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The New Mexican's Weekly Magazine of Arts, Entertainment & Culture Thursday, July 24, 2014

From Depression to optimism: lyricist Yip Harburg

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Posted: Friday, April 26, 2013 5:00 am

Who would ever have imagined that in 2013 a song written in 1939 would claim the top spot on the British iTunes list of bestselling songs — in its original recording, no less, which was released the following year. In the normal course of events, recordings have trouble getting quite so much air in their sails after 73 years, but in this case the phenomenon was sparked by a circumstance of history: the death, on April 8, of Margaret Thatcher. Quite a few British citizens viewed her 11-year term as prime minister (from 1979-1990) as insensitive to the needier members of society. Learning of her death, many of them adopted as an anti-funereal anthem the song “Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead,” which composer Harold Arlen and lyricist E. Y. “Yip” Harburg wrote for the film The Wizard of Oz. Downloading the song, as performed on the movie’s soundtrack by Judy Garland and the actors playing the Munchkins, became a political act, and social media fanned the flames.

People of the De mortuis nil nisi bonum school were predictably aghast, and this particular mode of speaking ill of the dead — or in this case, singing ill of the dead — reached a mini-crisis when the publicly funded BBC had to finesse what to do on its Sunday radio program that every week plays the current top 40 musical hits. The powers that be arrived at what they described as a “difficult compromise”: they played only an excerpt from the song, as part of a news report about its surging popularity.

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