Thursday, September 13, 2012

Over the Rainbow

Read Charlotte Canelli's column in the September 14, 2012 edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin or listen to the podcast on SoundCloud. Podcasts are archived on the Voices from the Library page of the library website.

Some time ago, not long after I became a serious iPod user, I began collecting versions of what might be called my favorite song, Somewhere Over the Rainbow. I’m not sure when I fell in love with the classic song written for the movie The Wizard of Oz in 1938 – it certainly wasn’t when I was young. I’m ashamed to admit I actually never liked Judy Garland, the movie or the song, when I was a girl. It wasn’t until I was older that I appreciated Judy Garland’s movie or the song, Somewhere Over the Rainbow.

What I’m not ashamed to admit, however, is that I purchased all the versions through iTunes – unless, of course, I first owned the music on compact disk and simply transferred it to my iPod. I believe in digital rights and I spent well over $100 over several years downloading many versions of the song. I think knowing that I’ve purchased them honorably and ethically adds to my love of my collection.

Harold Arlen was the composer of the song , Somewhere Over the Rainbow, which was voted the Twentieth Century’s Number 1 song by the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) and the NEA (National Endowment for the Arts.) Arlen wrote over 500 songs but Over the Rainbow might be the most famous and the most beloved. The song won the Academy Award in 1939 for best song and it is still recorded by new artists over seventy years later.

When purchasing digital rights to music, however, it helps to know what you are buying. Only after you’ve had the chance to listen to a song in its entirely can you know that you really would like to add it to your digital collection. That’s when your public library can come to the rescue. Our library, and the other 41 public and academic libraries in the network, have thousands of CDs at your disposal and they are all available through network loans. CD loans, as a matter of fact, are one of the libraries most popular items in the deliveries to our each day.

One of the first versions of Over the Rainbow that struck a chord in my heart was the version on Eva Cassidy’s posthumously-released album, Songbird (1998.) That song started me on my quest to listen to as many versions as I could. Eva recorded the song in 1992. Tragically, Eva died of malignant melanoma in 1996 when she was only 33, the same disease that took my own mother’s life. Her version of Over the Rainbow is beautiful and poignant. Sadly, five years after her death, her rendition hit the charts. She did not know stardom while she was alive. Her beautiful version of the song can also be found on her CD titled Simply Eva, (2011.)

Hawaiian singer and ukulele-player, Israel Kamakawiwo’ole recorded a medley of Over the Rainbow and What a Wonderful World on the CD Facing Future, released in 1993. Kamakawiwo’ole’s recording was featured in at least a half-dozen movie sound-tracks , TV series and television advertisements. Sadly, Kamakawiwo’ole also died young. He suffered obesity all of his life and at one point weighed 757 pounds and he died at the young age of 38. Everyone has heard Israel’s toe-tapping version at one point or another.

Another of my favorite versions is Ingrid Michaelson’s Over the Rainbow found on her 2008 CD, Be OK. Many of Michaelson’s songs have been featured on television and films and her fresh voice often stops people in their tracks.

Sometimes it can be a surprise to hear an artist connected to such a classic song. These versions always bring a smile to my face. Eric Clapton (One More Car, One More Rider, 2002) and Tori Amos (Hey Jupiter, 1996) are simply unexpected singers of the classic, Over the Rainbow.

Patty LaBelle and the Bluebells recorded the song in 1966 and their version peaked the charts that year. Her version can be found on Live! One Night Only, 1998. Other rhythm and blues artists’ recordings of Over the Rainbow are Ray Charles (with Johnny Mathis) on Genius Loves Company (2004) or a solo version on Ray Charles Sings for America (2002.)

One of the most inspiring versions of Somewhere Over the Rainbow is by Britain’s Got Talent’s Connie Talbot. Although the CD was panned, let’s face the music. It was sung by a child just turned seven years old and it is a lovely version of childhood and its sweet innocence. (Connie Talbot, Over the Rainbow, 2008.)

Livingston Taylor (2005) is the brother of the more famous singer-songwriter, James Taylor. Livingston is a faculty member at the Berklee College of Music. A version of Over the Rainbow can be found on Livingston Taylor’s album by the same name (Livingston Taylor, 2005). Country versions of the Over the Rainbow can be found on Billy Ray Cyrus’s, Home at Last (2007), Willie Nelson’s, Somewhere Over the Rainbow (1981) and Martina McBride’s, Martina (2003.) Of course, classic songs sometimes are most memorable sung by the classic artists. Listen to Judy Garland (The Very Best of Judy Garland, 2001), Ella Fitzgerald (Pure Ella, 1997) and Sarah Vaughan (Get Happy: The Harold Arlen Centennial Celebration, 2005) if you’d like perfect, unadulterated renditions of Over the Rainbow. I own over 120 versions of Somewhere Over the Rainbow on my iPod and I play the entire playlist at times when I need to escape or relax, especially when I am waiting for a plane to take off or when I need to find peacefulness in stressful situations. Somewhere over the rainbow … where troubles melt like lemon drops, that’s where you’ll find me.

If you would like to reserve any of the titles above or CDs with versions of your favorite music, please call the Reference or Information desks of the library, 781-769-0200, or visit the Minuteman Library Network catalog online to reserve them.