For years, fans of Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas have endured an uphill battle when it’s come to seeking out the Jim Henson classic every holiday season. We’ve dealt with desperate searches for out-of-print DVDs and shoddy, quickly deleted YouTube videos filmed from someone’s VHS copy playing on a nearby TV screen. Plus the constant question of whether any copy we did come across would be the original 1977 version hosted by Kermit the Frog, or the later TV versions that cut him out due to copyright issues.
In honor of the Emmet Otter songs we love, we felt that it was the perfect time to do a definitive ranking of the folksy Paul Williams numbers from the movie. So put on that old bathing suit that your grandma otter wore and dive in with us.
6) “Brothers” / “Our World” / “Brothers In Our World”
As far as a narrative move goes, the combination of the two songs after both of them have lost the talent contest is perfect. But judging it on pure musical acumen alone, I gotta be honest: it doesn’t land for me as an actual song. On their own, both parts clearly feel like they were written to be combined into one song, but when they are the shifting tempo just doesn’t seem to do either half justice.
5) “The Bathing Suit That Grandma Otter Wore”
It’s cute enough and fits the tone of the special perfectly fine, but considering that this is a Christmas special, there’s a shocking lack of Christmas songs in it and perhaps the opening would have been a great place to put one. As it is, this one feels the easiest to cut right out.
While also a bit of a throwaway, it’s still a fun, upbeat number. “Bar-B-Que” feels like something that would be at home in A Mighty Wind, which is appropriate since that movie used the same gag of another artist singing it before our heroes can get to the stage. (Seriously, does no one have to submit their songs ahead of time for these things?)
3) “When the River Meets the Sea”
If there’s one thing that Henson and his crew do extremely well, it’s sad reflective songs in kids’ media. While this song might have bored me a bit as a kid, adult me finds it to be a strikingly poignant reflection on grief and loss. It’s a nice example of how these things can mean different things to you as you grow up.
2) “Riverbottom Nightmare Band”
Cards on the table here: I know Alice and Emmet Otter are the protagonists, but these guys deserved to win the talent contest. Are they hoodlums who cause a ruckus? Sure are, but they bring that same ruckus to the stage in the form of showmanship. Frankly, it’s good for Emmet and his friends to learn now: villains get the best songs.
1) “Ain’t No Hole in the Washtub”
Without a doubt, “Washtub” is the definitive song of the entire piece. So much heavy lifting gets done with this two-minute ditty. We learn about the Otter family’s work ethic, their pleasant outlook on the world in spite of the hardships they’ve faced, and how valuable the simplest of belongings are to them. But on top of that, it’s a toe-tapping delight of a number that will stick with you for days after watching it.
Images: The Jim Henson Company