The subject for Day 24 of my 30-day Song Challenge is “A song from a movie you love“, and there was only choice for me – “Over the Rainbow“, sung by Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz. The 1939 classic has been my favorite film for my entire life, and I’ve seen it more than 50 times. Each time I watch it, it moves and excites me every bit as much as it did when I was a child, and I never grow tired of seeing it. There are so many great scenes and songs in the film, and one of the best of them all is when Garland, as young teenager Dorothy Gale, wistfully sings “Over the Rainbow” after being told by her Auntie Em to find “a place where you won’t get into any trouble“.
“Over the Rainbow” was written by composer Harold Arlen, with lyrics by Edgar “Yip” Harburg, who together wrote all the wonderful music and song lyrics for The Wizard of Oz. “Over the Rainbow” was the final song written for the film, as Arlen and Harburg had struggled to come up with an appropriate song for the Kansas farm scene that takes place early in the film. Harburg claimed his inspiration was “a ballad for a little girl who was in trouble and… wanted to get away from Kansas – a dry, arid, colorless place. She had never seen anything colorful in her life except the rainbow“. Arlen decided the idea needed “a melody with a long broad line“. (Walter Frisch (2017) Arlen and Harburg’s Over the Rainbow)
Shockingly, the song was initially deleted from the film at the direction of MGM chief Louis B. Mayer because he thought it slowed down the picture, was too far over the heads of its targeted child audience, and “sounded like something for Jeanette MacDonald, not for a little girl singing in a barnyard“. Mayer was clearly wrong on all counts, as Garland’s heartfelt, vulnerable vocals beautifully conveyed a young girl’s hopes and dreams of a better place, far away from her dull, troubled life. Though still only 16 when she recorded “Over the Rainbow”, Garland had a powerful, incredibly emotive vocal style beyond her tender years.
Director Victor Fleming, producer Mervyn LeRoy, associate producer Arthur Freed, and Garland’s vocal coach and mentor Roger Edens all joined together to fight to have the song reinserted into the film. Freed told Mayer “The song stays—or I go,” to which Mayer replied: “Let the boys have the damn song. Put it back in the picture. It can’t hurt.” (Gary Shapiro (2017) Columbia News)
For a song that almost didn’t happen, “Over the Rainbow” has become one of the most beloved songs of all time, leaving an indelible legacy for both The Wizard of Oz and Judy Garland. It was awarded an Oscar for Best Original Song, and in 2001, was voted the greatest song of the 20th century in a joint survey by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Recording Industry Association of America. Numerous singers have recorded their own versions of the song, with one of the most popular being that of Hawaiian artist Israel Kamakawiwoʻole, who included “Over the Rainbow” in a beautifully moving ukulele medley with Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World”.