Finding a common thread between Ozzy Osborne, Placido Domingo and John Denver may be a difficult task, but for a Muppet aficionado, the answer is just a hop away: All three have shared a mike with Kermit the Frog.
“Once you got past the fly breath, it was great,” says singer-songwriter Paul Williams, who has dropped by Kermit’s pad several times and whose Grammy-winning “Rainbow Connection” has become a staple for fans of Jim Henson’s Muppets.
Ever since the “Sesame Street” hit “Bein’ Green,” (which became Kermit’s theme song), Jim Henson Prods, has offered up a musical palette as diverse as the felt faces who sing it.
Now led by Brian Henson, JHP has a plethora of singers and composers at its disposal, ready to tailor their tunes for the ever-growing Muppet clan.
“Music has always shared the No.1 priority,” says Michael Frith, head of creative services for Jim Henson Prods. Whether his team is finding novelty songs or composing new ones, catchy tunes “are absolutely of paramount importance to us. (Music) infuses the Muppets with such energy.”
It’s the quest for that energy that led Henson to the pop charts of the 1960s for songs to charge his first puppet show, “Sam and Friends,” according to Muppeteer and singer-songwriter Jerry Nelson. “Music was very important to Jim,” says Nelson, perhaps best known as the ever-counting Count von Count of “Sesame Street” fame.
“This is the most wonderful job we’ve ever had,” says songwriter Cynthia Weil of the seven tunes she and her partner-husband, Barry Mann, penned for the upcoming “Muppet Treasure Island.”
With the advent of “Sesame Street” in 1969 came the Muppets’ first foray into vinyl with the “Sesame Street” album, which marked their first commercial success, as the record went gold within a year.
By 1973, Henson’s group collected its first Grammy for the album “Aren’t You Glad You’re You?” in what would launch a litany of music awards, including Grammy nods for Joe Raposo’s “Bein’ Green” and Williams’ “Rainbow Connection” from the “Muppet Movie” soundtrack. Both albums went platinum.
In addition to launching “Treasure Island” on the bigscreen, JHP is busy preparing “Muppets Live!” – a modern version of “The Muppet Show”- for the small screen.
For “Live!” Nelson says the cast will march to a new beat, steering away from the standbys of “The Muppet Show.”
“I’d like to see a wide variety of music from different sources,” he says. “Since the Muppets vary so widely, so should the music.”
Adds Frith: “I’m looking forward to getting some songs out in the world again.”