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“Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead!”

30 Oct

Margaret-hamilton-the-wicked-witch-in-the-wizard-of-oz_editMost people have a passing familiarity with the name of George Gershwin, even if they can’t name a song that he wrote. The same is true with Irving Berlin and Rodgers and Hammerstein (actually most people can name a song by the duo, even if they aren’t sure which part of “Rodgers and Hammerstein” wrote the music and which part wrote the words – took me years to figure it out). But most people have never heard of Harold Arlen, even though he wrote the music for one of the most famous songs ever written, found in one of the most beloved movies ever made: “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” from The Wizard of Oz. The same is true of E.Y. “Yip” Harburg, the lyricist.

As JazzStandards notes, not many other songs are routinely recorded from The Wizard of Oz, apart from “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” (which more than makes up for it by its total ubiquity). “Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead” did have a strange and brief resurgence after the death of Margaret Thatcher in 2013 (which was made worse when the BBC refused to play the song – sung by Ella Fitzgerald – in full and was then accused of censorship). But apart from that, the song appears to have enjoyed its greatest popularity in the 1960s, when a whole spate of recordings were made, most prominently by Ella Fitzgerald, Barbra Streisand, Sammy Davis, Jr., and The Fifth Estate. Glee also recorded a version in 2009.

My favorite version, by far, is Ella Fitzgerald’s jazzy recording from 1961, which is just plain fun. You can’t help wanting to dance a little.

In 1966, the composer himself recorded an album called Harold Sings Arlen (with a Friend). The friend, in this case, is Barbra Streisand.

I was not previously familiar with The Fifth Estate, a band formed in the 1960s, but one of their biggest hits (so big it was released around the world in 5 different languages) was “Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead,” in 1967.

I did find one relatively recent recording. Here is Harry Connick Jr. from his album released in 2001, Songs I Heard.

And if you can handle the overwhelming static, here is a radio clip of Judy Garland singing the song. If I had to hazard a guess, I would say that the voice speaking at the end is Bob Hope’s.

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2 Comments

Posted by on October 30, 2015 in Music

 

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2 responses to ““Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead!”

  1. stephencwinter

    November 4, 2015 at 3:15 am

    My reaction to this song expresses my whole response to what I regard as a very strange film indeed. I consider “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” as one of the most beautiful songs ever written with its expression of the most profound longing. And the moment when Dorothy opens the door and we move from black and white to the stunning colour of that era is for me one of the greatest moments in all the movies. But the way in which Dorothy is taken into the whole story of the charlatan “wizard” who (presumably because he is afraid for his own life) persuades her into risking her life in the attack on the witch is appalling! The song celebrating the death of the witch belongs to that whole story of deceit into which Dorothy and her friends have been seduced. Then the ending with its mantra of “There’s no place like home” sees Dorothy return to the monochrome world that she once wished to escape. What are we left with except the message that the world of beauty for which we all long is illusory at best and deceitful at worst. Much the best for us all if we stay safely within the known and long for nothing. And yet… we all heard Dorothy sing about a world over the Rainbow!
    I hope you don’t mind my rant! I am sure you won’t be surprised to know that I am a fan of the retelling of the story through Wicked! And yet that too rather sidesteps many of the troubling questions that The Wizard of Oz asks.

    Liked by 1 person

     
    • christinawehner

      November 4, 2015 at 10:25 am

      I appreciate your rant! It makes me think of The Wizard of Oz in a new way. I recently read the original book and my sister was telling me that Dorothy goes back to Oz repeatedly throughout Baum’s series and that she even takes her uncle and aunt to live with her there, which surprised me, because it’s so different from the film’s focus on appreciating home.The book series doesn’t seem to have the same undertone of longing for “Somewhere over the Rainbow.”

      I wonder if the movie’s take on the book was a byproduct of the American depression and the fact that it was made in 1939, a year of world anxiety about the future? Maybe people didn’t really, fundamentally believe a better place existed.

      Or perhaps it’s a fear that all the utopias promised in the 1930s – all the isms – where a sham and a deception and it’s best to stay ‘home’ with American democracy, though it was still suffering the affects of depression.

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