Thursday, 22 October 2009


Sitting on the bus which takes me to work, again. It’s a particularly grey morning in London, everyone around me on the bus is wired and connected to something else, be it mp3 players, crackberrys, mobile phone hands free, anything to disconnect them from their present reality. It all has the same effect, alienation. The cute woman opposite me with the green tartan coat and long, lustrous light brown hair is also earphoned off from the world, just like I am. She has no idea that I think I love her a little bit, or if she does she is affecting a healthy disdain for the idea. After listening to the same song on repeat six times (or possibly more) the harsh edges of the journey are starting to fade away, the brusqueness of travelling to a meaningless 9 to 5 slightly easier to take.

I am listening to what is perhaps the greatest single recording in the history of popular music. But the rub is this song does not actually exist in a traditionally recorded sense. The song in question is a cover version of ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’ performed by The Flaming Lips. Wayne Coyne’s voice was surely created to sing this song, his vocal makes me wonder how anyone can express so much hope and love through words and particles of air vibrating at different frequencies. The Flaming Lips performed their version of ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’ at a session for the Santa Monica, LA radio station KCRW in 1999. In the rare live performances (mainly around the same time) where they played the song to close their set they have embellished it with Wayne on Theremin, and once even Stephen Drozd’s dad on sax, but nothing can touch the stark beauty of the simple arrangement of piano and vocal the guys did for KCRW. The track starts with Wayne cajoling Stephen “Come on” and very faintly Stephen can be heard replying “I’m coming on” to sniggers from the band and studio crew. Somehow this unscripted mucking about makes the perfect opening to the performance, channelling the optimistic innocence at the heart of the song and indeed the whole of the film it helped to make famous. Once Stephen plays the first bar of the song everything else falls away to a deathly silence, which the creamy, fractured, analogue piano reverberates around solo for a brief moment before Wayne begins to sing. The inherent psychedelic quality to Wayne’s voice lends an otherworldly quality to the song, he plays it entirely straight but can’t hide the dreamer inside when he is singing of chimney tops where troubles melt like lemon drops, rainbows and bluebirds. Mere words seem perfunctory when confronted with something so perfect, but the closest analogy I can find for this song is that of a watching a child’s face when they unwrap the present at Christmas they have been waiting for all year. Syrupy I know, but…

I have a vague recollection of hearing The Lips covering ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’ back in 99, probably from a broadcast of a UK show, but I wasn’t really a fan back then and they barely registered on my musical radar, their version of the song stuck with me though, and I periodically scoured the internet to try and find anything I could about it, without success. Until one glorious day last year when I found someone had uploaded the KCRW session version on to youtube. Fuck; that was an exciting moment, very quickly tempered by the fact that the song inexplicably fades out halfway through, just after the second chorus. I managed to obtain the mp3 from the youtube user who uploaded it and despite it being incomplete; I nevertheless absolutely cherish the little collection of 1s and 0s which makes the sound possible. Wayne has said he thinks it is one of the greatest songs ever written, but I would actually say their version is superior even to Judy Garland or Eva Cassidy’s, not least for the priceless ability to make even the bleakest of situations seem a little more wonderful.

I don’t claim any copyright or any such gubbins, but the link to the youtube video in question is below, and if anybody wants a copy of the mp3 or can put me in the direction of the full audio, please get in touch. Similarly if anyone wants me to take it down or stop distributing the file, please also get in touch, but do so knowing the more people that hear this song the better place the world will be.

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