A few weeks ago I decided to go through my Spotify playlists and delete anything I hadn’t listened to in a while. My taste in music is varied, and often I’m in the mood for something specific, so each playlist has a certain theme. There’s a playlist of just duets. There’s a playlist of those classic ‘White Person Wedding’ songs (you all know exactly what I mean). Of course, there is a Muppet playlist. But my main one is just called Downloads, songs that I like enough to ‘download’ them for off-line listening. That is possibly the most varied of them all. Included is the likes of ‘You Can Call Me Al’ by Paul Simon, ‘Rasputin’ by Boney M (a song that managed to elude me for 31 years), the theme songs to ‘Animaniacs’ and ‘DuckTales’ , plus much more.
But there are a few songs on there that I found due to The Muppets. Five, in fact. Not Muppet songs, however – no, these are the originals to covers that The Muppets have done over the decades. And in listening to them, I realised my opinion differed on which version I preferred. So, I’ve come here today to think out loud, and decide just which of these versions I enjoy more. Please enjoy my musings.
(While I’ll be featuring video of the Muppet covers, you can click each title to hear the original)
1) Six String Orchestra
Originally written and released by Harry Chapin in 1974, Scooter sings this song in the famous Star Wars episode of The Muppet Show. The song, about a guy who attempts to learn the guitar, only to be told by every single person he encounters that he is terrible, is intentionally played with slightly off notes and clunky patterns, meaning that even if you play it wrong, it’s still kinda right. Scooter’s version changes the ‘strings’ section to a horn, making way for Zoot to appear. Chapin’s version is played as if he is in front of a live audience, although various articles indicate that the crowd were effects, where he makes multiple jokes and references throughout, which really heightens the moment. Where Scooter’s version falls down is that it suffers from the time limit of The Muppet Show. His version can only run for 2 minutes and 32 seconds, where as the real version runs at over double that, 5:27. What they had to cut is understandable, but for me it’s that atmospheric feeling that gives Chapin the edge. Point to Harry Chapin.
2) San Francisco
Originally written and released by The Mowgli’s in 2010, The Electric Mayhem sung this during their live Outside Land appearance in 2016. This poppy love song is a banger, no matter which version you listen to, let me just say that. This new line up of Muppet performers playing the Mayhem is steller, and their ability to harmonise is second to none. So their cover hits the ears very nicely. There’s just one issue for me, though, and that’s when the song comes to an abrupt halt to give Animal a drum solo. The song had flowed nicely until then, but that really hits the brakes fast. The original takes that same moment and gives it a ‘screamo’ type sound of which I’m not a huge fan, but at least it has a rhythm to it. Had the drum solo not existed, this song would have been given to the Muppets, but it’s a no go this time. Point to The Mowgli’s.
3) Flowers On The Wall
Originally written and released by The Statler Brothers (no, not him) in 1966, The Muppets covered this song with ‘The Ratler Brothers’ in 2015. Fun fact: This is the only song I know how to play start to end on the ukelele, because it’s deceptively simple. The Statler Brothers were four men (not actually brothers), so it stands to reason that the Ratler’s would have four members also. Here they’re Matt Vogel and Steve Whitmire on lead vocals, with backup by David Rudman and Dave Goelz. What Matt and Steve do here is put a real country twang on it, which really adds to the overall tone. The original has one member doing that, another with a deeper voice. I was surprised how much I hadn’t noticed the difference until listening to both for this article. I was almost prepared to hand this to the original, but man, Steve and Matt really took this home. Point to The Muppets.
Surprise! I like Paul Simon. You can tell because I’ve mentioned him 10,000 times in the past three months. Originally written and released by Simon in 1973, The Electric Mayhem covered it in a YouTube video posted at the end of 2015. While I’d certainly heard Kodachrome before, it wasn’t something that I was actively listening to at the time. In fact, the Simon version wasn’t something I actively listened to until around 12 months ago, when I had just watched the Muppet cover and decided to relisten to the original. The song has two main hooks for me; there’s the guitar riff that comes in during the second ‘beat’ in each verse (forgive me for not knowing music terms, please feel free to correct me in the comments and I will definitely forget to update this article with the correct information), and the abrupt tonal shift the song takes in the final quarter. While the Mayhem version contains both of these things, that guitar riff is lost a little in the beginning due to the fake audience cheers. I get why director Kirk Thatcher piped it in, but it loses part of my favorite bit. What this cover does have going for it, however, is the horn secion. With Zoot on sax, and Lips on the trumpet, there’s an added zing to this version that the original just doesn’t have. And even though I lose a little of what I love, I gain something brand new with the brass and the woodwind. Point to The Muppets.
5) The Muppet Show Theme Song
Alright, alright, I know what you’re all thinking. “Jarrod, that doesn’t count! It’s not like you hadn’t heard the Muppet Show theme song before OK Go did it for The Green Album!”. And you’d be right. However the version on The Green Album and the video clip released are two very distinct things. In one, we only hear OK Go, whereas in the ‘cover’ (as I’ll be referring to it) we have moments with The Muppets who either sing along or take lines for themselves. The actual song itself, is identical. But truthfully, as much as I enjoy The Green Album’s version, it’s also kind of dull compared to it’s ‘cover’. It’s fun, but it’s not even the best song on that album (that goes to Matt Nathanson’s slow version of ‘I Hope That Something Better Comes Along’). So this one is kind of a no brainer – anything that can have Sam the Eagle sing ‘That’s what I’m here to do’ has to take the cake. Point to The Muppets.
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By Jarrod Fairclough – Jarrod@ToughPigs.com