Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher created the Greatest Soundtrack Ever in 1979 for Jim Henson, The Muppets, & Us.
Jim Henson’s brilliant, fictional creation–The Muppetts–released the greatest soundtrack ever in 1979. Your mind is racing, “How could you forget Purple Rain, Footloose, Top Gun, Saturday Night Fever, Grease, The Graduate and A Hard Day’s Night?” Easy. GONZO, nerds, Gonzo the Great, blue, depressed, outcast Frackle from another planet, played by the voice of Dave Goelz. That’s how.
If you’re a child of the 70s and 80s, the most lasting impressions that pop music’s culture left with you was probably created by TV-show theme songs, John Williams’ Soundtrack Scores (Star Wars, Jaws, Superman, and more) or The Muppets. Muppets–talking animals mixed in with weirdos, aliens, and cranky savants–did for many kids what Star Wars did for others but with great music. Gonzo sitting round a campfire lonely and singing or Kermit sitting lonely on a lily pad with a banjo, Jim Henson’s Muppets were–and still are–far ahead of the geared-for-children entertainment pack with fully developed adult themes and emotions. The Muppet Movie Soundtrack released in 1979 on Atlantic Records reflects such.
Paul Williams, along with Kenny Ascher, wrote a set of songs for The Muppet Movie that broke barriers between contemporary adult pop music, folk, comedy, ragtime-saloon and children’s music. Long before Randy Newman became the post-Reagen-era American composer of choice for children’s movies, Jim Henson’s Muppets couldn’t have been better suited for a writer like Paul Williams in the 70s. He had scored hits like Rainy Days & Mondays and We’ve Only Just Begun in the 70s with The Carpenters as well as winning an Academy Award for Evergreen, sung by the mighty Kristofferson and Streisand in A Star Is Born.
Taking his life-long work of puppeteer-ing to the big screen, Henson needed the right balance between adult emotions and our children’s minds to tell a story. There’s no better bridge to travel between all ages than music.
Kermit floating on a lily pad playing a banjo and singing Williams and Ascher’s Rainbow Connection. A lonely and depressing melody sung by a frog (Jim Henson) that has become an optimistic folk anthem. “The lovers, the dreamers, and me,” sings our hero: A skinny, ugly, weirdo frog in love with a caked up and strangely attractive pig. Miss Piggy. Williams and Ascher’s songs combined with Henson’s dark and innocent sense of humor becomes easily transparent. Singing with Frank Oz as Fozzie on Movin’ Right Along or dueting with himself as Rawlf (& Kermit) on I Hope That Something Better Comes Along, Henson’s characters and their vocals disguise adult themes making up one of the most disturbing children’s songs ever written about lost love, women that drive men nuts, moving on, getting drunk, being depressed and horniness. “The urge is righteous but the face is wrong, I hope that something better comes along.” Come on! The studio edited out part of the song for it’s 1979 release while keeping kids in mind but it doesn’t make it less enjoyable as an adult.
Frank Oz’s nasally falsetto performance on Miss Piggy’s Never Before, Never Again could be intolerable coming out of the mouths of 70s songbirds like Barbara Streisand and Anne Murray, but being that it’s a man singing like a heartbroken pig, it’s hilarious. I remember it being the worst song on the record as a child. Funny how time changes things. Three decades later, these songs mean more than they did as a child. The adult themes are hard to ignore which is part of what made Jim Henson’s creations and his abilities to appeal to a wide-demographic an artistic accomplishment. Williams and Ascher deserve the same accolades with The Muppet Movie Soundtrack.
Every Muppet Movie soundtrack fan I meet has a favorite song highlight but for my money and the sake of those reading this, The Great Gonzo’s camp-side lullaby is a fire full of goosebumps:
We’ll both be completely at home in midair.
We’re flyin’, not walkin’, on featherless wings.
We can hold onto love like invisible strings.
There’s not a word yet for old friends who’ve just met.
Part heaven, part space, or have I found my place?
You can just visit, but I plan to stay.
I’m going to go back there someday….
Heaven was a far off imaginary place as a child, often dreamlike and narrated by a decrepit, large nosed blue creature from space named Gonzo. It wasn’t Tattoine or The Millennium Falcon, it was a mysterious, sad-happy place with no name you could float through. A few years would pass and heaven became a place that miserable rock stars tried to get into by pretending to be something like Gonzo: Depressed, honest, from another planet and slightly introverted with a guitar but still needing your approval to get through another day on this beautiful planet with awful people. As we age, heaven—the idea of it or whatever it is—becomes real and depressing. Gonzo’s now more than a blue puppet from space who’s first introduced to us innocently as a child watching The Muppets on TV and the big screen. He’s something else, he’s some of us. Still here, still weird, still wondering what’s out there and still blue.
Some of our family and friends have left already for this place that Paul Williams, Kenny Ascher, and Gonzo warned us about on in 1979 . A happy place with sad melodies, talking animals, and adult emotions must be heaven if Jim Henson has anything to do with pulling heart-strings up there. The Muppet Movie Soundtrack is a therapeutic, musical remedy I return to frequently with open ears to remind myself of a few reasons why growing up and refusing to behave like an adult is ok.