15 Great Oscar-Winning Songs!: “Over the Rainbow”

Here we have it. Probably the most famous and loved Oscar-winning song of all time! But don’t just trust me, consider the honors “Over the Rainbow” has racked up over and above its Oscar win. In 2004 the American Film Institute proclaimed the song to be the number one greatest to come from any movie as a part of its “100 Years…100 Songs” promotion. Three years prior to that, a poll of professionals by the Recording Industry Association of America placed “Over the Rainbow” in the number one spot on their list of the “Songs of the Century.” The song has been honored on a stamp by the United States Post Office and has been the recipient of a wide range of cover versions. It’s kind of an undeniable pillar in the history of American pop culture.

But we didn’t exactly give its lyricist the benefit of the doubt, did we?

“Yip” Harburg was a very successful lyricist through the 1930s and 40s who not only wrote the words for the songs in The Wizard of Oz, but for classics of the American songbook such as “Brother Can You Spare a Dime?,” “Old Devil Moon,” “April in Paris,” “Lydia the Tatooed Lady,” and “It’s Only a Paper Moon.”

Obviously there were people who decided that “Brother Can You Spare a Dime” was anti-Capitalist and tried to get it banned from the radio and removed from a Broadway show it was included in, because of course there were. Somebody always wants the poor to shut up.

When McCarthy and HUAC gained influence in America, somebody remembered Harburg and decided that due to his tendency to champion gender and racial equality, they should name him in a pamphlet about the infiltration of media by Communists. Never mind that Harburg had never belonged to the Communist party. His radical liberal politics made him a suspect and when he refused to provide additional names of people who might be Communists the result was a blacklisting that kept him out of work in the film, television, or radio businesses for a full twelve years. Does it bear mentioning that Harburg was of Jewish descent?


Even after the blacklist was lifted he appears to have had trouble finding work, with work for a Mamas and Papas recording being the most significant credit on his resume in the sixties or later. In 1981 Harburg was killed in a head-on automobile accident.

His most enduring song (well, basically anybody’s most enduring song) has continued to find new fans every year and has enjoyed a number of cover versions, including those by Patti  LaBelle, The Dimensions, Cliff Richard, and Jerry Lee Lewis. But most likely the only truly famous recording of the song other that Judy Garland’s original was made as part of a medley with “What a Wonderful World by Hawaiian singer and ukulele player Israel Kamakawiwoʻole.

Israel called a recording studio at three in the morning asking to come lay down a track, and was told he’d have 15 minutes to get there before the studio closed up. After accommodations were made for his enormous size, the sound engineer set tape rolling and Israel sang the version of the song which has become famous, requiring just one take to do it. Since its release, the recording has become popular for use in commercials, television shows, and movies.


Posted on February 24, 2017, in Awards, Movies, Music, Oscars and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. loving this share, I love it when the two parts of my favorite things intersect — Movies and Music. Do you have a favorite Oscar-Winning song of all time?


  2. A classic song and I like it, though I think it’s kind of sad (probably due to the circumstances regarding the life of Judy Garland).
    Poor Yip Harburg; seems like if you were a decent person who had sympathy for the human condition in that era, you must be Communist (yet our man Yip was a Socialist, which was pretty American).


  3. This is a fascinating series I have to catch up on now. Over the Rainbow and Moon River are two of my most enduring favorite songs; beyond that, the history of popular music used to be a source of endless interest when I was a kid listening to LPs in the 60s. Given how music publishing and copyright laws developed in America, while both of the aforementioned songs are original works and properly credited to their creators, there are other classics published in the 30s and even 20s that I used to think had their roots in much earlier versions. Some of these songs were never credited to an original composer, some were adapted from earlier versions and simply passed along generations by word of mouth or via printed sheet music.


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