Monday, October 07, 2013

The Wizard of Oz Original Motion Picture Soundtrack — Deluxe Edition

Even the toughest critics of MGM's The Wizard of Oz find it hard to fault the music. One major fan of the Oz books says that even though he doesn't care for the look of the movie or the story adaptation, he does like the songs. As with every other part of the movie, the songs and score went through a long development process before finally becoming the familiar tunes we know and love today.

MGM of course recognized that the songs were viable outside of the movie and sheet music was made available with the movie's premiere of the songs and "The Jitterbug." Decca Records released a set of records that featured their own singers covering most of the film's songs. ("If I Were King of the Forest" was dropped.) Fortunately for them, they had Judy Garland contracted and she sang "Over the Rainbow" and "The Jitterbug." Both of these early commercial versions contained additional and alternate lyrics to help the songs be sung outside of the film.

In the mid-1950s, MGM finally released a proper soundtrack album, featuring most of the songs. Since the songs would be too short for a full record, actual audio from the film was included to retell the story. The sound on the record is severely chopped as can be expected. Eventually, other record albums showed up with more proper "soundtrack" tracks and pieces of score, and soon went over to audio cassette and CD. And, of course, the songs were licensed for covers on record albums not by MGM.

Rhino Records finally came around with new CD releases in the 90s. They issued a single CD with the songs
Almost indicating what's on
each disc, Billie Burke's Glinda
graces disc 1 as she appears in
the finished film. Margaret
Hamilton wears an early
version of the Wicked
Witch's costume on disc 2.
and major pieces of score from the movie, utilizing some audio from the MGM archives to present extended versions of "If I Only Had A Brain" and "If I Were King Of The Forest," as well as "The Jitterbug" and "Ding Dong! Emerald City." They also issued a new CD version of the dialogue and songs album, which took advantage of the longer running time of CDs to present a better edited version.

But most desirable of all was a 2-disc Deluxe Soundtrack set. Instead of releasing the complete score of the finished film, Rhino went back to that archival audio and recreated the score and songs of the movie's original two-hour cut. The tracks were all seamlessly extended where available. The audio was not remastered in stereo, but it could easily be argued that this is representative of the intentions of the original composer since it wasn't made to be heard in stereo. (The same archival recordings would later be utilized by Warner Brothers to create the multi-channel audio track you can hear on today's home video and theatrical releases.)

The complete score and songs is excellent enough, but after one hour and forty-three minutes of music representing the movie (which is actually about two minutes shorter), there is over half an hour of alternate versions of the score, including instrumental-only versions of "If I Only Had A Brain" and "The Merry Old Land of Oz." (It's almost like they predicted the karaoke trend.) Probably the track a lot of people will want to hear is Buddy Ebsen's version of "If I Only Had A Heart." While the orchestration and arrangement is the same, Buddy's voice lends itself well to the character of a man who's been living in the woods. (But one could also imagine this same voice playing the Scarecrow, the role Ebsen was originally cast to play.) We can also hear demo and rehearsal versions of some of the original songs and a partial take of "Over The Rainbow" in which Judy suddenly coughs right after starting to sing the song. Although these audio elements aren't exactly the most complete selection of Oz audio outtakes (owners of The Ultimate Oz laserdisc note audio that is not on the CD set or on any subsequent Blu-Ray or DVD release), they present a good look at the evolution of the classic movie music that has delighted generations.

The set has one of the best liner notes ever: a booklet by John Fricke, detailing the creation of the music of The Wizard of Oz and how the movie was made, focusing on how changes in the script, casting and editing affected the music. A complete track listing with notes is included, as well as a synopsis of the movie. About the only thing that could have made the book more complete would have been the lyrics. But even without that, it's hard to complain about this lovely little book.

This set is now out of print and it seems that Rhino no longer has the rights to re-release it. It can be found online, but it's hard to find for under $40. (I luckily got my copy before the price went up.) Collectors hope that the set can be re-released soon. Hey, Warner Music, the 75th anniversary of the movie isn't quite here yet! I'm sure there's plenty of time for a reissue!


Anonymous said...

Your blog is so cool, informative and helpful! I can't believe it was just last night that I was wondering what is the best edition to buy of the soundtrack of the movie. I even thought that maybe i should ask in the royal blog and royal forum in the coming days. I open the blog today and here you are talking about it as if you had read my mind!!! :)
So this is in your opinion the best edition to get then?

Jared said...

Yes, I'd recommend this one if you'd like to hear the entire score. But if you're more likely to just listen to the songs, a 1-disc edition (it was re-released in 2009) might be more up your alley. (Someone did give me a 1-disc version, so I actually have both.)