Who Sang It Best? "Somewhere Over the Rainbow"

Updated on April 2, 2019
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Music enthusiast FlourishAnyway introduces some fun competition into the songs that have been covered by many artists by ranking them.

Some of the most beloved songs have been covered by a variety of artists over the years. We look at Judy Garland's classic tune, "Over the Rainbow" and rank 14 contenders. Who do you prefer?
Some of the most beloved songs have been covered by a variety of artists over the years. We look at Judy Garland's classic tune, "Over the Rainbow" and rank 14 contenders. Who do you prefer? | Source

"Over the Rainbow" Is a Message of Hope That Something Better Awaits

In the 1930s, Americans in the heartland felt the one-two punch of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. When days grow dark, however, we Americans prefer to rely on resilience in the face of woe. When storm clouds brew, we look for rainbows and silver linings. And when headwinds blow, we brace ourselves and lean into them.

Beyond today's everyday troubles, something better awaits. That is the hopeful message relayed in this song. Perhaps that's why it was named as

  • #1 on the Songs of the 20th Century list by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and
  • the greatest movie song ever by the American Film Institute (AFI).

The original song title for "Over the Rainbow" was "Over the Rainbow Is Where I Want to Be." Written specifically for The Wizard of Oz, the ditty was deleted from the movie three times because producers judged it too serious for the role of Dorothy, who was supposedly a child of 12. However, Judy Garland's voice coach and an associate producer believed in the song and teamed up in advocating hard for adding it back in.

That was the right move. "Over the Rainbow" became not only Judy Garland's signature song but also won an Academy Award for Best Original Song. In the years since the iconic movie, the song has been recorded by hundreds of artists. Versions include doo-wop, R&B, country, rock, heavy metal, and everything in between. Fittingly, it was also the tune playing on actor Gene Wilder's deathbed. Find your favorite from among some of the most diverse and most prominent versions as we look at who sang it best.

"Who Sang It Best?": Here's How It Works

In the "Who Sang It Best?" series, we start with the original version of popular songs that have been covered multiple times. Then we present a set of contenders, artists who have released cover versions in any genre. Some cover versions honor the original artist's style while others are reinterpretations.

Since the original song version is typically considered "the standard," we don't include it in our overall rankings. Instead, we display it first for comparison, with up to 14 contenders presented next in ranked order. Use the polls below to vote on your preferences:

  • Do you prefer the original song or a cover version?
  • Which of the cover versions do you prefer?

The Classic Song

"Over the Rainbow" by Judy Garland (1939)

In the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy, the young character of Judy Garland, sings this classic tune before a tornado rips her from her Kansas home then transports her to the technicolor promise land of Oz. Trouble looms for Dorothy, as she stands in the barnyard and reflects upon her dilemma. Anxious, Dorothy cannot control her beloved dog, Toto, from repeatedly getting away from her. The dog has now bitten the vindictive townswoman, Mrs. Gulch, who has levied threats to retaliate against them both. ("I'll get you, my pretty … and your little dog, too!)

With a sense of soft melancholy, Dorothy imagines escaping her troubles. Her mind floats to a dreamland she once heard about in a lullaby. Garland channels her aspirations into the song lyrics as if her life depends upon it. The song effectively embodies all the innocence and earnestness of a 16-year-old girl.

For decades, the gold standard of this classic song has been Judy Garland's original. Can any contender possibly beat it?

Reader Poll

Which version would you rather listen to -- Judy Garland's original song or your favorite cover version?

See results

The Contenders

Cover Versions in Ranked Order

1. "Over the Rainbow" by Eva Cassidy (2001)

Breathtaking and cherubic. Eva Cassidy blesses listeners with her gossamer-like vocals in this delicate and wistful blues-tinged rendition that is over five and a half minutes long. She sounds like a sweet, clinically depressed angel who needs a dose of Prozac. With its unique inflections, she breathes into it a sense of loss, hope, and far more maturity than the original. Eva gives this song the gift of perspective, and this creatively rendered work of art sounds like an entirely different piece altogether. She elevates the song.

Add to this the listener's realization that this astonishingly talented woman bounced around the local District of Columbia club circuit, unable to support herself by her music alone, before dying in relative obscurity at age 33 from melanoma that had spread to her bones. It was our loss that songbird Eva Cassidy wasn't "discovered" until after she was gone. In the time since her death, her recordings have sold over 10 million copies, and she has since acquired famous fans, including Paul McCartney, Michelle Kwan, and Eric Clapton.

2. "Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World" by Israel ("Iz") Kamakawiwoʻole (1990)

Initially, it seems preposterous that a voice so delicate and otherworldly could come from a human being in this packaging, but why not? Native Hawaiian Israel ("Iz") Kamakawiwoʻole brings a sense of wonder to his creative mashup of these two classic favorites with the steady, buoyant strumming of his tiny ukulele and his mesmerizing vocal lilt.

The decision to record this song was a last minute one, and it profoundly changed both his life and legacy. Iz's version was used in several films, television programs, and tv commercials ranging from those for deodorant to cars, soap to cereal.

The tune begins with his stunning rendition of Judy Garland's "Over the Rainbow," then it melts seamlessly into "What a Wonderful World," made famous in 1967 by jazz great Louis Armstrong. You'd never know they were two separate songs written almost three decades apart. His more up-tempo approach than Judy Garland creates more optimism. (I've always thought this version would make a terrific, albeit unconventional, song for a funeral or memorial service.) Then, towards the final few lines in the song, Iz artfully returns full circle to "Over the Rainbow."

You may notice the video features distribution of Iz's ashes in the ocean. Weighing over 757 pounds at his heaviest and about 500 pounds at his death, he died of obesity-related causes in 1997 at age 38.

3. "Over the Rainbow" by Frank Sinatra (1944)

Man, Ol' Blue Eyes shows off his voice of velvet here. He wasn't even 30 years old yet in this recording. Backed by singers and an orchestra that sound like they're straight outta Disney's Bambi movie, Mr. Sinatra promotes this song to a work of art with his smooth voice that floats through several lines of extra lyrics in the middle. Although he didn't creatively reimagine the song like the first two contenders, his vocals are impeccable. Classy. Top-notch. They don't make 'em like this anymore.

4."Over the Rainbow" by Jewel (2009)

Jewel begins this rendition of "Over the Rainbow" with a near whisper, and she generously affords listeners the bonus of a little-known introduction that Judy Garland sang only once in public. Did you know this little prelude existed?

When all the world is a hopeless jumble,
And the raindrops tumble all around,
Heaven opens a magic lane,
When all the clouds darken up the skyway
There's a rainbow highway to be found,
Leading from your window pane.
To a place behind the sun, just a step beyond the rain.

Part of a collection of children's lullabies, Jewel's cover is enchanting in its emotional authenticity. Additionally, unimpeded by heavy music, this version allows Jewel's pristine voice to tiptoe, twirl, and flutter its way acrobatically through the lyrics. (She was raised by a yodeller then operatically trained in college, thus vocal acrobatics are her forte.)

Jewel's contribution is extremely strong and should remind the listener that this was an artist who was Grammy-nominated in two other genres. She's an expert, not a one-trick pony, and this is among her best work.

5. "Over the Rainbow" by Pink (2014)

Pink followed in Jewel's footsteps and included the rarely sung introduction to "Over the Rainbow" when she performed the classic tune at the 2014 Academy Awards. It was the 75th anniversary celebration of the Wizard of Oz movie's release, and among those in attendance were Judy Garland's children, including daughter Liza Minelli.

The singer captivated her audience her raspy vocals and her emotional performance. Her voice was full of gusto, and at points, it simply soared. There was no question that Pink was imaging what the lyrics meant within context of her own dreams. Then she went in for the big ending, an effort that was divine and deserving of the standing ovation she received.

6. "Over the Rainbow" by Eric Clapton (2001)

Whereas some renditions of "Over the Rainbow" are melancholy, this one is not. It's something you can sway to, a smoky, laid-back R&B rendition heavy on hope and recorded live in concert. Clapton is chillin' with his guitar doing what he does best. (And if you look closely, you'll notice he's wearing tennis shoes. Only a man of a certain age who has stopped giving a flying f*ck about what people think does that, and you have to respect him for that.) The man, the voice, the legend.

7. "Over the Rainbow" by Patti LaBelle & The Bluebells (1966)

Although she waited until 1977 to launch her solo career, lead singer Patti LaBelle makes it clear in this song that she does not need back up, thank you. The woman has some powerful pipes, and she uses them here to add hurt to this slow rendition of "Over the Rainbow." The only negative thing is the ineffective doo-wop sing-song effect added by her back-up singers. If anything, it accentuates LaBelle's exceptional vocal talent.

8. "Over the Rainbow" by Trisha Yearwood (2018)

Country star Trisha Yearwood brings in an orchestra to back her up and does yeoman's work in replicating the classic song. But while her rendition is pleasant enough she plays it safe and does not take chances vocally beyond belting out the line, "Somewhere over the rainbow." Yearwood sidesteps the opportunity to reimagine this song with a fresh approach like some other singers, thus I found her contribution to lack creativity and compelling emotional depth in comparison to higher ranked contenders. Sorry, Trish.

9. "Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World" by Cliff Richard (2001)

They say imitation is the highest form of flattery. The same artist who brought us the 1976 pop hit "Devil Woman" offers this positive, uplifting, cover of Judy Garland's original. In it, he channels Iz's spirit, minus the ukelele, and offers a rock version of Israel Kamakawiwoʻole's blending of "Over the Rainbow" and "What a Wonderful World." Although I wish Richard offered something different vocally than simply trying to imitate another musician's sound, his voice floated effortlessly through the song, and I liked the rock instrumentals.

10. "Over the Rainbow" by Katharine McPhee (2006)

At least she wasn't a one-hit wonder. Katharine McPhee was the runner-up on the fifth season of American Idol, and her 2006 cover of "Over the Rainbow" peaked at #12 on the Billboard Hot 100, followed the next year by "Over It." After several years of not having any other hits on the Billboard Hot 100, she turned her attention to acting and Broadway. (I believe her talent is well placed there.)

McPhee's rendition of "Over the Rainbow" performed well on the chart, but rather than a genuine attempt to convey an emotional experience, it was instead an exercise in vocal gymnastics. Granted, while she's particularly good at hitting her marks when it comes to those high notes, McPhee seems to be going through the mere motions. Vocally, she seems to be saying, "Look what I can do!" and relies entirely upon too much vibrato. Her version lacks the ability to truly connect, and I found it fairly standard.

11. "Over the Rainbow" by Pentatonix (2017)

When they started off with "do do do do," I was already thinking "no no no no." Since they burst on the scene in 2011 as winners of NBC's The Sing-Off, Pentatonix has us so spoiled with their unbelievable a capella renditions of popular songs that when they produce one that's just average, it's a bitter disappointment. This cover lacks their usual spark, and particularly later in the song, it becomes clear that there are too many people involved in this venture.

12 "Over the Rainbow" by The Geezinslaws (1990)

I promise this is different from any version you've ever heard. If you want a creative interpretation of "Over the Rainbow," here it is by Austin, Texas-based country music comedy duo The Geezinslaws. They performed together for over five decades.

Some might say they slaughtered the song. I say if you enjoy bluegrass-tinged country music then you'll appreciate this as a wildly reimagined cover that Judy Garland would have never suspected (as if she'd have expected a ginormous Hawaiian guy with a ukelele to cover it.) Their cover has a "hoedown" style contagious beat. Even if this is not your style of music, something is wrong with you if you're not toe-tapping by the end of the song. Pass the cornbread and give it a listen, even if it's just for the shock value.

13. "Over the Rainbow" by The Demensions (1960)

The Dimensions reinvented "Over the Rainbow" as a doo-wop song. It was their highest charted single, rising to #16 on the Billboard Hot 100. Because they had no other songs that hit the Billboard Hot 100, consider them one-hit wonders.

I found that the doo-wop ditty concept of this song worked better than its reality. The members of the quartet sang over one another, so it was difficult to clearly understand some of their words at times even though I knew the lyrics. Also, the song seemed to drag, and it acquired an unappealing "sing song" quality. Although the listener gets the point within the first minute of the song, it was worth a listen.

14. "Over the Rainbow" by Rufus Wainwright

This rendition is so heavy on the hurt that it's hard to listen to. Rufus sings like he has a killer migraine. (Do you notice him holding his head and stroking his face in a self-comforting manner?)

He draws out his lyrics dramatically—I didn't say effectively, just dramatically—and he fails to enunciate his words. You would have to be a die-hard fan to savor this offering. Playing it on repeat might make a good albeit unusual form of punishment for uncooperative prisoners. They'd say "uncle" pretty quickly. Don't punish yourself by listening to this song to intensely.

Readers Weigh In

Reader Poll: Your Favorite Cover Version

So which CONTENDER do YOU think sang it best?

See results

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

    © 2019 FlourishAnyway

    Comments

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      • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

        FlourishAnyway 

        2 weeks ago from USA

        David - Thanks for your comment.

      • profile image

        David 

        2 weeks ago

        Jackie Evancho. She did sing it at the induction ceremony for song of the century.

      • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

        FlourishAnyway 

        2 months ago from USA

        Nell - Thanks for weighing in. Have a wonderful week!

      • Nell Rose profile image

        Nell Rose 

        2 months ago from England

        It has to be Iz(israel) best but I listened to PInk and thought that was a great version too! Great list and songs as always.

      • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

        FlourishAnyway 

        2 months ago from USA

        Nithya - I like hearing all of the different conjurations of these songs, as sometimes artists can completely transform an original work. Thank you for stopping by and speaking up for Cliff Richards' version.

      • Vellur profile image

        Nithya Venkat 

        2 months ago from Dubai

        I love Over the Rainbow sung by Cliff Richards, his rendition of the song is the best! I enjoy reading the information you provide with each song.

      • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

        FlourishAnyway 

        2 months ago from USA

        Dora - Thanks for listening. I am glad you enjoyed this.

      • MsDora profile image

        Dora Weithers 

        2 months ago from The Caribbean

        Beautiful classic and so many great singers. The Pentatonix may not be number one here, but I still like their presentation. Thanks for the music.

      • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

        FlourishAnyway 

        2 months ago from USA

        Dianna - I appreciate your kind kudos. Have a wonderful week!

      • teaches12345 profile image

        Dianna Mendez 

        2 months ago

        For me, Judy Garland sings it like no other but Yearwood and Jewel have seconds here. Thanks for bringing a smile to my evening with the lovely versions of this beautiful song.

      • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

        FlourishAnyway 

        2 months ago from USA

        Genna - Thank you for stopping by. I hope you were able to find some different ones that you liked, too. Have a great week!

      • Genna East profile image

        Genna East 

        2 months ago from Massachusetts, USA

        Hi Flourish...

        The moment I read the title, I thought Judy Garland. But you have given us other wonderful performances as well. Thank you!

      • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

        FlourishAnyway 

        2 months ago from USA

        Linda - He had such a beautiful voice and did much to promote the sounds of native Hawaiians. I'm glad you enjoyed this.

      • AliciaC profile image

        Linda Crampton 

        2 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

        I've never heard the singer in the second video before. Thank you for introducing me to him, Flourish. I'm going to explore more of his songs.

      • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

        FlourishAnyway 

        2 months ago from USA

        Audrey, particularly coming from you that means a whole bunch. I love hearing everyone's different perspectives on who they enjoy the most. This is such a beautiful song. Have a wonderful weekend.

      • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

        FlourishAnyway 

        2 months ago from USA

        Dolores - How lucky you are to have had that experience! Thank you for sharing both that and your opinion.

      • Dolores Monet profile image

        Dolores Monet 

        2 months ago from East Coast, United States

        Though I have always loved Judy Garland, spent hours listening to her Live at Carnegie Hall when I was young, I have to vote for Eva. If I just think of her voice singing this song, I tear up.

      • vocalcoach profile image

        Audrey Hunt 

        2 months ago from Idyllwild Ca.

        There's no contest when it comes to singing this classic. Judy Garland reigns! Her technique is flawless, unlike most of her rivals. My choice for a cover version is probably Eva Cassidy, followed by Katherine McPhee. My apologies to my Hawaiin friend, "Iz" who is no longer with us, for not including you here You know how much I love you and your remarkable voice and style.

        Flourish, this is an incredible job you've done. One of my favorites!

        I'll be posting this on my facebook singing page, along with my personal page.

        Thanks ever so much. Outstanding!

      • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

        FlourishAnyway 

        2 months ago from USA

        Heidi - Someone who steps up for Judy Garland's version! In researching this article, I read about what a tragic life she had ... alleged abuse by the munchkins on set, horrible criticism by movie executives about her weight, drug dependency, several divorces, mental illness and suicide attempts. Regardless, it's an amazing song. Shirley Temple was initially sought for the role but she wasn't available and couldn't hit the high notes. Have a great week!

      • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

        FlourishAnyway 

        2 months ago from USA

        Peg - Thank you for weighing in. It's a lovely song. It would be nice to be able to exit this world like Gene Wilder with this playing in the background.

      • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

        FlourishAnyway 

        2 months ago from USA

        Linda - It seems like that when artists feel a particular song, they nail it on the first take. I long believed that no one could beat Judy Garland's but have been pleasantly surprised at the variety and quality of many of the offerings -- and amused by some. Thanks for reading.

      • fpherj48 profile image

        Paula 

        2 months ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

        Flourish....I can only try to imagine. .and hope one day we'll all experience it! :)

      • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

        FlourishAnyway 

        2 months ago from USA

        Lori - His is so buoyant and lovely! Thanks for stopping by. I hope you write more poetry soon.

      • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

        FlourishAnyway 

        2 months ago from USA

        Kaili - Classy for sure!

      • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

        FlourishAnyway 

        2 months ago from USA

        Paula - She and Aretha! Can you imagine?

      • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

        FlourishAnyway 

        2 months ago from USA

        Bill - Aww. Sorry about the tears. It's a beautiful song.

      • heidithorne profile image

        Heidi Thorne 

        2 months ago from Chicago Area

        I'm going old school on this one! LOVE the Judy Garland version since it's burnished in my memory with one of my favorite movie classics. Happy Wednesday!

      • fpherj48 profile image

        Paula 

        2 months ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

        Oh Flourish....I'll never stop grieving the loss of this amazing woman with the voice of an "Angel"....which she ultimately & actually became. I'm sure she's the lead singer of the entire Choir of Angels....

      • PegCole17 profile image

        Peg Cole 

        2 months ago from Northeast of Dallas, Texas

        I absolutely love this song and anyone who sings it. If I were to choose an all time favorite, it would be Eva Cassidy. Her version is awesome.

      • Carb Diva profile image

        Linda Lum 

        2 months ago from Washington State, USA

        Flourish, I had no idea that this song had been covered by so many artists. The original version is, of course, very sweet and tender. When you read the stories of Judy Garland's life it seems fitting that this is her signature song.The Pentatonix disappoints--I didn't even listen to the entire recording. Eva's is sweet and heartbreaking. What a tragedy that she died so young and as an unknown. Iz had an amazing tender voice for such a large human being. Did you know that his recording was done in one take? It's hard to pick a favorite. Can I split it 3 ways?

      • Lori S Truzy profile image

        Lori Staley Truzy 

        2 months ago from Raleigh, NC

        Iz is the best by far

      • Kaili Bisson profile image

        Kaili Bisson 

        2 months ago from Canada

        Sinatra, no contest :-)

      • billybuc profile image

        Bill Holland 

        2 months ago from Olympia, WA

        I'm not going with the classic this time, but with Israel. His version always makes me cry.

      • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

        FlourishAnyway 

        2 months ago from USA

        Paula, Isn't she just phenomenal? It's almost like there's a part of her that knew it just wasn't meant to be.

      • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

        FlourishAnyway 

        2 months ago from USA

        Pamela - Since this group of songs is ranked, I'm glad that was your reaction! There's one screamo version by an unnamed artist that is truly a horrible version. It's cringeworthy, almost laughable in a way. I've heard some death metal versions, too, that made me just ask, "Why?" The diverse approaches to the song are interesting, but everything has its limits.

      • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

        FlourishAnyway 

        2 months ago from USA

        Shannon - With this song being named the song of the 20th century and all, I felt it almost sacrilegious to say Eva Cassidy sang it better, but she really nailed it. Thanks for mentioning Linda Eder's version. I haven't heard of it but will go look it up.

      • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

        FlourishAnyway 

        2 months ago from USA

        Bill - I'm amazed by how these artists can give the same song such a different flavor. I was also pleasantly surprised at Pink's performance. You should hear her cover Janis Joplin's "Me & Bobby McGee."

      • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

        FlourishAnyway 

        2 months ago from USA

        Clive - Thank you for your comment.

      • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

        FlourishAnyway 

        2 months ago from USA

        John - She really hits it out of the park here. I appreciate your stopping by! Thank you.

      • fpherj48 profile image

        Paula 

        2 months ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

        Flourish......Hands down! Eva Cassidy....no doubt. No competition. Eva (rest her soul) sang the most incredibly, beautiful, moving, emotional, heart-wrenching version of this song, EVER! Just as she does, every song she ever sang. Thanks for asking!

        She's my very favorite singer, musician, female artist. I love Eva. I'm betting she wins!

        Peace, Paula

      • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

        FlourishAnyway 

        2 months ago from USA

        Liz - Thank you for reading.

      • Jodah profile image

        John Hansen 

        2 months ago from Queensland Australia

        What a wonderful song to choose, Flourish. The original will always be classic but I voted for Jewel's as my favourite, closely followed by Pink's. Thanks for presenting these wonderful versions.

      • clivewilliams profile image

        Clive Williams 

        2 months ago from Jamaica

        beautiful song

      • Pamela99 profile image

        Pamela Oglesby 

        2 months ago from Sunny Florida

        I did not know so many people sang this song. I liked the first few and Trisha Yearwood, but not the last few as much. I guess I am old fashioned as I liked the original song quite well. This is sure an interesting group of songs Flouish.

      • shanmarie profile image

        Shannon Henry 

        2 months ago from Texas

        Who doesn't like Eva Cassidy's version? Far better than the original, which is kind of rare, I think. I also like Jewel's version. I've always loved her voice. To answer your question, I did not know that prelude existed until now. Isreal's version was fun and funky, very enjoyable. Pink did an outstanding job. Never heard Clapton's version before, but I liked it a lot. Good Ol' Frank disappointed me here and I didn't care for Patti's version either. Pentatonix, well, they can do so much better than that and I don't know what to say about my let down with them. The rest are okay.

        Excellent selections you found of this song. Have you ever heard Linda Eder's version? I became a fan of hers well over a decade ago when I heard her sing "Vienna."

      • bdegiulio profile image

        Bill De Giulio 

        2 months ago from Massachusetts

        Hi Flourish. One of my all-time favorites. Judy Garland’s version will always be my favorite, but I must say the version by Eva Cassidy was incredible. I had never heard of her and how sad that she died so young before the world discovered her talent. I actually enjoyed many of the performances, especially Frank Sinatra and surprisingly Pink. Great job as always.

      • Eurofile profile image

        Liz Westwood 

        2 months ago from UK

        I had no idea there were so many cover versions. Once again, your research is impressive.

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