Rainbows have a long history of representing hope and renewal. As far back as the Bible, the rainbow symbolized God’s covenant with his people.
So, it’s no surprise that composers and lyricists evoke the rainbow when they want to explore symbols of love, optimism, and hope.
Here are some of the best songs about rainbows.
Somewhere Over the Rainbow by Judy Garland
Song year: 1939
You can’t talk about songs about rainbows without mentioning Judy Garland’s famous rendition of ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow.’
It’s the first musical song you hear in ‘The Sound Of Music,’ sung by a young Dorothy Gale, daydreaming of a more exciting life for herself.
In that regard, it has several similarities with Dvorak's ‘Song to the Moon’ from ‘Rusalka.’ Listen to the rising octaves and falling sixths of Dvorjak’s chorus next to Garland and see if you can spot the musical and thematic similarities.
Chasing Rainbows by Robot Orchestra
Song Year: 2015
Robot Orchestra’s ‘Chasing Rainbows,’ like many songs about rainbows, is a reminder to always strive for optimism. The world can be grey, somber, and even overwhelming, but you can always find a rainbow and beauty if you know where to look.
It’s a relaxed melody that perfectly echoes the speaker’s search for beauty and joy.
Rainbow Connection by Jim Henson
Song Year: 1979
This song about rainbows is best known to listeners because it was sung by Kermit the Frog in ‘The Muppet Movie.’
Like ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ before it, it won an Academy Award for Best Original Song.
The song inspired listeners everywhere. The reminder that rainbows connect heaven and earth sent many Muppet devotees off chasing their own rainbows toward a brighter, better future.
Look to the Rainbow by Petula Clark and Fred Astaire
Song Year: 1968
‘Look to the Rainbow’ is yet another song about rainbows where the rainbow is more metaphoric than literal.
It’s the titular song of ‘Finian’s Rainbow.’ In the musical, Fred Astaire, playing Petula Clark’s Irish father, encourages her to follow rainbows, and the people who chase them, to realize her dreams.
Pocketful of Rainbows by Elvis Presley
‘Pocketful of Rainbows’ is another song about rainbows that began life as part of a film. In the case of ‘Pocketful of Rainbows,’ the film was ‘G.I. Blues.’
Elvis was newly discharged from the army when Paramount approached him for the film. And although his previous films were received poorly, Presley was still determined to act.
‘G.I. Blues’ wasn’t a tremendous success, but most critics agreed Presley’s acting had matured, perhaps because of his military service. However you feel about the film, ‘Pocketful of Rainbows’ remains a memorable and catchy song.
Rainbowland by Miley Cyrus and Dolly Parton
Song Year: 2017
The inspiration for ‘Rainbow Land’ came from Miley Cyrus’s brightly-colored Malibu home. Parton, her godmother, worked with Cyrus on refining its message. With her help, it became a song about rainbows and the freedom and safety everyone should enjoy.
Expanding on the song later, Cyrus said it was about embracing our diversity as something to celebrate.
Sunshine, Lollipops, and Rainbows by Lesley Gore
Song Year: 1963
‘Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows’ is a slightly different variation of the metaphorical musical rainbows discussed.
It’s not about dreams or even the importance of hope. Instead, it’s how someone we love can transform life into something brighter and more meaningful than it might be.
She’s a Rainbow by The Rolling Stones
Song Year: 1967
‘She’s A Rainbow’ is a surprising shift in focus for the Rolling Stones. By 1967, they were famous for their sexual excesses, even deviance, in their songs.
‘She’s a Rainbow’ is a much gentler approach. It would be too much to call it sentimental, but it’s demonstrably more romantic than some of their pieces.
The result is an optimistic song that can’t help making you smile.
Double Rainbow by Katy Perry
Song Year: 2013
The titular ‘Double Rainbow’ of Katy Perry’s song is a metaphor for synchronized love.
There is such understanding between Perry and her partner that their love is best depicted by not one rainbow but two. They always reflect the best parts of themselves back at each other. The result is a truly gratifying, loving relationship.
Rainbow by Sia
Song Year: 2017
Sia’s ‘Rainbow,’ like ‘Rainbow Connection,’ is a song about rainbows that began life as part of a children’s movie.
In the case of Australian singer Sia and ‘Rainbow,’ the movie was for ‘My Little Pony.’
The song reminds listeners of any age to always believe in themselves. It may feel that there is less magic in your world than there should be. But you can never rule out the possibility that you will be surprised by joy or at least a rainbow.
And when that happens, things will look up, as they always do. The secret, Sia says? Keep believing in yourself.
Rainbow by Kacey Musgraves
Song Year: 2018
Kacey Musgraves’ ‘Rainbow’ is a triumph of gentle optimism. It combines beautiful lyrics with a gentle piano accompaniment.
Like many songs about rainbows, it reminds listeners to never give up on hope. There’s always beauty to sustain you, even if you must look harder than usual to find it.
The song is part of a CD called ‘Golden Hour.’ True to its name, it received a Grammy award for its musicality and Musgraves’ technique.
Rainbow (Interlude) by Mariah Carey
Song Year: 1999
This song about rainbows isn’t just for dreamers and optimists. Nature lovers will enjoy it because there is a wide range of nature sounds scattered throughout. Listen for the sounds of:
‘Rainbow (Interlude)’ also turned out to be a watershed moment for Carey’s career. It was part of her seventh album and debuted on the cusp of her shift in musical tonality.
Subsequent performances featured a more urban sound. ‘Rainbow (Interlude)’ stands out as an example of a younger Carey.
What a Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong
Song Year: 1967
When Louis Armstrong first sang ‘What A Wonderful World’ in 1967, it became an instant hit. At least, it was in the UK. It lacked the same immediate success in North America because Bob Thiele and George David Weiss’s composition didn’t appeal to Larry Newman, then president of ABC Records.
So, Newman never promoted the song, and it took people time to realize it for the musical gem it was.
Once they did, no one else wanted to sing it because Armstrong’s rich, warm vocals made for stiff competition.
It’s a beautiful song about so much more than rainbows. When rainbows crop up, they remind us to always look for the beauty in people around us, whether they’re friends, family, or strangers.
Sunday Shining by Finlay Quaye
Song Year: 1997
Shining Sunday isn’t an obvious song about rainbows. And once you start looking at the lyrics, it quickly becomes apparent it’s about several different things. They range from heroism to war.
But there is a chorus about rainbows, and it’s beautiful. It talks about how beauty refines even the most unlikely suspects. With the right person, says this chorus, we become better versions of ourselves, become rainbows, in fact.
Gravity’s Rainbow by The Klaxons
Song Year: 2006
‘Gravity’s Rainbow’ by The Klaxons gets its name from a book by Thomas Pynchon. The book explores post-World War Two Europe, especially the German production of rockets.
It’s an unlikely source of inspiration for a London-based rock band. But, title aside, ‘Gravity’s Rainbow’ is more about man’s potential for destruction than rainbows.
That’s not to say rainbows have nothing to do with the lyrics. The song has the same preoccupation with discovering the infinite and searching for hope as many other songs about rainbows on this list.
But the speaker isn’t afraid to couch that search for love and beauty in mythological adventures that span time. It’s as unsettling and provocative as the novel it takes inspiration from and is all the more moving because of it.
Rainbows and Waterfalls by Pretty Lights
Song Year: 2017
‘Rainbows and Waterfalls’ is another song about rainbows that encourages its audience to find hope in the darkness.
The grey and sere weather of the song acts as a metaphor for adversity, while the rainbow reminds us that when the storm passes, beauty follows.
‘Rainbows and Waterfalls’ also reminds us that you can only achieve a rainbow after the rain. For rewards to be meaningful, whether they are as esoteric as hope or more concrete, like rainbows, you must first brave your share of trials and tribulations.
Rainbow Love by Rob Orbison
Song Year: 1974
‘Rainbow Love’ is another optimistic song about rainbows. In it, the speaker goes looking for the end of the rainbow. They’re searching for a pot of gold or good fortune.
Instead, they find a stalwart kind of love. As the song progresses, the speaker realizes the love they find at the end of the rainbow is more meaningful than anything they could have hoped for. And its value far exceeds the gold they went looking for.
In other words, you should always chase after rainbows because you never know what you’ll find, but the search will always be worthwhile.
Rainbow by Battles
Song Year: 2007
Battles is an American rock band that debuted in 2002. Their song ‘Rainbow’ stands out for its bright, brassy energy. It features a variety of sounds, from clashing symbols to accompaniment by outsized machines that groan.
It’s not what you expect when you think about rainbows, and that’s part of what makes the song so interesting. The sound it produces doesn’t conjure delicate, lingering illuminations and light-play. Instead, it’s bold, brash, and eye-catching.
It’s ideal for musicians mucking about with friends. It’s also a powerful reminder that to achieve your dreams, you must be as unapologetically yourself as the musicians behind ‘Rainbow’ are.
Lick the Rainbow by Mord Frustang
Song Year: 2011
So far, our focus has been on songs about rainbows with lyrics. Mord Frustang’s ‘Lick the Rainbow’ stands out because it’s instrumental.
Even without words, it’s a fascinating song. The title suggests synaesthesia or senses that misfire for an enhanced experience not only of rainbows but life.
The word painting is effective. Rationally, listeners know they can’t lick the rainbow, but listening to the carefully curated harmonies of this song, it’s not hard to imagine you could.
That sense of reaching for the impossible belies the minor key that permeates the piece. It should feel sad. Instead, this evocative musical piece fills listeners with a variety of feelings. But first and foremost, they’re left believing anything is possible.
A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow by A Mighty Wind
Song Year: 2003
‘A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow’ slyly pokes fun at the 1960s folk-revival era. None of the songs sung by A Mighty Wind are genuinely folksy, as they parody the songs of the sixties that championed everything from preserving ecosystems to ending the Vietnam War.
But ‘A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow’ isn’t about a cause. It’s a sentimental look at the importance of love and the promises we make each other.
Like other songs about rainbows, the suggestion here is that at the end of the rainbow, you don’t find boundless material wealth but emotional gratification. And that, suggests A Mighty Wind, is what matters most.
At the Rainbow’s End by Hank Snow
Song Year: 1965
Hank Snow made a name for himself singing about travel. ‘At the Rainbow’s End’ is no exception.
But whereas most of this Nova Scotia-born Canadian’s songs were about literal travel, the journey in ‘At the Rainbow’s End’ is metaphorical. It describes Snow’s search for fulfillment.
Whether he found it or not may be debatable, but this song about rainbows brought fulfillment to listeners everywhere.
Snow’s music continues to get celebrated in the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame, and The Canadian Music Hall of Fame.
He may have reached his heyday in the 1950s, but for many, ‘At the Rainbow’s End’ is still an anthem that celebrates the triumph of hope over adversity.
Love in a Rainbow by Brain May and Kerry Ellis
Song Year: 2017
‘Love in a Rainbow’ is another song about rainbows where the rainbow is thematically linked to love.
Here it’s sung by Brain May, familiar to listeners for his role in the group Queen, in collaboration with Kerry Ellis.
Ellis’s warm, redolent vocals pull listeners in and encourage them to find ad even make love in the heart of the rainbow. Odd as it sounds, the lyrics emphasize how elusive love can be. Not only that, they remind you that once you find it, you should embrace it. When you do, the result is often liberating.
It’s a surprisingly sixties sentiment for a contemporary song, recalling as it does the era of free love. On the other hand, some things never lose their gloss. The enduring power of love is one of those things.
Rainbow Country by Bob Marley
Song Year: 1975
Bob Marley was instrumental in helping create reggae music. As a Jamaican artist, he knew a thing or two about battling adversity and triumphing.
In ‘Rainbow Country,’ Marley grapples with weighty topics like discrimination and what it meant to live in a country without apartheid.
In Marley’s hands, Rainbow Country becomes a place where everyone can live without discrimination and enjoy the liberty they’re entitled to. It’s idealist, optimistic, and a dream worth aspiring to.
It’s also a deeply moving song, full of rich, fascinating harmonies.
Sing a Rainbow by Peggy Lee
Song Year: 1955
No list of songs about rainbows would be complete without mentioning ‘Sing a Rainbow.’
It’s a staple of primary school classes everywhere and remains a pneumonic for children to learn their colors.
Several artists have performed ‘Sing a Rainbow,’ including:
- Andy Williams
- Cilla Black
- The Dells
But the song appeared on the musical map by Peggy Lee, who sang ‘Sing a Rainbow’ for the film ‘Pete Kelly’s Blues.’
Lee is better known by jazz aficionados for her revamped version of ‘Fever.’ But if you’re looking for a song almost everyone knows, then look for Lee’s version of ‘Sing a Rainbow.’
Make Me Rainbows by Ella Fitzgerald
Song Year: 1979
‘Make Me Rainbows’ started as an instrumental theme for the movie ‘Fitzwilly.’ There, it served as the love theme and appeared whenever romance was in the air. It also appeared as the end-credits song, this time with lyrics.
It became a jazz standard when Nancy Wilson and Ella Fitzgerald recorded versions.
The lyrics playfully combine impossibilities, like spring when there’s snow, and music that follows the speaker like their own soundtrack.
It’s a bit sentimental and entirely whimsical. For an American touch, the rainbows have a star-spangled aspect that reflects the flag. Fitzgerald takes all these images and infuses them with the irresistible warmth and richness that was her signature.
Rainbows by 16 Bit Lolitas
Song Year: 2017
16 Bit Lolitas’ ‘Rainbows’ is an emotional song. It instills various feelings in its listeners, many associated with the promises rainbows offer.
When it ends, it leaves listeners with an optimistic feeling. It’s one of 16 Bit Lolita’s most successful songs and listening to it, it’s easy to see why.
I’m Always Chasing Rainbows by Judy Garland
Song Year: 1941
Let’s end where we began, with Judy Garland singing about rainbows.
Originally, the song was a popular Vaudvillain staple. It combined a reworking of a Chopin melody with lyrics by Joseph McCarthy. It next appeared in a 1918 Broadway production called ‘Oh, Look!’
But the version that became famous was Judy Garland’s. She sang it for the film ‘Ziegfiled Girl.’ Overnight, ‘Always Chasing Rainbows’ became a hit. It had always enjoyed modest popularity, but now everyone wanted to hear it all the time.
Rightly so, too. Garland’s voice was impressive, and her rendition of the song was moving.
Top Songs About Rainbows, Final Thoughts
Kermit famously asked why so many people dedicated their songs to rainbows. Hopefully, this list answers that question.
Songs about rainbows are about so much more than the visible light spectrum or a particularly lovely weather phenomenon.
They’re emblematic of love, hope, and renewal. No wonder composers return to them as a theme time and again.