This year marks the fifteenth anniversary of “A Green and Red Christmas.” But is this album an underrated classic or a remnant of a rough time for the Muppets? Our own Matthew Soberman and Evan G. debate the good, the bad, and the covers.
Matthew Soberman: Hiya, Evan! Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but is this not the most wonderful time of the year? And is this not the most wonderful album to listen to this time of that wonderful time of the year?
Evan G.: Well, it’s definitely one of the top ten most wonderful times of the year. But I’m not sure I’m ready to call this one of the top ten most wonderful albums for this time of year. You love this record though, right?
Matthew: Admittedly, I listened to it in full for the first time in many years not too long ago. I remembered it as having just a few songs, but after giving it a full listen, I realized just how underrated it really is. What’s your experience with this album?
Evan: I’m pretty sure I listened to it once in 2006 and didn’t listen to it again until this afternoon. At the time, I was really disappointed with it. 2006 was a weird time for the Muppets. Disney had recently bought them, and we were all hoping for great things, but like, this was a year after the horrible Muppet Wizard of Oz and, at the time, didn’t feel like a big enough course correction after being so insulted by that TV movie.
Matthew: I get that. The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz was… not their best work. I’ll say this much, Gonzo talking about the holiday season seems more on-point than hearing him talk about his nipples.
Evan: Yeah, it does. And admittedly, the Gonzo and Rizzo duet of “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” is actually pretty great. But this album still feels weird to me for a number of reasons. I guess let’s start by talking about the high points though?
Matthew: Okay, we can start with the figgy pudding before we get to the fruitcake. Now, as much as I love when the Muppets get new songs they can have for their own, this album’s biggest strength is its covers of yuletide classics. Having Kermit singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” or the Electric Mayhem rocking out to “Run Run Rudolph,” at least to me, fits right in with the stuff we hear in A Muppet Family Christmas, and as I’ve documented on this website, that special is the star on the tree of holiday projects.
Evan: One thing that struck me today was how much better the covers are than the original songs. Like I said, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” is a standout, and I do like “Run Run Rudolph” and “Santa Baby” a lot too. The Muppets each are given a song that plays to their strengths and many of those tracks manage to be funny as well as heartwarming.
Matthew: I have to say, with this collection of covers, it kinda feels like we got a holiday-themed episode of The Muppet Show. We may not get the backstage story, or jeers from Statler and Waldorf peppered in throughout the whole album, but I get that Muppet Show feeling. And I think that’s because of what you just mentioned: everyone gets a moment in the spotlight, and the songs feel like good fits for the characters, just like we had for 120 episodes.
Evan: One other positive I’d like to note is that this album really tried to bring back the old characters as often as possible. We had barely heard any Dr. Teeth for years, and here he is, singing lead on two tracks! Rowlf and Floyd also made some of their only speaking roles in years here. That was nice back then, I remember that.
Matthew: Wow, you’re right! I guess I tried to push that whole era out of my memory, but yeah, this does incorporate those characters way more than most projects at the time. It’s like a holiday reunion!
Evan: With that said, one of the things that struck me then (and even more now) is that some of these voices are still developing. In particular, it’s tough to recognize Bill Barretta’s Dr. Teeth on “Zat You Santa?” which is made even weirder considering it’s the first track on this album. You might not even realize it’s a Muppet album on the first track! Also odd is John Kennedy’s Floyd, which really only ever appeared on this album and just sounds like “a normal person” to me.
Matthew: Looking back on it now, the Muppets were experiencing growing pains for a long time as they slowly began to recast Jim Henson’s characters, and this album was only a few years removed from Jerry Nelson’s gradual departure. But I give them credit for finally trying to move on. It’s not perfect here, but it’s at least comforting to know that we’ve come a long way since then.
Evan: Yeah, we absolutely have. And I should stress, there’s more to recasts than simply voices, as we’ve discussed on this site, but on an album the weirdness is even more noticeable.
Matthew: True, it’s not like you have any other performance aspects to make up for that. Still, in the spirit of my argument, there are more hits than misses here.
Evan: Yeah, there absolutely are. It’s amazing how good Barretta’s Rowlf was even at this early moment! I just wish there were as many hits on the original songs, because Matthew, I hate every single original track on this album except that Rowlf song.
Matthew: That’s… fair. Aside from “The Christmas Party Sing-Along,” these are the kind of songs that would win “Worst Joke” if we did a “40 Years Later”-style review of the album.
Evan: Let’s start with that title track, or the sort of title track, because it’s called “A Red and Green Christmas” instead of A Green and Red Christmas. On this track, Kermit and Piggy have a fight that literally no one has ever had before, which is: is Christmas more of a red-themed holiday or a green-themed holiday? The lyrics don’t fit the meter, there are basically no jokes, and their argument winds up being annoyingly sweet and pointless. I literally started laughing at how much I disliked it.
Matthew: Yeah, I could see how it’s a little sickeningly sweet. It doesn’t really fit the Kermit-Piggy dynamic we know, but I’ll claim it’s at least better than “Christmas Smorgasbord” or “The Christmas Queen.” It’s a nice sentiment, and I like how their arguments compliment each other at the end. That doesn’t make it great, though, just barely tolerable.
Evan: “Christmas Smorgasbord” isn’t even sung by a Muppet, it’s a nameless chorus explaining that the Swedish Chef wants to cook a lot of Swedish food. Which isn’t even his thing! But “The Christmas Queen” is basically unlistenable. It’s three minutes of fat jokes. Come on. Even by 2006, that was tired and embarrassing.
Matthew: By 2006? I was tired of that by 1980, and I wasn’t even alive yet! I’ll never quite get the appeal of having a whole musical number insulting Miss Piggy’s weight, especially when there are so many aspects of the character you can poke fun at.
Evan: And I should stress that Eric Jacobson is doing a fabulous job getting angry on that track, but it’s not enough to save it from being deeply uncomfortable. But Piggy’s “Santa Baby” is good, so we at least get that. And once again, the covers are better. Oh well.
Matthew: With the exception of poor Fozzie Bear, everyone who sings a lousy original song at least gets a good cover. “The North Pole Comedy Club” is pretty bad, but at least I expect that for Fozzie.
Evan: I honestly wish that track wasn’t even trying to be a song, and was just a spoken interlude like how “Good Grief, the Comedian’s a Bear” was on the old Muppet Show album.
Matthew: Yeah. Hey Disney, just know that if you ever want to do another Muppet album, just know that us fans are perfectly fine with some spoken word tracks. Then it really brings that Muppet Show vibe together.
Evan: I hope they do make another album! On relistening to this, I did realize there’s a lot to like. I miss these album-exclusive celebrations like we used to get all the time from the Sesame gang. There’s a good album in here somewhere, if you pick and choose the standout tracks, and I’d like to see what the crew could put together now that I have a little more experience.
Matthew: Well, whatever they pick, it’ll probably include “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”
Evan: As it should. So I do want to thank you, Matthew, for reminding me that I don’t hate this whole album! Even if you also reminded me that I do hate a lot of this album.
Matthew: And thank you for reminding me that while there is a lot to love about this album, there are some real stinkers that are worth pressing “skip” on. And I guess that’s the greatest gift of all.
Evan: Well, besides children, ice cream, and laughter. But you can’t have it all. Happy holidays, Matthew!
Matthew: (Quietly stops laughing, puts away ice cream and sends children back to their parents.) Nope, you can’t have it all. Frog bless us, everyone!
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by Matthew Soberman and Evan G.