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The Muppets Do Billy Joel

By Brian | December 6, 2008 | Share on Facebook

SamuraiFrog over at Electronic Cerebrectomy points us to this awesome clip of Dr. Teeth & The Electric Mayhem (a.k.a., the Muppet Band) covering Billy Joel’s New York State of Mind:

The clip is awesome for several reasons. First, I’ve never seen it before (and I have the TimeLife issued complete Muppet Show DVDs, so this must have been recorded but never incorporated into a show Best of the Muppet Show DVDs, but this isn’t on it). Second, with the exception of the standard Statler & Waldorf tag at the end, it’s done straight – no anthropomorphic Greyhound Buses or newspapers popping up during the song for our amusement – just the music.

Third, and most interesting to me, they do some really cool things with the song musically. For instance, the bridge is sung in a higher key than the verses, rather than a lower key as Billy Joel recorded it. In Joel’s version, the bridge is a quiet reflection on his time away from New York, and an admission that he misses the rat race and wants back in. The lower key gives us a sense of this “break” from the story. When it’s over, the song returns to a somewhat angst-laden traveler who just can’t wait to get home already, and the key goes back up to reflect the tension.

The Electric Mayhem reverse this to great effect. Floyd sings it as a guy who’s perfectly comfortable being on the road. His travel back to New York is just another Greyhound bus in a string of thousands, and it doesn’t phase him at all. At the bridge, though, the key goes higher as he gets downright mournful (and maybe even a bit annoyed?) about having spent so much time off the road, disconnected from the rest of the world. When his bridge finishes, he sounds downright relieved to be singing about his travels again.

The line to listen for is “Don’t care if it’s Chinatown or Riverside.” When Joel sings it, he means “I don’t care where you take me, just get me there already.” Floyd means it more literally – he really doesn’t care if he winds up in Chinatown or Riverside. It’s just another stop on the tour to him, and he’ll be leaving soon anyway.

I expect this kind of emotional depth from Billy Joel – he’s a consummate artist and a storyteller at heart. But a bunch of felt puppets? Jim Henson and his crew were so much better than anyone else at that genre, it’s staggering. Oh, and we need to remember that there was a real band providing the music off stage, and they had some serious chops too.

Topics: Primetime TV, Words about Music | 2 Comments »

2 Responses to “The Muppets Do Billy Joel”

  1. Michael Weinmayr says at December 6th, 2008 at 5:31 pm :
    This track was released on the “Muppet Show 2″ LP, which I had as a kid. ( http://muppet.wikia.com/wiki/The_Muppet_Show_2 ). According to that same wiki, the song was in Episode 301 (http://muppet.wikia.com/wiki/Episode_301:_Kris_Kristofferson_%26_Rita_Coolidge ), which is available on DVD ( http://www.amazon.com/Muppet-Show-Complete-Third-Season/dp/B0013527I4/ref=pd_bxgy_d_img_c ).

  2. Brian says at December 7th, 2008 at 12:23 am :
    “Well, blow me down,” as Popeye used to say. I just went and checked, and my TimeLife colleciton clearly states “Best of the Muppet Show,” not “The Complete Muppet Show.” I thought all the TimeLife collections were cannonical. I guess not.

    So now, not only do I not have them all, but if I went out & bought the “Season X” DVDs, I’d be duplicating what I already have. ARRRRGGGHHH….

    On the flip side, I’m glad this made it to air. It’s too good not to. And, of course, I disagree with at least one instance of TimeLife’s opinion on “Best Of…”

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