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Song Swarm: Over The Rainbow

November 22nd, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments


Over The Rainbow tends to top respectable lists of greatest-ever songs. And as long as it beats My Way in doing so, I”m all for it. It nearly didn”t become such a huge hit. Written by Harold Arlen with lyrics by EY Harburg, MGM wanted to cut it from The Wizard Of Oz film because the ballad, performed early in the film before the storm hits, was dragging matters out before the colour section, then still a novelty, would begin. Happily, the song was retained, thanks to the lobbying from associate producer Arthur Freed and arranger Roger Edens, Judy Garland”s mentor.

Dorothy, carrying on waywardly to evade the dust in the wind etc.

Garland recorded the version for the film on 7 October 1938, and a single version for Decca on 28 July 1939. Both versions are included here. It was not Garland”s version that provided the biggest hit of the song in 1939, but those by Glenn Miller and Bing”s brother Bob Crosby, both also featured here. The sheet music for the song included a first verse which was dropped from the Garland version. We hear it here in the version by Ella Fitzgerald.

Invariably, a tearful female singer-songwriter will whisper a fragile cover version that is supposed to be “heart-rendering”; Tori Amos and Ingrid Michaelson do delicately doleful duties here. On the other end of the spectrum are the histrionics of Patti LaBelle”s live performances of the song, which are a bit like expressing sensitive emotions with an atomic sledgehammer. You are spared that nonsense, instead getting an interesting interpretation from 1966 by Patti”s old group, The Bluebelles. Far better to have Jerry Lee Lewis or The Marcels giving it an upbeat treatment, or the punkified version of Me First And The Gimme Gimmes.

Thanks to the late Israel Kamakawiwo”ole, there are now also surfer-guitar ways of doing Over The Rainbow; the TV show Glee picked up on that vibe in a version performed by Matthew Morrison with Gwynneth Paltrow. Those who like things a bit darker will enjoy the depressive mumblings of German singer Blixa Bargeld, co-founder of Einstürzende Neubauten and Nick Cave collaborator.

Obviously there are copious jazz versions, some executed straight up with vocal accompaniment, others instrumentals that stretch the tune in the way jazz people do. Erroll Garner, Art Tatum and Maynard Ferguson all offer great examples of the latter. James Moody”s version is the one you want to dig out for that romantic dinner. Byard Lancaster”s version, however, admits only a casual acquaintance with the tune.

There are a couple of non-jazz intrumentals. Chet Atkin and Les Paul playing together is any guitar-lovers” dream. More bizarre is the version credited to Rolf Harris; alas, the great Australian doesn”t sing or even perform here, but produces young stylophonists.

Ultimately Over The Rainbow is a crooner”s number. We have Frank Sinatra doing it his way in one of at least two versions he recorded, and even Harry Nilsson playing it torchsong style. But I particularly like Matt Monro”s slightly blues-inflected rendition and Ella Fitzgerald”s wonderfully comfortable version.

Here are some of the versions that have been recorded. Some, all or none might be on the mix which you can download. Password in the comments section.

1938 Judy Garland “¢ 1939 Glenn Miller “¢ 1939 Larry Clinton “¢ 1939 Judy Garland (with Victor Young) “¢ 1939 Bob Crosby “¢ 1940s Cleaver “¢ 1946 Jimmy Durante “¢ 1946 Boyd Raeburn’s Orchestra “¢ 1947 Frank Sinatra “¢ 1950 James Moody and his Cool Cats “¢ 1952 Erroll Garner “¢ 1954 Maynard Ferguson “¢ 1954 Dave Brubeck & Paul Desmond “¢ 1955 Sarah Vaughan “¢ 1955 Art Tatum “¢ 1958 Caterina Valente “¢ 1961 Ella Fitzgerald “¢ 1961 The Marcels “¢ 1961 Aretha Franklin “¢ 1962 Chet Baker “¢ 1963 The Beatles “¢ 1966 Patti LaBelle & the Bluebelles “¢ 1968 Byard Lancaster “¢ 1970 Rolf Harris “¢ 1975 Rod McKuen “¢ 1975 Matt Monro “¢ 1978 Chet Atkins & Les Paul “¢ Jerry Lee Lewis “¢ Harry Nilsson “¢ 1989 Olivia Newton-John “¢ 1991 Richard Elliot “¢ 1992 The Jazz Butcher Conspiracy “¢ 1993 James McMillan & Tracy Thorn “¢ 1993 Nana Mouskouri “¢ 1995 Blixa Bargeld “¢ Chris Spheeris & Paul Voudouris “¢ 1996 Tori Amos “¢ 1998 Cavaliers Drum & Bugle Corps “¢ 1992 Eva Cassidy “¢ 1999 Me First And The Gimme Gimmes “¢ 2001 Jane Monheit “¢ 2001 Faith Hill “¢ 2002 Martina McBride “¢ 2002 Eric Clapton “¢ 2002 Ernesto Cortazar “¢ 2004 Ray Charles & Johnny Mathis “¢ 2004 Innocence Mission “¢ 2005 Anne Murray “¢ 2008 Dave Koz “¢ 2008 Ingrid Michaelson “¢ 2009 Jewel “¢ 2009 Clare and the Reasons “¢ 2010 Matthew Morrison & Gwynneth Paltrow

(PW in comments)

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  1. halfhearteddude
    November 22nd, 2012 at 09:07 | #1

    PW = amdwhah

  2. James
    November 22nd, 2012 at 13:45 | #2

    Thanks you! Pardon the pun, but Jerry Lee’s version is a killer.

  3. Birgit
    November 22nd, 2012 at 21:51 | #3

    Wow. Thanks. Still listening…
    Just to add another version
    You can never have enough Nina in your life.

  4. November 23rd, 2012 at 00:12 | #4

    I don’t know who’s interested, but Kirby Krackle made their version available here for free.

  5. November 23rd, 2012 at 01:59 | #5

    I’m pretty sure it was never on an official LP/CD/whathaveyou release, but I always got a kick out of Vincent Price singing this at the end of 1972’s Dr. Phibes Rises Again.

  6. John
    November 25th, 2012 at 23:57 | #6


    RE: James on November 22 @ 13:45

    Er … what pun?

  7. halfhearteddude
    November 26th, 2012 at 07:24 | #7

    John, I think James was referring to Jerry Lee Lewis’ nickname, “The Killer”.

  8. September 26th, 2013 at 21:37 | #8

    just in case you’re interested or like to expand your post: there’s another version by the Neighb’rhood Childr’n (probably from 1967 or 1968). I put it on a compilation of mine, here (track no.6): http://schnickschnackmixmax.blogspot.de/2011/06/feierabend-machine-entspannung-am-abend.html



  9. Mark Ehmcke
    June 23rd, 2016 at 06:35 | #9

    Another great punky version that you are unaware of is by Canadian (orig. British) artist Toby Swann, from 1980 album Lullabyes in Razorland. Swann originally in Toronto punk band Battered Wives.

  10. rntcj
    July 9th, 2016 at 00:30 | #10


    Just now “finding” this post. One of THE best modern versions was done by Hawaiian (deceased) Isreal “IZ” in ’93. Check it out here: LOVELY!




    Ciao! For now.

  11. Hermann
    August 11th, 2016 at 20:14 | #11

    Techno !
    marusha (Berlin, Germany)


    Greetings. Hermann

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