Arguably the greatest variety show from the genre's '70s heyday, The Muppet Show truly offered something for the whole family. It was a mix of old-fashioned "let's put on a show" moxie, with '70s razzle-dazzle, big-name guest stars and Jim Henson's good-humored love of mayhem.

Music was a huge part of every episode of The Muppet Show, and they got most guest stars -- even ones like Sylvester Stallone who didn't really sing -- to perform a song or two. But there were certainly many great musical artists who appeared on The Muppet Show, including pop stars (Elton John, Diana Ross, Debbie Harry, Paul Simon), country greats (Loretta Lynn, Johnny Cash, Kenny Rogers), not to mention some left-field choices like Alice Cooper. Still, some of the show's best musical numbers just featured the Muppets themselves.

With all five seasons* hitting Disney+ starting February 19 (seasons 4 & 5 having never been released on home entertainment before), we went through the five seasons of The Muppet Show and picked 32 of the most memorable musical numbers, ranked from least to most sensational, inspirational, celebrational and, of course, Muppetational. Head below for our picks.

 

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32 MEMORABLE 'MUPPET SHOW' MUSICAL MOMENTS

32. Joan Baez - "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" (Ep 503)

As you might expect with a folk legend like Joan Baez, her episode of The Muppet Show involves a rat insurrection with the rodents attempting a coup to take over the show. Kermit eventually works things out with the rats, who agree to join as cast members just in time to sing as part of this sweet rendition of traditional hymn "Will the Circle Be Unbroken," featuring nearly every Muppet on the show.

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31. Robin the Frog – “Halfway Down the Stairs” (Ep 110)

The Muppet Show didn't always go for laughs. In this Season 1 episode (guest starring Harvey Korman), the closing number featured Kermit's nephew Robin, singing "Halfway Down the Stairs," which set an A. A. Milne poem to music. Henson knew how to tug at the heartstrings, and this version actually became a hit single in the UK in 1977 and Robin performed it on Top of the Pops. Jerry Nelson, who voiced Robin, sang this at Henson's funeral.

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30. Liza Minnelli - "Copacabana" (Ep. 414)

Liza Minnelli's appearance on The Muppet Show was a very special Murder Mystery episode. Kermit plays a private eye hired by femme fatale actress Liza O’Shaughnessy (Minnelli) to help figure out who has been bumping off members of the cast and crew of her latest Broadway show. The episode, which cleverly weaves in song-and-dance numbers, won the Mystery Writers of America's Raven Award for its twisty plot. Having starred in Cabaret and her classic Bob Fosse-directed special Liza with a 'Z', Minnelli was a natural in the musical numbers, which also highlighted her equally nimble comic timing and gift for physical humor. Nowhere was this more on display than the "Copacabana" number which incorporated the disco song's plotline into the Muppets' own murder mystery.

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29. Lena Horne with Kermit, Fozzie, Piggy, Rowlf & more - "Sing" (Ep 111)

Having gotten her start at Harlem's Cotton Club when she was just 16, Lena Horne could do it all -- sing, dance, act -- and was a passionate civil rights activist with a kind spirit, too. It all made her a natural for The Muppet Show who had her on in its first season. One of the many highlights featured her around Rowlf's piano, singing with other Muppets. "There's a children's TV show that I really enjoy," she tells the gang. "Maybe you're heard of it -- Sesame Street? Anyway, here's one of my favorite songs from that show." It's a lot of people's favorites, "Sing," which was written by the amazing Joe Raposo who also penned "It Ain't Easy Being Green," the Sesame Street theme song and tons more. It's one that can bring the waterworks, too, especially in someone like Lena's hands.

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28. Shirley Bassey - "Goldfinger"

"We've had a few artists on The Muppet Show who've had solid gold records," Kermit says in his introduction for Shirley Bassey's final number on her episode. "But she's the only guest we've ever had with a solid gold set," noting that "no expense was spared." Kermit had, in fact, borrowed $50 million in gold bars for her performance of Bond theme "Goldfinger," but little did he know there was a gang of masked pigs planning a heist. Needless to say, things spin totally out of control during this number but Shirley keeps her cool, belting this out like no one else with her 24-karat pipes.

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27. Loretta Lynn - "One's On the Way" (Ep. 308)

One of the weirder musical numbers in the history of The Muppet Show features Loretta Lynn singing her 1971 #1 single, "One's on the Way." The song, written by Shel Silverstein, is a tongue-in-cheek tale of a stay-at-home mother in Topeka who reads about rich and famous women living the high life while she must deal with an ever-growing family. Here Loretta, sings to (and with) a kitchenful of tykes, who all need to be fed, burped, and changed.

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26. Judy Collins - "I Know An Old Lady" (Ep. 205)

Folk icon Judy Collins does a great job with this children's classic that gets longer and longer with each verse, but "I Know An Old Lady" is really a showcase for the many different kinds of puppetry Jim Henson and his talented team were capable of. In this case it's shadow puppets which humorously illustrate the rather macabre lyrics of the song, as the old lady's belly gets more and more full from trying to catch that fly. Resident hecklers Statler and Waldorf join in on this one.

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25. Carol Burnett - "Watch What Happens" (Ep. 515)

Carol Burnett was the queen of '70s variety shows and a comedy legend, so when she was finally a guest star on The Muppet Show there was no way it was not gonna be great, and the show did not less us down. (The Muppet Show won an Emmy for writing this episode.) Carol came armed with all sorts of ideas of her own, but unfortunately Gonzo was given permission to hold a dance marathon during the show. As you might expect, this causes problems, like constantly delaying Carol's big "Lonely Asparagus" sketch, but also plays havoc with her musical numbers. When it's time for her to sing tender ballad "Watch What Happens," Gonzo keeps shouting out styles of music to keep the dance marathon lively, turning her song into a polka, the can-can and more.

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24. Lou Rawls – “Groovy People” (Ep. 215)

When asked by Kermit what the secret of singing jazz is, Lou Rawls says,"All you gotta do is lay back and lay down some golden tones with soul and style." Lou Rawls demonstrates how it's done, wearing a lavender suit you could only get away with in 1977 by someone with as much soul and style as Lou, though his Muppet backup singers (who were known as...The Sleeze Brothers?) pull off their similar outfits pretty well.

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23. Diana Ross – “Love Hangover” (Ep 424)

Former Supremes leader Diana Ross released one of the biggest albums of her solo career (1980's Diana) not too long after this episode aired. Unfortunately this doesn't feature any of that record's many hits (like "Upside Down" or "I'm Coming Out") but luckily she had lot of others to choose from. This version of her Disco chart-topper "Love Hangover" is a showcase for the big Muppets, in this case the long-legged, giant Gawky Birds and Bossmen, and the goofy Fletcher Bird who seems like a lost baseball mascot. Diana is clearly having fun here and balcony hecklers Statler and Waldorf give this a rare thumbs up.

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22. Steve Martin & Lubbock Lou and his Jughuggers - "Dueling Banjos" (Ep. 208)

Oops! Steve Martin was accidentally booked the same day The Muppet Show was closed to hold auditions. With no show and nothing else to do, Steve decides to stick around the Muppet Theater and entertain the cast in between new acts like The Flying Zucchini Brothers, whose human cannonball is stuck. (Chekhov's human cannonball will eventually come into play in the third act.) This is the only episode of the show to barely use a laugh track, because Steve made they crew laugh so hard they just used that. He also brought along his banjo, performing "Ramblin' Guy" earlier in the episode and then going full hoedown for an explosive rendition of "Dueling Banjos."

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21. Leo Sayer - "When I Need You"

Permed-out soft rock star Leo Sayer performed his #1 1977 single "When I Need You" from atop a tree in this closing number of his episode. Why? As the camera pulls back, we see that it's the only refuge from a group of bears who may be eyeing him as dinner. While Leo remains just out of reach, the bears get crafty, enlisting a woodpecker, a swordfish and, finally, explosives expert Crazy Harry to knock him out of his perch. Just when things are looking grim for Leo, it turns out the woodland creatures just wanted to join in the song.

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20. An Opossum & Woodland Chorus - "For What It's Worth" (Ep. 221)

Written by Stephen Stills, Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth" is a classic Vietnam era protest song. In The Muppets' fuzzy hands, it's still very much an anti-violence song, but perspectives change just a little when sung by an opossum and a chorus of woodland creatures hiding from hunters. They change the lyrics just a little too, but Stills' intentions remain largely the same. The musical number is a great example of the show's skill with tone, painting the hunters as buffoons who don't manage to shoot anything but cement mixers and tractors. And when the animals loudly whisper "STOP" to end the number, the show's intention is clear.

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19. Drum Battle: Buddy Rich Vs Animal (Ep. 522)

Animal has had a few drum battles over the years, but none more fearsome than when he faced off against jazz great Buddy Rich. Set to "I've Got Rhythm," it's a pretty tight game until Animal both runs out of steam and, in awe of Buddy's playing, stops drumming and just watches his opponent go...till he gets angry and throws his bass drum at Buddy's head. "I'm glad it wasn't a piano battle," Buddy notes at the end of the show.

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18. Dizzy Gillespie - "St Louis Blues" (Ep. 413)

There's always something going wrong backstage (and often onstage) on The Muppet Show, and for jazz great Dizzy Gillespie's episode, the local environmental inspector shows up to inform Kermit that they're breaking the local noise ordinance, meaning no brass instruments allowed. Especially trumpet. Kermit and Fozzie expend a lot of effort trying to whisk the inspector off whenever Dizzy's set to perform, like on this groovy version of "Saint Louis Blues" where he's backed by the Electric Mayhem and a sick bongo player. Dizzy not only sings and blows the horn but also tap dances. What couldn't he do? That inspector, by the way, turns out to be a huge Dizzy Gillespie fan and joins him for the episode's closing number.

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17. Paul Williams, a pair of Muppet Paul Williams and the Gogolala Jubilee Jugband – “An Old Fashioned Love Song” (Ep. 108)

Paul Williams is one of The Muppets greatest collaborators, with Williams writing the songs for both The Muppet Movie and Emmet Otter's Jug Band Christmas, when he wasn't busy writing hits for The Carpenters, or coming up with TV theme songs like The Love Boat. Here, he performs “An Old Fashioned Love Song,” which was a hit for Three Dog Night. Things begin simply with just him listening to an old-timey radio, but Muppet versions of himself begin appearing out of the speaker to help with the song's noted two and three-part harmonies. By the end, many, many more muppets have tumbled out of the radio, and the set is filled with dozens of them, including the Gogolala Jubilee Jugband, and a banjoist modeled on Muppeteer Jerry Nelson.
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16. Cast of 'Star Wars' - "When You Wish Upon a Star" (Ep 417)

A few months ahead of the release of The Empire Strikes Back, Luke, C3PO, and R2D2 crash-land at The Muppet Theater, in search of their lost friend Chewbacca. Kermit can't believe his luck at landing such huge movie stars, at least till he learns they're refusing to perform on the show. They end up on stage anyway, when Luke learns that Chewbacca has been kidnapped by the evil Darth Nadir (whose profile bears a resemblance to Gonzo).  This leads to a Pigs in Space crossover episode and a finale that features Luke's cousin, Mark Hamill, who is more than happy to sing on camera. The closing number ends with them singing "When You Wish Upon a Star" from Pinocchio as a very Cinderella-esque castle rises out of the alien landscape. What was surely an excuse to work in a popular song with "Star" in the title, now it eerily predicts the Disney empire's takeover of the entertainment galaxy, including both The Muppets and Star Wars' universes.

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15. Kenny Rogers - "The Gambler" (Ep. 410)

Instead of going for laughs with, say, a riff on Dogs Playing Poker, The Muppet Show opted to honor the somber tone of Kenny Rogers' smash "The Gambler" for this unusual performance as part of his 1979 appearance. Using the lyrics as a script, it's set on a train car with Kenny playing narrator and life-size human-like Muppets as The Gambler and two other passengers. There's drinking, smoking and -- spoiler alert -- The Gambler dies at the end. It's hard to imagine the Muppets doing something like this now but it's a fascinating piece of puppetry.

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14. Miss Piggy - "I Get Around" (Ep. 415)

Miss Piggy, Link Hogthrob and The Muppet Show's other porcine cast members star in this take on The Beach Boys' "I Get Around" that's also an homage to 1953 Marlon Brando biker flick, The Wild One. (Hogs on hogs, if you will.) According to Muppet Wiki, the producers had Muppet-sized actual motorcycles made just for this number that they had shipped from Pittsburgh to London where the show was filmed. Unfortunately they learned once the bikes arrived that safety regulations forbade gas-powered motor vehicles to be operated inside the studio, so the special effects department had to figure out a way to make it look like they were actually running. It still turned out pretty great.

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13. Lynda Carter – “Orange Colored Sky” (Ep. 419)

Lynda Carter was at the height of her Wonder Woman fame for this 1980 episode which has every member of the Muppets trying to be a superhero. The finale features a performance of jazz standard "Orange Colored Sky" (Nat King Cole had a hit with it in 1950) featuring Fozzie, Gonzo, Scooter, fish boomerangist Lew Zealand, Link Hogthrob and Rizzo the rat all joining Lynda as caped crusaders and supervillains. The song's "Wham! Bam! Alakazam!" lyrics are perfect fodder for The Muppet Show's love of explosions, making this an action-packed show-stopper. This episode also features two Beatles songs sung by Electric Mayhem members: Janice opens the show with "A Little Help from My Friends" and Floyd takes on "While My Guitar Gently Weeps."

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12. Paul Simon - "Scarborough Fair" (Ep. 511)

One of the great musical episodes of The Muppet Show, Paul Simon's 1981 appearance is a full-on tribute to him and his songs, including Floyd & Janice covering "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover" and an edition of "Veterinarian's Hospital" featuring "50 Ways to Leave Your Liver." Paul himself, of course, sings many of his classics, including "Loves Me Like a Rock" backed by Dr. Teeth & The Electric Mayhem and Simon & Garfunkel's "Baby Drive" as sung by a pramful of teething toddlers. The showstopper, though, is an opening number rendition of "Scarborough Fair" set at a Renaissance Festival that is one of the most complicated set-pieces in the show's run. It features pies, puns, and Miss Piggy, whose unique vocal stylings are a bit different than Art Garfunkel's.

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11. “Time in a Bottle” (Ep 207)

Here's another example of the Muppets taking a "serious" song and managing to create a musical number that is whimsical, thoughtful and respectful of the original. Jim Croce's 1973 hit "Time in a Bottle" gets a literal treatment, with a scientist inventing a de-aging formula that he tests out on himself as he sings the song. It's a success but, like so many similar stories, hubris takes over and he goes too far, with tragic results. Henson performs as the scientist, bringing real empathy to the character and does a great job of de-aging his voice as the song goes along, too.

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10. Kris Kristofferson & Miss Piggy - "Help Me Make it Through the Night" (Ep. 301)

You can always count on Miss Piggy to make sparks fly in duets, like when she helps out Kris Kristofferson sing his classic "Help Me Make it Through the Night" (which was hit for both Sammi Smith and Willie Nelson). As Kermit introduces the number, Piggy pops her head through the curtains to thank him for letting her and Kris perform this "very sexy number," clearly trying to make Kermit jealous, but he's not taking the bait. Frank Oz, meanwhile, was clearly trying to make Kris Kristofferson break during the performance, really hamming it up here as Piggy. While Kris is usually the epitome of cool, he can barely hold it together as Piggy throws herself at him.

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9. Alice Cooper - "Welcome to My Nightmare" (Ep. 307)

Kermit introduces guest star Alice Cooper as "one of the world's most talented but frightening performers," and the show has a lot of freaky fun with Alice's shocking persona. Not only is Alice here to perform songs like "School's Out" and "Welcome to My Nightmare," he also reveals himself to be an agent for the Devil, offering Faustian contracts promising fame and fortune to the whole cast. Gonzo considers it, as does Miss Piggy. The whole episode is horror themed which makes "Nightmare" such a perfect song choice. Alice enters via coffin, in Dracula garb, complete with a monstrous backing band and ghostly backup dancers. "Things weren't this spooky when Julie Andrews did the show," notes Kermit.

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8. Debbie Harry - "Call Me" (Ep. 509)

Blondie were at the height of their popularity when Debbie Harry hosted this 1981 episode that features Kermit's nephew, Robin, and his Frog Scout troop who are a) all big fans of her and b) trying to earn their Punk badges. Debbie teaches the scouts how to pogo, and she performs Blondie hits "Call Me" and "One Way or Another," both with spiky-haired punk/new wave Muppet bands. "One Way" has more of a comic tone (and lots of monsters), but points go to "Call Me" for the cool set design, the band's synthesizer solo and Robin and the rest of the scouts rushing the stage at the end.

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7. "Java' (Ep. 122)

This number, featuring two Slinky-like creatures dancing to trumpeter Al Hirt's arrangement of Allen Toussaint's "Java," is a Henson classic that predates The Muppet Show by a decade and was performed on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1966. The tubelike creatures, performed by Henson and Frank Oz, were never given names but came to be known as Javas themselves. "Java" has all the earmarks of a great Muppet bit: it's simple, it's cute, it's clever, it's catchy and features an explosive twist ending.

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6. Linda Ronstadt & Kermit - "When I Grow Too Old To Dream" (Ep. 523)

One of the most genuinely sweet, heart-tugging performances in the history of The Muppet Show happened on the penultimate episode of the series' run. The plot of the episode has Kermit developing a crush on guest star Linda Ronstadt, which unsurprisingly sends Miss Piggy into a jealous rage. This bizarre love triangle eventually has Linda bowing out, but not before she and Kermit share a tender duet, backed by Rolf on piano. Both Linda and Kermit sing the hell out of this one and when the rest of the muppets join at the end, you may be looking for a tissue.

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4 & 5 Elton John – “Crocodile Rock” (with The Electric Mayhem) & "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" (with Miss Piggy) (Episode 214)

Mid-'70s Elton John and The Muppets were a match made in heaven, and it's hard to pick just one number from this episode, but having him perform "Crocodile Rock" with The Electric Mayhem and a chorus of singing crocodiles is probably the best merging of all talents involved. That said, Elton and Miss Piggy performing "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" is also amazing. ("Eat your heart out, Kiki!" Piggy says menacingly at the camera, aimed at Elton's original duet partner.) Why choose just one?

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3. Harry Belafonte - "Turn the World Around" (Ep 314)

Harry Belafonte and Jim Henson were close friends in real life and his appearance on the show was decidedly more collaborative than most of its guest stars. "I seldom do television appearances, but I have always had the highest regard for Jim Henson's taste and artistry, so when I was invited to be a guest on The Muppet Show, I saw that this might be an opportunity to do something very worthwhile," Belaonte said in the book Of Muppets and Men. "I had a long talk with Jim in California at about the time he was beginning work on The Muppet Movie, and -- given that I have a more than casual interest in Third World music -- I proposed to him that the show might provide the occasion to take a look at the lore and history of other worlds, other places." Henson, Belafonte and the show's designers based the Muppets on real African masks, as "he didn't want to cause offense by choosing masks that would have some religious or national significance." It became an instant favorite, and Belafonte sang "Turn the World Around" at Henson's memorial.

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2. Rita Moreno & Animal - "Fever" (Ep 105)

So much of The Muppet Show's comic energy revolves around the battle between control and chaos, and few sketches illustrate this better than this classic bit from the show's first season, featuring Rita Moreno singing Peggy Lee's "Fever" with Animal on drums. Animal just wants to go nuts, Rita's having none of it. "Listen Buddy. All I wanna tell you is that you shouldn't do that," she explains to Animal in a mix of Spanish and English after his first percussion outburst. "It's not nice, you understand? Look at me when I'm talking to you. This is my number, and if you bother me any more I'm gonna hit you so hard, it's gonna leave you stupid. Cool it." Animal does not heed her warning, so when the number devolves into an out-of-control drum solo, Moreno takes things -- and a pair of cymbals -- into her own hands.

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1. Mahna Mahna and the Snowths – “Mah Na Mah Na” (Ep 101)

What else could be #1? The very first sketch on the very first episode is still one of the all-time Muppet moments anywhere. It goes way back before The Muppet Show, though. The nonsense lyrics song, originally from Italian "mondo" film Sweden: Heaven or Hell, was first Muppet-ized in 1969 in the debut season of Sesame Street, but its most famous version, also from that year, was from The Ed Sullivan Show. The hippie-ish Mahna Mahna and his back-up singers, the Snowths, would also perform it on The Tom Jones Show, The Dick Cavett Show and other programs, and it's always funny. The Muppet Show version freshens the scatty schtick up with a little backstage humor and a great closing phone gag. Also sorry/not sorry that this song is now stuck in your head.

Here's the Ed Sullivan Show version just as a bonus:

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Note: Episode numbers came via the knowledgeable folks at Muppet Wiki and are the order they were produced, and might be different than the episode order on Disney+.

*Some episodes have been trimmed due to music rights issues, and the Brooke Shields and Chris Langham episodes are not available at all. Disney says over 100 of the episodes are entirely intact, and include sketches that were only in the UK airings of the show.