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All the Covers of the Rainbow

Tuesday, May 22, 2012 - 06:00 PM

Xylophone (tauress/flickr/CC-BY-2.0)

For our new Colors episode, we reached out to dozens of amazing artists and asked them to record covers for the show. What we got back blew our minds.  Here's a list of all the recordings we featured in the show.



Rippin' the Rainbow a New One

The Perfect Yellow

Why Isn't the Sky Blue?


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Comments [53]

Rivkah from Philadelphia

Um, regarding the colors mentioned in the Iliad and Odyssey...wasn't Homer blind?

Aug. 27 2016 09:16 PM

Taken in as many others by the content and music, but found myself wondering why it had to be titled "Rippin' the Rainbow a New One"? Pretty tough title.

Aug. 21 2016 08:07 PM

Taken in as many others by the content and music, but found myself wondering why it had to be titled "Rippin' the Rainbow a New One"? Pretty tough title.

Aug. 21 2016 08:05 PM
Mary Jane Lopez from Fort Worth, TX

I always enjoy your show. This one was very interesting. I wonder if you guys have seen the beautifully touching artwork at the 9/11 memorial in New York City. The one where the artist asked so many different people what color was the sky that morning. All the shades of blue are different. It made me wonder if emotion can play a role in color perception.
I have a nephew who actually perceives color through sound. Like if he hears something in the key of D Major he sees red. F Major is Green. Etc. Very similar to Scriaban's color wheel.
Thank you for your insightful stories!

Aug. 21 2016 03:01 PM
JL from NYC

Reggie Watts' Rainbow Connection can be heard here:

Snowblink's Blue Moon:

Aug. 21 2016 01:32 PM
Susanne from McLean, VA

Interesting research on color, but I was surprised to hear color treated as an absolute quality. The researchers totally disregard the intrinsic relativistic quality of color. In real life there is no absolute blue, as the same blue put next to yellow would look quite different than when seen next to a red or a green. See color theories of Joseph Albers.

Aug. 21 2016 01:29 PM
Dan from Jupiter

Wear your love like heaven. Donavon. Colors you haven't even heard of. Shweeeeet!

Aug. 20 2016 12:37 PM
Julian Fort from Los Angeles

Really great episode! Where can we listen to the covers?

May. 02 2015 01:33 AM
Jsn from Nashville

"Colors" by Grace Potter and the Nocturnals

Apr. 22 2015 11:19 PM
Danielle from Connecticut

I love radiolab and have been a loyal listener for years. I found this story, as I find almost all of the stories, completely fascinating. I was, however, SO distracted by the music! Don't get me wrong, it was beautiful music, but I almost had to turn this story off because of the ear-piercing music that interrupted the story. Yikes.

Apr. 22 2015 11:05 AM
Robert from Ithaca

I'm guessing that the landscaper who could see differences in the "brown" test swatches actually has a color vision impairment. It would be interesting to know if he could pass the Ishihara pseudoisochromatic plate test for normal color vision. The show mentions that 10% of the male population is color blind, but it's more accurate to say "not color normal." In the spectrum of not normal, some impairments actually improve a person's ability to sort similarly colored objects. I have a color vision issue that I learned of in my late 20s that seems to help me sort theatrical color media and color banded resistors. I used to be surprised at how hard it is for color-normal people to see the difference between some gels that look very different to me, but I've learned we see things differently.

Great show.

Apr. 21 2015 02:43 PM
S. L. from USA

I love Radiolab more than any other podcast, and that says something because I listen to a lot of them. And I am a science fanatic. My grandfather won the National Medal of Science, and our family has countless PhDs and science nerds. However, a few weeks ago I heard a program where you glossed over the horrors of animal experimentation, and even joked about it. I would hope that in the future you would stop and reflect before making light of Dr. Skinners experiments on rats. Furthermore, I found this piece on the NYTimes website that you should read about a former animal experimenter:
Please do something to help the animals rather than hurting them. They have no voice, and no ability to say no or prevent the cruelty that is inflicted upon them. Thank you for all you do, and please help in this important cause.

Apr. 21 2015 10:39 AM
Tim Nissen from New York City

The idea that you can't see something until you name it is perfectly captured by Shakespeare in A Midsummer Night's Dream (Theseus):

The poet's eye, in fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen 1845
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.

Imagine being Shakespeare, discovering things no one knew about, because they hadn't crafted a word for it!

Apr. 20 2015 09:01 PM
Wil Davis from Nashua, NH

The programme is till utter cack, almost impossible to listen to the "Oh! Wow!"s and the infantile, clumsy editing, production and generally lousy standard of the content! Nothing has changed since I accidentally found myself listening to a broadcast of Radiolab about six months ago! I still regard the experience as a great reason NOT to support NHPR nor any other radio station that continues insist on polluting the airwaves with such drivel! (…sigh!)

Apr. 20 2015 07:29 PM

How can I get these songs? They are great but I can't find them on iTunes or on this site. Would be great for funding radio lab as well as the artists that covered those tunes.

Apr. 18 2015 07:12 PM
Robert Thomas from Santa Clara

It's wrong to describe the visual response of 3-plus-chromats to the two-dimensional E/M spectrum as the ability to see "extra" colors "in between" the colors we tri-chromats see.

Tri-chromats can usefully describe distinct sensations of the colors of the rainbow upon the line described by the E/M spectrum of ROYGBV (deprecating indigo), corresponding to wavelengths from 700nm down to 390nm, or so.

But tri-chromats can recognize a vivid range of colors absolutely distinct in character from any color visible in the rainbow. These are the magentas (reddish-purples). The magentas don't appear in the rainbow. Having three cones in their retinas, tri-chromats' brains assign a "hue" to the visual sensation of the presence of a MIXTURE of blue and red wavelengths (with fewer photons of middle visible wavelengths present) completely distinct from the color sensation of any pure ("monochromatic") light wavelength. Voila!! Magenta.

In fact, norm-vision humans can distinguish a very large number of "desaturated" (mixed wavelength) colors distinct from any found on the "saturated" monochromatic rainbow, even when the colors are controlled for total luminance. The sensations of the colors seen in the rainbow may be mapped to a portion of the monochromatic locus (perimeter) of various two dimensional equal-luminance depictions exemplified by the C.I.E. 1931 chromaticity diagram. Points within the triangular region described by vertices at blue, red and white within these diagrams correspond to **many** distinct hues only stimulated by mixtures of different wavelengths. The brains of tri-chromats enrich their world with colors that don't correspond to any single wavelength of light.

Tri-chromatic vision can be modeled as a three-dimensional solid where each point within the solid corresponds to a particular tristimulus value - where the statistical response from each cone can be assigned a number and these numbers can be normalized to a continuously differentiable three-dimensional region.

For a trichromat, the color perception of a 3-plus-chromat is as impossible to imagine as is the perception of any space - of any kind - of four or more dimensions. Gravitation would be easy to understand if human brains could map 4-D Minkowski space to every-day experience. But we can't. The color sensation of the natural world experienced by organisms with five or more color stimuli available is utterly incomprehensible to humans.

Apr. 18 2015 05:52 PM

Is it possible that the landscaper who was the "control" in the brown fabric swatch test was actually XXY? It's rare, but it could explain why he could see the variation.

Apr. 18 2015 05:27 PM
Zac from United States

Great program and a fascinating topic. They missed a conceptual model that explains color very well. Two cones is a gradient of colors between two points - a straight line. Three cones make a surface of different color possibilities (most humans). Four or more make a volume/hypervolume of different color possibilities. The amount of stimulation at each cone combines to make the "color" point in this space. These aspect define the fundamental parameters of color perception while the realized perception of color depend on the words we use and how we learn to distinguish groups of signals from the available sensors.

Apr. 18 2015 05:19 PM
Dave from California

I have so enjoyed the show and comments. My focus is blue. My small alley blue flower garden also has an audio component with 5 hours of music gently wafting through. The songs connect to the color blue or the blues. In addition to the varied blue night lights, I occasionally turn on the fog maker with a scent of blue from lavender essential oil. Perhaps another Radio Lab Show covering songs reminiscent of particular scents?

Apr. 16 2015 11:47 PM
Jennifer from California

Okay. I'm shocked to see no other listener was completely bothered by the background music. I've listened to the first 20 minutes and want to turn it off - ONLY because of this chorus echoing of the words the hosts are saying. It's very distracting. Artsy, but perhaps in the editing it was left too loud (above the announcers voice).

I feel I'm a young listener - 36 years old - which I assume is a target audience. I have loved all of your other techniques in prior shows.

BTW - I used to work for an NPR affiliate.

Thanks for listening, and your overall excellent work.

Apr. 16 2015 03:38 PM
Kate from Providence, RI

I just listened to the "Colors" Radiolab, and it was awesome and incredibly interesting (per usual):) The music is also fantastic! Thank you for including such a great compilation and for making it easy to find! I especially loved Busman's Holiday's cover of "Mr. Blue" - I agree that is indeed hauntingly beautiful, and, having never heard it before, really enjoyed looking up the original by the Fleetwoods!

I also just wanted to pass along that there is a brilliant band called The Dear Hunter that created a whole collection of 9 EPs called The Color Spectrum (released in June of 2011), each EP consisting of four songs that are inspired by a color in the color spectrum - it's a phenomenal piece of work that is definitely worth checking out, and also may be great to use should Radiolab ever decide to revisit the subject and make a "Colors II" edition:)

Aug. 27 2012 05:03 PM
Bert Lloyd

That cover of green river was phenomenal. Single please!

Aug. 07 2012 09:15 PM

To listen to the entire "Mr. Blue" song, go to :

Beautiful voices!

Aug. 02 2012 12:40 PM

Thanks for turning me on to Busman's Holiday. Their version of "Mr. Blue" was hauntingly gorgeous -- I rushed to google them and found I could purchase the track off of their bandcamp site.
Well worth the 99cents!

Jul. 21 2012 05:16 PM

I was enticed to become a partner so that I could download the Colors tunes, but it appears that my ID card is to be sent on a slow boat from China. Did I miss something, or do I really have to wait for the dang card to arrive?

Jul. 07 2012 07:46 AM

[I don't agree with what I hear from anyone on the PodCast regarding Colors].
Color's actually don't exist at all. [same as the Time] they are only an illusions inside our optical censor [the eyes ==> including each function of other parts in the communication line to our brain] by decoding the frequency of Waves length that scape from the trap of the Orbits in the elements touched by the Photon [or light]...

In easy words...Color are just the "action" of our organics preceptors of "counting amount of photons"

This concept is based in A LOT of data from Physics, Medical and Quantum science/data.

Jun. 26 2012 04:08 PM
MarcLombardo from Brooklyn

I joined lab partners just so I could get my hands on Snowblink's "Blue Moon" ( but I'm happy to support Radiolab). These are the songs available to me as a Lab Partner so far:

MP3: Blue Monday performed by Buke and Gass
MP3: Blue In Green performed by Erik Friendlander
MP3: Jonti Brown performed by Homeboy Sandman
MP3: Pink Moon performed by Lost in The Trees
MP3: Yellow Submarine performed by The Flanks

On Snowblink's Twitter and Facebook, they mention people being able to have the Full Version of "Blue Moon" if you become a lab partner. Will this be released at a later date? Was it available at a prior time and now I only have access to these five? Any information would be helpful. Thanks!

Jun. 25 2012 08:37 PM
MJ from Eugene, Oregon

Thank you for the great podcast.

Just off the top of my head regarding no blue fruit or flowers: Love-in-the-mist (Nigella damascena) and forget-me-nots (Myosotis), both blue flowers are currently blooming in my yard, and prior to that was the japanese iris a beautiful pale blue. The blueberry and oregon grape are both fruits that are blue on the outside

I do not believe any of the above would create a blue suitable for painting, however.

Jun. 16 2012 07:11 PM
Sam from Orlando, FL

You misspelled "Buke and Gass".

Jun. 09 2012 12:51 PM
rosep from astoria, ny

If you ever want to meet some people with highly tuned color receptors, you need to talk to retouchers. We have to see color in ways that most people would never even consider. It took about a year for me to start really seeing what more experienced retouchers were seeing, but now it makes me mad. Everyone looks like an unfinished image, it's something I can't un-see!

Jun. 07 2012 10:16 AM
Helen from Sydney, Australia

How can I get these songs? All of them - not just 5? Maybe you could sell them as a record and make money for radio lab that way?

Jun. 05 2012 02:20 AM
Jonathan Pham from Baton Rouge, LA

You guys missed a great song that would have been perfect for this episode.

Lateralus by TOOL

"Black then white are all I see in my infancy.
Red and yellow then came to be, reaching out to me.
Lets me see."

The syllable count in the song are built on the Fibonacci sequence, a great song to break down and analyze in every aspect.

Jun. 03 2012 01:26 AM
Bob from Ok

Copied from another website:
The color “tehelet”, mentioned in the bible was wrongly thought to mean blue. It is now known to be the color purple, extracted from sea shells found on the beaches of Israel and Lebanon).

You can google to validate or invalidate yourself.

Jun. 02 2012 11:45 AM

Learned about Lab Partners roughly 20 minutes after making a yearly pledge to WNYC. So disappointed. I forsook my own local NPR station (WFPL - Louisville) to support Radiolab, and come to find out I could have given my money directly to you. Keep up the good work.

Jun. 01 2012 11:44 AM
Steve from Woodside, NY

Hey Guys! Just finished listening to Colors and I'll be coming to BAM in June. I know you offer the songs if you become a lab partner, but right now it's a choice between gas, food, and lab partner. One day I'll be a well-to-do private practice psychologist, so I'll contribute my butt off, but for now I'll enjoy the podcasts.

Have you thought about/are you able to put together a CD of all the songs to sell? Would all the artists agree to it?

May. 31 2012 09:59 AM

Hey guys! I'm an illustrator and a former art history/anthropology/applied linguistics major, so your last segment really got my attention. My favorite class in college was Ancient Art History, and a few things really jumped out at me, so instead of writing an entire blog post in the comments section, I decided to write a post about it on my Tumblr blog (I totally follow you guys! :D). Here's a link:

There's some minor Minoan nudity in there, so NSFW I guess. ;p

May. 31 2012 03:09 AM
Richard Cowhig from London

Great show and fantastic new music. For those curious about the classical piece used early in the show it's called nulla in mundo pax sincera by Vivaldi. There's a fantastic recording on a Hyperion cd called Vivaldi sacred works vol 2.

May. 30 2012 09:00 AM

What is the that piece at 5:41? I think it is Vivaldi, but I can't remember for the life of me. ~

May. 27 2012 08:41 PM
Kevin from NYC from BK

I don't mean to sound ungrateful, but I'm very upset I can't get my hands on those mp3 covers without paying $75. Yall might make alot more money if you put up the songs for individual download at a decent (read: premium) price per song. I'd pay 2 or 3 dollars to hear Snowblink's version of "Blue Moon" in the morning when I wake up.

May. 27 2012 01:41 PM
Ed Hagopian from Milwaukee

It's interesting to note that "perception" of something such as the color blue is different than "seeing" the color blue. For example, most people who never really have lived in snowy climates just see snow as snow. For example, people might generally look at two types of snow pack, hard and soft, but then just call it "snow". But the Sami people have all sorts of words for snow:

The other thing that's interesting, is that we don't need to "see" additional bands in the electromagnetic spectrum to perceive them. People who have put magnets under their skin can sense electrical fields (

Others have put phone vibrating motors all around a belt which constantly tells them which way is north ( Create glasses that take thermal imaging (Predator Vision, etc). Frankly, there is really no reason why the Mantis Shrimp should have all the fun.

May. 25 2012 09:17 PM
Sandy Marsh from Washington, DC

This is so ingenious! It inspires me to write something now...

May. 25 2012 06:43 PM
Meg from Falls Church, VA

This reminded me of the teen fiction "Gathering Blue," by Lois Lowery about a teenage girl in a pseudo-primitive society where folks are set in vocations based in skill. She is a waever, and her mother was the last of the clan who knew how to make blue, the hardest color because it is not found easily in nature. It's still a classic for many high school curricula.

I am a brand new listener, and have downloaded dozens of episodes...can't stop listening... Or making my friends listen to them and me talk about them. They have been a great gift for a gal whose brain doesn't like to be quiet for long! thanks!

May. 25 2012 12:56 PM
Carolyn from Nagano, Japan

I was puzzled by the idea that blue is always last...because I'm fairly sure it's not true of Japanese. Even today, there are a large number of clearly green items (seaweed, traffic lights) that are called 'blue' because there was no word in Japanese for green until fairly recently.

May. 25 2012 03:04 AM
LILY ROSENBLATT from florida

how the bleep do you do it? you keep raising the bar and 'fascination' but lets make sure the bar and verification goes with it...
1. BLUE IN THE TORAH: The Torah states in Numbers 15:38: "Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them, that they shall make themselves fringes on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and they shall put on the corner fringe a blue (tekhelet) thread." Wearing the tzitzit is also commanded in Deuteronomy 22:12: "You shall make yourself twisted threads, on the four corners of your garment with which you cover yourself."
2. if we need language to 'notice' a color, and i assume by deduction, anything, then i would appreciate understanding how you ascertain that the mantas shrimp 'sees' the wider spectrum of color???

May. 24 2012 11:19 PM
Chris Marrero from Delaware

I love the Music. but if I donate .. what songs do I get? can I choose or can I just buy the songs I want? I don't understand. I want to buy those songs...

May. 24 2012 03:50 PM
Marian from Louisiana

Wait--how can you say that Hebrew has no "blue"? A thread in the tallit has to be colored blue. It was made from a snail that no longer exists.

May. 24 2012 12:36 PM
Doug from Crete

As an archaeological illustrator who lives and works in Greece, the idea that Homer had no idea of blue as a color is preposterous. I have personal worked on Mycenaean Frescoes that pre-date Homer that have the most amazing intense blue as a main color. Lapis lazuli was often used as a material for for jewelry, We have evidence that the Minoans could make Faience which is often blue in color. Classical Greek architecture, including the Parthenon was painted in very garish primary colors, including blue. And, dating to Homer's time, many Archaic sculptures included blue paint. If you have ever been to Greece you realize that blue dominates in the color of the intense blue sky to the blue-green of the Mediterranean. I have no idea why the ancient Greeks did not have a word for blue, but it surely wasn't for the lack of it in their lives.

May. 24 2012 07:03 AM
adam g

what is the classical piece that briefly plays at around 35 minutes in, before 'a whiter shade of pale' starts? I know I've heard it before, I just can't think of the name!!!

Also, who is the particular performer?

May. 23 2012 08:06 PM

Hi Roxxy,
Sorry, "Green River" isn't on any Soltero records - I just made it for this project.

May. 23 2012 07:40 PM
Bob Calder from South Florida

I was struck by the effect of naming colors resembling research presented on the way verbal representations of numbers affects numeracy. A study of the Piraha using "home signers" as a control group determined that the ability to recreate an identical number of counters/stones failed in people that don't need to use or count numbers in excess of seven to ten or so. (My imperfect memory of a talk over five years ago is responsible for errors here.) Talk about this includes discussion around the Whorf effect and Steven Pinker has put his oar in as well.

Your piece on this could be a good starting point on a discussion of the validity of high stakes testing and cultural differences that correlate high income families with high achievement on tests. Many testing experts claim the effect is substantial. As you know, testing mania drives education reform in K-12. The government of New Zealand commissioned a study on introducing charter schools. But the study recommended the government invest in eliminating income inequality and health care to make education effective instead. After all, the predictors of achievement follow these indicators and not common curriculum.

May. 23 2012 07:27 PM
Roxxy from Seattle, WA

Is Soltero's "Green River" a single? I can't seem to find it on any of their albums... :(

May. 23 2012 05:52 PM

I want to buy only one of those songs, and I can't afford the $75 Lab Partners program. Is there a way to just download the songs individually? Snowblink's version of "Blue Moon" was just amazing.

May. 23 2012 01:21 PM

So if you sign up for Lab Partners do you get all the covers or just the five listed in the last paragraph?

May. 23 2012 12:51 PM

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