A DISTANT RAINBOW

Once upon a time, in a sepia-toned place called Kansas (before landing in the colorful and Merry Old Land of Oz), a girl by the name of Dorothy sang a song called OVER THE RAINBOW. We all (many of us, at any rate) know who sang that song in the film, but the man who composed it is now long past recognition by almost all. He was born on this day (Feb. 15, 1905), and his name was Harold Arlen. This post is simply an appreciation of the man and his music, each of which encompasses much more than one man and one song….for, in those days, popular songs generally did not live by melody alone and were not born of one person alone. Composers/songs needed lyricists/words.

Arlen himself (according to biographer Edward Jablonski) acknowledged that words – even the title – were just as important as the melody, often saying that “A good lyric writer is the composer’s best friend.” The lyricists who collaborated with Arlen were among the best in the business: Ira Gershwin, Ted Koehler, Johnny Mercer, E.Y.”Yip” Harburg….and the songs they wrote were among the best in popular music history (many of them done for movies and Broadway shows). Here are some of them:

1930 – GET HAPPY
1931 – BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA
1932 – I’VE GOT THE WORLD ON A STRING
1933 – IT’S ONLY A PAPER MOON; LET’S FALL IN LOVE; STORMY WEATHER
1934 – ILL WIND
1935 – LAST NIGHT WHEN WE WERE YOUNG
1939 – OVER THE RAINBOW; WE’RE OFF TO SEE THE WIZARD; DING-DONG THE WITCH IS DEAD
1941 – BLUES IN THE NIGHT
1942 – THAT OLD BLACK MAGIC
1944 – AC-CENT-CHU-ATE THE POSITIVE

But even those who remember Harold Arlen the composer probably do not know that he was also a fine singer who made a number of recordings, such as this one in 1933:

Harold Arlen died April 23, 1986, but his music should never die.

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8 comments on “A DISTANT RAINBOW

  1. arekhill1 says:

    If I only had a brain, I’d write something wittier here.

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  2. mistermuse says:

    I’d try to respond in kind, Ricardo, but I’d only be grasping at straws.

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  3. As I listened to this beautiful voice singing one of many of my favorite songs you had listed, I think I fell into love all over again with this rich and lovely music. Have seen the movie many times. Thank you, mistermuse for awaking the romantic in my soul. It is so sad that Harold Arlen could not become a great vocalist. He certainly deserved that in addition to his career as a lyricist.

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  4. Joseph Nebus says:

    Boy, that is a heck of a list of songs, ins’t it?

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  5. scifihammy says:

    While I know most of the songs you list, it is as you say, I did not know the composer. Thanks for the enlightenment 🙂

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  6. mistermuse says:

    “They don’t make ’em like that anymore.” Thank all of you for your comments.

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  7. Don Frankel says:

    You know I remember seeing on TV an older Yip Harburg sitting at a Piano and explaining how he came up with the lyric for Somewhere Over The Rainbow. He played the opening notes on the Piano and showed how he kept thinking of the sound and then how “Somewhere” just seemed to pop out so naturally. It was fascinating.

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  8. mistermuse says:

    Don, the story of Harbug’s and Arlen’s writing the score for THE WIZARD OF OZ and their difficulties with”Over the Rainbow” is indeed fascinating. My Jan.13 2014 post RAINBOWS FOR CHRISTMAS covers it in some detail, for those interested. Just click January 2014 in the “Archives” column to the right, and scroll down to Jan. 13.

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