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. 7 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.


  4. After Judy’s triumph return to the screen in 1954….….

    Why did offers not pour in for other musicals? Or for any movie? She didn’t do another movie until the early 60’s.

    —Anonymous (2725 views)

    235 replies 231 02/20/2017

    Because Judy was too drunk and crazy to risk $ on. And Sid Luft was an pain-in-the-ass amateur producer.


    reply 1 02/20/2017

    She burned her bridges with studios. Hollywood is a small town and no one wanted to deal with her any longer. Her husband Sid Luft convinced her to focus on music and concerts.


    reply 2 02/20/2017

    While “A Star is Born” was a tremendous artistic and critical success, it also cost over 5 million dollars to make – an enormous amount of money for the time. There is still debate over whether it was profitable despite bringing in a goodly amount of money. However, because of all the delays, drama and behind the scene situations that beset the movie, there was no guarantee that a follow-up film would not cost just as much and could be a huge failure at the box-office. “A Star is Born” drew very, very well in cities and metropolitan areas. However, in vast stretches of rural America, the film tanked. It was too long and didn’t interest many people who disliked musicals to begin with. Warners could turn out three films for the price of one “A Star is Born” and see a much larger return on their investment. Since the movie business was first and foremost a business and a business that, at the time, was struggling because of the increasing popularity of television, no one wanted to take a risk on another film starring Judy.


    reply 3 02/20/2017

    She wasn’t up to doing movies anymore, as [R3]’s examples show. Plus, by the time of the premiere, she looked 20 years older than she had in the film and wasn’t bankable. Then she had Joey and Sid turned into a right royal f***-up, so concert appearances made more sense as far as quick money and easier schedules.

    It’s a shame, too, because she was a good actress and not just an entertainer. Her later comeback with Judgment at Nuremberg was I think far more interesting than her Star is Born comeback, because it showcased her acting ability. But she was troubled, unreliable and had a tumultuous personal life.


    reply 4 02/20/2017

    Sidney Luft took an advance from Warner Bros against his share of the profits to bankroll his wife’s comeback. When the movie failed to recoup its production costs, Jack and Harry Warner sued the Lufts for their money back, and in the process, they cancelled Sid and Judy’s contracts for future pictures. Broke and beaten and having endured one of the worst Oscar upsets in history, Judy lost all enthusiasm for the picture business and wouldn’t return for many years.


    reply 10 02/20/2017

    It was also pretty much the end of the classic movie musical era as we knew it, with the rare financially successful exceptions of 7 Brides for 7 Brothers and Gigi. Judy had only ever made one non-musical film The Clock and no one in Hollywood would have considered her for a drama or comedy.

    Plus, she looked like hell at the Star Is Born premiere if that didn’t scare away enough people.


    reply 12 02/20/2017

    Judy had a three-picture deal with Warners. Warners itself was responsible for most of the delays on the film, for example wanting to shut down filming after a few weeks and start over with, what was it, cinemascope? This was very costly but in the end, Judy was blamed for all the production delays and costs. Then Warners further sabotaged the film by cutting it badly instead of letting Cukor edit it. So the continuity was damaged and the film came off less well than it should have after the initial, original length ‘road show’ showings in LA and NYC which had been very successful. Because the film had gone over budget, Warners broke the contract and cancelled the other two pictures. That, coupled with the loss of the Oscar which made Judy feel that she was hated in Hollywood, made her turn to concerts. It was a great loss to her body of work. We might have had South Pacific, Carousel, and who knows what else during the 50’s had Judy been working in film.


    reply 19 02/20/2017

    Too bad GYPSY was done at Warners (and badly too), as Garland would have been a far more interesting Mama Rose than Roz Russell. Garland would have brought some different qualities to the role that would have worked on film – Lord knows Ethel Merman’s bull-in-a-china-shop performance would not have translated well to the screen. Russell tried to duplicate it.

    For something more out of left field, I wonder if Garland could have been effective as Mary Tyrone in LONG DAY’S JOURNEY. Lord knows she knew how it was to be an addict (more so than K. Hepburn ever would have), and she knew how to be manipulative.


    reply 21 02/20/2017

    “Judy in GYPSY is the ultimate “shoulda been.” She’d have probably been definitive. ”

    Not really. Pushy and tough and overbearing was not Garland’s forte. The characters she played were invariably winsome, sweet, vulnerable, honorable. A scene in “Gyspy” has Rose stealing her father’s gold service award and pawning it; nobody would bought Judy Garland as a character like that. Same with Annie Oakley in “Annie Get Your Gun”; she was fired from that picture because she was such a mental and physical wreck, but it was a blessing because she was totally wrong for that role. Outtakes from the picture show tiny, frail Judy trying to rowdy Annie, but she fails miserably. And who would want to hear Judy Garland uttering lines like “you couldn’t give me a lesson in long distance spittin’!” Judy Garland was a good singer but that didn’t mean she was perfect for every female lead role in any musical.


    reply 41 02/20/2017

    Musicals started going out of fashion- especially Judy’s types of films. Mitzi Gaynor got roles that would have gone to Judy, but she herself said nothing happened afterward. So she too went to tv. Ditto for Shirley Jones.


    reply 95 02/21/2017


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