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Over The Rainbow

Song: Over The Rainbow

Songwriters: Harold Arlen (music) and E.Y. Harburg (lyrics)

Singer: Judy Garland

If ever there was a song epitomising hope against all odds, Over The Rainbow has to be it. In this “land that I heard of once in a lullaby” (probably not the most reliable of sources!) not any old dream, but “the dreams that you dare to dream” are fulfilled.

Undoubtedly, the maturity of Judy Garland’s doe-eyed performance of Over The Rainbow saved it from becoming just another schmaltzy Tin Pan Alley ditty. Shirley Temple was at one point mooted for the role of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, and I shudder to think what would have become of this beautiful song of longing had the curly-headed one got her lollipop-sticky hands on it.

Melodically, Over The Rainbow is well known for opening with a rising octave, which perfectly suits the yearning word “Somewhere”. It is worth noting, however, that the other two large rising intervals in the verse (on “Way up” and “There’s a”) are not octaves but sixths. The listener makes the connection between these leaps without them being carbon copies of one another.

In contrast to the bold intervals of the verses, the middle eight has a rather mysterious sounding trilling melody (“Someday I’ll wish upon a star”). There’s a lovely modulation on the line “Away above the chimney tops” which is heightened by the fact that the slow “trill” allows the accidental (a sharpened sub-dominant in the home key) to be repeated in a mesmerising way. This modulation comes at the perfect point in the song, adding a little spice and increasing tension towards the final line of the middle eight (“That’s where you’ll find me”), which in turn gives greater impetus to the return of the original theme.

The trilling middle-eight melody briefly reappears as a coda to the song, which finishes on a rising scale fragment on the final line. Although this final line is hardly an original musical ending, it is rather graceful, since the main theme makes much use of such a figure (appearing first on “…-ver the rainbow”) which the ending therefore echoes.

The lyrics at this point are also a rather poignant summation of the song:

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


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