ding-dong

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 Munchkins, Glinda (Billie Burke) and Dorothy Gale (Judy Garland) in the 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 after Dorothy had "dropped a house on her", although it was actually the spent cyclone that had done that.

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 in the film's track, this one makes extensive use of rhyming wordplay, containing as many Hays Office-approved words rhyming with "witch" that 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, and the mayor reiterates Glinda's advice to the Munchkins to spread the news. The Munchkins oblige, and sing the one verse of "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 is 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, 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 killed 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.

Critics have pointed out that cutting this segment, along with having cut "The Jitterbug", while moving the story along faster, also leaves the final portion of the film with no music except the underscore.

Voices

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 sped up to create the unique Munchkin "voices". 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.

Cover versions

Ella Fitzgerald sang it on her 1961 album Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Harold Arlen Songbook, and Sammy Davis, Jr sang it live with Buddy Rich on The Sounds of '66.

In 1967, The Fifth Estate charted their biggest hit with a cover of the song interpolating the bourée from Michael Praetorius's The Dances of Terpischore. For over forty years, it has been the highest 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. (see Reuters (BILLBOARD Article): McPhee's "Rainbow" hits OZ gold.)

It was also used as the main closing theme tune for The Goon Show, and was played live onstage for almost every episode by the Wally Stott Orchestra. This show, staring Peter Sellers, was a primary influence in the production of The Beatles "Hard Days Night" movie and of "Monty Python's Flying Circus" series.

The entire song was covered by German countertenor Klaus Nomi in 1981. A bar pianist sings parts of the song in the 1991 comedy: The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear. In 2006, The Raconteurs covered the song in a performance for Sirius Satellite Radio.

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