The Top 10 Songs of: The Rainbow Connection

The Top 10

AngusA couple of nights ago at dinner I asked my niece and nephew (who are both big Muppet fans) what they thought I should use as the subject for this week’s chart. Their unanimous reply was “Rainbow Connection”. I thanked them for their suggestion (figuring they’d missed the point of the question entirely) and decided I’d have to use my fall-back chart of the Top 10 Songs of Angus McGonagle instead. Unfortunately for Angus though I started to think maybe there was something in this rainbow idea after all. It does seem that they are pretty much everywhere at the moment!

I will admit, I used some fuzzy logic for a few of these picks, but it would have been too easy to fill the chart with songs about just primary colors. Instead I’ve chosen a song for each color of the rainbow (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet), one each for black and white and a “wildcard” rainbow song round the whole thing off. So, just two weeks too late to really catch the zeitgeist, I now present my list of “songs about rainbows”…

10 – Yellow Submarine – Sesame Street

Yellow Submarine really is a fun song, isn’t it? I remember as a child changing the words to “gallon of gasoline” or “tub of margarine”. Hopefully it wasn’t just me! Whilst this isn’t exactly the high point of The Beatles’ career it has a special place in my heart as I have performed this song with my a cappella group. I love that the setting for this version is a re-imagined, child’s illustration version of the Beatles original sub. It makes it feel like a story book come to life. This is performed with gusto (which is the only way to do it really) and it’s nifty to hear Caroll Spinney in a non-Big Bird/Oscar role.  The whole piece is bright and garish and the perfect way to start of a list based on colors.

9 – Blue Danube Waltz – The Muppet Show

There are of course tons (literally – I weighed them) of songs about the color blue, but this one wins out because it’s so inventive. And let’s not forget funny. A joke based around people making noise in a library is nothing new, but it’s taken to incredible new heights here. The idea of making a song out of all of these random sounds is brilliant and Blue Danube Waltz is the perfect choice. It’s ideal for comedy and has been used several times by the Muppets including Gonzo and Camilla’s fab “Classical Chickens” viral video. I like the unusual mix of slightly obscure characters here too. We’ve got Nigel (making his second appearance on the chart in as many weeks), Zelda Rose and one of my favorite lost characters – Hilda. I’ve always loved her sense of fun and wish she would make a return. I hope someone at ABC is reading this.

8 – Jalan Sesama Theme – Jalan Sesama

This song is here representing indigo – Jalan Sesama is an Indonesian co-production between Sesame Workshop and Creative Indigo Productions. The show debuted in 2008 and in the Sesame tradition blends puppets, actors, songs and animation to teach children a range of subjects. According to Muppet Wiki Jalan Sesama translates as “Street for All” (Perhaps “Sesame Street for All”?) I’ve always been impressed by the way Sesame Street translates so well internationally – I wonder does the sun ever set on Sesame Street? This song is bright and breezy and a like the show itself mixes Indonesia with Sesame Street perfectly.

7 – That Old Black Magic – Sam and Friends

I think this might be the first Sam and Friends song to appear on one of my charts and I’m so pleased it’s finally happened. It’s impossible not to watch this and laugh, particularly at Kermit. It’s tough to know with hindsight whether Kermit in a wig is funny because it’s Kermit the Frog, big Hollywood star, in a wig or whether it’s because Kermit in a wig is just inherently funny. I suspect it’s a mix of the two. Even at the very start of The Muppets’ career it’s easy to see that they have universal appeal. I can totally imagine my niece and nephew watching this at 6:30 pm and then 37-year-old me tuning in later at 11:25 to enjoy it too. I love the idea of hitting the TV to stop the track jumping in the studio. I wonder if this joke was created to pad out the running time. If so, it’s a very clever way of doing it. The puppetry is superb. There are only two characters on stage and yet my eyes don’t know where to look first. It’s also worth pointing out that the sponsor message afterwards shows that Jim is already considering how humor can make dry information more interesting.

6 – Be More Tea Serenade – Lipton Commercial

Speaking of which… There’s perhaps the fuzziest logic possible here as there are virtually no Muppet productions that make reference to violet. After all they did say they wanted to see an “end to sex and violets on television”. This got me thinking though, if I exploded the word violet I could make “I Love T”. See, it makes perfect sense! Steve Whitmire sounds great here and this song is so modern Kermit. Does anyone else think the first few lines have shades of “Pictures in My Head”? Of course, the big talking point from this number though is Kermit’s hands. I’m not sure if the realism actually makes it look more or less fake though, as Kermit’s fingers are quite obviously not plucking the right strings. It’s a very cool effect, but maybe less is more?

5 – There’s A Lot I Want to Know – Fraggle Rock

There was never a question in my mind that I wouldn’t feature a Red Fraggle song here. When I wrote my Karen Prell chart earlier this year there were two songs that didn’t make the cut that were mentioned over and over in the comments and I’m pleased to be able to right one of those wrongs here. This is a lively song that features a lot of difficult lyrics sung very quickly. Karen is on fire here, not just hitting each word perfectly, but filling them with great character and tunefulness. Red is channelling her inner Columbo. Perhaps she’ll try and sell Kermit a watch? A lot of the best Fraggle songs have a very distinct and pronounced bass line and this is no exception. It’s instantly recognisable as being from that show. The Inkspot backing singers are fun as their voices just don’t match their appearance and their little jumps at the end are a neat touch.

4 – I’m The Letter T – Sesame Street

Another song, another “T”, but this is nothing to do with violet this time. This song is here to represent white. I was once told that if you mix all of the colors of the rainbow together you get white, but I have to say I’m not convinced. Anyway, this is a Sesame Street parody of the song “Hey There Delilah” by the band Plain White T’s. Those of you thinking they did a pretty good job of copying the sound of the original would be right. This is actually sung by Tom Higgenson, the lead singer of the group. This has all the hallmarks of the best Sesame parodies; it’s educational, fun, recognisable and respectful to the original. The gentle bobbing and swaying of the animated characters is very endearing and they’ve done a great job of matching the “Hey There Delilah” video. I really think this is a song I could listen to again and again.

3 – Fuzzy and Blue (and Orange) – Sesame Street

Although it could be pulling double duties this song is officially here to represent orange. It’s a classic song I’ve wanted to feature for a while, but I just haven’t had the right opportunity to do so. Anything that features boaters and canes is alright by me. This track has a mellow vaudeville feel that I really appreciate. It also has some pretty cool performances. Frank Oz will always make me smile as Grover, and once again Cookie Monster gets the punch line, but Jerry Nelson as Herry Monster is the highlight here. His gruff voice, yet sweet demeanour has never really got the recognition it deserves. Speaking of which, Frazzle is another undiscovered gem of a character. Completing Jim Henson’s trip through the Fr- alphabet from Frackle to Fraggle to Frazzle (though not in that order), he’s never really gotten his dues. Despite appearing in the show for years I bet most casual fans don’t even know who he is. This song gives him his moment in the spotlight and I’m thankful to Grover, Herry and Cookie Monster for including him. Even if he is orange!

2 – Rainbow Connection – The Green Album

So here’s our rainbow “wildcard” song. I’ve already featured Rainbow Connection several times on my charts, in more than one version, so I did contemplate choosing something else. Both “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and “There’s A Big Heap of Trash at the End of the Rainbow” were seriously considered, but it seemed wrong not to include Rainbow Connection in a chart of the same name so that led me here to the Weezer and Hayley Williams version. The Green Album is a bit hit and miss for me – I was desperately disappointed with “I’m Going to Go Back There Someday”, but loved “I Hope That Something Better Comes Along” and this is definitely more of the latter for me. It’s closer to the original source material than some of the tracks on the album and sung beautifully. The orchestration goes from tranquil harp complete with nature sounds to acoustic guitar to full on rock band and builds colorful layer upon colorful layer – a bit like a rainbow itself. This might just be my favorite cover of this song after mine, but that’s another story!

1 – Bein’ Green – Ol’ Brown Ears is Back

How could this not be my pick for green? For those keeping score, this is this song’s highest chart position and the first time it’s beaten Rainbow Connection. It’s a bold statement, but I think I actually prefer this to Kermit’s version. Jim is still singing so it’s filled with all the correct emotions and as Rowlf explains, he might not be the right color, but he’s not the wrong color either. That’s pretty much the whole song summed up in one sentence. What really sets this apart for me though is the arrangement. In a similar way to the song above, it starts simply with plinky-plunky keyboards and then slowly builds adding wind instruments, soaring strings and percussion. It’s stunning and takes the listener on such a journey. It makes me sad that this wasn’t released during Jim’s lifetime as I really do think it might be one of the best things he ever did.

One of the things that I’m taking away from this theme is that just as a rainbow is a symbol of diversity so is this chart. It features my first ever international Sesame song and in total the 10 songs come from 8 different sources. I think that’s pretty cool. So thanks must go to Jim and all of the performers and artists who appear here for making The Muppets such a diverse, yet inclusive bunch. I think that’s the real Rainbow Connection. We are all individually beautiful, but when we come together we are so much more than the sum of our parts. We are an unstoppable beacon of hope that can circle the globe. That’s why there are so many songs about rainbows.

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