When I was seven years old I received the best birthday present ever. My birthday was on a Saturday and I woke up to the sound of The Muppet Show theme. I knew the theme well – loved it; love the show. But on this day I heard it loud and clear in my room. You see my present was a television. Oh man, was this ever a big deal!
The television set was an old black’n’white, the type that now clog landfills. These days seven year olds are probably moving on to their second iPad. No one watches black’n’white anymore – hardly anyone reads anything just in black’n’white. But my room was lit up – there was a colour to my bedroom, something new. It was like I had my own movie theatre and concert stage. Grey and chalky images, sometimes served with a flicker – none of that mattered. I had my own TV. In my own room.
I can’t remember the moment I was turned onto The Muppets – I have an older brother and it was a favourite show in the house so I’m guessing I never really stood a chance, it was compulsory. But that moment – my own TV at age seven! – that’s the moment I always think about whenever The Muppet Show is mentioned now.
Well, that and the soundtrack to the original Muppet movie.
That was – as I say in the link above – my first record. And the start of my record collecting, the start of my obsessing over music; wanting to know about the writing and playing, who did what, and where (and why/how); The Muppets and The Beatles – starting points, The Muppet Movie soundtrack features some of my favourite songs.
There are the character-sketches that help pull that story along, that help you to invest emotionally – such as I Hope That Something Better Comes Along and I’m Going To Go Back There Someday. I guess I have to mention The Rainbow Connection, it’s been fairly well ruined now by insincere cover versions, killed ever more swiftly by totally sincere covers but it was – for a time (what seemed like a very long time too) – my favourite song. It might even have been my first favourite song.
Movin’ Right Along was probably my second favourite song.
I played that Muppet Movie soundtrack every day for a while. Then it was shelved along with mum and dad’s records. And then when I was about 14, a student of the drums (Animal one of my prime influences; I’m not kidding, Animal and Ringo were the first two drummers I was aware of, then came Buddy Rich, then Ginger Baker…) I dug out the Muppet Movie soundtrack record – along with albums by The Beatles and Cream – and played along to some of the songs. The best one to play along to – and a fine song for any band to cover I should think – was Can You Picture That? Brilliant.
A few years ago I bought the first season of the Muppet Show on DVD and started re-watching. Brilliant. A better fix than just a few YouTube clips now and then. The sketches were still funny, the timing often brilliant; great guest stars and across The Muppet Show and its starting point, Sesame Street (the original home to Jim Henson’s Muppet creations) there have been some great music jokes. Norah Jones singing her song I Don’t Know Why to dedicated to the letter Y for example.
My favourite Muppet Show sketch, still (always), is where one Muppet monster swallows a smaller puppet and they sing – as a duet – I’ve Got You Under My Skin.
There are loads of subversive musical moments across the show and scattered in-jokes, is Ralph The Dog based on the early Tom Waits for example. You could chuck in a bit of Randy Newman maybe. Dr Teeth is so obviously Dr John. Animal, it’s said, was based on Keith Moon. He took over from Moon the loon as the obvious name-call/name-check as both taunt and tribute for so many back shed drummers. Floyd named after/for Pink Floyd? The list goes on.
Then there were the songs – clever tunes on that movie soundtrack. Many of them created by Paul Williams (he’s recently offered his, er, Touch to Daft Punk and put on some sort of show in Las Vegas last year that I was, well, “lucky” to see I spose…)
I can’t cover The Majesty of The Muppets with one single/simple blog-post.
But The Muppets – the music, the musical moments, the brilliant ball-room dancing joke sequences – have had a huge impact on my life.
I’ve had the chance to relive a lot of it by introducing my son Oscar to The Muppets. He was quite taken with a few of the episodes. The show bursts into life a flurry of music and colour and joy. And he laughed and claps his hands and was sucked right into a show that’s 40 years old. As he’s grown older he’s turned to the Muppet movies, he was – by his own call – appalled by the new ones, he just likes the old ones, the originals. I can’t lie, that warmed the heart a little.
And then there’s those two old cynics up in the box crapping all over every sketch and joke; ruining punchlines, providing their own, scene-stealing and fourth-wall breaking. Yes, they were always my favourites.
But I want to know what you think of The Muppets – specifically the TV show and early movies. Do you have favourite guest-star cameos? Favourite skits/scenes – like when Buddy Rich took on Animal in a drum-battle or when the great Harry Belafonte took to the drums too.
The Muppet Show still strikes me as clever and funny and I used to love the behind-the-scenes moments when you saw the puppeteers hidden inside furniture, crouching at uncomfortable angles, all to bring joy and music and – yes – a healthy dose of cynicism to the world. To kids and to adults.
Jim Henson is one of the true giants of the 20th Century for me. A legend. A genius.
What’s your favourite Muppet Show music moment? Who was/is your favourite character? And how about that band?
And yeah, alright, I suppose I can’t close this post off without linking to The Count Censored, in the age of the internet this is now considered, I guess, an oldie but a goodie…