The Top 10 Songs of… Calm (Muppet Show Guest Star Edition – Season 2)

Kieran Moore – Tired of never knowing if an asteroid is going to hit the Earth? Exasperated by the possibility of a second ice age? Slightly fed up that you’ve run out of walnuts and the store said they’d have some today, but they haven’t and so you’re having to make do with hazelnuts? If you or anyone in your immediate family can answer yes to at least one of these questions then you need new and improved TT10SoC(MSGSES2). Two out of three Muppet doctors recommend it (and one posilutely doesn’t) as a way to make you forget your worries, chill-out and find some calm in your life. 

For those of you who haven’t got a clue what I’m going on about (yes, you!), this is part two of my rundown of the best Muppet Show guest star songs that offer an oasis of calm in our current stormy seas. Pull up a beanbag, light a joss stick that smells like the Electric Mayhem tour bus and enjoy!

10 – Just in Time – Cloris Leachman
Sadly this piece is a little short and so is my write up of it. Cloris is giving it her all in this fun number that features some of the gruffest harmonies the Muppets have ever produced. Grab a cocktail, pull up a hammock and get taken away to a tropical island with this lilting track.

9 – The Entertainer – Milton Berle
This one is only as low as it is on this list because the middle part speeds up and loses the song’s soft subtleties. Rowlf’s simple piano and Milton’s emotional, reminiscing delivery of the lyrics tug at my heartstrings every time. The Entertainer is known for being upbeat and jazzy with it’s Ragtime heritage so to hear it done in this manner is something special. Milton Berle is a true entertainer and you can see every last second of his experience here. The Muppet performers are right there with him creating memorable magic that lingers a lifetime…

8 – Pick Yourself Up – Nancy Walker
Another criminally short piece. This song has a wonderful message (one you’ll hear more than once today) about overcoming the odds and believing in yourself. It also has a relaxing, yet musically sophisticated accompaniment. I like to imagine Floyd Pepper and Janice just offscreen jamming away. In fact what I’d really like to imagine is this becoming a full blown number in the vein of “Good Ol’ Summertime” with Pearl Bailey. The two pieces share a lot of similarities with their intimate off the cuff sensibilities, but the latter is fleshed out more and that’s what this piece deserves too.

7 – Song For Kermit – Julie Andrews
I feel a bit mean putting a piece called “Song for Kermit” and one sung by Julie Andrews to boot as low as 7th place, but I have to call it as I see it. Julie Andrews could sing the hell out of anything. Her voice is soft and silky, yet wonderfully clear and precise. With its mentions of tadpoles and fish it’s easy to forget just how emotional this number is. It reads to me as a love song between a parent and child, but works in many contexts. There are a couple of moments in the accompaniment for this that remind me of the theme from the old Incredible Hulk tv show – that’s never a bad thing when you’re striving for emotion.

6 – Goodbye Yellow Brick Road – Elton John
No round up of Muppet music from season two would be complete without a nod to Elton John – one of The Muppet Show’s most iconic guests. This perhaps has a bit more chutzpah than some of the other calming songs on today’s list, but tap away to the rhythm Animal’s playing and tell me you’re not instantly 100 degrees cooler. The Electric Mayhem and Elton John go together like chocolate and peanut butter and although Crocodile Rock is probably the best known of their tracks together I actually think this one might just be a better representation of how I see both acts musically – effortless performers with innate coolness…

5 – Too Shy To Say – Petula Clark
Aaaaaaaaand Rowlf’s back! This chart proves that The Muppet Show is perhaps at its best when it keeps things simple and lets its guests shine. Quite frankly, this could be a record, but is probably all the better for it. This is a superb blues number that shows off both Rowlf’s piano skills and Petula’s voice. It would also be remiss of me at this point not to give a shout out to Derek Scott who performed Rowlf’s piano pieces for Jim Henson and the other performers to mime along to (sorry to spoil the illusion). The Muppet Show really was a conglomerate of super-talented people, both in front of and behind the camera. 

 

4 – Bunraku Ballerina – Bruce Schwartz
Despite getting into puppetry purely so he could work in television, Jim Henson was a big advocate of puppeteers and their art. He regularly attended puppetry conferences and several of our favourite Muppet performers were found by Jim whilst performing their own shows. Here Bruce showcases the Japanese puppetry method Bunraku and his performance is the very definition of enchanting. It’s beauty lies in its simple elegance and if you’ve ever tried to bake the perfect vanilla sponge cake you’ll know that often the simplest things are the hardest to get right. This piece provides an effective counterpoint to The Muppet Show – one has felt and fur creatures in a real world setting, the other has a blocky, wooden character performing a wonderful fantasy. 

3 – Just One Person – Bernadette Peters
There’s probably not much I can say about this that every Muppet fan doesn’t already know, so instead I’ll just let you take in the importance of the lyrics to this highly emotional song. It’s a message that we’ve probably all needed to hear at some point over the last few months. It means as much to me today as it did to Robin 43 years ago. And I think it probably always will. 

And when all those people believe in you
Deep enough, and strong enough, believe in you
Hard enough, and long enough
It stands to reason
You yourself will start to see what everybody sees in you
And maybe even you
Can believe in you too!

2 – If – Cleo Laine & Bruce Schwartz
If everyone reading this chart was asked to list 5 iconic moments from The Muppet Show, or their 5 favorite musical moments from The Muppet Show, or the top 5 most delicious pancake toppings; I bet this song wouldn’t feature anywhere. And that’s a real shame. This piece truly deserves to be up there with Mark Hamill and Angus McGonagle gargling or Bernadette Peters singing Just One Person and yet it’s largely forgotten. This is a beautiful song, sung with real emotion by Cleo Laine that is taken to the next level by Bruce Schwartz’s tender puppetry. If you watch only one song today – make it this one. 

1 – Send in the Clowns – Judy Collins
I love this song. I could pretty much start and end this write up with just those four words. The raw emotion in this piece just cuts me in two everytime I hear it. The song itself with its tale of a love between two soulmates who just don’t quite seem able to make it work is pin sharp in its message and Judy Collins sings it with such beauty it becomes even more prickly and painful to listen to – yet it’s comforting and rich at the same time. It would be very easy to argue that the cartoonish clowns undermine the piece, but for three things; first Judy’s performance more than holds its own, never once showing signs of being upstaged; second the show’s production team quite rightly decide not to play this for laughs (other lesser shows might have got the canned laughter out); and third and probably most important, the goofy clowns set against the dark background and Judy’s vocals perfectly encapsulate the message of the song to enhance it rather than detract. It’s the kind of masterstroke that exemplifies The Muppet Show.

Well that ended up being quite emotional, but that’s one of the main points I’m trying to get across in these lists – The Muppet Show was all about light and shade. What this chart also shows is that there’s light in the dark. Listening to these songs is incredibly cathartic. I know I’m a lot less worried about the seemingly worldwide shortage of walnuts than I was half an hour ago. I hope you are too.

So I want to end with a quick Thank You to everyone who made this list possible – the incredible performers and production team, the songwriters and composers, and you. Thank You.