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“Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead!”

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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Posted by on October 30, 2015 in Music

 

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The Monster Mash – Bobby “Boris” Pickett and the Crypt-Kickers, with sundry other versions of the song

200px-Frankenstein's_monster_(Boris_Karloff)Halloween is never quite Halloween for me without “The Monster Mash,” sung by Bobby “Boris” Pickett. I have a ridiculous affection for this song, though someday I really need to learn all the lyrics so I can stop singing, humming and thinking the same few snatches of lyrics over and over again every time Halloween rolls around.

The song was recorded in 1962, by Bobby “Boris” Pickett and the Crypt-Kickers. Pickett once did an imitation of Boris Karloff during a performance that was so well received that he and a fellow band member, Lenny Capizzi, wrote this song, and the band that recorded it was then designated The Crypto-Kickers. The song was also partly a spoof on a popular dance at the time called The Mashed Potato. I had to look that dance up (anything called the Mashed Potato deserves to be looked up) and found the Mashed Potato is supposed to be somewhat related to the twist and was popularized by such songs as Dee Dee Sharp’s “Mashed Potato Time.”

The song was released as a single, though the BBC banned the song from being played, nominating it “too morbid,” but was a #1 hit during October of that year in America. After the success of the song, the Crypto-Kickers recorded an entire album called The Original Monster Mash, which contained various monster mash theme songs, including “Monster Holiday,” which is a bit of a spoof of Boris Karloff’s classic narration of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas and the poem “The Night Before Christmas.” Boris Karloff himself actually liked the song “Monster Mash” and apparently sang a version on TV, which, alas, appears to be lost. I wish I could have seen that. There is, however, a version sung by another major monster actor, Vincent Price.

Without further ado, here is that classic Holiday favorite, “The Monster Mash,” set to a collection of images from those wonderful, classic horror movies made at Universal Studios.

And here’s a rather different version. In 1997, a band called The Misfits recorded a horror punk version of the song. I confess I am not well versed in the various genres and forms of rock music, so I had to look up what horror punk (or horror rock) is. It is apparently a blend of punk and gothic (which unfortunately didn’t enlighten me). According to Wikipedia, horror punk “leans towards a 1950s-influenced doo-wop and rockabilly sound.” In the article “Top Ten Horror Punk Bands” from the OC Weekly, they describe it as:

“the classic sounds of hardcore punk rock, with hints of goth, death rock, rockabilly, shock rock, psychobilly, metal and even sometimes industrial and pop music.

This musical subset of punk is a sure way to go if you like songs about zombies, sci-fi, old horror films, monsters and other tales of gloom, mystery, morbidity, in many instances taken from comics, cult films and pop culture’s obsession with violence, and the macabre.”

So, here is the Misfit’s version, recorded anew in 2003 for the album Project 1950.

And just for fun, “The Transylvania Twist” from Bobby “Boris” Pickett and the Crypto-Kicker’s album, The Original Monster Mash. It is mostly instrumental, with some dialogue as Dracula (complete with Bela Lugosi accent) solicits the opinion of Frankenstein’s monster on his new dance. It seems that he likes it.

And because I apparently just can’t let go of this song, here is that version sung by Vincent Price (who knew he could sing!). It’s not radically different from Picket’s version, but you gotta love that evil laugh at the end of the song.

Of course, if you actually listen to every single video (like I just did) you might never want to hear this song again, or at least not for a good, long while. 🙂

 
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Posted by on October 31, 2014 in Music

 

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Celery Stalks at Midnight – Doris Day and Les Brown and His Band of Renown

With Halloween approaching, I thought it would be nice to offer a song that was somewhat seasonal, though I have no idea if this song was specifically written for Halloween or not. In fact, I can find no information on this song, about who wrote it or anything. However, from the moment I first heard it, it really tickled my fancy. It is called “Celery Stalks at Midnight” and is about a “funny nightmare” of celery riding about on broomsticks, lurking in moonlight and the singer wonders if perhaps it could be something they ate, which seems very likely to me. Pizza dream!

This version is sung by Doris Day, with Les Brown and His Band of Renown. Before Doris Day became a movie star, she sang with several bands, but primarily with Les Brown and his big band group, touring the country and was on the radio. In 1945, she had a #1 hit song in “Sentimental Journey” and she sang many others that were in the top ten. She would make her movie debut in 1948 with Romance on the High Seas and would continue to have an extremely successful career as a singer, but it was really fun for me to locate her early songs with Les Brown and to hear her when she was still in her late teens and early twenties.

Her songs with Les Brown always follow the same format, the band plays for a minute or so, then she joins in and sings her song, and then either Doris Day or the band finishes it off.

I found this video on youtube and thought it was a wonderfully fun collection of photos of various actresses in their best scary Halloween costumes. I hope you enjoy!

 
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Posted by on October 24, 2014 in Music

 

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