It’s always hard to find good Muppet music to listen to on my morning drive, and so far, this drive has been no exception. It’s giving me road rage! However, since I’ve got some time right now during these red lights, I’d like to get some of my anger out by venting about the trouble with Muppet music.
While we’re fortunate to have a vast wealth of Sesame Street songs available at our fingertips in good quality, the other studios still don’t give us a heck of a lot to stream. It stinks! Sometimes we can fix this by uploading our vinyl rips, but the unsolvable problem for Muppet fans is those great Muppet songs that never got an official studio recording. What ends up filling these gaps in The Great Muppet Songbook is other artists’ Muppet covers.
In most respects, I’m a big fan of covers, and not just Muppet ones – I love to hear one artist I like put their own spin on the works of other artists I like. It’s one of my favorite kinds of music! I do not like covers when they try to be a substitute for the original recording. This, sadly, is way too much of what’s out there.
Whether it’s Little Apple Band, London Music Works, or The Studio Sound Ensemble, “sound-alike” cover groups always feel kind of illegal. Not the “I’m going to watch Muppet Family Christmas anyway” kind of illegal that we like, but the “why are you beating up my grandma” kind of illegal that we don’t like. These covers seem pointless when I can listen to the real Kermit the Frog and Fozzie Bear singing “Movin’ Right Along” instead of Karmat the Frag and Fatzino the Beer, so I don’t know how they manage to make a dime.
There’s an official playlist on Apple Music (yes, I have Apple Music instead of Spotify; feel free to do some violence to me if you’d like) called “The Muppets Essentials”. It features the London Music Works version of “I’m Gonna Always Love You” mixed in with official Muppet recordings, like it’s the real deal. Why? Because the real version isn’t available! That’s how they getcha!
See how easy it is to accidentally bump into a forgery in the no man’s land of Muppet music? Someone’s got to bring order to this chaos!
By the power vested in ToughPigs, I’m making myself sheriff and setting the record straight. Here’s the lay of the land of Muppet music, as I see it, which is now the law of the land of Muppet music because I say so, ya hear?
We’ll call the forgery jobs I’ve written about so far “Type A” Muppet covers. They’re the train robbers, bank robbers, outlaws, and bandits. Can you tell that I’m immediately regretting comparing myself to a protagonist in a western?
A “Type B” Muppet cover is a children’s album version. Usually it’s an established artist with a guitar, smiling too hard as they sing a cute little ditty for infants, and it’s typically too syrupy for any of us #MuppetFansWhoGrewUp to listen to comfortably. Occasionally an artist commits to create something special with their children’s album and we get Kenny Loggins’ “Rainbow Connection”, but such gifts are rare, and I imagine most of you who didn’t listen to this track as a baby like I did wouldn’t like it half as much. I have no idea how to compare this to an archetype one would find in a western, and even if I did, it would probably be something problematic, right? Most things in westerns are problematic. I’ll drop the western shtick now.
[Editor’s Note: You may NOT drop the western shtick.]
Aw, shoot. Um, I guess they’re the village church people? They’re innocent and harmless, but not particularly interesting.
[Editor’s Note: You should drop the western shtick; you are terrible at this.]
“Type C” is a simple conversion to a genre (or sometimes an instrumentation) that is designed to be fairly anonymous. This is your Disney Peaceful Piano, Molotov Cocktail Piano, guitar covers, 8-bit covers, etc. Sometimes I like these, but they don’t have much character. That might show a lack of musical talent, but, usually, I think it’s actually by design. People listen to these for a timbre, not an artist. That being said, when a talented musician provides a soft piano performance of “I’m Going to Go Back There Someday” with thoughtfulness and a little flare, it’s beautiful.
Then there’s “Type D“, which is when artists really try to make a song their own. That should cover pretty much every kind of Muppet cover, right? There’s a gradient between Types A, B, C, and D, so I suppose it’s a spectrum with four quadrants, and the X and Y axes sort of wiggle all over the place. And that’s how math works. Anyhow, I like this fourth quadrant the best, except when I don’t.
Artists bringing an original voice to a Muppet song can be fantastic, but, often, removing The Muppets from a Muppet song makes it somewhat tonally confused. Consequently, The Green Album is hit or miss, and don’t even get me started on those Fraggle cover albums. Okay, fine, if you insist, I’ll get started on those Fraggle cover albums. You’re making me do this! It’s not like I’m on the verge of ranting about these albums at all times! Ha ha!
Once upon a time, in 2013, The Jim Henson Company was celebrating Fraggle Rock’s 30th anniversary with a plethora of promotional tie-ins. In September, ToughPigs announced that there was a new digital album of Fraggle covers! “Dream a Dream and See” was a lengthy 18 tracks including Fraggle tunes beloved and obscure, all from indie artists, each bringing their own unique voice to the project.
The weird part is, it wasn’t actually a brand new album… it had been out for months, and absolutely nobody knew. The Henson Co. didn’t tell anybody. That’s not a good sign. It is, however, understandable, since much of the album is remarkably bad.
Naturally, they made a sequel! And guess what? They still didn’t tell anyone they were doing it, so nobody knew it existed between its release in October and the fan community’s discovery of it in December. I do not know any of the artists on it, and I can’t even guess how they were chosen, but I can guess how the songs were chosen – I think the artists were given a big list and could pull whatever the heck they wanted from it with no oversight. I assume this is the case because “Let Me Be Your Song” isn’t just on both albums… it’s on the second album twice.
I haven’t found a ToughPigs article indicating that they ever made any more of these, so I imagine they learned their lesson. It was a sensible way to promote the 30th anniversary, but I can see why they would produce any more after 2013.
[Editor’s Note: They released another one in late 2014, my dude.]
WHY?! HOW?! Are there any significant artists on it?
[Editor’s Note: The Dandy Warhols deliver an impressively joyless “Pass It On”.]
Fascinating. Should I listen to any of this stuff?
[Editor’s Note: You can just listen to the unlicensed 2018 compilation album Do It on My Own.]
Oh, so it puts the “best” of all three albums together? That sounds like it could be good! And the entire album is on YouTube. I’ll take a listen.
This is still not great. I’ll share some highlights in my wrap-up tomorrow, but for now, I’ll leave you with this thought: “creative” and “interesting” Muppet covers are not necessarily good Muppet covers.
While there’s something to be said for an artist who makes every song they play their own, there’s also something to be said for an artist who recognizes something good when they hear it and wants to play it the way it was intended, simply out of love. These artists on the Fraggle cover albums certainly make interesting artistic choices, which I suppose I should respect, but if they don’t care about the songs they’re playing, they’re just as much a pathetic cash grab as the forgeries. They’re not welcome ‘round these parts.
Click here to be deputized on the ToughPigs forum!
by JD Hansel