If I’m being truly honest, I can trace my love of vinyl back to my family’s copy of John Denver & the Muppets: A Christmas Together. Every Christmas as I kid, I looked forward to pulling the record out of the giant sleeve and putting it on the record player. I loved the warm sound that it created in the winter nights as Christmas approached. As the record played, I would stare in delight at the cover photo of John Denver smiling in glee with the Muppets beside him. In recent years my sister claims she loathed the record because I played it so much every Christmas season.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve developed mixed feelings for record, even if it’s still a tradition for me to break it out every December. I have no shame about my love for the Muppets; they’re a big part of my childhood and I will defend Christmas Eve on Sesame Street until the day I die. (Seriously, check it out.)
Nostalgia can only go so far. You can’t listen to it as an adult and find unintentional humor in it. Even for a Muppets’ record it is over-run with sticky-sweet sentiments. “The Rainbow Connection” at the end of The Muppet Movie is indeed a sappy song, but at least it was contrasted with the meta-humor and bizarre slap-stick in the rest of the movie.
That usual craziness is almost nowhere to be found on A Christmas Together. For the most part, it’s is devoid of the characters we know and love. There are no horrible jokes from Fozzi. Ms. Piggy’s diva-tantrums are reduced to butting in occasionally and mimicking the sound of drums when she’s not supposed to on “The Twelve Days of Christmas”. And Statler and Waldorf? The album is just begging for them to make a make a snarky comment.
Most of the blame lies on John Denver. It’s really his solo Christmas album with the Muppets as his backing band. Every stereotype you know of John Denver is littered all over the album: overt sincerity, sticky sweetness and mellow tunes. The earnestness found here makes U2 and Bruce Springsteen seem ironic in comparison. Just take a look at the titles of some of the songs: “The Peace Carol”, “Noel: Christmas Eve 1913”, and “A Babe Just Like You”.
Through John Denver, the listener is subjected to the origin of “Silent Night” (which he refers to as “the most beloved of all Christmas Carols”) and forced to endure an apology of sorts to his infant son Zachary on “A Babe Just Like You”. The under-stated tunes make it all the more nauseating.
The worst offender of all is “Alfie the Christmas Tree”. Over a lonely organ, Denver tells the tale of a talking Christmas Tree, for whom Christmas was “much more than a special day..more than a beautiful story…it was a special kind of way.” As Denver continues the story, Alfie becomes sad that “some folks have never heard a jingle bell ring or heard of Santa Claus, or the Son of God”. Just a thought: shouldn’t be upset that he could potentially be chopped down and stuck in someone’s house for a month and then thrown to the curb?
But then comes the real clincher: “Did mean that they’d never know of peace on earth or the brotherhood of man? Or know how to love, or know how to give? If they can’t, no one can.” Apparently, Alfie has no balls to ask the listener himself! He has to have John Denver do it! That line just might be the most offensive thing I’ve ever heard on a record this side of a 2 Live Crew album.
Despite all my gripes, I still hold a soft spot for the duet between Rowlf the Dog and Denver on “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”. It’s the only moment on the album that doesn’t sound contrived. I like it so much that one year while incredibly wasted, I drunkenly declared that the song was “sexy”. Truth be told, that’s probably the most embarrassing drunken mistake I’ve ever made. It’s many things, but sexy isn’t one of them. I have no fucking clue what I was thinking. Perhaps I got the definitions of poignant and sexy confused.
It’s too bad that Jim Henson couldn’t think of a better musician to do a Muppets Christmas album with. Instead, we’re left with John Denver who somehow manages to turn up his John Denver-ness to 11 on the record. On the bright side, it’s still infinitely better than the Holiday Special with Lady Gaga that appeared on TV last year.