With a nod to the green of St. Pat’s day, we take a look at the two albums based on the Emmy-winning animated Saturday Morning series, Jim Henson’s Muppet Babies.
MUPPET BABIES: ROCKET TO THE STARS
Parker Brothers Music PB-7270 (12” Vinyl 33 rpm / Stereo / 1985)
Reissue: Columbia Records 659 (12” 3 Vinyl 3 rpm / Stereo / 1987)
CD Reissue (as “Rock It To The Stars”): Zoom Express (1993)
Executive Producers: Jim Henson. Producers: Hank Saroyan, Rob Walsh. Writer/Director: Hank Saroyan. Arranger: Rob Walsh. Vocal Arranger/Vocal Coach: Janis Leibhart. Creative Director: Geri Sackson. Engineer: Terry Jennings. Album Design: Diana Zadarla. Cover Illustration: Scott Shaw! Running Time: 39 minutes.
Voices: Frank Welker (Kermit); Greg Berg (Fozzie, Scooter); Laurie O’Brien (Miss Piggy); Russi Taylor (Gonzo); Howie Mandel (Animal, Skeeter); Barbara Billingsley (Nanny).
Songs: “The Muppet Babies Theme,” “Rocket To the Stars” by Hank Saroyan and Rob Walsh; “Merry-Go-Round,” “Dream for Your Inspiration,” “Camilla” by Scott Brownlee; “Sleep Rockin’,” “Good Things Happen in the Dark,” Practice Makes Perfect,” “It’s Up to You,” “I Can’t Help Being a Star” by Alan O’Day and Janis Leibhart.
“I’ve always stayed away from Saturday morning,” Jim Henson is quoted as saying in Brian Jay Jones’ recent biography, “Not really thinking it was an area in which I would feel comfortable working.” Later he conceded, “If the kids are already watching on Saturday morning, the we should be there too, and maybe we could do something different.”
When Muppet Babies premiered on September 15, 1984, Henson and his team proved it could be done. Just as Lee Mendelson did with Garfield and Friends and The Charlie Brown and Snoopy Show, Disney did with The Adventures of the Gummi Bears and Wuzzles, and yes, even Hanna-Barbera could do with Smurfs, producers made stronger efforts to raise the quality level of Saturday morning cartoons in the ‘80s, to the point when some began to resemble animated prime time specials.
Critical praise and high ratings greeted Muppet Babies. Henson’s directive was that the series be used “to develop creativity. I think we can do something important with this show. There is almost no ‘teaching’ of creativity that I know of…We can…show the Muppet Babies using their individual creativity in how each one can do the same thing differently. There is no right or wrong to it.” (Henson’s last statement is also one of the overarching themes of Saving Mr. Banks: the dynamics of how people generate ideas and become attached to them.)
The record album has the disadvantage of the absence of the visual flair of Muppet Babies. Frequent live action footage of everything from Star Wars to the Marx Brothers could become part of the scene at any moment, giving the series a style unlike anything on Saturday morning.
Like most of the episodes, the story on this album is very free form, much like a good brainstorming session. Gonzo interrupts the calm with a stormy news report, spinning the nursery into a tornado. To keep the Babies from getting scared, Gonzo changes the nursery into a merry-go round. Crashing into the jungle, they sing a panicked monkey to sleep. Animal goes “bye-bye” just before a lion pursues them into a pyramid. It has become dark—and scary—when they get out, but Animal’s return raises everyone’s spirits and they settle in for a night’s sleep.
On side two, they are awakened by Gonzo, talking in his sleep about Camilla, his chicken. When a little space creature arrives, the gang repairs his rocket ship, blast off and send the alien to his planet. After Scooter lands the rocket on Earth (and Miss Piggy karate chops open the hatch), they are all chased by a giant. Before they get caught, Nanny finds them in the closet, where they have been imagining the whole thing, except the lightning.
This album also is notable for its sparkling cover art by Scott Shaw!
GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
“Ward, I’m Worried About the Piggy.”
One of the most delightful things about Muppet Babies was the casting of eternal TV mom Barbara “June Cleaver” Billingsley as Nanny. The character was seen from the knees up (wearing Witchiepoo’s knee socks), since the show was done from a child’s eye view. This is the conclusion of the story with the theme song.
MUPPET BABIES: Music is Everywhere
Columbia Records C-40773 (12” Vinyl 33 rpm / Stereo / 1987)
Executive Producers: Jim Henson. Producer/Arrangers: Hank Saroyan, Rob Walsh. Writer/Director: Hank Saroyan. Vocal Arranger/Vocal Coach: Janis Leibhart. Creative Director: Geri Sackson. Engineer: Terry Jennings. Running Time: 31 minutes.
Voices: Frank Welker (Kermit, Skeeter); Greg Berg (Fozzie, Scooter); Laurie O’Brien (Miss Piggy); Russi Taylor (Gonzo); Howie Mandel (Animal).
Songs: “Music is Everywhere,” “Table for One,” “Wocka Wocka Wocka,” “Snow White Blues,” “Wishes Have a Way,” “Runnin’ Out of Time,” “We Love Cartoons,” “Show Us the Real You,” “Amadogus,” “Semi-Weirdo,” “Art is for Your Heart,” “Playin’ in the City,” “TV Maniacs” by Alan O’Day and Janis Leibhart; “Best Friends” by Scott Brownlee.
This album was released when “Rocket to the Stars” was reissued on Columbia Records. Unlike its predecessor, there is no story, just songs. (No Barbara Billingsley!)
The songs are the work of Hank Saroyan, who was a writer, voice director and story editor for several animation studios; Rob Walsh, musical director behind over 200 TV shows, movies and record albums; Janis Leibhart, vocal arranger/coach for Muppet Babies with numerous composing credits; Scott Brownlee, a sound engineer for several cartoon series; and Alan O’Day, whose hits include 1977’s hit “Undercover Angel” (which he also sang) and Helen Reddy’s creepy, disturbing 1974 hit, “Angie Baby.”
But like the previous albums, every song has a specific format: verse and chorus, followed by a musical bridge that seems added on, then another chorus. The reason is probably that the songs had to be shorter on the show, but additional music was created for various reasons—including records like these. I am not aware of any reissue of this album’s songs on CD.
GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
“We Love Cartoons”
How could this NOT be the excerpt?