Aside from human guests, The Muppet Show also featured The Electric Mayhem, an all-Muppet band. Several members of this ensemble were modeled after famous musicians; Dr. Teeth was a cross between Elton John and Dr. John. Bassist Sgt. Floyd Pepper played his instrument left-handed, just like Paul McCartney. And though Animal supposedly wasn't based on any particular drummer, I think we can agree he's a dead ringer for any given rock drummer.
Who Knew the Muse Would be Fuzzy and Green?Some of the greatest Muppet songs examined the world from a Muppet's point of view, exploring the personality of, say, Oscar the Grouch or Gonzo.
For Sesame Street's first season in 1969, songwriter Joe Raposo wrote themes for several characters. "C is for Cookie" was a riot — and we're all waiting for Tom Waits to seal its place in the canon by covering it — but Kermit the Frog is the Muppet best immortalized in song. The universal themes of diversity and self-esteem at the heart of Joe Raposo's froggy ballad "Bein' Green" will remain relevant for generations to come. Frank Sinatra covered the song in 1971 on his album Sinatra and Company, giving it prestigious treatment, and indie artist Andrew Bird gave the tune his own unique spin on The Green Album in 2011.
Watch and ListenMusic was essential for holding the attention of children for the entirety of Sesame Street. In song, Sesame Street Muppets taught preschoolers the rudiments of addition, subtraction, geometry, English, Spanish, Roman numerals... but most importantly, it also explored some of life's central themes and questions. And because some of the best songwriters wrote the show's soundtrack, we who grew up on Sesame Street never outgrew its classic songs.
"Rainbow Connection was the first number in The Muppet Movie. It's the one that establishes the lead character. We find Kermit sitting in the middle of the swamp. Kenny Ascher and I sat down to write these songs, and we thought... Kermit is like 'every frog.' He's the Jimmy Stewart of frogs. So how do we show that he's a thinking frog, and that he has an introspective soul, and all that good stuff? We looked at his environment, and his environment is water and air… and light. And it just seemed like it would be a place where he would see a rainbow. But we also wanted to show that he would be on this spiritual path, examining life, and the meaning of life." ~from the Songfacts interview with Paul Williams
Entertainment for EveryoneJim Henson had originally pitched The Muppet Show because he was worried that the resounding success of Sesame Street was pigeonholing him as a children's entertainer. But by booking acts that parents would tune in to see, Henson was also introducing their children to the likes of Paul Simon, Gladys Knight, and John Denver. In an age when mass media was the way most people discovered music, the Muppets brought these now-classic artists to a new generation.
And of course we can't forget the 1986 film Labyrinth, which brought us glam rock pioneer David Bowie as the great goblin king Jareth, lord of myriad Muppet henchmen (also of silver eyeshadow). Bowie wrote six original songs for the film's soundtrack, including the opening theme and the ballad "As the World Falls Down." As a shadowy, handsome, reality-bending villain, Bowie made a dramatic first impression on the film's young audience.
Modern MuppetsThe Muppets remain a cultural phenomenon. Despite Jim Henson's abrupt and tragic death in 1990, the Jim Henson Company and its Creature Shop are still carrying on under the guidance of his children Brian and Lisa. The Green Album, a collection of classic Muppet songs, was released in August 2011 to critical acclaim. And on November 23rd, a new feature-length film hit the theaters with the appropriate title The Muppets. And more than forty years after its initial airing, Sesame Street is still in production on PBS: teaching children to read, count, and sing. Jim Henson created something far larger than himself: the Muppets are still entertaining, still doing social good, and still green.
November 16, 2011
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