There are a lot of pressing issues and controversies at the moment that are tearing apart the very fabric of society. But none may be more pertinent than the controversy on whether Kermit the Frog and his iconic song “Rainbow Connection” is a country song or not that I have chosen to ignite right here and now.
Last week the Library of Congress announced it’s latest annual inductees into the National Recording Registry, which recognizes songs they believe are so culturally significant, they deserve to be set aside for all time in the annals of American history. 25 songs total were selected this year, including Louis Armstrong’s “When the Saints Go Marching In,” Kool & the Gang’s “Celebration,” and from the country music world, “Once A Day” written by Bill Anderson, and recorded and released by Connie Smith in 1964.
According to The Library of Congress and others, “Once A Day” is the only selection from this year’s crop of songs that is country. But I protest this characterization, and would like to bring to the table a debate about Kermit the Frog’s “Rainbow Connection” that was also designated for the National Recording Registry, and is being sold to us as a pop song or a show tune.
Listen, I’m not saying this is a slam dunk case, and that there aren’t counterpoints that can be made in opposition. But after staring long in the mirror, meditating on the subject, counseling with mentors, and rewatching the introduction to The Muppet Movie from 1979, I have resolved in my heart that yes, this a hill I am willing to die on.
First off, Kermit The Frog is playing a banjo in the song. I mean, come on! What’s more country than that? His girlfriend Miss Piggy has big hair for crying out loud, and he met her at a county fair. Oh, let’s not forget, let’s NOT forget to mention, that in the opening moments of The Muppet Movie when we’re first introduced to “Rainbow Connection” as Kermit is croaking it out so eloquently, he’s sitting among the Cypress trees of a Florida bog where he’s originally from. Yes that’s right, Kermit is a certified Southern boy from the cracker swamp.
Granted, I’ll give you that the instrumentation of the song beyond the banjo veers slightly away from what some may consider a country song should sound like with the strings and chimes. But remember, this was 1979, and one of the biggest influences in country music at that time was the Countrypolitan, or “Nashville Sound,” which utilized strings and more genteel production and arrangements. If anything, the strings certify “Rainbow Connection” as country.
I know some will say that the biggest issue is that Kermit The Frog’s voice just doesn’t hold the twang you would expect from a country song. But he’s a frog Muppet! Of course he’ll have a croaking affect to his voice. Who actually sang “Rainbow Connection” in real life, and played the Muppet character? Well that was none other than Kermit creator Jim Henson himself. In fact many consider Kermit to be the Muppet extension of Jim Henson’s persona. And where was Jim Henson from originally? He was born in Greenville, Mississippi ladies and gentlemen, and raised in nearby Leland. Doesn’t get more country than that.
Who were the writers of “Rainbow Connection”? Well I’m glad you asked. That would be Paul Williams and Kenneth Ascher. Who is Paul Williams? Along with writing many American song standards and being the president and chairman of ASCAP, Paul Williams also played the role of Little Enos Burdette in the Smoky and the Bandit movies. Yeah, he’s this guy:
I rest my case. Doesn’t get more country than Little Enos Burdette.
And Willie Nelson was also one of the first artists to cover the song when he made it the title track to his 2001 album, which went on to be nominated for a Grammy Award. Willie also performed the song with Kacey Musgraves on the 2019 CMA Awards, and The Dixie Chicks performed it when they still had “Dixie” in their name.
So yeah, I’m willing to puff my chest out, speak loudly, and proclaim “Rainbow Connection” as a selection from the country music catalog.
At the least, it’s a hell of a lot more country than Sam Hunt. Que no?