The Crawling Ear column: the best Muppet record you’ve never heard

Did you know that Rowlf the Dog recorded an album? James salutes a gem of a record that's rarer than raw meat...

Ready for a sing-song?

“Over the past three decades, I’ve had the pleasure of performing with some of the legends of the entertainment industry: Liberace, Victor Borge, Lassie. I’m a lucky dog. And I hope I don’t have to wait another 30 years to make my next album.”

So said Rowlf the Dog in the liner notes accompanying his 1993 debut, Ol’ Brown Ears is Back. Unfortunately, our favourite piano-pounding hound will probably never get a take two. Jim Henson, the man who brought Rowlf to life, has been dead for over a decade. Although Henson’s other characters have lived on through different voice actors, Rowlf, who many feel was the most accurate reflection of his creator’s true personality, has remained generally dormant out of respect. While most would probably blanch at the sight of Rowlf carrying on without Jim, it’s quite sad to think this great pooch has sung his last song.

Thankfully, we’ll always have Ol’ Brown Ears is Back, which was recorded in 1984 and released two years after Henson’s death. Rowlf tickles the ivories on fourteen fun tracks (backed, of course, by the Muppet Orchestra), covering some of his friends’ biggest hits and a few wistful favorites of his own. Surprisingly, the old dog’s voice could convey a hefty amount of emotion. His gruff rendition of “Bein’ Green” is just as touching as Kermit the Frog’s more famous version – possibly more so, thanks to the adorable commentary at the start reminding us that Kermit’s “the right color for this song…and it’s not exactly that I’m the wrong color, it’s just, ah…I’m not the color this song is written about, so to speak.”

Rowlf’s ramblings pepper Ol’ Brown Ears is Back, giving the entire affair a wonderful off-the-cuff feeling. He especially loves pointing out when a song is about to modulate, and missed notes don’t really bother him. Such is the nature of the Muppet’s most accomplished canine; he’s just happy to be here, entertaining us (if not himself). This attitude is emphasized in classic jokey cuts such as “I Never Harmed an Onion,” “You and I and George,” and the grand finale, “Old Dog Trey,” which ends Rowlf’s debut album with a cathartic junkyard howl. Sinatra wished he could be that primal.

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Clocking in at just under thirty minutes, Ol’ Brown Ears is the perfect amount of Rowlf for even the most rabid Muppet fanatic. It’s a real shame this record has been out of print for sixteen years.  I had to watch eBay like a vulture to get my copy (I also paid a pretty penny for it).  If Disney has any sense, they’ll re-release Ol’ Brown Ears is Back in their next wave of Muppet memorabilia. Part of me wants to be a nice guy and post the whole thing here for you, but more of me wants to keep this gem to myself for just a little while longer. Sorry, kids, you’re just going to have to track down your own copy for now.

The Crawling Ear appears every Wednesday at Den Of Geek. You can find last week’s here…