We at ToughPigs have spent this whole week exploring the wild world of Muppet covers, and I’m proud of all the ground we’ve… um, “covered”.
We learned about muppropriation and what makes a song a Muppet song. We learned about the history and success of “Mah Na Mah Na”. We learned about the 4 different types of Muppet covers and the mysterious Fraggle Rock cover albums that kept creeping into iTunes like a thief in the night. We even learned about Muppet bedsheets. Writing these articles has been the highlight of my morning and evening commutes, and I hardly had any run-ins with police officers while doing it, not counting the ones I evaded with elaborate car chases.
Now I consider myself the expert on Muppet covers, so I’ll be your guide as we go through all* the Muppet covers you need to know to be a good and true Muppet fan. I’ve put some of the best tracks listed below (and a few goodies that didn’t make it into this article) in a playlist on Apple Music, and I copied as much of it as I could to playlists on YouTube and Spotify.
I won’t be including much from our friends in the Muppet fan community because I don’t know how to rank my friends, or this website’s friends for that matter. That would be awkward. I’m also sticking to recordings that have been sold or streamed instead of trying to track all the YouTube covers. I trust you know that someone out there has played any Muppet song you want to hear on their guitar or keyboard, and I leave you to search YouTube for yourself to find your new favorite rendition of “Bein’ Green”, “Follow Me”, or “Riverbottom Nightmare Band”.
Sesame Street Covers You Should Hear
Most Iconic Sesame Street Cover: “Sing” by The Carpenters
When Joe Raposo introduces himself in the documentary America Is, he lists very few of his songwriting credits, but he does say that he wrote “‘Sing a Song’ for The Carpenters”. I always find it fascinating that the world decided this song was a Carpenters song, and Raposo eventually had to play along. Maybe he was only trying to diversify his CV, but after hitting #3 on the Billboard Hot 100, this cover marks the most success any Muppet song has ever had.
Most Exhausting Sesame Street Cover: “Sesame Street” by Maynard Ferguson
Most Fun Sesame Street Cover: “The Word Is No!” by Screamfeeder
Most Touching Sesame Street Cover: “When Bert’s Not Here” by Justin Hayford
Most Important Sesame Street Cover: “Bein’ Green” by Frank Sinatra
Raposo believes he became famous because of this recording. Maybe he would have been famous anyway, but either way, this solidified Raposo’s relationship with Sinatra, and, more importantly for our purposes, made “Bein’ Green” a standard. It has since been performed by Tony Bennett, Lena Horne, Diana Ross, and, of course…
The Best Sesame Street Cover: “Bein’ Green” by Ray Charles
Honorable Mentions: “Sunny Day (Sesame Street Theme)” by Antonio Serrano, “Sesame Street Theme” by The Silent Jazz Trio, “Different People, Different Ways” by Rob Crow, “Little Things” by Diana Panton, “Keep Christmas with You” by Bob Philips Quartet & Lee Durley, “ABC-DEF-GHI” by Boston Pops Orchestra & Arthur Fiedler, and that whole brain-breakingly sophisticated jazz album of Joe Raposo songs by Yoon Sun Choi & Jacob Sacks. It’s a trip to another planet.
Fraggle Rock Covers You Should Hear
I’ve done some more reflecting on those Fraggle cover albums I mocked yesterday, and now I think I’m glad they exist. Really! They gave us such a high quantity of Fraggle covers (54) that a few of them ended up being pretty good, and I’m grateful for the good ones. I’m also fascinated by the strange ones. The other Muppet/Henson houses would benefit from this much attention.
Most Unhinged Fraggle Cover: “Turn Your Buttons Down” by Schlag Schlag
Toenails won’t fail.
Wait, No, THIS Is the Most Unhinged Fraggle Cover: “Dance Your Cares Away” by Juiceboxxx
Sensory Warning: I’m actually serious about this – this song toys with stereo and EQ in a way that makes it feel like your ear is tightening. You might not enjoy the way it affects you. I mean it!
Most Fun Fraggle Cover: “Brave Boy Jump” by Chalk and Numbers
Prettiest Fraggle Cover: “Ragtime Queen” by Jenny O.
Ugliest Fraggle Cover: “I’ve Seen Troubles” by Thee Oh Sees
I have to give them credit for realism. This does indeed sound like a trash heap.
The Best Fraggle Cover: “If You Want My Heart (I’d Give My Soul)” by Radiation City
I know nobody will agree with me, but this is my decision, and I will not explain myself.
Honorable Mentions: The big one that I’m missing is “Fraggle Rock Rock” by the Foo Fighters, but it hardly feels like a cover since it’s from the show and Uncle Matt was right there. It’s neat though!
The Fraggle Rock category really lends itself better to honorable mentions for titles in the unhinged, mind-boggling, or just downright weird categories. This is, again, mostly thanks to the series of Fraggle Rock cover albums from 2013-2014, but there are other oddities, like a bonkers recording of “Here to There” that inexplicably appears on a holiday album. Spend some time with Fraggle covers if you want to go down one of the strangest rabbit (Fraggle) holes in Muppetdom.
Misc. Henson Company Covers You Should Hear
Most Creative Henson Company Cover: “When the River Meets the Sea” by Kirsten DeHaan
Just rewrite the melody why don’tcha – it’s only Paul Williams.
Most Committed Henson Company Reclamation Project: “Chilly Down” by Mo Mo O’Brien
Most Surprising Henson Company Cover on a Disney Muppets Album: “Our World” by My Morning Jacket
Best Henson Company Cover: “As the World Falls Down” by Girl in a Coma
Muppets Studio Covers You Should Hear
Most Intimate and Tingly Muppets Cover: “I’m Going to Go Back There Someday” by Lotte Kestner
Most Fun Muppets Cover: “Movin’ Right Along” by Alkaline Trio
Most Stoned Muppets Cover: “Rainbow Connection” by Willie Nelson
Most Baby-Approved Muppets Cover: “Rainbow Connection” by Kenny Loggins
Best Muppets Cover: “The First Time It Happens” by Seth MacFarlane
Listen… I don’t know what to tell you. This song deserves to be a standard, and Seth MacFarlane of all people somehow seems to be the first singer to recognize that. He’s got a golden voice, and the orchestration by Joel McNeely is gorgeous. It wins!
You may have noticed that there isn’t much here from The Muppets Studio. Part of the problem here is how few original songs were performed on The Muppet Show. Even still, most recording artists who like The Muppets seem reluctant to venture beyond “Rainbow Connection” and “I’m Going to Go Back There Someday” to explore the joys of classic Muppet masterpieces like “Jamboree” or “Together Again”. This shouldn’t be the norm.
I want to shine a spotlight on an exception: the Kyle Cox album Kind of Green, which is all Muppet songs. It’s structured sort of like a karaoke album in that it features each song with and without vocals, but it is not a karaoke album. Each arrangement shows affection, intention, and artistry, making it not only a good listen, but a good example of how to approach a Muppet cover album. I hope other artists will follow its lead and take a stab at playing with the Muppet songbook – they deserve all the love they can get.
For me, hearing an artist who is decidedly not a Muppet playing a Muppet song gives me a greater sense for how much Jim Henson’s creations are appreciated, and of how good their songs are as compositions. When Sesame Street songs can be easily dismissed as juvenile, Sinatra gives them some legitimacy.
If you enjoyed this series, I hope you’ll give a listen to my playlist of pleasant and peculiar Muppet covers on Spotify, YouTube, or Apple Music. Maybe someday I’ll make a holiday version so I have a good place for all the piano instrumentals of Muppet Christmas songs. There’s also the time Gloria Estefan (not the penguin) and her family recorded a song from Letters to Santa. What a world.
*When I said this was all the Muppet covers you should know, I was exaggerating a bit. The truth is, the best way to find cool Muppet music is to chat with your Muppet fan friends about it! Keep the conversation going and tell everybody YOUR favorite new spins on classic Muppet tunes on our forum or in the replies and comments.
Click here to wear my morning jacket on the ToughPigs forum!
by JD Hansel