Ahoy there, jolly hobo! Mind the bear.
In the year of our Lord 1979, a Christmas special begat a very special album. Today, we celebrate that album.
Progressive Boink has a long, long history of being very vocal in its love of all things Muppets. That one Onion articleabout how no one else can claim they truly appreciate Jim Henson's creation? That's us. I have a Muppet tattoo, for crying out loud. So it's only fair that I write an in-depth and loving ode to my favorite Christmas album of all time, which sprang from a television special -- also entitled John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together.
You can watch the entire special on YouTube, which is pretty much the ONLY place you can see the special, since it was never actually released on home video. Kind of understandably, actually, as you kind of get the sense that -- in grand 1970s tradition -- the thing was kind of tossed together over the course of a couple of weeks because the network wanted to get it out there. There's a weird table-read scene that seems largely ad-libbed, with a lot of half-jokes. There's also a very intriguing conversation about equality, which John Denver shouts down and non sequitors into a song before things get really weird. Honestly, Denver comes off as a real asshole throughout this entire special, so it's really best-served stomaching in album and/or one-song-at-a-time form.
There's also some batshit-crazy stuff that is mercifully left off of the album, like Denver as a fuck-up toy soldier singing "Camaraderie" with a bunch of other toy soldiers, followed by Miss Piggy as a toy -- uh ... fraulein, I guess -- singing Connie Francis' "I Will Wait For You." There's also a bit that's just John Denver telling the Christmas story over a choir-ish group singing a medley of Christmas hymns. This is really only notable for the accompanying visuals during the special, which feature a Muppet version of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Which is FUCKED UP in the most awesome possible way.
Also, John Denver really did look exactly like Martina Navratilova. Good lord.
The tracks on the album are in a markedly different order than on the special, but since the special was just an excuse to have John Denver and the Muppets sing a bunch of Christmas songs together, whooooo caaaaares.
"The Twelve Days of Christmas"
This is simultaneously the best and worst version of the carol ever. There's a bit where Fozzie keeps forgetting his lines, which is adorable and awesome. Also great is the BA DUM BUM BUM which really starts bringing it home. Negative marks: Miss Piggy at her Miss Piggy-est, really milking her line, which is also the first time I'd ever heard the "five gold rings" version. It's "golden" rings, god dammit. "GOLDEN." Or maybe I'M the weirdo. Jury's still out. Also we have John Denver insisting on singing "Pah-tridge" in a pear tree, which eventually colors how all the Muppet performers are saying it. Audrina Patridge in a pear tree. Sure. Probably the only job she can get these days.
"Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas"
I've always loved Rowlf and consider his singing voice to be the best of all of Jim Henson's singing voices. But this song really exemplifies how Rowlf just can't SHUT THE FUCK UP when other people are singing. "HEY THAT'S NICE JOHN." YES WE KNOW IT'S NICE ROWLF HUSH UP NOW.
"The Peace Carol"
This is a song I'd never heard elsewhere before hearing this album and it's a really beautiful duet between John and Scooter. It's also the most god damn 1979 Christmas carol you've ever heard in your life. Did you ever sing "The Holly and the Ivy" in grade school and you're just silently like "lol wtf is this song"? Well, "The Peace Carol" is "The Holly and the Ivy" turned up to 11, except it's good.
"Christmas is Coming"
The album version is quite a bit different from this one, but I like how insane the special version, because it comes out of absolutely nowhere. Piggy loses her damn mind singing a silly song and has to be forcibly stopped from continuing to sing it. Gonzo has to scream -- and I quote -- HEE HAW WHOA to get her attention. Everyone please start screaming HEE HAW WHOA at people.
"A Baby Just Like You"
This is a nice song, but kind of weird because if you're not paying attention it seems to take a hard left turn at the end when John Denver starts belting out MERRY CHRISTMAS LITTLE ZACHARY. Oh, this is just a song for one dude? Our mistake. We'll show ourselves out. Hey, maybe next time you might want to let us know up top that this song isn't for just anyone to listen to. Just good manners, fella.
"Deck the Halls"
What do you want to know? It's deck the halls, but the Muppets are singing it. It's what it says on the tin, buddy. Best part: Janice singing her line as "fullow me in murray mizzure."
"When the River Meets the Sea"
Paul Williams wrote this one, but uncharacteristically it's one of the weakest tracks on the album. It's just sort of ... bland and there. I prefer my Paul Williams tracks to be about a guy who gets his head caught in a record press and later orchestrates an assassination at Satan's orgy. But that's just me.
"Little Saint Nick"
This is a cover of the Beach Boys' own self-parody of "Little Deuce Coupe" and is performed here by Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem. It's a surprisingly toothless cover for the Electric Mayhem, even for a Christmas song. The Electric Mayhem are pretty much the craziest entities in the Muppet universe; crazy even for the Muppets. If the Electric Mayhem REALLY chose to do a Christmas song all on their own, they'd probably do a glam-rock version of "Run Run Rudolph" or "Jingle Bell Rock" while Animal hacks up Christmas turkeys with two massive cleavers.
If the Electric Mayhem were a real band, they'd be somewhere between GWAR and Rammstein. I don't know whether that makes me happy or sad that they don't actually exist.
"Noel: Christmas Eve, 1913"
This one's kind of a snoozefest, honestly, because it's just about a dude in 1913 out in the wilderness at Christmas. Take note, contemporary Christmas carol authors: sometimes when the muse knocks, you don't have to answer the door.
Side note: I don't know how the "new" YouTube works, because the sidebar "related" videos seem to be largely populated by things you've recently searched for and/or watched. I hope that doesn't affect you, the people to whom I'm linking. So if you click through and view this video on YouTube and the related videos are all The Cremaster Cycle, like I'm seeing, I am so, so sorry.
"The Christmas Wish"
This is a really fantastic duet with John and everyone's main man Kermit the Frog that our own Mike Fireball already wrote about, beautifully and at length. Please read that if you haven't already.
The full bit from the television special has an unrelated song by John at the beginning as he wanders around WHAT TOTALLY ISN'T A SOUND STAGE WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT before seeing Kermit just hanging out on a Styrofoam rock. This segment is absolutely worth watching because Kermit tells a story about a guy back home at the swamp and the "he croaked" punchline is like belly-laugh central. Kermit can really sell a punchline, even when it isn't funny.
Oh yeah; the song's good. Listen to it.
Medley: "Alfie, The Christmas Tree" / "Carol for a Christmas Tree" / "It's In Every One of Us"
This one's kind of like a thought experiment, where you have to imagine a sentient hippie Christmas tree named Alfie, who loves WOLVES AND GRIZZLY BEARS and wants you to say a prayer for the wind (HOLY SHIT WHAT), but then there's a coda of "It's In Every One of Us," which is the most balls-kickingly emotional song of all time, Christmas or otherwise. If you've never heard this song before, or -- god forbid -- if you've never seen A Muppet Family Christmas, please watch this version and GOOD LUCK NOT WEEPING WITH HAPPINESS
It's like running a gauntlet through the spoken-word "Alfie" to get to "It's In Every One of Us" but I AM UP TO YOUR CHALLENGE, MINOTAUR
"Silent Night, Holy Night (Stille Nacht)"
The Muppets join with John to sing Silent Night in German, which with Gonzo softly caterwauling among the company sounds far more sinister than probably intended. Denver tells the tale of the creation of the song and calls "Silent Night" "the most beloved of all Christmas carols," which even in 1979 was probably stretching the truth a bit.
"We Wish You a Merry Christmas"
Sort of an odd choice to round out the album, particularly after the one-two OUCH MY FEELS combination of "It's In Every One of Us" and "Silent Night." I guess the producers didn't want to ENSURE Christmas suicides by not ending the record with some laffs.
Miss Piggy starts getting offended about mishearing "figgy pudding" as "Piggy Pudding" because THAT'S RACIST, but Gonzo sets her straight and then is casually like "yeah I eat your people." Animal freaks out again and everyone packs it in. Good job, everyone! Way to Christmas!
To sum up: I love this album and I hope you do/will also. It's wayyyyy better listening to the album (half of which doesn't appear on the special) than watching the special. But do both. Everyone needs more Muppets in their life.