Is there anything dorkier than having a deep, profound love for The Muppets? When the guys here at Dork Shelf (which I wanted to rename Muppet Labs for the week, but was vetoed on because apparently Bunson and Beaker like to play hardball) asked me if I could throw together a special week of Muppet related content in honour of this week’s release of the latest Muppet film (review coming Wednesday), I nearly hyperventilated and passed out from excitement. The Muppets have been involved with several of my favourite films of all time and they had a huge impact on my understanding of writing and comedy.
One of the things the Muppets have been best known for are their uncanny musical abilities. Across every major film they’ve been a part of, Jim Henson and company have created songs that touch upon almost every major genre of music from sea shanties and doo-wop to blues and straight up metal. When I set out to begin my week of Muppet immersion, I created a play list of songs to share with you guys to help get you psyched for a week full of Muppet goodness.
The rules for selecting this list were simple. These songs had to appear in a Muppet related film that was theatrically released (meaning Sesame Street movies count, but The Muppet Show, Sesame Street, and TV movies don’t. Also not counting Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal because neither includes any of the classic Muppets). Before you think I am ranking these songs, know that I’m not. What I tried to do was to take a bunch of Muppet songs and put them together into a sort of “greatest hits” album that one could listen to before headed to the theatre for the latest adventure of Kermit and his pals. This is a Muppet mixtape from me to you with some of my favourites.
Track 1: “The Rainbow Connection” (The Muppet Movie)
This is the quintessential Muppet track, and also a great starting point. If you listen to the soundtrack or watch the opening of the film, the way the score gently gives way to Kermit’s familiar banjo strumming induces chills, and the song itself serves as a sort of mission statement for the Muppets themselves. It makes the listener envision a world full of possibilities.
Track 2: “Couldn’t We Ride” (The Great Muppet Caper)
Keeping with the same happy, but mellow vibe this duet between Kermit and Miss Piggy in their second theatrical outing builds slowly to an almost operatic refrain from all of the other Muppets joining the budding couple in a bike ride in the park that remains one of the best uses of practical effects in cinematic history.
Track 3: “I’m Gonna Always Love You” (The Muppets Take Manhattan)
Picking up oddly enough in a park after Kermit and Piggy have had another fight in the Muppet’s third film, this sequence enters a flashback and introduces the world to the Muppet Babies with a catch as heck doo-wop number with some of the most clever songwriting in a Muppet film as Piggy describes her ambitious plans for the future (including climbing the Matterhorn and practicing neurosurgery) and how Kermit will always be a part of her life no matter what. It’s incredibly sweet, and Fozzie, Gonzo, and Scooter all kill when they come in with the hook.
Track 4: “Steppin’ Out with a Star” (The Great Muppet Caper)
This might be one of the best “getting ready for a date” songs ever created. It’s jazzy to the point where the characters might as well be dancing on clouds, and it has arguably one of the best uses of a ukulele ever.
Track 5: “Shiver My Timbers” (Muppet Treasure Island)
Honestly and truthfully this will be the only mention of Muppet Treasure Island this week as it’s my least favourite of all of the Muppet films by a country mile. (Short version: It doesn’t at all feel like a Muppet film. It feels like a version of Treasure Island with the Muppets shoehorned in as character for little to no reason.) But this song is simply infectious. Looking back on it now, the beat and the pirate chant feel like something a rapper like Ghostface Killa or Kanye would be crazy not to try to rap over. It’s also the darkest Muppet song of all time, warranting its inclusion.
Track 6: “I’m So Blue” (Sesame Street Presents: Follow That Bird)
Like I said, theatrical Muppet releases count, and following the menace of the previous track, it’s time to take things way down with Big Bird’s torch song for his estranged friends after being kidnapped by The Sleaze Brothers (Dave Thomas and Joe Flaherty) and painted blue for a part of their fly by night circus. The song is so crushing for the audience to hear that it elicits one of my favourite exchanges in any film from my childhood. (Flaherty: “Come on, be a man!” Thomas (weeping): “But I don’t wanna be a man!”) The song has an almost shoegazey feel to it as if Big Bird were channelling a less egotistical Morrissey. (I couldn’t find the actual clip from the film, but this version is actually from the film’s storybook that I had as a kid.)
Track 7: “You Can’t Take No for an Answer” (The Muppets Take Manhattan)
The heck with sadness. Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem come in to give you some inspiration during a montage of Kermit trying to sell his off-Broadway production of Manhattan Melodies to unenthused investors. Unsung hero of The Electric Mayhem, Floyd shreds on this song like Earl Hooker. And Zoot coming in with the sax is a nice touch.
Track 8: “I Hope That Something Better Comes Along” (The Muppet Movie)
Moving on from pain and rejection to acceptance Kermit and Rowlf play Rick and Sam while talking about the fickle nature of life and love. It’s all delightfully shrug worthy, and a great drinking song. Not that any of us here at Dork Shelf condone underage drinking, kids.
Track 9: “She’ll Make Me Happy” (The Muppets Take Manhattan)
A heartfelt song about the healing power of love to follow the more mournful bar styles of the dog and frog, the climactic number of the musical within Muppets Take Manhattan feels like a Diane Warren ballad, but, you know, not as cloying, because we want to see Kermit and his friends happy. Sorry this one ends in Spanish, it was the only clip of this I could find, but the song’s in English and that’s what matters.
Track 10: “Saying Goodbye” (The Muppets Take Manhattan)
After I’ve built everything up going into the home stretch of the mix, it’s time to take things down as absolutely far as they can go. Not all love can last, and here the Muppets are forced to disband for the good of their own careers. Not only is this the saddest song in any Muppet film, but even Scooter gets something touching to say. And good God, when Fozzie comes in with the final verse he absolutely GUTS the listener. He’s crying, carrying a teddy bear, and hearing the voices of his best friends. I tear up every time I hear it. I’m tearing up just writing about it.
Track 11: “Grouch Anthem” (Sesame Street Presents: Follow That Bird)
Who better to give you a swift kick in the rear after being knocked down than the grouchiest of all Muppets. The opening to Follow That Bird serves as a pretty empowering anthem for the misanthrope within us all. If one were to take the song’s meaning and lived by the exact opposite of what Oscar says, the world would be a better place.
Track 12: “I’m Going to Go Back There Someday” (The Muppet Movie, Muppets From Space)
While this song from Gonzo appears in two Muppet films (including the decidedly not musical Muppets From Space), Gonzo’s night time song suggests a cautious optimism one would have after a pep talk. It’s a song about trying to go back to your roots, which leads nicely into…
Track 13: “Movin’ Right Along” (The Muppet Movie)
…the point where you actually begin moving along and getting things done with a good friend by your side. Possibly the funniest song in the Muppet canon, and certainly the only song ever to rhyme “gone” with “Saskatchewan.”
Track 14: “Together Again” (The Muppets Take Manhattan)
We’ve reached the proper end of this mixtape, and we go out on a showstopping number about togetherness that leads nicely into the upcoming Muppet film. It’s brief, but it sends you out on a high note, leading into a film about getting the old gang back together. It’s the track designed to pump you up for the rest of the day, and one that could easily dovetail back to the opening song should you listen to the playlist over again.
BONUS NOT ON iTUNES DELUXE CHRISTMAS EDITION
Yes, I know there wasn’t anything on the proper mix from A Muppet Christmas Carol or the new film, because I can’t stop associating the former with the holidays and the latter is a film that not everyone has seen yet, so here are a few bonus B-sides that wouldn’t make the proper album.
“Life’s a Happy Song” (The Muppets) (snippet)
While other songs in the latest film will surely join the one’s listed above (“Pictures in My Head” and “Man or Muppet” being highly likely candidates), Life’s a Happy Song will probably stick out in audience’s minds the most. Here’s a clip from the opening number of the film.
“Room in Your Heart” / “Thankful Heart” / “Bless Us One and All” (Muppet Christmas Carol)
Muppet Christmas Carol does have some pretty great songs in it, especially considering it was the first post-Henson Muppet film. They don’t fit with what I was going for with the mix, but here are three favourites to get people into the holiday spirit.
Super Special Bonus Track Courtesy of Will (Beaker’s Ode to Joy)