Somewhere Over the Rainbow

“Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, from The Wizard of Oz, is now a classic, inspiring song, but its had to believe the beginnings were not so smooth:

…it was decided that standard melodies of a popular accessible kind , without gimmicks, would best suit the story, and its star [Judy Garland].  Harold Arlen and E. Y. (“Yip”) Harburg were contracted to do the composing.  They worked well together, but after completing 45 minutes of music for the film, they were still missing one vital thing – Dorothy’s solo, to be sung by Judy Garland.

Inspiration was slow in coming.  One day when Harold Arlen and his wife were out driving, he suddenly asked her to stop the car and there, outside a pharmacy, he took out a piece of manuscript paper and began writing a tune that would become Dorothy’s song.  Now it needed lyrics.  The song needed to show that Dorothy was a troubled little girl in Kansas and Yip Harburg considered her childhood was colourless; in Baum’s original novel, the word “grey” occurs nine times in three pages when referring to the drought in the state.  He pictured her in a countryside which was dry, dusty and arid, with almost no flowers and although Baum’s book never mentioned it, he mused that one of the few coloured things Dorothy might ever have seen in nature was a rainbow.  Harburg and Arlen began referring to the still non-existent song by a temporary title, “I Want to Get on the Other Side of the Rainbow”.

Initially, Harburg found Arlen’s music for the song somewhat grand, with suggestions of religious hymns and Pachelbel’s “Canon”.  He pointed out that character was a 12-year-old girl, not an opera singer, so Arlen reduced the dramatic accompaniment.  Harburg was also concerned about the melody’s opening octave leap.  How to fit that with the sound of a young character, and make it sound logical?  But Harburg had written the word for “Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?”, and he understood poverty and the Depression.  Over the next three weeks he found himself unable to escape from his initial rainbow image, but had difficulty fitting that to Arlen’s tune.  Eventually he tried singing the melody with just open vowels.  “Aa-aa” didn’t suggest anything: neither did “Ee-ee”.  But when he got to “Oh-oh” “the other side” fell into place as “somewhere over”.  The journey towards the complete song had begun.

Source: Cryer, Max (2008) Love Me Tender.  Auckland: Exisle Publishing, p.52-53.