Tuesday 16 August 2011

Duelling Divas: "Over the Rainbow" Which Diva sang it best?

It's hard to believe that Over the Rainbow, the song that came to be the signature tune for the classic musical that was the Wizard of Oz, was almost omitted from the film after the chief executive at MGM and the film producer felt that it "slowed down the picture". Luckily the song was reinstated and went on to win the hearts of audiences from the moment it was released, eventually being voted the song of the 20th Century.

Judy Garland, at the age of 16, was the original vocalist of Over the Rainbow. Her sweet, rounded, thick contralto voice, with its perfect phrasing and strict adherence to the melody gave the world a master class in effective singing, belying her youthful years. Until this day her rendition has never been matched for its purity or ability to communicate the innocent, almost naive, sentiments of desire and hope the lyrics speak on.

Tori Amos: Tori and her piano are one as far I'm concerned, and as such she delivers a rendition that is entirely individual. Its a subdued, almost introspective vocal that echoes the longing of the lyrics nicely.

Beyonce: Starts in keeping with the original Judy Garland version, before its switched up slightly with a hammy jazz drum beat and the addition of horns. Beyonce's voice is strong, melodic and never pushed, staying faithful to the original score, with her buttery tone suiting the lush orchestration.

Mariah Carey: Not one of Mariah's best vocals. Her voice is coarse and throaty on the belted, chest notes sounding pushed. However the low notes sound healthy and the Patti special, octave spanning, vocal slide took courage to attempt. Overall it's an easy, breezy, looser delivery that makes a nice change to the airbrushed, pristine performance Mariah usually gives.(Over the Rainbow starts at 1.10 after her renidion of If only you knew)

Eva Cassidy: As Patti Labelle did before her, Eva Cassidy manages to make the song entirely her own. Her tone, timbre and dynamics are varied amazingly and intelligently throughout, but it's never in a way that is self indulgent, showy or at the expense of the lyrics. Quite possibly my favourite after the original.

Charice: A strong vocal by the young singer. Her notes are excellently controlled and delivered with amazing support. Some of the impromptu improvisation on and after the big notes feel a little mismatched with the piano arrangement but as said in the intro this was an unrehearsed rendition, so we'll cut her some slack! Impressive stuff!

Celine Dion: Gives a surprisingly restrained and controlled rendition of the classic, with her voice having a warmer colouring than usual. It's clear from her delivery that the singer was empathising with the lyrics of the song.

Jennifer Hudson:  Jennifer's voice may have overpowered the original Garland arrangement, so its a good thing her stoic voice was layered over the Patti LaBelle version. Some of the top notes sound pulled, and I would have hoped for some variation in tone and timbre, but as a whole this is one tornado of a performance.

Patti LaBelle: Gives us an accomplished and emotive rendition, with plenty of vocal variation. The song has become so synonymous with Patti that it's effectively become part of her back catalogue, with the the vocal slide at 4.20 and the high F's and G's she hits throughout being the thing of Diva legend. A version not to be attempted by the faint of heart or weak of voice.

Leona Lewis: Sings the Eva Cassidy rendition, but unfortunately the voice lacks the gravitas to carry much of the song, really only coming into its own on the chest notes after 2.30. The sustained C5 at 3.32 is gorgeous though, but as a whole her voice is subsidised too heavily by the leading arrangement.

Katharine McPhee: A subtle, understated version, with a pure vocal that takes its cues from the Jane Monheit version.

Kylie Minogue: Despite displaying some brilliant technique and control, Kylie's voice is a little too hard and nasal in tone to effectively communicate the dreamy feel of the song.

Jane Monheit: A dreamy, romantic rendition with a controlled, and measured delivery. Beautiful phrasing, and a velvety tone that has flourishes of jazz, operatic head notes and an overall abundance of Golden Age Hollywood elegance.

But who do you think sang it best? Vote and comment below.

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  1. You have to watch this Filipina songstress try the LaBelle version:
    There are some flat notes on the belting part.

  2. She's not too bad. Sure, she's a bit pitchy- like you said- but overall it's a solid performance. Her vocal slide is even better than the one Mariah did in her rendition. The real problem I have with this version though, is the lack of emotion. This is a copy and paste rendition without any attempt by the singer to add her own personality or flair to it. I'd be interested to hear some of her own material!

    Thanks for brining this video to my attention though!

  3. Eva Cassidy, not to much. like some other.. yet sweet and soulfull, good balance between vocalregistrers

  4. @divadevotee: I kind of loved Kyla's vocal slide until she staggered with the notes right after. And, yes, she's kind of robotic. Adding fuel to her showboating (I have to ask my folks why we like to consider "belting" the most welcome form of singing here-it must have something to do with phatic momentum and audience approval), she just gives me a shudder on this rendition. But setting all these grievances aside, Kyla did debut with what is her only R&B masterpiece to date: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3LyGd9Haj1w -Adamant

  5. LOL - never heard the Patti Labelle version before, I like the fact that it's completely nuts!!! She is a great singer though, I had the privilege of hearing her live once.

  6. First of all you wouldn't know a voice part if it jumped out to bite you! You have all of the women of color with the exception of Ms. Patti with a voice part of Alto. If you knew anything about music, you would know that structurally the reason black choirs sound fuller and richer than white choirs is because of skeletal structure. The richness of hitting a note is going to sound different with Whitney, Aretha, or Mariah hitting the note versus one of these young "not of color" girls. I'm sorry, but you need to get your facts straight. Mariah Carey is classically trained--her mom was an opera singer---you can't hit her notes as an "alto". Also, I don't think your evaluation of Whitney was fair. You must be referring to her voice post drug-abuse, because I think you should consider her entire career.

    Anyway---just some food for thought.

  7. @shopoholic you are one lucky lady having seen Patti Live!! I'm surprise you can still hear after that experience! lol

    @anon above, I'm not quite sure what you mean, about the "colour" and "alto" thing. Leona Lewis isn't an alto, Jennifer Hudson isn't an alto, Beyonce isn't an alto. As for colour and vocal richness, i disagree with you. You only have to contrast the likes of white singers like Annie lennox or Alison Moyet to black singers such as Ciara and Janet jackson, to disprove that.

    As for Mariah being "classically trained", I don't believe that for a minute. Her mum is an opera singer, I get that, and I'm sure that her mother gave her vocal lessons, but to say she's "classically trained" is patently untrue. A "Classically trained" singer whould be able to read music, something Mariah has said on numerous occasions she can't do. She is simply a gifted singer who has honed her naturally substantial voice with vocal training.

    As for whitney, there will be a vocal profile after the drugs use at some point.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  8. I also disagree with the black vs white skeletal structure thing, I'm sure it's far more to do with the jazz and gospel choir tradition as to why black singers used to have a characteristic 'sound' if you like. Now that gospel and r'n'b are more popular, it has opened that sound up to everyone. I remember in the 90s that most people who heard Vonda Shepherd and Anastacia thought they were black before they clapped eyes on them.

  9. Have you heard Brandy's version? It's an impromptu a cappella performance in her bathroom, I was just wondering what your take on it is

  10. Her  voice sounds stronger than ever! I really like how easily she hits those top notes. Just wish she'd take it easy on the runs. Was really impressive for an impromptu rendition.

  11. I love Tori Amos's rendition, it's a lovely and poignant take

  12. judy

    .....the rest. 

  13. Jennifer Hudson, Charice, Eva Cassidy, Katharine McPhee, Leona Lewis and Patti LaBelle :D

  14. Judy Garland all the way. She was the "OG", lol.

  15. Olivia Newton-John also recorded this song!

  16. I have to say none of them other than Miss Garland herself could pull the song off, she will always be the best at this song.

  17. 1- Patti 2- Mariah 3- Judy 4- Eva ....the rest don't even matter

  18. I wonder why Barbra Streisand's version was not included. Bar Judy herstlf she's defitently the best.