Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead
"Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead" is the centerpiece of several individual songs in an extended set-piece performed by the Munchkin characters, Glinda (Billie Burke) and Dorothy Gale (Judy Garland) in the classic 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. It was composed by Harold Arlen, with the lyrics written by E.Y. Harburg.
The group of songs celebrate the death of the Wicked Witch of the East when Dorothy's house is dropped on her by the tornado.
In 2004 "Ding-Dong! The Witch is Dead" finished at #82 in AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs survey of the top tunes in American cinema.
The sequence starts with Glinda encouraging the fearful Munchkins to "Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are" and meet Dorothy, who "fell from a star" named Kansas, so that "a miracle occurred."
Dorothy begins singing, modestly explaining through descriptive phrasing that it "It Really Was No Miracle"; it was the wind that brought the apparent miracle. The Munchkins soon join in and sing joyfully, perhaps not really understanding how she got there, but happy at the result.
Like several of the songs on the film's soundtrack, this one makes extensive use of rhyming wordplay, containing as many Hays Office-approved words rhyming with "witch" as the composers could think of: "itch", "which", "sitch"-uation, etc.
After a short interval in which two Munchkins present a bouquet to Dorothy, Glinda tells the Munchkins to spread the news that "the wicked old witch at last is dead!"
The Munchkins then sing the march-style number "Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead." After its one verse, there is another interruption, as the city officials need to determine if the witch is "undeniably and reliably dead." The coroner (Meinhardt Raabe) avers that she is, and the mayor reiterates Glinda's advice to the Munchkins to spread the news. The Munchkins oblige, and sing "Ding Dong the Witch Is Dead" again.
As the Munchkin soldiers march, looking vaguely like toys, some trumpeters issue a fanfare very similar to the fanfare at the beginning of the "March of the Toys" from Babes in Toyland. This has a notable though perhaps unintended subtlety. In 1903, the operetta had been written to compete with an early and successful Broadway rendition of The Wizard of Oz. In addition, in 1934, there had been a film version of Babes in Toyland, which was presumably still recent in the memories of the audience.
In the next interval, three Munchkin girls in ballet outfits and dancing en pointe sing "We Represent the Lullaby League," and welcome Dorothy to Munchkinland. Immediately after, three tough-looking Munchkin boys sing "We Represent the Lollipop Guild," actually the same tune as "Lullaby League," and they similarly welcome Dorothy to Munchkinland, the center Munchkin (Jerry Maren) giving her a large round all-day sucker. The boys fade back into the crowd as they all come forward and begin singing and dancing "We Welcome You to Munchkinland."
The Munchkins sing and dance merrily, with "Tra-la-la-la-la-la-las," until the Wicked Witch of the West (Margaret Hamilton), the other witch's sister, bursts onto the scene in fire and brimstone, putting a sudden stop to the Munchkins' revelry, as her own well-known, sinister-sounding instrumental theme plays on the track.
Cutting room floor
There was to have been a reprise of the song, beginning "Hail Hail! The Witch is Dead", sung by the leader of the Winkies (the witch's guards) after the Wicked Witch of the West had been melted and the spell over them was broken, and the lead Winkie had given Dorothy the witch's broomstick. It was to be continued by the townspeople of the Emerald City, who would sing it in a medley along with a reprise of "The Merry Old Land Of Oz".
This song and its scenes were cut from the film, which instead jumps directly from the witch's castle (minus the singing Winkie) to the Wizard's throne room. Parts of the song's recording survived and were included in the Deluxe CD soundtrack. The film footage of the celebration is lost, with the exception of a short clip that was actually in the film's original theatrical trailer, though it had been cut from the film.
It was used in the 1995 television stage production The Wizard of Oz in Concert: Dreams Come True.
Nearly all of the Munchkin voices were dubbed in by uncredited voice actors, who sang in their normal voices at a specific tempo, and the recordings were electronically pitched up to create the Munchkin "voices" that the audience hears during playback. The Deluxe CD includes the actual voices of the three "Lollipop Guild" on-screen performers for contrast. According to the CD liner notes, the uncredited voice actors for certain segments were:
- "The Lullaby League": Lorraine Bridges, Betty Rome and Carol Tevis.
- "The Lollipop Guild": Billy Bletcher, Pinto Colvig, and Harry Stanton.
- "Hail Hail the Witch Is Dead": Ken Darby (the arranger)
Bletcher and Colvig had previously performed voice work notably in Three Little Pigs, and would go on to do a significant amount of voice work for the Warner and Disney cartoon studios. Bletcher himself was a short man, at 5 feet 2 inches, though notably taller than the Munchkins he voiced.
Its composer Harold Arlen recorded a duet of it with Barbra Streisand for his 1966 Columbia Records album, Harold Sings Arlen (with a Friend) Columbia included the duet on Streisand's 2002 CD, Duets.
In 1967, The Fifth Estate charted their biggest hit with a cover of the song interpolating the bourée from Michael Praetorius's Terpsichore. For over forty-five years, it has been the highest American charting version of all time of any Harold Arlen or Wizard of Oz song by any artist since the modern chart era began in 1940.
Klaus Nomi performed a cover which was released as a single in 1982.
The 1991 film The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear contains a scene parodying Casablanca where Jane Spencer (Priscilla Presley) asks piano player Sam (James Gilstrap) "Sam, would you play our song, just one more time?". He promptly begins a rendition of "Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead."
It was also briefly parodied in the Lizzie McGuire episode "The Rise and Fall of Kate" by Miranda Sanchez and Gordo, as a method of celebrating fellow student Kate Sanders' fall from power.
Usage as a meme in politics
In 2013, following the death of former United Kingdom Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, in a move intended to celebrate her demise, anti-Thatcher activists promoted a social media campaign to sell enough copies of the song to place it high on UK singles charts, prompting play on stations with countdown-style programs.
Ruth Duccini and Jerry Maren, who portrayed Munchkins in the 1939 film, reacted negatively. Said Duccini, "Nobody deserves to be treated in such a way. When we were filming the movie no one intended it to be used in this way. I am ashamed, I really am."
- "Barbra Streisand Archives - Harold Sings Arlen (1966) - Out of Print Album, CD". barbra-archives.com. Retrieved 8 February 2015.
- "Barbra Streisand Archives - Duets (2002 CD) - Manilow and Groban Duets". barbra-archives.com. Retrieved 8 February 2015.
- Reuters (Billboard article): McPhee's "Rainbow" hits OZ gold.
- Quotes at IMDB
- "The Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear [retro review]". Mutant Reviewers. Retrieved 8 February 2015.
- "Campaign to make 'Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead' Number One after Margaret Thatcher's death | News". Nme.Com. 2013-04-08. Retrieved 2014-03-26.
- Lisa O'Carroll "Thatcher's death prompts chart success for Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead", guardian.co.uk, 10 April 2013
- Mackey, Robert (April 12, 2013). "BBC Won’t Ban ‘Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead,’ Adopted as Anti-Thatcher Anthem". Retrieved March 26, 2014.
- "R1 Chart show will not play full Margaret Thatcher song". BBC. Retrieved 12 April 2013.
- Lisa O'Casrroll "Ding dong, the … BBC to cut Thatcher protest song short", The Guardian, 12 April 2013
- "Thatcher 'tribute' hits No 2". 3 News NZ. April 15, 2013.
- Mail Online, "Lloyd Webber's Ding Dong! royalties: Composer is earning money from Wizard of Oz song downloads that anti-Thatcher activists are trying to get to No.1", 14 April 2013. Retrieved 15 April 2013
- "Witch song enters Irish top 40". Irish Examiner. April 12, 2013. Retrieved 27 April 2013.
- "Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead enters chart at two". BBC. 2013-04-14. Retrieved 6 May 2013.
- "Wizard of Oz stars upset by use of song". April 15, 2013.