Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Muppet Covers Week, Day 2: The Muppet Movie

I loved The Muppet Movie as a kid and re-watching it is still a magical experience. The funny thing is watching years later and seeing the bevy of celebrity cameos: Mel Brooks, Bob Hope, Steve Martin, Milton Berle, Madeline Kahn, Orson Welles(!), Richard Pryor, and more! All the cameos fly over your head as a kid except one: Big Bird! The real stars, of course, are the Muppets themselves who appear in a very meta-narrative with the Muppets gathering in a movie theatre to basically watch how the Muppets all came together and ended up in Hollywood. While Kermit's Rainbow Connection is the most well known (and covered) song from the film, the whole soundtrack is full of great tunes including the rockin' Dr. Teeth & The Electric Mayhem jam Can You Picture That?, the jaunty Rowlf & Kermit blues duet Hope That Something Better Comes Along, Gonzo's wistful I'm Going to Go Back There Someday, and the ultimate roadtrip song Movin' Right Along sung by Kermit & Fozzie Bear. All the songs were written by Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher with both the music score and Rainbow Connection receiving Oscar nominations. The soundtrack also won a Grammy for best children's recording. Williams had previously been a guest host during the first season of The Muppet Show and also wrote songs for the Muppet TV special Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas. We continue Muppet covers week here at Fong Songs with a selection of covers from The Muppet Movie.

Rainbow Connection
[originally performed by Kermit the Frog]

There are numerous Rainbow Connection covers, many of which were once posted by Kurtis when he guest posted here last year. I've chosen a few covers that he "missed", though posting every Rainbow Connection cover is a pretty futile exercise.

Sad Kermit - Rainbow Disconnection
A sombre acoustic version in a minor key by the appropriately named Sad Kermit, an internet parody that first made headlines with a suicidal drug addict Kermit covering Nine Inch Nails' Hurt a la Johnny Cash. Other "sad" songs covered include Radiohead's Creep, Nine Inch Nails' Something I Can Never Have, and yet another Hallelujah cover. The covers are actually quite wonderful and the Kermit voice is pretty spot-on. A cover of Elliot Smith's Needle in the Hay is accompanied by by a hilariously perfect if morbid music video, parodying a key scene from The Royal Tenenbaums. Though it's ostensibly a parody, listening to Kermit singing Needle in the Hay does in fact make me kinda sad. As it says on the Sad Kermit myspace site, "It's excruciatingly painful being green..."

Fifteen - Rainbow Connection
Not quite Me First & The Gimme Gimmes (who also cover it), but the singer for this punk band slightly alters the melody for his own purposes.

John Michael Higgins & His Symphony of Guys - Rainbow Connection
This cover is from the soundtrack to The Break-Up, in which John Michael Higgins played Jennifer Aniston's brother who happened to be in an a cappella group. You may recognize John Michael Higgins as a regular in Christopher Guest's mockumentaries including A Mighty Wind for which he arranged and performed songs as part of the fictional New Main Street Singers. He also had a hilarious recurring role on Arrested Development as pro lawyer, Wayne Jarvis.

DAT Politics - Rainbow Connection
This is the most drastic interpretation I've heard, a jarring electro cover by French group DAT Politics.

Movin' Right Along
[originally performed by Kermit the Frog and Fozzie Bear]

Always a lock for a good roadtrip mixtape, this song also inspires a bit of Canadian pride when Saskatchewan gets name-checked.

The Dead Hensons - Movin' Right Along
You can't do a proper Muppet cover week without mentioning The Dead Hensons, the first and only Muppet cover band. It's a shame that their recorded output is limited to one 4-song vinyl EP, a couple live mp3s, and a short demo album. I want a full-length CD! I think they still regularly perform live in the San Francisco Bay area.

Less Than Jake - Movin' Right Along
The inevitable punk cover of anything.

The Fantastic Leslie - Movin' Right Along
This cover from The Fantastic Leslie's first (and only) release 1999's A Tiny Mark, which was the first CD I ever ordered from overseas. I stumbled on the band while searching "Ben Folds" on a now defunct version of mp3.com. Every song from that EP could be downloaded for free except for Movin' Right Along, so naturally I ordered the CD (an early sign of my unrealized cover obsession). Guitarist/vocalist Andrew Hansen would later become more widely recognized as a member of the Aussie comedy group The Chaser, which explains why nine years later I occasionally get e-mails out of the blue from curious Australians about it. Apparently I'm the only person on the internet who advertised the fact that I had this mp3, which I posted in one of the earliest Fong Songs posts. The Chaser made headlines over here last year when members of the group crashed the APEC Leaders Summit in Sydney disguised as a fake Canadian motorcade and were arrested while filming an episode of The Chaser's War on Everything. Heh heh, we had a good laugh about that. As for the cover, some of the lyrics have been substituted with Aussie locales (no more Saskatchewan!) and the whole thing ends up as a We Are the World-type sing-along.

Never Before, Never Again
[originally performed by Miss Piggy]

Johnny Mathis - Never Before, Never Again
According to Muppet Wiki, Johnny Mathis was originally to perform this in the film before they decided Miss Piggy should sing it. In the movie, Miss Piggy sings this when she spots Kermit for the very first time in the middle of the crowd at the fair and imagines their future life together. To my knowledge, that original Johnny Mathis recording has never surfaced, though he did perform the song for the 1979 TV special The Muppets Go Hollywood, accompanied by Rowlf on piano.

Can You Picture That?
[originally performed by Dr. Teeth & The Electric Mayhem]

Dr. Teeth, Floyd Pepper, Janice, Zoot, and Animal. Best band ever.

The Dead Hensons - Can You Picture That?
Another Dead Hensons track. Man, I really want a full-length CD!

There - Can You Picture That?
This was a nice find, a rock cover by a Boston band called There. They're faithful to the shared vocals between Dr. Teeth and Floyd from the original (though no Janice) with the lead singer even affecting a bit of a Dr. Teeth-like growl. Nice extended solo in the middle too.

While The Muppet Movie brings back warm, fuzzy memories, the first of only two Sesame Street feature films, Follow That Bird used to freak me out as a kid. Mrs. Finch! AAAaaaugh! Re-watching the film brings back palpable feelings of dread whenever Mrs. Finch, the evil social worker bird appears on screen, particularly when Big Bird is hiding in the haystacks. In retrospect, she's not so evil but it sure seems that way when you're a toddler. I also used to have nightmares about Big Bird's adoptive Dodo family. Nightmares aside, it's a pretty awesome film. There's a lot of CanCon in this one with three SCTV alumni Dave Thomas, Joe Flaherty, and John Candy making guest cameos with the whole thing being filmed in Ontario. Alyson Court who played a little girl who befriends Big Bird would later go on to play Loonette on The Big Comfy Couch! Even Kermit stops by for a nice cameo as a reporter. While maybe not as classic as The Muppet Movie soundtrack, the songs are still great including Easy Goin' Day and Upside Down World. Unfortunately, I don't know of any covers of songs from the movie! Let that be a challenge to you.

Tomorrow: Songs from Sesame Street!


Scott said...

Where does that Muppet Movie art come from? I've never seen it before!

Fongolia said...

It's unused artwork by illustrator Richard Amsel. I swiped it from this site. The official posters were done by Drew Struzan, probably most famous for his Star Wars and Indiana Jones posters, but I thought this image was wonderful too!

Remi said...

The Hill Valley Preservation society did excellent covers of both the Fraggle Rock Theme and the Muppet Show Theme. If you're going beyond Muppetville and onto the larger Henson works, they also did a cover of Bowie's Dance Magic, as used in Labyrinth.

Fongolia said...

Very good to know, Remi. Thanks for the tip! They even covered Muppet Babies!

John Hell said...

Dead Henson's just played their first show in two years, in SF, couple of months ago. Unfortunately a few members have moved away.
what a great show though. They are amazing.