Wednesday, February 2, 2011

August 12th 1939 - The Wizard of Oz Soundtrack, Composed by Harold Arlen and Herbert Stothart

Like Snow White, the Wizard of Oz score has firmly implanted itself into our cultural subconscious. I think every child born now is born with a precognitive knowledge of the lyrics to "We're Off to See the Wizard."
Unlike Snow White however, The Wizard of Oz did not see an official soundtrack release at the time of its debut on the silver screen. It did not see a release until a full 17 years later, when the film was first aired on that newfangled contraption, the television! Before that, Decca put out a weird sort of "sound alike" album, not with the original cast. Judy Garland was the only returning voice, but the rest of the cast was replaced with the "Ken Darby Singers", whoever the fuck THEY are. This kinda sucks, because the munchkins don't sound like munchkins, they're just regular old male choir voices, they couldn't even spring for sopranos. Glenda is sung by some unnamed opera singer, which is sort of cool, but definitely not what I signed on for. Interestingly enough, it is from these recordings that the original 78rpm of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" was taken, and hence, it is arguably the most recognized version of the song.

My own experience with Wizard of Oz is as prolific as the score itself. I of course have very early memories of having seen the film as a child, but that in itself is not very unique. When I was in 4th grade however, I was part of a weird school musical thing. It was an event in which a class just sang songs in front of the school, and the parents. This was extremely prevalent when I was in grade school, it seemed like they were always trying to make us sing, or act, or do something. This happened ALL through school. You might not think this was such a huge deal, but bear in mind, this was not choir class, this was... just CLASS! Everyday, we dropped our history lesson, or our math lesson and piled into the auditorium (which had the permanant smell of dry, stale urine) and sang, for an hour or two.
Our teacher was really into it too, he used to yell at kids who sang off key! I guess the school system saw the writing on the walls that all the labor jobs were being outsourced overseas, so whether or not we succeeded at school, at the very least we could sing and act! In either case, this little event had no real specific purpose. It wasn't a play, and the songs they made us memorize had only a very loose fitting theme. I don't remember all of them, but I know "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" was in there, along with "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing", "Circle of Life" and "You've Got to be Carefully Taught" from the musical "South Pacific."

What do "The Wizard of Oz" and "South Pacific" have in common? Fourth Grade!

Despite the fact we were in essence being forced to memorize and perform these songs, I came to really enjoy them. I remember our teacher making everyone in the class a copy of the cassette tape, so we could practice at home. I kept the tape long after our performance was over and done with, and listened to it for shits and giggles.
This was one of those huge 60 minute tapes too, so I actually used my hand held tape recorder to add more songs after the program. Usually random Disney songs, or Beatles songs that I particularly liked. I would sometimes even "announce" the next song on the track list, like a radio DJ. Me and some of the other kids who lived in my apartment complex took this concept to a hilarious extreme when we invented our own radio show. We went all kinds of wacky, we would "interview" people by putting the tape recorder up to the TV, and ask questions which lead into the dialogue. That's how I landed my career making interview with the Super Mario Bros. Later in life, i tried taking some classes in broadcasting and communications, but found them to be powerfully dull.

Fast forward to middle school, I wanna say 7th or 8th grade. This is when I first heard the rumour that you could turn down the sound on Wizard of Oz and play Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon" instead, and see all kinds of weird parallels between the actions on screen, and the lyrics and/or music playing on the album. I gotta say, I tried this so many times and never really saw anything significant. I think it has a lot to do with the fact that I never did any drugs.

What do Wizard of Oz and Pink Floyd Have in common? DRUUUUUGGGGGZZZZZZZZZZZ!!!!

I really wanted this to work, because I'm way into urban legends, so I played the movie a number of different times, following different sets of rules each time, but never really saw what was supposedly the huge payoff. I mean, i suppose the music fits in as much as a rock record CAN fit into a musical, whose music was written primarily in 4/4 time. It's not THAT hard to find connections when you think about it like that. When I get fed up with this experiment, I eventually started to watch the movie without Pink Floyd, just out of nostalgia. Ironic that my biggest exposure to this movie and its music involved me muting the music at first.

Finally, fast forward to now, or at least, to a few months ago. I had a very recent and very poignant life experience with Wizard of Oz, which I'll probably carry around with me for the rest of my life.
So! One of my best friends ever, Courteney, who I met when I went back to school in 2008 recently transferred to a college in Japan, like the badass she is. This most recent holiday season, she came back out to visit family and friends. I drove up to the Saratoga mountains in a pretty awesome California winter rainstorm to go visit her at her family's home for dinner. After we ate, Wizard of Oz JUST so happened to be playing on TNT.
We all gathered in the living room, in the glow of the family's huge Christmas tree, and got taken in by a movie which predated every one of us. We delighted in the time tested comedy, and fondly remember every lyric to every song.
Courteney and her family are pretty much like a second family to me, more like a 3rd, maybe 4th family, I seem to just implant myself into my other friends' families like a body snatcher, but that's beside the point. The point is, it was a wonderful night spent with wonderful people, and I will forever associate that night with Wizard of Oz. :D

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