World's Greatest Songs—(Somewhere) Over the Rainbow

Judy Garland

What do YOU think is the world's greatest song? "As Time Goes By"..."Mack the Knife," something from the catalogs of Elvis or the Beatles? Something classical, something pop? A Dylan or Hank Williams number?

There's probably almost as many opinions as there are songs...millions! It's a slippery slope trying to name ONE song as the world's greatest.

In 2001, while not going so far as to say it's the greatest song EVER, the Recording Industry of America Association (RIAA), in conjunction with the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), Scholastic Inc. and AOL@School, named the 1939 theme from the classic movie The Wizard of Oz, "Over the Rainbow," the #1 song in their compilation of "Songs of the Century."

SIDEBAR: We added "Somehere" in parentheses to the title above because the song, while officially called "Over the Rainbow," is almost universally known as "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."

"The list was put together for young people to 'help further an appreciation for the music development process, including songwriting, musicianship, recording, performing, producing, distributing and the development of distribution and cultural values,' according to an RIAA press release." —CNN.com

The "Songs of the Century" Top Ten:
1. "Over the Rainbow," Judy Garland
2. "White Christmas," Bing Crosby
3. "This Land Is Your Land," Woody Guthrie
4. "Respect," Aretha Franklin
5. "American Pie," Don McLean
6. "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy," Andrews Sisters
7. "West Side Story" (album), original Broadway cast
8. "Take Me out to the Ball Game," Billy Murray
9. "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'," Righteous Brothers
10. "The Entertainer," Scott Joplin

While this "greatest" list certainly won't win a concensus among all music lovers -- notably absent from the top are songs by the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Elvis Presley and other biggest-sellers ever -- not many would argue that "Over the Rainbow" deserves to be "way up high," as CNN put it.

"In July 1938, Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg were signed by Metro Goldwyn Mayer (M-G-M) to write the score for the filming of the childhood classic The Wizard of Oz. Arthur Freed, associate producer of the film, pushed for the Arlen-Harburg team to compose the score because he felt that Harburg's feeling for lyrical fantasy and Arlen's musical fancy together created the perfect combination for the project.

"Once signed, the team began work immediately having only had two months to turn out what was expected to be a unique and extended film score! The pressure was on, even for the veteran writer Arlen, who later admitted that the assignment really troubled him. Once they had completed what Harold called the 'lemon drop' songs, 'We're Off to See the Wizard,' 'The Merry Old Land of Oz,' 'Ding-Dong! The Witch is Dead,' Harold felt that a ballad was needed to balance them out. 'I felt we needed something with a sweep, a melody with a broad, long, line. Time was getting short, I was getting anxious. My feeling was that picture songs need to be lush, and picture songs are hard to write.'

"The song came to Harold literally out of the blue one day while he and [wife] Anya were headed to a movie at Grauman's Chinese Theater. As they were driving along Sunset Boulevard, the broad, long-lined melody suddenly came to him. He jotted it down in the car on one of his jotting papers, which he was known to carry around with him in case struck with an idea. Of the breakthrough, Harold said, 'It was as if the Lord said, "Well, here it is, now stop worrying about it!"'

"After completing the bridge (the middle section of the song) the next day, the song was ready for Harburg to hear. Unfortunately, the lyricist did not react to it with the joy Harold had hoped for. Harburg felt that the song was too grand in proportion for a little girl in Kansas to be singing and that it might clash the direct simplicity and lightness of the other songs. Still, Harold defended his hard-won tune and played it for friend Ira Gershwin to get a second opinion. Gershwin liked it. Harburg, in response to Gershwin's approval, quickly titled the new song 'Over the Rainbow' and composed its lyrics." —HaroldArlen.com

Harold Arlen Harold Arlen composed some of the biggest hits from the 30s and 40s. In addition to the entire score to the The Wizard of Oz, Arlen wrote "Get Happy," "Stormy Weather," "It's Only a Paper Moon," "I've Got the World on a String," and "Last Night When We Were Young." While not a "household name" like many of his contemporaries such as the Gershwins, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter and others, the body of his work nonetheless places Harold Arlen among the greats in American music.

"Over the Rainbow" has been recorded hundreds of times by performers in all genres from pop to rock to jazz and bluegrass. It won the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1939.

Ironically, "Rainbow," by all accounts one of the best songs ever written was never a #1 song and attained its highest chart position in 2005

"The Wizard of Oz had its world premiere at Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood on August 15, 1939. Exactly 65 years and 11 months later, one of the songs from that film reaches its highest position ever on a Billboard pop singles chart. 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow' (RCA) by fifth-season American Idol runner-up Katharine McPhee has entered the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 12...

The song...was performed by McPhee on 'Idol' when there were three contestants left, and again on the show's live finale, which originated at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood, just steps away from the still-standing Grauman's Chinese.

The first Billboard pop singles chart was published in July 1940, so the original recording of 'Over the Rainbow' by Oz star Judy Garland couldn't chart. A vocal group from the Bronx, the Demensions, took the song to No. 16 on the Hot 100 in 1960, and singer Gary Tanner had a 1978 single that peaked at No. 69.

McPhee's recording of 'Rainbow' has missed out on being the highest-charting song from The Wizard of Oz soundtrack by one rung. In 1967, a group from Stamford, Conn., known as the Fifth Estate went to No. 11 with 'Ding! Dong! The Witch Is Dead.'"—Yahoo/Reuters/Billboard

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Over the Rainbow Lyrics
(Words and Music by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg)

Somewhere over the rainbow
Way up high,
There's a land that I heard of
Once in a lullaby.

Somewhere over the rainbow
Skies are blue,
And the dreams that you dare to dream
Really do come true.

Someday I'll wish upon a star
And wake up where the clouds are far
Behind me.
Where troubles melt like lemon drops
Away above the chimney tops
That's where you'll find me.

Somewhere over the rainbow
Bluebirds fly.
Birds fly over the rainbow.
Why then, oh why can't I?

If happy little bluebirds fly
Beyond the rainbow
Why, oh why can't I?

Judy Garland - Over the Rainbow - Sheet Music (Digital Download)

Harold Arlen - The Wizard of Oz - Music Book


Joel Whitburn's Billboard Charts


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