When writing about Muppet Babies at all, one really must ask themselves “why?” After all, I’m a thirty-seven-year-old guy who has fond and fuzzy memories of Muppet Babies from his childhood, but isn’t it the sort of show that should be left in the past, something strictly for kids that shouldn’t elicit the kind of nostalgia one gets from more sophisticated fare?
The original cartoon series aired from when I was three until I was ten, so fundamentally for my entire childhood. This is significant. Although I rarely get caught up with my favorite pals from the nursery these days, I often get flashes of funny lines, situations, and songs, and they’re very frequently from Muppet Babies. This is because, like a lot of Jim Henson’s projects, the cartoon was working on different levels. The show was undoubtedly appropriate for tots and kiddos, and also skewed pop culture and history for older viewers. At the core of Muppet Babies was the conceit that your imagination could take you anywhere, definitely a lesson that this jaded and cynical pop-culture writer could remember from time to time.
If you narrow-in on the music of the original Muppet Babies series, it’s clear that it was quite the achievement. Every episode featured at least one original song, making each of them a mini-musical. The prolific songwriting team of Alan O’Day and Janice Leibheart were the primary culprits, writing a staggering amount (almost one-hundred!) songs for the series. They built upon a musical idiom created by Muppet Babies story editor and lyricist Hank Saroyan and cartoon composer Rob Walsh, who wrote the show’s iconic theme song. The doo-wop feel of the theme song (perhaps culled from the composers’ own nostalgia for their childhoods) carried over to the buoyant music for the first season of the series. As the show evolved, more musical genres were incorporated. Many of the songs for subsequent seasons ended up having a more contemporary sound, often parodying or referencing popular songs of the era.
Revisiting to the two albums released of Muppet Babies music, 1985’s Rocket to the Stars and 1987’s Music is Everywhere, my initial impression is of how much fun these sessions must have been to record. It’s funny, but Muppet Babies allowed the talented voice cast and songwriters to write, play and sing real old-school rock and roll. There weren’t a lot of opportunities during the mid-eighties for such a throwback project, it’s unquestionably a total joy for everyone who was in that studio.
There are a few highlights that I remember from the first album, Rocket to the Stars that are still worth a listen today. “Good Things Happen in the Dark” might be my number one favorite Muppet Babies song of all time. This one is pure Doo-Wop, with a spoken bridge from Fozzie that so, so killer. Also, the harmonies of the talented voice-cast on this one are tight!
The reggae-tinged “Dream For Your Inspiration” is a sweetly optimistic song about well… following your dreams! This one could almost be described as “Rainbow Connection-lite” and, in this case, that’s a good thing. Along the same lines is the inspiring “It’s Up To You,” a bouncy and contemplative number about figuring out what you want to be when you grow up. Remember when we were told that we could do anything if we put our minds to it? That was nice, right? This song is a refreshing reminder of that era of your childhood where your future is still excitingly malleable.
Maybe it’s because I owned Rocket to the Stars as a kid, so I have more of an affinity for it, but I think that it’s overall a better album than Music Is Everywhere. The songs have more of a consistent style, and we’re treated to a whole radio-drama style audio episode with the original voice cast that strings all the songs together.
Music Is Everywhere does have a lot to recommend it as well, although it’s more of a mixed bag. For one thing, the lessons of the songs on this album are a lot more unconventional for kids to be hearing, and I for one, really appreciate it.
Take “Table for One” for example, which is about the joys of solitude. I actually don’t know that many songs that are about how awesome it can be to take yourself on a date, which is genuinely one of life’s great pleasures. Seriously, if you’ve never tried it, please do! This feels and sounds a little sad to write, but seriously, it isn’t! This song deftly expresses how great time alone is.
Then there’s the manic “Wocka Wocka Wocka,” an ode to Gonzo’s stuffed chicken, Camilla. Haha, nah, I’m just checking to see if you’re still reading. It’s actually one of the best numbers that Fozzie has ever gotten to perform, in any iteration of the character. We get an elusive peek inside Fozzie’s catch-phrase, and although there’s not much revealed, the song is genuinely goofy and captures the random and funny/unfunny paradoxical nature of Fozzie at his core.
You can’t write about this album without a shoutout to “Amadogus,” the only parody I know of “Rock Me Amadeus,” which definitely dates this one, but is worth tracking down for fans of eighties New Wave.
Finally, of note is “Semi-Weirdo,” an eighties soft-rock style ballad featuring Gonzo featuring a sort-of identity crisis. This is a short one, the song clocking in at only a minute and a half, but during it, Gonzo goes through the process of deciding to double down on his weirdness. The frenetic end to the song is unexpected but somehow is perfect for the little blue-beaked baby who’s singing it.
With the Muppet Babies making their triumphant return to TV with their newly arrived Disney Junior revamp, I was a bit apprehensive but mostly excited to find a brand-new album of Muppet Babies musical material on Spotify.
Unsurprisingly different from the aesthetics of the original series, in some ways, the music for this new show actually appears to be more varied. There’s “Start Up Your Imagination,” which feels much more like a vaudeville-style Muppet Show number than anything from the original cartoon. We’ve also got an excellent disco sound-alike sung by the consummate diva, baby Piggy called “Super Fabulous.” Plus, there’s the relaxed, Randy Newman-esqe arrangement of “Just Like Me” and some driving surf rock with “What This Frog Likes.” Also, there’s a very cool zydeco song called “The Lily Pad Blues.” Very much like the original series, these songs are of a higher quality than something you expect tots to listen to.
The original Muppet Babies consciously looked at the strong musical history of the Muppets and built on it in its own unique, very Fifties-influenced way. It’s looking like the new Disney Jr. Muppet Babies is going to do the same thing, but this time with the gained perspective of even more time that the characters have been around to influence how songs by The Muppets sound. If this new show runs for as many seasons as the original, it’ll hopefully create as many earworms for kids as the original Muppet Babies did back in the day.
Who knows? Maybe one day, thirty years down the line or so, a music critic in his late thirties will be waxing nostalgic on the Tough Pigs auto neural-implant about the music for this currently new version of Muppet Babies, much like the way I did after hearing a lot of these older recordings for the first time since I was a kid. One can always dream for your inspiration: “dreaaaam, dream, dream dream!”
Click here for good things to happen in the dark on the ToughPigs forum!
by Louie Pearlman