Thursday, April 18, 2013

Rant #945: "The Wizard of Oz" Lives On

The greatest movie of all-time, "The Wizard of Oz," lives on in our collective hearts and minds.

The 1939 film, starring Judy Garland as Dorothy, the girl who transports herself to the Land of Oz, was not a big hit when it first came out, but the television generation, namely kids like me, ate it up when it was first run on television, and since the 1950s, it has been a watershed film for my generation and every one after it.

In fact, it wasn't even the first "Wizard of Oz" film, being predated by two silent films, and I think one featured the pre-fame Oliver Hardy from the Laurel and Hardy comedy team.

Since the 1939 film, there have been two major movies released based at on L. Frank Baum's book series, "Return to Oz," a really bad movie, and "Oz, the Great and Powerful," sort of a prequel to the whole thing, which opened this year and wasn't that bad.

There have also been cartoon movies--one with Liza Minnelli reprising her mom's role--and a whole line to toys and other hazeriah (look that word up, but I think you can figure it out) related to the film.

Anyway, a storm has brewed in England over one of the songs on the wonderful soundtrack to the original film, and while it may have flown under the radar in the States, it is an interesting story to look at.

The BBC is up to its ears in controversy as opponents of the recently deceased prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, pushed the tune "Ding Dong the Witch Is Dead" to the top of its music charts. The song is being used in a campaign to discredit her over what are said to be "divisive" policies while she was in power.

The song is also No. 1 on the British iTunes chart.

The music charts are extremely important in England, much more than they are here. I mean, tell me the No. 1 song on the Billboard or iTunes charts here and you win a debt of gratitude from me.

But over there, the BBC runs its weekly chart show, and it has to play all the top hits. If the song is No. 1, what is a poor radio station to do?

Some think it is in bad taste, others think the song has to play no matter what. Some think it is a way to manipulate the charts to make a political point.

I believe what I have read is that the BBC has played snippets of the tune, but not the full tune, in order to placate both sides, but it only fanned the flames.

Interestingly, during the so-called "Summer of Love" in 1967, American radio had no problem playing this tune, and it had nothing to do with politics, it was all about bubblegum.

An obscure Connecticut-based act, the Fifth Estate, had their version of the song rise to No. 11 on the Billboard charts. It fit right into the emerging bubblegum music scene that would soon see groups like the 1910 Fruitgum Co. and the Ohio Express evolve into hitmakers.

While older kids were preaching love, younger kids wanted music they could call their own, and bubblegum was born. With the success of the Monkees as a template, Buddah Records took this music to another level, creating hits like "1-2-3 Red Light" and "Indian Giver."

The small Jubilee label's Fifth Estate also laid the groundwork for this short-lived movement with its rock and roll cover version of the "Oz" song, and when that song faded off the charts, they actually tried it again with "Heigh Ho," but people weren't buying.

Later, they had a non-"Oz" song, "Do Drop Inn," that bubbled under the Hot 100, but that was it for them, and the group moved into the commercial jingle field.

There was actually a "Best of" CD released a number of years ago on this group, and if you look hard enough, you might be able to find it.

Anyway, my solution to the BBC problem is to play the Fifth Estate's version of the tune, which I am quite surprised has not been re-released over there to capitalize on the controversy.

They won't offend anyone by doing so, only people who will hold their ears when they hear this version as opposed to the original version from the film.

Well, it was just a thought ...

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