Kieran Moore – Is it just me or is 2020 totally sucking? Every time it looks like we’ve sunk to a new low something else takes the “Hold my beer” meme literally and we descend even further into chaos. If Planet of the Apes isn’t a documentary by December I’ll be taking it as a win.
So thank the stars for the Muppets and Henson who are one of the few bright spots on the horizon for entertainment lovers everywhere. If you wrote out a fantasy list of what you’d like them to be doing right now it would probably look something like this:
- Brand new episodes of Fraggle Rock
- A new Labyrinth movie
- A regular Muppet show on a streaming platform
- Fun Sesame Street content that puts a new spin on classic characters
- The Muppet Show seasons 4 & 5 on DVD
4 out of 5 ain’t bad (as Meatloaf didn’t sing).
If anything can make you forget your troubles it’s the Muppets, which brings me neatly to today’s list of songs (it’s almost like I planned this [I didn’t]). Over the last few weeks I’ve found myself humming some of my favourite chilled out Muppet hits and I thought what a great idea for a chart! Then I realised how many songs there were so I thought let’s start with The Muppet Show. Then I realised some of my favorite relaxed moments from the show featured guest stars so I thought let’s focus on them. Then I got to the end of season 1 and realised there was some wonderful stuff just in those first episodes and I didn’t want to leave any of it out so I thought let’s just do season 1. And to cut a long story short, that’s why today I present to you: The Top 10 Songs of Muppet Calm (Muppet Show Guest Star Edition Season 1) or as I like to call it TT10SoMC(MSGSES1). Coincidentally, that’s also my WiFi password…
10 – The Old Fashioned Way – Charles Aznavour
Charles Aznavour is far from my favorite singer (my mum calls him “Charles Has-no-voice”), but this piece is of interest because of the wonderful puppetry of Mildred. It’s a joy to watch. I’m not sure who’s under the felt, as it were, but they’re doing a marvelous job of keeping up with Charles’ movements – it can’t have been easy. It’s a shame this was cut from the DVD set as it really stands out as something a bit different. The song itself is lilting and lovely and if you aren’t swaying along by the end then I can only assume you’re tied to a Medieval rack and unable to move.
9 – Elusive Butterfly – Florence Henderson
One thing you’ll notice about today’s pieces is how beautifully they’re staged. The creative team behind The Muppet Show really were fantastic. From the directors to the set dressers to the camera operators to the art team; what’s on screen is never anything less than detailed, thought out and immersive – even when it’s just a couple of Muppets against a coloured backdrop. One of the things that stands out to me in particular here is the fantastic use of colours. The pale background that looks like a forest in winter provides a beautiful contrast to the summer colours of Florence’s outfit and the titular butterfly.
8 – Pure Imagination – Ben Vereen
I can only be honest and say if this song continued as it’s arranged at the start the whole way through it would probably rank higher. Once it gets jazzed up it sounds a bit like the incidental music from something like Charlie’s Angels! What this piece (and a few others on this list) show is that the Muppets aren’t afraid to get silly and surreal while being heartfelt and thoughtful. Not only does that set the show apart, it also makes the characters much more three dimensional than your average puppets. There’s something distinctly season 1 about this song and sketch and that’s not a bad thing at all.
7 – Solace – Juliet Prowse
Maybe it’s because it’s from the first episode, maybe it’s because it’s so good, but whenever I think of the classier side of The Muppet Show this is the first thing that comes to mind. It shows just how versatile the show was that this comes from the same episode as “Mahna Mahna” and “Simon Smith and His Amazing Dancing Bear”. I love the way the Muppets are able to do that – this truly is family entertainment. This presentation is 100% Muppets too. You wouldn’t find it anywhere else. As far as calming Muppet moments go, this takes some beating – which is odd since it’s in 7th place!
6 – Close To You – Connie Stevens
There are two reasons why this song is brilliant – one of them is Frank Oz, the other is Fozzie Bear. While this song will have you relaxed and chilled out it will also have you rolling in the aisle. I defy anyone to watch it and not be laughing. Frank Oz is a master comedian and I guess it takes one to play one. Poor old Fozzie and his insecurities! Close to You might be the ultimate easy listening song – it’s just so… easy to listen to. I’m so used to The Carpenters’ version that this makes a nice change of pace and feels fresh even though it isn’t. It’s perfect Sunday afternoon music.
5 – Let There Be Love – Bruce Forsythe
You can’t beat a bit of Brucie. I don’t know if I could accurately portray to those of you who aren’t British just how big a star Bruce Forsythe was. It’s such a shame that the best the Muppet Morsels on the DVD of this episode could come up with was his bit part in Bedknobs and Broomsticks. If you ever want to work out who in a room is British and who isn’t simply shout “Nice to see you” and whoever replies “To see you nice” is a bona fide Brit. Bruce was king of the catchprase and that was one of his best known. He was also a true renaissance performer. An accomplished dancer, musician, comedian, actor, TV host… he did it all. I like that this moment with Piggy sparkles, but isn’t played for laughs as her duets sometimes are. It keeps it mellow (and profitable).
4 – Sad Song – Paul Williams
What can I say about Paul Williams? He wrote songs for three of my favorite movie musicals – The Muppet Movie, Muppet Christmas Carol and Bugsy Malone. If you’ve never seen Bugsy Malone, do yourself a favor this weekend and check it out. As well as having great music, Jodie Foster is worth the admission on her own. Anytime you see Muppets around a piano you know something good is going to happen. And generally it involves incredible harmonies and the kind of musicality that makes you want to weep. In this case that’s quite fitting…
3 – Try to Remember – Sandy Duncan
I know I’ve already spoken about how good looking these scenes are, but this is particularly beautiful. I’d buy a framed print of that opening shot. It’s breathtaking. In fact I reckon you could watch this with the volume down and still be whisked away on a cloud of loveliness – which makes it even better that the song is so pretty and emotive. Sandy really sells this number, hitting all the big moments with aplomb while keeping her performance small and thoughtful. The Muppets sound amazing too. The plucked string backing is fantastic and just listen to those harmonies!
2 – I Got A Name – Lena Horne
It was ridiculously close between this and the song in first place – probably one of the toughest decisions I’ve made in my chart-building career. I’ve wanted both to top a chart for a while. This song has a fantastic message about staying true to yourself and being proud of who you are. It’s something we need to remember as much now as ever before. This song was originally a posthumous hit for Jim Croce, but I have to be honest and say this is definitely a case of the cover being better than the original (and I don’t say that lightly as I love Jim). Lena Horne is an effortless performer. She could sing the Yellow Pages and have me in tears before she got past A1 Dry Cleaners and Salami Shack. I’m going to have to stop writing now or I might change my mind about the number 1 song…
1 – In My Life – Twiggy
This is one of my favorite Muppet Show moments ever – it could very easily be top 10 on the right day. I don’t know if it’s the song, the singer, the visuals or a combination of all three that makes me love it so much, but it gets me “here” in a way that many other songs don’t. It’s melancholy yet hopeful; looks backwards yet you know the singer is moving on. When paired with the genuine emotion of Twiggy’s voice and old photos from her life it’s a compelling and touching moment that feels more real than a lot of other Muppet guest star performances. This is about as far removed from Sylvester Stallone fighting a wisecracking lion as you’ll get. Not that both aren’t valid forms of entertainment (in fact it’s their contrast that makes them work as well as they do), but you don’t feel like you’ve had a peek behind the curtain in the latter. While Sly let his guard down literally, Twiggy did it metaphorically. It’s a very special moment.
Hopefully over the last 10 songs you’ve drifted off into pure imagination, sang a sad song or simply found solace in Muppet music. Above all, I hope it’s given you a few moments to forget about the world outside your front door. I know it has for me. The world as we know it is evolving and we can’t ever really go back, but remember – whatever happens next, Kermit will still be playing the banjo, Fozzie will still be telling jokes and Gonzo will still be attempting to conduct the New York Symphony using a sock full of live eels. Some things will never change…
So I just have time (and internet space) to say a massive thanks to all of the people and performers who made this chart possible – in particular the 10 guest stars who helped make season 1 of The Muppet Show the huge hit it was destined to be. Thank You.