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An Artistic Chain Reaction: Music by 'Oz'-Mosis
November 4, 2011  | By Noel Holston
Art is a never-ending seduction. One thing leads to another. And another and another.

Examples of art begetting art are innumerable, from Chagall's take on A Midsummer Night's Dream to the W.H. Auden poem inspired by Breughel's Fall of Icarus to John Lennon's "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite," with lyrics borrowed from a forgotten promoter's circus-poster pitch.

And there is perhaps no better example of this artistic chain reaction than the immortal 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz, which will have its umpteenth annual showings this weekend on TBS (10 p.m. ET Friday, 8 p.m. ET Saturday, 7 p.m. ET Sunday)...


The songs by Harold Arlen and E.Y. "Yip" Harburg have outlived everybody associated with the film. "Over the Rainbow" is one of the most recorded songs of all time. "If I Only Had a Brain" is a jazz-pop favorite. Even unlikely snippets like "Optimistic Voices" get recycled by the likes of Bette Midler. The movie has inspired an R&B-flavored remake, The Wiz, and a Broadway musical, Wicked, each with its own hit songs.

A bit less obviously, rock and pop artists who weren't even born when the MGM musical was released have been touched and inspired by its music, themes and imagery.


"Goodbye Yellow Brick Road," the Elton John classic with lyrics by his original songwriting partner, Bernie Taupin, is probably the best known (and most overt) rock song to recycle ideas and sentiments from the movie. It begins:

When are you gonna come down
When are you going to land
I should have stayed on the farm
I should have listened to my old man

Which is another way of saying, "There's no place like home," right, Auntie Em?

Similarly, there's that forever-stuck-in-our-heads truism about self-reliance from Dewey Bunnell, the primary songwriter of the group America (and an unabashed Wizard fan):

"Oz never did give nothin' to the Tin Man that he didn't already have." A generation knew exactly what he meant.

Look a bit harder and you find Melanie, the 1960s folk diva with the range of a Basque yodeler, harmonizing with her lead guitar player on her song "Cyclone" to create a sonic tornado. And in the midst of the turbulent, white-knuckle ride her lyrics describe, there's this hopeful, prayer-like bridge:

I open my eyes
When it gets bright
And I know I must be home
I know I must be home

Melanie was/is a devout Oz fan. In her song "Kansas," on another of her '60s albums, she skips and scats a jaunty melody, here and there capping the wordless lines with "Toto stop your barkin', we're not in Kansas no more."


In her beautiful, poignant song "If I Were Smart," country artist Shelby Lynne suggests her life would be so much easier if she didn't have a heart. And she compares her plight to that of the Tin Woodsman:

Oh the Tin Man played it cool
He said love's for fools
But his emptiness was real, he wanted more
But when his chest was pounding
He wished he'd never found it
Cause the hurt came hard and tears began to pour
If he was smart...


There are plenty more examples, including Oz-loving alt-rocker Alana Davis' 2005 CD, Surrender, Dorothy, and her song "Under the Rainbow."

And the Oz influence extends to album covers as well, starting with Electric Light Orchestra's Eldorado, which featured a tight close-up on the wicked witch's spidery, green hands reaching for Dorothy's ruby-slippered feet. But that's enough for today. I have to save something for the book, which will be ready in -- well, when it's done.

To humbly paraphrase the great Mr. Harburg:

I might make a couple dollars
Off pop's Mozarts and Mahlers
Collecting their 'Oz' rhymes
And my findings might be published
And not written off as rubbish
If I finally find the time.

© Noel Holston, 2011

[Noel Holston, as you can tell, is at work on a book about the artistic legacy of L. Frank Baum's 'Oz' stories. - DB]


Andrew said:

At last, an earworm gets stuck in my head that I don't mind having there: "f I Only Had a Brain."

Comment posted on November 4, 2011 10:30 AM

Mac said:

Everyone hates Bobby McFerrin for his annoying "Don't Worry, Be Happy" anti-anthem that proves just how bad pop music from the 80s can be, but, in reality, he is a great musician immersed in both classical music and jazz. His performance that takes the sounds of the film and condenses the movie to about eight minutes, including all of the songs, is no mean feat.

Comment posted on November 4, 2011 12:34 PM

John said:

Weren't Richard Dean Anderson and his chums on "Stargate" always tossing around references to the "Wizard of Oz"?

And then, of course, there's the whole "Friends of Dorothy" thing...

Comment posted on November 4, 2011 1:04 PM
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