The Muppets are a source of some of the most pure joy in my life, as is the case for a lot of people. They’re fun, they’re silly, they’re a bit shady at times. There’s the magical moment as you get older and start getting some of the jokes that you didn’t get as a kid and think, “Oh, there’s so much more going on here!” The most significant version of this is when you really start to love the sad songs, the songs that turn you into an emotional mess. It’s not that we didn’t get them when we were kids, but perhaps just didn’t appreciate at the time just how well Henson & Co. did at mixing in some real humanity in with the frogs and bears and chickens and things. Here’s some of the best worst times that The Muppets understood that sometimes it just wasn’t easy being green.
(Writer’s note: While I fully consider Fraggle Rock to be part of the Muppets family, I chose not to include any Fraggle Rock songs because I felt like it would have just been a list of Fraggle songs.)
5. The Muppet Show, “Time In a Bottle”
Some of the most interesting and intriguing segments on The Muppet Show were the ones that didn’t feature the core cast but instead random characters, often created just for the particular number. This very literal rendition of Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle” is no exception. While on the surface it takes the song down to its most core meaning, it makes a deceptive, subtle commentary on the futile nature of chasing youth. It’s the second saddest aspect of “Time in a Bottle” behind Croce’s own premature death.
4. Emmet Otter’s Jugband Christmas “Brothers/Our World”
Not a “sad” song per se, but this third act mash-up between Ma and Emmet Otter’s two competition songs is a sweet moment in an adorable Christmas special that often goes overlooked in the Henson library. It’s my personal favorite Christmas special, and it’s interesting talking to people who saw a different version first and have competing memories over it, like whether or not Kermit was in it (it varies depending on who had the rights, but he wasn’t in the original cut.) In many ways that confusion makes it feel like an unintentional metaphor for nostalgia, pieces of memories of something that have warped and changed until even if you went back and rewatched the exact version of it, it may feel entirely different versus the version you carry with you.
3. The Muppet Christmas Carol, “When Love Is Gone”
I almost didn’t include this song, because while it is from a Muppet movie, it doesn’t actually contain Muppets singing. I chose to leave it in because it is a song that is so sad that it was actually cut from most versions of the film, including the theatrical cut. Even though it is a vital part of Scrooge’s story, and the movie does suffer a bit for losing it, it seems that a song that is literally about the fact that love can cease to be was just a bit too much for a movie aimed at children.
(It occurred to me, watching this clip for the first time in years, that this song may have been an inspiration for the Avenue Q song “There’s a Fine, Fine Line.”
2. The Muppet Movie, “I’m Going To Go Back There Someday”
On its own as a song, this is probably the best sad song in the Muppet zeitgeist. It’s an aching, pining melody representing a moment of total despair and the heartache of failure, the epitome of the dark night of the soul. As a young child this was the part of the movie that I got bored in, but as a teenager I began to really connect with Gonzo here, weirdo to weirdo. An outcast among outcasts. This is now my favorite part of the movie. A few months ago, I saw a live outdoor screening of the film, and having a cemetery (Hollywood is weird) full of people singing along to this song with me was a pretty magical moment.
1. The Muppets Tribute to Jim Henson, “Just One Person”
While “I’m Going to Go Back There Someday” is the saddest self-contained song, “Just One Person” is the most tearjerking moment in the history of anything within Henson’s creations. There are actually three versions of this song in relation to the Muppets, none of which are the original. First part of the Peanuts’ Snoopy the Musical, Jim Henson loved the song so much he had Bernadette Peters sing it to Robin the Frog on an episode of The Muppet Show. Because it was such a favorite song of Jim’s, it was sang at his funeral, with his friends and family and Muppets upon Muppets joining the chorus. That version is pretty damn sad. But tear for tear, this version, the one that aired on the in-character tribute to Henson, performed by the Muppets, is the one that will forever get me.
There’s just something extra heartbreaking about the fact that Jim’s death crosses over into the magical world of the Muppets, that even they’re touched by it. For the literal children many of us were when Jim died to the literal children in our hearts that he has managed to foster, this was the moment when his death felt real. And there’s something truly beautiful in Robin being the one who begins the number. He knows the song because he was taught it by Bernadette, which means he knows it because Jim wanted him to.
Riley Silverman is fully aware of what she did to you all and she is very, very sorry.