Yes, that’s right. In addition to playing the music and lighting the lights, it’s also time to put on make-up and dress up right. In a bid to make an entire generation feel incredibly old, Rhino Records has released The Muppet Show: Music Mayhem & More!
Can it really have been 25 years since Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Gonzo the Great, Scooter, and so many other Muppets first put on their weekly show? Talk about a show that was ahead of its time, and far more clever than a lot of folks give it credit for being.
It’s easy to think of The Muppet Show as “just a kid’s show” since it was, in a sense, a spin-off of Sesame Street, but, in fact, the writing was incredibly witty. If it hadn’t been, do you really think that folks like Spike Milligan and John Cleese, let alone Peter Sellers, would’ve been willing to appear? Any show that can adapt to the sense of humor of folks like that was clearly unafraid to be quirky.
If you doubt that, then you’re apparently unfamiliar with the Amazing Marvin Suggs and his Muppaphone; the sketch directly borrows from the Monty Python routine about Arthur Ewing and his musical mice, each of which squeaks in a different key when struck with a mallet. (Thankfully, no cases of Muppet abuse were ever cited against Suggs, so one can only presume that it was done with the full permission of the Muppets involved.)
One of the most memorable songs in Muppet history, the legendary “Mahna Mahna,” turns out not to have been originally written for the show. According to the disc’s liner notes, “the tune was actually written by composer Piero Umiliani and featured in a documentary film called Svezia, Inferno e Paradiso (Sweden, Heaven And Hell) .” Nonetheless, the Muppets performed the song not only on The Muppet Show but also on Sesame Street and The Ed Sullivan Show as well. There’s also a song on here, “Simon Smith and His Amazing Dance Bear,” which was written by Randy Newman and originally appeared on his Sail Away album.
Some of the best bits of the disc come from the dialogue. When Sam the Eagle introduces Wayne and Wanda for their brief version of “Trees”, he notes, “Besides being tremendous singers, they’re church people.”
Or, for instance, dig this exchange between Statler and Waldorf after one of the numbers:
Waldorf: Ah, that was terrible!
Statler: Well, it was good!
Waldorf: No, that was very bad
Statler: Well, it was average.
Waldorf: It was kind of in the middle there.
Statler: It wasn’t that great.
Waldorf: I kind of liked it.
Statler: It was terrible!
Waldorf: I loved it!
Statler: Get ’em off!
After Kermit and his Frog Chorus perform their rousing number, “Happy Feet”, Statler (or was it Waldorf?) observes, “You know, on the show, that wasn’t funny . . . but, on the record, it doesn’t even make sense!” Well, it may still make sense, but the novelty of seeing Kermit dance is, to be sure, completely lost.
Those dreaming of a Muppet Show CD that includes songs by the show’s guest stars will, alas, need to keep on dreaming, which is probably no real surprise. That’d no doubt be a licensing nightmare comparable maybe only with Live Aid to create such a thing. Still, wouldn’t it be great? How many other CD’s can you think of with the potential to feature a track listing that includes songs by Linda Ronstadt, Johnny Cash, Paul Simon, Debbie Harry, Joan Baez, Shirley Bassey, Diana Ross, Andy Williams, Carol Channing, Liza Minnelli, Dizzy Gillespie, Kenny Rogers, Beverly Sills, Arlo Guthrie, Crystal Gayle, Elton John, Alice Cooper, and Roy Rogers & Dale Evans?
The memories-come-flowing-back quotient of the disc begins to drop off right after the last song from The Muppet Movie, possibly because Paul Williams didn’t write the music for the next film, The Great Muppet Caper. Joe Raposo was selected to fill the void and since Raposo was the man who composed “Bein’ Green”, his credentials were more than up to par. Still, the songs, with the possible exception of “Happiness Hotel”, just aren’t as immediately catchy. The songs from The Muppets Take Manhattan, written by Sesame Street writer Jeff Moss, are just straight-ahead schmaltz. Paul Williams returned for A Muppet Christmas Carol and the quite nice “One More Sleep ‘Til Christmas”. Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil wrote much of the music for Muppet Treasure Island, including “Love Led Us Here” which despite being quite a nice track, features excruciating vocals from Kermit and Miss Piggy.
It’s a little bit surprising that there’s no trace of any songs from Muppets Tonight! , the ’90s revival of the show, but it’s legitimately shocking to find no trace of John Denver. Denver’s name was virtually synonymous with the Muppets for years, and, for a 25th anniversary collection, it’s amazing that Rhino couldn’t get score even a token track.
Nonetheless, Music, Mayhem, And More! features more than enough in the way of memories to make it a worthwhile purchase for kids and adults alike.