Saturday Single No. 5

Originally posted March 17, 2007

When I was a little munchkin, during the years when the 1950s ran out and the 1960s began, I don’t think there was anything I looked forward to more than the annual broadcast of the movie The Wizard of Oz. Once a year, in mid-December, one of the three networks aired the delightful fantasy of Dorothy and her trek through Oz.

It always seemed to come on the same Sunday when our family got all dressed up and headed over to the campus of St. Cloud State for the annual Christmas concert. I recall earning frequent admonitions to sit still and listen, but how could I focus quietly on Christmas music – classical, popular or other – when I knew that in a few hours, I’d hear “Follow The Yellow Brick Road,” “If I Only Had A Brain,” “In The Merry Old Land Of Oz” and a dozen or so more beloved songs, including the greetings Dorothy received from the Lollipop Guild and the Lullaby League? How could I sit still? Well, I managed, at least enough not to earn too much parental dismay.

Beginning in the mid-1960s, the host for the broadcast was always very careful to explain that the first part of the movie was in black and white and that the color would come in later, when Dorothy opened the door and walked out into Munchkinland. That didn’t matter to us – we didn’t have a color television. I suppose that once or twice I managed to watch the movie across the street, at my buddy Rick’s house – his family had a color TV!

I watched it every year until I was in junior high school, I would guess, loving the music and the dance, the simple allegory of the story, the not-bad-for-their-time special effects, and still shivering at the flying monkeys, who at least once during the early years cost me a good night’s sleep.

I know The Wizard Of Oz is shown on TV these days, on a cable movie network, I would guess. I ran across it a few months ago and watched a little bit of it. It was fun, but it’s certainly not the event it was forty years ago. It can’t be. The television audience is too fragmented these days.

All this came to mind not just because I saw a bit of the movie a little while ago. It also popped to mind because I was sorting through my collection of 45 rpm records the other day, and I found today’s Saturday Single, a hit single inspired by the movie. And no, this isn’t some crooner’s version of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.”

According to, Don Askew, one of the members of a Connecticut band called the Fifth Estate, told his fellow band members in 1967 that with the proper production and promotion, any song could become a hit. The others in the band challenged him to prove it, and Askew and Wayne Wadhams adapted the Wizard of Oz song “Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead,” partly basing their arrangement, says, on Michael Praetorius’ dance suite “Terpsichore.”

Jubilee Records signed the band and released “Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead” as a single. It reached No. 11 during the summer of 1967. It was the only hit record the Fifth Estate ever had.

The Fifth Estate  – “Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead” [Jubilee 5573, 1967]


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