26 November 2010

“Somewhere Over the Rainbow” in Germany

This week I heard a BBC report that the late Hawai’ian singer Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s recording of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” has been #1 on German music charts for eight weeks. It’s also apparently spurred a boom in ukelele sales in that country.

The BBC reporter speculates that the song’s popularity might reflect the economic times:

“Over the Rainbow” was written by a left-wing New Yorker called Yip Harburg at the end of the 1930s as the world was coming out of depression.

He also wrote “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” in 1929, when the world was as deep in depression as it could go.

The earlier song is about economic despair, and the second one is about economic hope.

Does the success of “Over the Rainbow” mean Germans feel the worst is behind them?
But as I understand things, the worldwide recession never hit Germany as badly as a lot of other economies. Its current center-right government has certainly been antsy about other governments’ requests for aid or plans for domestic stimulus spending.

I suspect the recording’s popularity is simply because it’s a great song that Kamakawiwo’ole remade with lovely simplicity. And while Harburg was one of the most politically-driven of the great mid-20th-century American songwriters, at least some of the credit for “Over the Rainbow” belongs to composer Harold Arlen.

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