On 5 January 1980, “The Rainbow Connection” by Kermit the Frog was at #95, its highest position in the 80s. Its peak position was #25 in 1979.
You don’t have to be a good singer to be a successful musical performer. In my last entry, I looked at Kenny Rogers, who is definitely a talented singer, but who put in a particularly boring and not entertaining performance singing “You Decorated My Life”. On the opposite end of the scale is Jim Henson, as Kermit the Frog, who is not a particularly good singer, but makes “The Rainbow Connection” a charming, endearing song that a whole generation of Gen X-ers remembers fondly. The secret to being a successful entertainer, regardless of genre, is to capture an emotion and deliver it to the audience. Kenny Rogers didn’t convince me he was in love when he sang to us about how his plain paper heart was colored anew, but when Kermit the Frog sings about how he believes in hope and magic, I believe him.
From the first tentative, gentle banjo twangs that open The Muppet Movie, we can feel that Kermit is full of hope but intensely vulnerable. His voice is equally tentative, almost halting, as he sings to us about the uncertain nature of our dreams. Rainbows are illusions and wishes made on morning stars are only a folk tale, after all, and even a dreamer like Kermit recognizes the futility in thinking there’s more than that. But before he gets to the chorus, we can tell from his voice, the wistfulness and the gentle awe at the world, that Kermit believes in rainbows and wishes anyway, and he makes us want to believe with him.
In the context of The Muppet Movie, “The Rainbow Connection” sets up the entire plot; the song makes an unlikely story believable — a frog and a pig and a bear and a whatever-Gonzo-is are going to travel across the country to make a movie in Hollywood despite being patently untalented in any endeavor but hoping — and it makes me (and you, I hope) want them to succeed. In the context of the Muppets as a cast of characters, moments like “The Rainbow Connection” make puppets made of felt and foamcore and metal rods seem human, more human in some ways than real flesh-and-blood pop stars sweating under spotlights in satin sequin-studded suits. And warmed by those sentiments, I feel happy for the Muppets the way I feel happy for my friends when they succeed in their own adventures, more happy that Kermit the Frog could reach #25 on the singles chart than I could possibly feel for any other artist reaching #1.