Thursday, July 17, 2008

Muppet Covers Week, Day 4: Covers by Muppets & Friends

We continue Muppet Covers Week with covers of songs performed by the Muppets and/or special guests.

Ozzy Osbourne & Miss Piggy - Born to Be Wild [originally by Steppenwolf]
From the 1994 album Kermit Unpigged, which featured the Muppets, uh, mupping it up with special guests such as Jimmy Buffett, Linda Ronstadt, and Don Henley. Ozzy & Miss Piggy make for stranger bedfellows than a frog and a pig, eh? Actually, when you think about it, this is really the unlikely singing combo of Ozzy and Oz [Frank].

The Muppets - (Hey Won't You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song
[originally written by Chips Moman and Larry Butler]
From the first season of the Muppet Show with guest host Peter Ustinov. Gathered around Rowlf's piano with various other Muppets, Miss Piggy takes the lead on this cover of the Grammy-winning country song originally recorded by B. J. Thomas.

Joel Grey & The Muppets - Razzle Dazzle [originally by John Kander & Fred Ebb]
One of two numbers from the musical Chicago to be performed in the first season of The Muppet Show. This opens with The Great Gonzo putting on another typically misunderstood performance piece (demolishing a vintage car with a sledgehammer to the tune of The Anvil Chorus) before Joel Grey comes in with some stage advice.

Ben Vereen & The Muppets - Mr. Cellophane [originally by John Kander & Fred Ebb]
Mr. Cellophane is the other song from Chicago performed in season one. I was scrolling through Ben Vereen's IMDb listing and the one credit that jumped out for me was his role as "Mayor Ben" on Zoobilee Zoo. Man, I hated Zoobilee Zoo. The costumed animal/human hybrids freaked me out the same way clowns do, and yet it was something I watched again and again as a kid. Why? A strange childhood tendency to watch anything whether you liked it or not (also known as Younger Sibling Syndrome).

Floyd Pepper - New York State of Mind
Rowlf - New York State of Mind
This Billy Joel ode to New York City was covered by two different Muppets. Floyd, backed by Dr. Teeth on keys and Zoot on sax, performed it on The Muppet Show during its second season (shown again in the third season). Rowlf also performed the song on the out of print album Ol' Brown Ears is Back, which seems like a labour of love moreso than any other Muppet album I've heard. According to the Muppet Wiki entry, the songs were originally recorded by Jim Henson and Derek Scott (who played all of Rowlf's piano tracks on the Muppet Show) in 1984, but the album was not released until 1993, three years after Henson's death. Unlike Kermit who would from then on be performed by Steve Whitmire, Rowlf was not recast immediately after Henson's death and would appear silently in future Muppet productions for many years. Muppeteer Bill Barretta gradually took over the role and other Henson characters such as Dr. Teeth and the Swedish Chef, though Rowlf would not speak his first word ("Yeah!") until a 1996 episode of Muppets Tonight and his first full lines would not come until 2002's It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie ("Hey, Kermit!" and "Yeah! Heh, heh. Oh!").

Rowlf - Cottleston Pie [originally a poem by A. A. Milne]
Rowlf - Bein' Green [originally sung by Kermit]
A couple more covers from the Ol' Brown Ears is Back album including a cover of a Winnie-the-Pooh poem, which was written in 1924. I'm not 100% sure, but I think the poem was first put to music on this 1952 record by Jack Gilford. Bein' Green is a Rowlf cover of Kermit's signature song, ha ha. Of course, the dog and the frog were both performed by Jim Henson, though in Muppet terms I consider it a cover. Rowlf's "banter" on the album is heartwarming and often hilarious. It never sounds like someone putting on a character; Rowlf simply exists and it's magical. Other than Kermit, Rowlf is my favourite Muppet with his floppy ears, gruff voice, goofy jokes, and mad piano poundin' skills. And Baby Rowlf as seen in The Muppets Take Manhattan is absolutely adorable. What I love about Rowlf is that you never doubt for a second that he's a dog playing a piano. You know in movies when some actor is supposedly playing the piano and it cuts to a close-up of someone else's hands? Rowlf is most often shown from an angle where he's convincingly playing, not just random pounding. For a long while I assumed someone controlled his head while a piano player was ducked out of sight actually playing the piano with his big paws, which is half true. In actual fact, the piano is a "dud" that makes no noise, but the Muppeteer controlling the hands could possibly spend hours learning all the nuances of the pre-recorded piano track to play it believably. Incredible. It's often said that seeing the behind the scenes of "movie magic" can ruin the illusion, but in the case of The Muppet Show it just further enhances one's appreciation of the artistry and, well, the magic of the Muppets. Just watch the vintage behind the scenes special Of Muppets and Men that someone thankfully put up on youTube. Endlessly fascinating.

Rowlf - The Muppet Show Closing Theme
Near the end of season one, the Muppet house band abandons the show (temporarily) because they're fed up with playing the same old Muppet Show theme every night. Led by Floyd, they take off leaving only Rowlf to play the closing theme by himself. A nice twist.

Not exactly covers, mind you, but here are a couple guest appearances from Sesame Street:

Norah Jones - Don't Know Y
Norah was supposed to meet with Y, but he was a no show. She don't know why Y didn't come. That's not grammatically correct, is it?

Squirrel Nut Zippers - Put a Lid on It
I literally tried to track this down for years before some kind reader alerted me a couple months back to the recently uploaded youtube video. Victory! The goofy skit from 2001 has the Zippers trying to put different "lids" on a muppet's head. For context, watch the full clip here.

A few days ago the much anticipated Feist performance of 1234 for the upcoming season premiere of Sesame Street hit youtube:

Uh, wasn't that a completely missed opportunity for an appearance by The Count? Still fun though. My favourite part is her gleeful reaction at the very last second!

The Dust Brothers - Shining Star (featuring Jeymes) [originally by Earth, Wind & Fire]
This is the lead track from the Muppets From Space soundtrack. I frantically tried to track this cover down (indirectly leading to this whole series of Muppet cover posts) when I first found out that The Dust Brothers had covered Earth, Wind & Fire's Shining Star. Disappointingly it's a very blah straightforward carbon copy cover, not at all what one would expect from the duo who produced Beck's Odelay and scored Fight Club, among other prominent projects.


mauri said...


Anonymous said...

i am probably missing something obvious here but I can't seem to link to the tunes.

I've got 2 copies of each muppet album 1&2 but haven't the facility to convert to mp3. I would realy appreciate an mp3 of the floyd new york state of mind if poss.

Fongolia said...

MP3 links are generally de-activated after two or three weeks, but you can grab the NY State of Mind cover by Floyd here. Enjoy!

Anonymous said...

cheers, but i've just finished grabbing both the albums off a torrent.

the only one song that didn't d/l properly though was 'bein green' by kermit. I don't suppose you've got the full mp3 of that have you mate?

Fongolia said...

This guy recently posted a huge Sesame Street compilation, which just so happens to contain Kermit's Bein' Green.