The Muppet Corner: The Muppet Show (album) side 1

Credit: w/ Viscaya Wilson Credit: w/ Viscaya Wilson

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s the Muppet Show (album)! - Kermit the Frog

The Muppet Show album, entitled “The Muppet Show,” is a Grammy Award-winning, two-sided, soundtrack album produced by Jack Burns. Presented by Kermit the Frog and released between the airings of the first and second seasons of the eponymous TV show, the album stars a wide array of Muppets, many of whom are now condemned to obscurity. You’ve of course got Kermit, Gonzo, Fozzie Bear, Sam the Eagle, Rowlf – all popular entertainers in their own right. Some of the less well-known – yet still fan favorite – Muppets also appear here, such as the members of Electric Mayhem, Miss Piggy, Robin, Scooter, and Bunsen Honeydew (interestingly without Beaker, as he only joined the Muppet Show for the second season onwards). We are gifted with wonderful little interludes starring perpetual curmudgeons Waldorf and Statler. And some truly terrible Muppets like Nigel and Hilda are also here.

The opening track, titled “The Muppet Show Theme,” is exactly what one would expect, complete with a classic Fozzie Bear joke. In the section of the song reserved in normal introductions for the introduction of the human guest star, Kermit instead introduces “The First Original Genuine No Money-back Guaranteed Muppet Show Cast Album.” The Muppet Show opening is one of those classic unskippable TV intros, and I know that when I do my semi-annual rewatches, I have never skipped it once. There aren’t any other noticeable changes between the season 1 show version and this album version, however that is to be expected as “The Muppet Show” is a collection of acts from the first season of “The Muppet Show” show. The advent of Youtube, Disney+, and other more illicit ways of acquiring these acts has made the production of this type of compilation album nearly irrelevant, but adults and children alike can still find joy in material like it. For example, as a small child, I was literally – no joke – an avid listener of “The Sesame Street Book & Record,” the 1970 compilation of “Sesame Street” songs. And no, I didn’t even watch “Sesame Street,” as I’ve always been more of a “Muppet Show” man. I literally — still not joking — owned stuffed animals of the members of Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem.

The second track is “a little Muppet Show music from Mississippi”, “Mississippi Mud” performed by The Gogolala Jubilee JugBand. You haven’t heard of this muppet jug band because they were just a collection of barely named Whatnots that disbanded before the second season, reportedly due to a serious dispute over the correct amount of holes to put in a washtub. It’s a shame, because their cover of “Mississippi Mud” has an exciting dynamism that feels really “muppety.” Here we also get our first Dialogue between Statler and Waldorf. I write Dialogue with a capital D as I wish to invite comparison with Plato’s Dialogues. I’d even say that S&W surpass Plato’s. Instead of mere morality tales, we get comedic insights into the art of musical theater criticism, and the afterglow of a performance. Statler and Waldorf begin with high praise for the preceding act, but as they continue to dwell on it, their previous appraisal has been reevaluated many times. Thirteen seconds after they began expressing their thoughts, they began booing, casting down the act the same way Rolling Stone cast Steve Earle out of their 500 Greatest Albums of All-Time list after 2012.

We then get another brief interlude in which Miss Piggy insults Kermit. I’ve been a fan of the Permit pairing for as long as I can remember, but you can tell throughout this album that the relationship between the swine and the frog is not as steady as it would later become.

We then get “Mahna Mahna.” What is there to write about “Mahna Mahna” that hasn’t already been written. The mondo film deep cut turned radio hit, this performance by Mahna Mahna and the Snowths is classic, yet feels uninspired. A classic song turns underwhelming when heard and not seen.

Next, we have another segment straight from episode 101, the Great Gonzo eating a tire set to “Flight of the Bumblebee.” A classic Gonzo stunt turns rotten when you can’t see his excellent munching, and Kermit calling it “One of the most original and unusual acts you’ll ever see, particularly on a record album” just comes off as an all too obvious joke; Why would I want to listen to this, when I could be seeing it for myself instead?

We next get “Mr. Bassman,” performed by the most excellent duo of Scooter and Floyd Pepper, with a strong backing by Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem. It only makes sense to put Floyd “the bass player” Pepper on Mr. Bassman. Floyd shows his strong vocal control with the bassy depths he lowers his voice too, which Scooter complements with a peppy upbeat song. This is a real joyful song, and redresses the ship after the two middling earlier segments, steering us straight towards the magnificent songs that make up the rest of side one.

The next comedic interlude is between Kermit and Fozzie Bear. Fozzie does some hat tricks that “somehow [don’t] quite make it on our record,” as Kermit explains. Fozzie bear is one of my comedic idols, which gives this segment a soft spot in my heart that would have been cast out had I been a purely objective reviewer.

Track six is “Cottleston Pie,” performed by Rowlf the dog. Rowlf the dog is my favorite muppet, and “Cottleston Pie” was one of Jim Henson’s favorite songs. During my research for this article, I stumbled upon recordings from Jim Henson’s “St. John’s Memorial.” During this memorial, Frank Oz, Jerry Nelson, Dave Goelz, Richard Hunt, Steve Whitmire, and Kevin Clash sang Jim Henson’s favorite Muppet songs as the muppets. It is very moving, and it gets my heart crying every time I watch it. Frank Oz, one of Henson’s closest friends, sings the song, as Henson had previously voiced Rowlf. In the album being reviewed here, Rowlf explains the song’s dynamics and key changes, ever the musician. During the memorial, he doesn’t need to.

Next, Marvin Suggs and his Muppaphone play “Lady of Spain,” with the muppaphone’s Ows serving as the sole lyrics. The muppets frequently experimented with form for the sake of comedy. In fact, the whole format of the show as a seemingly Vaudevillian skit show with behind the scenes drama was pretty influential, even without the non-human aspects. As with the other songs on this record, the focus is on the muppet, and not the cover. This commitment is what can make characters like Marvin Suggs feel realized, even when they are simple Whatnots.

The penultimate track of side one is “Lydia the Tattooed Lady,” performed here by Kermit the Frog, and in the memorial by Kevin Clash channeling Elmo. I’m too old for Elmo. Kermit performs with an exuberance you don’t usually see from him, as he is usually confined to more straight man type roles. Ever the consummate showman, he uses this opportunity to sing his heart out, his voice cracking with excitement. This track is strong enough that I rarely skip it, even though the next track is…

“Halfway Down the Stairs” is purely powerful. Introduced by Kermit as his favorite of their more obscure songs, this is once again a favorite of Jim Henson. This is an adaptation of a classic nursery rhyme by A. A. Milne, sung here by Robin, Kermit’s nephew. I cannot credit the muppets for the lines full of meaning, but I can credit them for their restraint. In an album full of bombastic and gimmicky adaptations, here Robin knows to take it slow and contemplative. It’s impressive that a muppet can extract this much sentimentality in a song devoid of the usual muppet tropes. I understand how it can feel to be halfway down the stairs, where “It isn’t really anywhere, it’s somewhere else instead.”

This concludes side 1 of “The Muppet Show.” You should now listen to the album, findable on amazon.com for $104.99, and youtube.com for $0.00. Come back next week for Muppet Corner, where we’ll be tackling the second side of this album.