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Masters of Muppets

The 20 best musical moments on the original Muppet Show .

VIDEO: Escort, "All Through the Night"

Our old pal Cami's post on NYC dudes Escort and their insanely fun, muppet-tastic video (reason #798 why it's awesome to have full seasons of the Muppet Show on DVD, finally) reminded us that said vid — a genius editing of various muppet clips, so that the entire cast appears to be singing Escort's "All Through The Night" — would have been impossible without the famed Debbie Harry episode from '81 — in which she sings "Call Me" backed by a synth-punk band, and "One Way or Another" backed by a group that looks suspiciously like the Muppet Strokes.

By coincidence, we'd been seeking out Muppet seasons on the internet for months (not realizing the DVDs were coming out) in search of episodes we remembered starring people like Debbie, Johnny Cash, and the late, great Senor Wences. So here's the Escort video, plus some of our fave muppet musical moments. We're not counting Muppet-only classics like "Mahna Mahna," Floyd's version of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," or "I'm In Love with a Big Blue Frog," an early songwriting effort by future Blue Oyster Cult member Les Braunstein, who gave it to Peter Paul and Mary, who — this is what we still can't understand about the '60s — actually recorded it. On an album! We also did not consider the many, many musical guest spots from Sesame Street, which is why REM's "Shiny Happy Monsters" isn't here.

1. Alice Cooper, "Welcome To My Nightmare." You get the sense that nobody told Alice he was on a comedy show, but you also realize that it didn't matter: Jim Henson's crew loved monsters and novelty and play -- see the infamous Vincent Price episode -- which is why the Muppets and Alice made such a perfect fit. On this episode Cooper also performed his then-recent pop hit, "School's Out," but "Nightmare" offered an excuse to have him wear a Dracula cape, climb out of a coffin, and walk with a ghost. What more could you want?

2. Debbie Harry, "One Way or Another." It's surprising that there weren't more punks on the Muppet Show: the Ramones, when you got right down to it, were basically muppets with guitars. The muppets themselves felt more in tune with the handcraft of folk and the showmanship of glam -- their heroes were vaudville and the music hall. By '81, punk was as hammy as Borscht-belt stand-up -- and once this was so, it was ripe for caricature. (Elsewhere in the same episode, Debbie helps Robin and his froggie friends get their punk merit badges by learning to pogo.) Twenty years before Is This It, the felt-skinned backing band looks remarkably like the Strokes.
SEE ALSO: "Call Me"

3. Johnny Cash, "Dirty Ol' Egg Suckin' Dog". You can't do shit like this on TV anymore -- let alone on a kids' show. This was one of Johnny's dirtiest songs, and the inclusion of an actual dog -- Rowlf, bearing a look of abject horror -- was the ultimate example of the Muppets' Orwellian use of the animal kingdom to accomplish a subversive entertainment that would've been unthinkable without puppets.
SEE ALSO: "Ghost Riders In the Sky," "Orange Blossom Special"/"Jackson"

4. Miss Piggy & Tony Clifton. Probably the only time Andy Kaufman's surrealist lounge singer failed to incite an audience, if only because his schtick -- an embittered, washed-up entertainer whose only redeeming quality is his perverse dedication to formalist American showmanship, even if it engenders the audience's contempt -- had already been established as the Muppets natural metier. Kermit, in the control room, offers the same ambivalently optimistic half-praise he's bestowed on a long line of fish-jugglers, song-and-dance rejects, and crushed-velvet crooners: "Well, the audience seemed to like him." In the Muppets' universe, Tony Clifton was just another misguided singer who thought freestyle-rhyming words with "Kong" would make a great act.

5. Steve Martin, “Rambling Guy.” “How much was it to get in?”
“Okay, you’re going to get your money’s worth on this!”
In the context of this episode, Martin was actually auditioning for a spot on the show, and in hopes of impressing Kermit and company, he also juggles and does some things with balloon animals. "Rambling Guy" is basically Steve Martin doing his Steve Martin thing on banjo, but that's certainly nothing to complain about. The reprise with the jug band and the all-food glee club at the end of the show is punctuated by someone getting shot out of a cannon. But that's the Muppets for you: even Steve Martin had to pull out all the stops to impress them.

6. Twiggy, “In My Life”. Twiggy steps away from an all-muppet press conference to sing this wistful ballad while a photo montage of her life is projected behind her. Sad, but not as sad as when they did the same thing with Nico and “These Days.” (Note: this never actually happened.)

7. Buddy Rich vs. Animal. The drum-off to end all drum-offs! After a while, Animal just starts looking on in awe, and then throws a snare at him in frustration.

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  Topics: Ultimate Lists , Paul Simon , Joan Baez , Steve Martin ,  More more >
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