As we’ve gathered from the trailer, the inciting incident of the Muppets Mayhem series is the realization that the Electric Mayhem has never recorded an album. So how have they managed to hold onto their position as globally famous rock stars? By touring forever!
Unlike the TV versions of themselves, the “real-life” Electric Mayhem still hasn’t gone on tour. Sure, they’ve played legendary sets at the Outside Lands Festival, the Hollywood Bowl, and the O2, but they’ve yet to hop in a brightly-colored vehicle and bring their melodious mirth to major municipalities across the nation.
But did you know that they almost did, sometime around 2011? It’s true!
Of course, the Electric Mayhem doesn’t have a plethora of original songs, so they would need to have some new tunes if they were going to play full-length shows. That’s why the Muppet people turned to a popular rock band that also sounds like something you wear to breakfast: My Morning Jacket!
If this project had actually happened, My Morning Jacket’s Jim James would have written new songs for the Mayhem, and the band would have stepped into the Mayhem’s music shoes for an album and a tour. In a June 2011 article from MTV.com called “My Morning Jacket ‘Sad’ Over Scrapped ‘Muppets’ Tour,” My Morning Jacket drummer Patrick Hallahan is quoted as saying:
“[T]hey were going to release an Electric Mayhem album, and they wanted us to be the band, and then we would go on tour, and they would have all these animatronic Muppets, and we would, like, be behind the stage playing.”
Well, that’s fascinating. It would be a cool concert, especially for folks who are fans of both the Muppets and My Morning Jacket. You buy one ticket, you get to see Muppets AND hear the real band playing live!
But… animatronics? Really?
I have nothing against animatronic bands, mind you. I love the Country Bears, and if it were up to me, Mr. Munch’s Make-Believe Band would have made it into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame years ago — but not before the Rock-afire Explosion. It would undoubtedly be a groovy experience to watch an animatronic Electric Mayhem bop around onstage while a real rock band blasted some live music.
But why wouldn’t they send the actual puppeteers on such a tour to perform the Muppets? The real Muppets would move much more fluidly, and letting them lip-sync would save a lot of time and effort that would presumably be required to program animatronics. They could even do live banter between songs. Is it possible that it would have been cheaper to build and maintain robot versions of the band than to simply send the puppeteers out on the tour?
Perhaps they were concerned about the possibility that puppeteers’ arms would get very sore if they held them up for two hours every night for several weeks. That’s probably a valid concern, even if they were to take a few breaks to show some video clips. In fact, after I finish writing this article I’m going to try holding my arms up for two hours every night for several weeks, and see how sore I get. I’ll report back to you.
It’s all moot, anyway. The MTV article quotes My Morning Jacket bassist Tommy Blankenship as saying that the project “fell through,” and in an interview with the AV Club, James said “We were working with a guy there [at Disney], and then there was some corporate takeover and he was fired and our project was dropped. There ya go. End of story.”
(Vulture also reported that James was in the running to write songs for the 2011 Muppets movie before the gig went to Bret McKenzie. Somewhere out there in the multiverse, there’s a reality where Jim James is a repeat Muppet songwriter!)
Before the My Electric Morning Mayhem Jacket endeavor got nixed, the band had already started working on some songs for it. And rather than throwing them all in the trash can of music history, they completed at least three of them and released them as My Morning Jacket songs!
Ever since I first heard this story, I’ve been meaning to check out those repurposed songs. Would they sound like Electric Mayhem songs? Would I be able to imagine them being played and sung by Muppets? Or would they have been more appropriate for the Banana Splits? Let’s take a listen!
Actually, before we take a listen: The Wikipedia article for the My Morning Jacket album Circuital claims that the title track from that album was one of the songs written for the Electric Mayhem. But there’s no source cited for that assertion, and I haven’t seen it mentioned in any other accounts, so I’m going to ignore it. You should ignore it too. Pretend you never read this paragraph.
One of the three songs Blankenship cites in the MTV article is called “Wonderful.” It was released on My Morning Jacket’s 2011 album Circuital as “Wonderful (The Way I Feel).”
Well, that’s lovely. It’s certainly a mellow song, but the Electric Mayhem can do mellow when they want to. The lyrics seem to be about escaping the pressures of life and heading to a place, whether physical or metaphorical, where things feel decidedly more… wonderful.
This song would work as a solo for Floyd in laid-back mode. The dude who sang “New York State of Mind” and “Blackbird” on The Muppet Show would be a good match for “Wonderful.” The arrangement on the released version is fairly sparse — I’m only hearing guitar, bass, and drums, so if the Mayhem had played it, it would be a good time for Dr. Teeth, Zoot, and Lips to take five.
Another song the band mentioned that began life as a potential Mayhem track is called “Outta My System,” which also ended up on Circuital.
Hmm. The first two lines are “They told me not to smoke drugs, but I wouldn’t listen/Never thought I’d get caught and wind up in prison.” Now, we all enjoy a good, wholesome Electric Mayhem drug innuendo, but I can only assume those lyrics were not part of the Muppet incarnation of the composition.
Still, with a few minor adjustments, it would be fun to hear Dr. Teeth singing about moving past his youthful indiscretions, and the repetition of the title phrase would provide a perfect opportunity for some yelling by Animal. “OUTTA MA SYS-TEM!” (That’s what Animal yelling would sound like, in case you couldn’t tell.)
The third and final song we’re aware of is called “Friends Again.” I’ve gathered that there are a few different versions, but this is my favorite one that I found on YouTube.
Oooh, this could be an Electric Mayhem song for sure! It would be perfectly compatible with the band’s hippie energy, and unless my ears are fooling me, I even hear some horns in there. This could be sung by Dr. Teeth, Janice, or Floyd, or all three taking turns… and the whole band could join in every time “Let’s be friends again!” comes back around.
So what can I conclude from this musical, jacketed journey? Three things: 1) My Morning Jacket would have been a good choice for the Electric Mayhem’s alter egos, 2) Disney should invite them to work on a future Mayhem project, and 3) It turns out I dig their music. I should listen to more of it, including the stuff that wasn’t written for Muppets!
And if The Muppets Mayhem is a big hit on Disney+, who knows? Maybe the Electric Mayhem will finally come to a concert venue near you. And me. And your cousin Steve. And if they do, they’re going to need a little help with those instruments.
Despite the unfortunate cancellation of this collaboration that could have been a sensation, My Morning Jacket did get to contribute to a Muppet-related album. Their cover of “Our World” from Emmet Otter’s Jug-band Christmas (which isn’t even owned by Disney!) was featured on The Green Album, a nifty compilation of modern bands doing covers of classic Muppet songs. It’s good too!
Click here to tell me whether Circuital is the best place to start with the My Morning Jacket discography on the Tough Pigs forum!
by Ryan Roe – Ryan@ToughPigs.com