Most 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.