In 1938, MGM decided to do a remake of L. Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz. They originally wanted to get Shirley Temple from another studio to be Dorothy, but ended up casting their own Judy Garland in the role. Garland has always been a tragic figure for me. Basically, MGM rode her and wore her down. As an example, the studio and her mother had her have a quickie abortion when she was a new bride. Her career in movies was basically over after she had a breakdown while filming Annie Get Your Gun.
In special materials that come with the 40th anniversary DVD of Wizard of Oz, the story is told that Harold Arlen saw a rush of Judy singing. He was struck by the wistful, plaintive quality of her voice, and realized that he needed to create a song for her. The result was “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”. That special plaintive quality in her voice is what makes the song so haunting.
This song has been rated the number one song in American film for the 20th century in two different lists. It has been covered by many artists, but the best cover of “Somewhere” is by Brudda Iz, Israel Kamakawiwo’ole. Also a haunting song, Brudda Iz does a beautiful version with a Hawaiian motif. It’s hard for me to choose between the two songs, as both appeal to me for different reasons.
Garland’s version is iconic, as you can’t separate Garland’s voice from her presence on the screen. Her face, her demeanor, as she ponders a reality other than her current life is touching. Brudda Iz’s version comes without any visuals, but is carried by his gentle falsetto that also conveys the wistful desire for a better place. As much Brudda Iz’s cover speaks to me, it has to be Judy’s version that I put up.