Talkin’ Tunes: “Bein’ Green”

Have you ever “had a moment” with a song? I’ve talked about this recently, this phenomenon of hearing a song a hundred times but the 101st time you hear it something clicks. May be your mood or your location or your age but suddenly a song will take on new meaning quite out of the blue.

This has happened to me before and it has happened again. I was watching the Frank Sinatra concert Live from Festival Hall from 1971 and he sang a song he had recently recorded called “I Will Drink the Wine”. It is one of “those” Sinatra songs, one you don’t rate particularly high but it has a substance and comes with its own mood or vibe, one that you enjoy from FS every now and then. After I watched that concert, I got my CD copy of Sinatra and Company out, the album with “I Will Drink the Wine” on it, and played it. The LP is made up of two different halves and after the gorgeous Jobim side of the record came the Don Costa tunes. This division always makes this album a little funny for me but each side taken on it’s own has it’s quality. Once the album was done, there wasn’t much time left on that Sunday evening and with another Monday morning staring me in the face I chose a couple of tunes to play again. One was “Don’t Ever Go Away” and the other was “Bein’ Green”. I had heard something in this latter tune the first time around and sure enough there it was again when I listened the second time. Then something happened and I played it over and over again.


Provided to YouTube by Universal Music Group

It was early days on Sesame Street and show-runner Jon Stone approached composer Joe Raposo. Here is a name I touched on in my article on Roosevelt Franklin. When years ago I noticed Raposo’s name showing up in the credits of some Sinatra CDs I was intrigued. I knew of him as a composer of “children’s songs”; what was the Chairman doing recording his work? Well, I learned that Joe Raposo was a noted composer of all kinds of songs and his work on the early days of Sesame Street helped set the musical style of the show. Jon Stone had brought Raposo in when Sesame Street got off the ground and on the day it was decided that “we need a song for the frog”, Stone ran down some ideas for a tune that would be sung by Kermit the Frog. Raposo created “Bein’ Green” and Kermit – and Jim Henson – debuted it in January of 1970.

When I first came across this tune on Sinatra and Company, again, my eyebrows went up; how was this going to sound, Frank doing “Kermit’s song”? But when I really listened to it I understood a little better that in sentiment and style it fit right in with the gentle and contemplative singer-songwriter style of the early 1970’s. On the night I played this song over and over again, it was the lyrics that really touched me.

"It's not that easy bein' green
having to spend each day
the colour of the leaves
when I think it could be nicer
bein' red or yellow or gold
or something much more colourful like that"

Right away, you can forget about this being a frog singing about the colour he is. What I hear is someone speaking about blending in with their surroundings, not standing out, being overlooked. I hear a song about someone’s introverted personality, someone who has never been the type to assert themselves or to draw attention to themselves. Someone a little more cerebral.

"It's not easy bein' green
it seems you blend in
with so many other ordinary things
and people tend to pass you over
'cause you're not standing out
like flashy sparkles on the water
or stars in the sky"

This got me thinking about the times I would walk my two boys to their first days of various school years. Every one of those days was tense for me as I’m sure it was for my kids. I was nervous for them; would their friends be in their class? Would they have good teachers? Would they be OK when the bell rang and we would leave them? This is when this song began to take on a personal resonance.

I remember on those mornings there would always be kids who were tearing around the school yard already playing and yelling. I remember thinking that it would be easier for my kids, I suppose, if they were like that. Immediately though I was glad they weren’t. My kids stood by us quietly, taking it all in. I was glad they were thinking, processing as opposed to just running. My kids may have been the colour green, blending in with their surroundings, not flaming brightly yellow.

"But green's the colour of spring
and green can be cool and friendly like
and green can be big like an ocean
or important like a mountain or tall like a tree"

Now we’re talking about character. “BUT”, the lyric says. The word means that there is about to be a different take offered that will oppose what has gone before. BUT. Green is the colour of spring, the season of rebirth, of things coming to life again. Green can be comforting, pleasant and genial. It can be substantial. The enormity of the ocean or a mountain can sometimes be intangible and hard to fathom but its grandiosity cannot be denied. So, there is a quality in a person bein’ green. It suggests something is going on under the surface.

"When green is all there is to be
it could make you wonder why
but why wonder, why wonder?"

“When green is all there is to be” When green is all there is to be. I am what I am and I cannot be anything else. I am who I am. I can only be who I am. And I accept that, I accept myself. I assess myself honestly and I am satisfied. I could wonder what it would be like to sparkle like the stars but what is the point in that? That is not who I am. Green is all there is to be. All there is to be.

"I am green and it'll do fine
it's beautiful and I think it's what I wanna be"

I claim my identity and I am happy with it. More than that, who I am is beautiful and I find acceptance. Now that I have found it, I am content to go on. But having gained this affirmation, does happiness automatically follow? It’s not as simple as that.

There is still a sadness in the reading of the lyric, a wistfulness. The song has been recorded many times and almost without exception it is performed as a contemplative ballad. The sadness comes from the unfortunate fact that despite the satisfaction that comes from making the choice to be who you are there is now work to be done. It can still be a daily job to remind oneself that this acceptance has occurred. One must be vigilant and own this acceptance everyday. And remember to apply it to other people. Speaking of other people…

The melancholy really lies in the fact that the world is the way it is. Sometimes people will form a perception of you based on what they see and this is unnatural, it shouldn’t be that way. It should be a given that people get to know one another before forming opinions but that is not always the case. Joe Raposo’s lyric depicts a weary acceptance, although that in itself is a victory of sorts.

Courtesy JayB7869 YouTube Channel. No ownership implied, of course.

Frank Sinatra was one of the first artists to record “Bein’ Green” after Kermit and Jim Henson debuted it in 1970. It has become a standard – one of the two, with “Sing”, that Raposo wrote – and one that was later recorded notably by Lena Horne, Diana Ross, Ray Charles and Tony Bennett. Interesting to note that Van Morrison – who barley ever recorded a song he didn’t write – included it on his 1973 LP Hard Nose the Highway. Van – ever the soul singer – is one of the only artists who jazzes the song up some.

Perhaps it could be said that this song would not have found an audience any other time but the early 1970’s when sensitive songs were in vogue. At time of release, the Children’s Television Workshop said the song was a “poignant realization of (one’s) own dignity and worth”. It was soon declared a powerful message about race, as well with one journalist positing that you could replace “green” with “black”. I feel like it is a wonderful reminder that it is OK to be moved by a children’s song rendered by a puppet.

“Bein’ Green” touched me that Sunday evening. Everything coalesced and I was susceptible to being affected emotionally; the work week looming, spending some time with a favourite singer and then hearing a song that conjured memories of a cherished television show I watched as a child. Then came a father’s cherished memories of his kids – one of whom has a particular fondness for Kermit – and a feeling of happiness at the way they turned out. See what one 3-minute song can do?

9 comments

  1. It’s really weird but I just wrote someone about this album this morning. I look forward to reading more closely and having input on this.

  2. Hi Gary: once again, your album choice, is also one of mine. I bought the album when it first came out, and now also have the CD. I have loved the music on it for years. I am a huge fan of Antonio Carols Jobim’s music and Frank Sinatra’s voice. and while I agree that “Bein’ Green” is a melancholy and touching song, the one that blows me away is “Someone to Light Up My Life.” Everytime I hear Sinatra sing that song, i become an emotional wreck. So to counter that, I listen to “The Girl from Ipanema” with Sinatra providing the vocals, from”Francis Alberta Sinatra and Antonio Carlos Jobim.” A more upbeat arrangement, even if the lyrics are about unrequited love/lust?

    You can’t go wrong with either Jobim or Sinatra, but togehter they are magic. Thank you for writing this post.

    • I have struggled with this album in the past because it is not the full Sinatra/Jobim album it should’ve been. But setting that aside, I do so love the bossa side. There are some sublime recordings there including the gem you mention. The second side has that mood that I like from Frank every now and then. I am looking more into Jobim lately and I hope to report on him this summer. Thank you for your appreciation of this post that I almost didn’t bother writing.

  3. Hi Gary: you’re more than welcome. And, you probably already know this, Jobim’s grandson, Daniel Jobim got together with John Pizzarelli, back in 2017 and made an album called “John Pizzarelli: Sinatra and Jobim at 50” which is terrific. It’s a tribute to the 1967 album “Francis Albert Sinatra & Antônio Carlos Jobim,” released fin 1967. Of course, I have this album/cd as well:) If you haven’t come across this album/cd yet, look for it you may like. As an aside, I’m also a huge John Pizzarelli fan, so when I first heard about it, back in 2017, I bought it. Pizzarelli and his wife, Jessica Molaseky do a radio show on Jazzfm91 called “Radio Deluxe.” Jazzfm91 runs the show on Sundays at 10:00 a.m. It’s a great show, and I always learn something.

    • You know, I don’t think I recall Jobim the Younger’s work with Pizzarelli the Younger; I will seek this out. I was going to refer you to my review of the FAS/ACJ album but I think I recall your having read it. So funny that you mention “Radio Deluxe”! I often will listen to a rebroadcast JAZZFM presents of the show weeknights at 11pm. The two have a nice rapport, he has an impressive resumé and I was surprised to see her name among those in an FB group I am a part of. It’s a pretty good show.

      • Hi Gary: yes, I did read that review, and I think we may have had a discussion about it. I think that I knew that you listened to/were aware of “Radio Deluxe,” and that you enjoy the show. And isn’t it great that Jessica Moleskey is part of your Facebook group. She shows good taste:)

        As to your thinking of posting another review/article about Jobim, this summer; that’s perfect timing. When I think of Jobim’s music, I always think of warm weather, being at a beach or pool-side reading a book and sipping a drink.

      • Oh, absolutely re: Jobim and summer. I get really locked in to listening to Bossa Nova only in summer and that bugs me a bit, my listening “rules”. But fact is Jobim & Co. just go down so perfectly in summer. The music accompanies the weather so well.

  4. I posted too quickly, as I meant to add that I’ll look forward to reading any future articles regarding Jobim and/or Jobim and Sinatra.

    • I appreciate your support of my site, my friend. I am determined to research my man, Antonio Carlos Jobim and write about him this summer. Stay tuned.

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