acknowledgement of non-Muppet segments was probably one of the few downsides to the show – I guess this song is representing the genre as a whole.) Alongside its element of surprise is the fact that this is actually a very good song. Solange Knowles serves up (no, not a stick of butter) a slick slice of laid back RnB pop that wouldn’t be out of place on any chillout playlist. And it’s all based on remembering your shopping list! Honorable Mention: I Love Trash – Sesame Street
3 – The Muppets Rap Battle – Drop the Mic
I was just thinking this might be the only song on today’s chart that doesn’t have some sort of nostalgia element, but a bit like my parents, Kermit and Piggy actually seem to get on better now they’ve split up! Seeing them argue kind of harkens back to the 70’s and 80’s when Kermiggy’s relationship was rockier than Gobo’s house. This is flatout hilarious! I’ve no idea who wrote it, but this skit shows some real knowledge of the Muppets history, characters and relationships. Even the ubiquitous pig slang joke is carried off with style. Am I alone in thinking that Kermit’s first verse could actually be more pointed then it seems? Being nice feels almost like an even bigger dis than being nasty – as if Piggy and Beaker aren’t worth his time. Honorable Mention: Here We Go – Sesame Street
2 – Bein’ Green – Sesame Street’s 50th Anniversary Special
And here it is! Kermit the Frog’s long-awaited return to Sesame Street. It would have been a crying shame if corporate wrangling from either Disney or Sesame Workshop had prevented this from happening. And we’d have all felt cheated if Kermit had been sat in the background having a very brief cameo. This really was the only way to do it. Kermit was such an integral part of the show for so many years and yet he always had some sort of double life as the host of a hit variety show that didn’t shy away from jokes for grown ups. There can’t be many people/characters that have straddled two worlds in that kind of way. He was the same character in both and yet totally distinct. I reckon there’s a thesis in there somewhere. Anywho, this track has been covered so many times and it’s a tough one to get right – I think because it’s almost a poem set to music rather than a song. Kermit and Elvis Costello’s version is wonderful and hits every beat, both musically and emotionally, perfectly. Also, bonus points are awarded for having Elvis dressed in yellow and gold as per the lyrics of the song. Honorable Mention: Open Your Mind Up – Muppet Babies
1 – Speak for the Dead – The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance
And now possibly the most nostalgic/retro-ish piece on this list – at least if you happen to be a fan of cult movies… When a prequel to The Dark Crystal was announced I was stunned. Did anyone really think there was ever a chance of seeing any sort of follow up on screen? The Henson Company doesn’t have the best track record for getting projects off the ground (Fraggle Rock movie, anyone?) and of all their properties The Dark Crystal felt like a long shot at the best of times. I’m happy to say I’m happy they proved me wrong on this one. Age of Resistance became my favorite new show of the year and any puppetry fans reading this that haven’t seen it yet are doing themselves and the show a dis-service. I won’t give too much away (the track title kind of does that already), but suffice to say this song is performed at an emotional high point in the show. Daniel Pemberton has written a lyrical score piece that says a thousand words without saying anything (in English) at all. The universal language of music does everything it needs to here. I’m in awe of this track. It’s just one example of how stunning this show is. If we don’t get a second season I’m going to find a crystal shard of my own and insert it sideways into the Netflix executive of my choice. Or start a petition online. It’ll be one of the two… There is another reason why I love this – I’ve been spending some time in a recording studio this year and as soon as I heard this song I knew I had to cover it. My version has now had over 1,000 views on YouTube and I’m incredibly proud of it. You can check it out here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hGflVdOYMB4 Honorable Mention: Her Light Faded – The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance
At this time of year I like to add some predictions for what will happen in the Muppet/Henson universe over the next 12 months. I’m almost always correct (just call me Kreskin – ask your grandparents) so you can take these wild, imaginary guesses as 100% spoilers…
- The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance will get renewed for two more seasons, to be shot back to back. It will be nominated for a Golden Globe and win the SAG award for best ensemble cast.
- Fresh from this success, a Labyrinth sequel will also be produced by Netflix with Jennifer Connelly returning as Sarah. The story will center on an adult Toby becoming The Goblin King.
- Muppets Now will be a big hit for Disney+ and (frog)spawn two spinoffs: Muppets Then – a selection of archive clips from The Muppet Show, Muppets Tonight and other specials; and Muppets Later – an experimental strand featuring Kermit and new characters, the idea being that they’re the Muppets of the future. I think both actually have real for real potential if anyone at Disney is looking. Muppets Then skirts music rights issues by focusing on what they own and can include Pigs in Space, Veterinarian’s Hospital, Fozzie’s acts etc. and Muppets Later gives them the chance to try out new Muppets in a casual setting – if someone breaks out that’s great, if not who cares?
- The cost-effectiveness of these shows gets The Cheapest Muppet Movie Ever Made greenlit for Disney+. They make a virtue of the fact that it’s shot on the Disney+ lot and it features cameos from the casts of their Marvel, Star Wars and Disney shows. It’s packed with shameless plugs and is a whole lot of fun.
- Muppet Babies adds some more female characters in the form of Baby Hilda and Baby Mildred. It’s confirmed Mildred is a gecko.
- In honor of its 51st anniversary, Sesame Street becomes the 51st state and a furry star is added to the flag of the USA accordingly. Sesame Street’s state drink is the birdseed milkshake, it’s state flower is the stinkweed and it’s state bird is the peregrine falcon – no one asks why.
- Elmo dies his fur black for a Hallowe’en special and the Elmo the Emo meme is born.
Now we’ve looked at the future, how about the past again? Since we’re at the end of a decade (pedants, see above) I thought it might be fun to list the number one songs from the whole of the 2010’s charts – so here they are:
2010 – I Love My Hair
2011 – Our World
2012 – Muskrat Love
2013 – Sesame Street Theme (Jimmy Fallon Version)
2014 – The Weight
2015 – Kodachrome
2016 – San Francisco/Can You Picture That?
2017 – Happy Feet
2018 – Ho Hey
2019 – Speak for The Dead
That list is pretty diverse, but also includes lots of live performances and lots of Electric Mayhem so I’m happy!
This has been a mammoth article, but I just have time to say thank you to all the Muppet and Henson performers, writers, directors, producers, lighting operators, dolly grips, jello wranglers etc. that worked on anything on this list or otherwise in 2019. Also a huge thanks to Jarrod Fairclough for being a very manly Muppet and finally to my readers for bearing with me this year. I love you all. Here’s to 2020.
Now where did I put that spare crystal shard? I’m off to visit Netflix…