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'Man Or Muppet?' Tops Oscar Voter's Playlist


And we are going to stay in Hollywood for this edition of the feature we call "In Your Ear." That's where we ask some of our guests to share the songs that keep them jamming.

Today, we hear from filmmaker Reginald Hudlin. He is a producer and director. He's also one of the few African-American voting members of the Academy Awards. And there's a bit of Oscar flavor to his playlist. Here it is.

REGINALD HUDLIN: Hi, I'm Reginald Hudlin, and I'm a motion-picture producer and director. And right now I'm in your ear, and I'm talking about music for the Oscars; specifically, nominees for Best Song. And this year, there was an actual musical made, which is "The Muppets."

And "The Muppets" had a lot of great songs in it and one of the songs was nominated, called "Man or Muppet" - which is a very clever song, but I think the Academy got it wrong this time. I have to be honest. The song I thought was spectacular in that movie is "Life's A Happy Song."


PETER LINZ, JASON SEGEL: (as Walter and Gary) (Singing) Everything is great, everything is grand. I got the whole wide world in the palm of my hand. Everything is perfect, it's falling into place. I can't seem to wipe this smile off my face. Life's a happy song when there's someone by my side to sing along. When you're alone...

HUDLIN: "Life's A Happy Song" is so inspiring. The main vocal hook - which is, I've got everything I need, right in front of me - that's exactly what I want my kids to be singing to themselves, and take to heart.


LINZ, SEGEL: (as Walter and Gary) (Singing) I've got everything that I need, right in front of me. Nothing's stopping me, nothing that I can't be when you're right here, next to me.

HUDLIN: I play it for them on the way to school, in the morning. In fact, one of the reasons why the kids were sort of primed for the Muppet movie is because of Harry Belafonte. Now you go, well, what does Harry Belafonte have to do with the Muppets? Well, an album I grew up with, with - a child was "Harry Belafonte Live at Carnegie Hall." And I wanted to play the kids "The Banana Boat Song."


HARRY BELAFONTE: (Singing) Day-o, Day-ay-ay-o. Daylight come, and me wan' go home. Day, me say day, me say day, me say day. Me say day, me say day-ay-ay-o. Daylight come, and me wan' go home. Work all night on a drink a' rum. Daylight come and me wan' go home...

HUDLIN: Amazingly enough, the first time that Harry Belafonte did "The Banana Boat Song" on television, was his appearance on "The Muppet Show.


BELAFONTE: (Singing) Come, mister tally man, tally me banana. Daylight come, and me wan' go home

HUDLIN: So I show my kids "The Banana Boat Song" with the Muppets. They're laughing. They're loving the song. So now, they're into Harry Belafonte. So all I've got to do is wait for another 10 or 15 years, and I can show them the documentary "Hear My Song" so they can learn what else Harry Belafonte did. But I love that they can listen to "Life's A Happy Song" and "The Banana Boat Song," and they're hearing some great music - and they also have this weird thematic connection.


BELAFONTE: (Singing) Daylight come and me wan' go home. Hide the deadly black tarantula. Daylight come and me wan' go home. It's 6-foot...

HUDLIN: Now for some reason, when I was listening to "Life's A Happy Song," it made me think of an old Stevie Wonder song - not a hit record, but something deep in his vast and diverse catalog, a song called "Take Up A Course In Happiness."


STEVIE WONDER: (Singing) When life reaches out and takes you on an unpleasant ride, and your bridge of dreams comes tumblin' down. Mm-hmm.

HUDLIN: "Take Up A Course of(ph) Happiness" is a really fun, little pop song; really not something you would associate with Stevie Wonder. But it kind of sounds like "Life's A Happy Song." So I play "The Banana Boat Song." I play "Life's A Happy Song." Then I segue into the Stevie. And my kids love this song. And they're singing along with Stevie - take a course in happiness.

And you've got three great songs which are kid-friendly but most importantly, parent-friendly. Because like a lot of parents, I can't stand kid music, but I love adult music that kids can groove to. So those are three songs you can rock for your kids, as you're dropping them off to school. And even when the kids get out, you can keep playing it.


WONDER: (Singing) Take up a course in happiness. Take up a course to clear out your mind.

MARTIN: That was filmmaker Reginald Hudlin, telling us what's playing in his ear.

And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin, and you've been listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.