Ding Dong: Inside the UK Campaign to Make an Anti-Thatcher Song No. 1

Margaret Thatcher and the Wicked Witch 650
Former British Prime Minister (left) and the Wicked Witch of the West played by Margaret Hamilton in the classic 1930 film "The Wizard of Oz"

UPDATE 4/12: BBC Radio will not play the full "Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead" song during the Official Chart Show on Sunday, Radio 1 controller Ben Cooper announced. Instead they will play a clip as part of a news item about the "Wizard of Oz" track, which has been adopted by anti-Margaret Thatcher Brits. "It is a compromise and it is a difficult compromise to come to," Cooper said. "You have very difficult and emotional arguments on both sides of the fence. Let's not forget you also have a family that is grieving for a loved one who is yet to be buried."

Original version of this article below...

Not much can surprise regular observers of the bizarre and eccentric world of the U.K. singles market, but even seasoned chart-watchers are bemused at the breakout of what is now a full-on national debate about Margaret Thatcher sparked by "The Wizard of Oz."

The campaign to get "Ding! Dong! The Witch Is Dead," credited to the "Wizard of Oz" Film Cast from the classic 1939 film, to No. 1 on the U.K. chart in the week of former British Prime Minister's death is now approaching critical mass. Official Charts Company data up to last night (Thursday) at midnight shows the 51-second song at No. 3 and still climbing the “midweeks.”

The track, written by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg. has sold just under 29,000 units, some 12,000 behind Duke Dumont’s “Need U (100%)” (Ministry of Sound), featuring A*M*E, which entered the official chart at No. 1 last Sunday. Pink’s “Just Give Me A Reason” (RCA/Sony), featuring Nate Ruess, holds at No. 2 with 34,000 sales so far this week.

(Song starts at 2:10 mark)

Vehement disagreement has now arisen about whether or not the BBC should play “Ding! Dong!” when the official weekly chart is unveiled to the public on Radio 1’s Sunday afternoon chart show. That conversation has prompted widespread TV and radio coverage and articles in today’s Times, Daily Telegraph, Sun, Mirror, Mail, Express and Metro newspapers.

The Telegraph, in its page one story, reports that the new BBC Director-General Lord Hall will leave the decision about whether to play the song to Radio 1 controller Ben Cooper. In its lunchtime TV news program on BBC1 today, the corporation reported that that decision will be taken on Sunday.

Former Conservative Party treasurer and Lady Thatcher’s longtime friend Lord McAlpine was quoted by the Telegraph as being "absolutely astounded" that the BBC was even considering playing the song. He said the corporation was "letting the charts be hijacked for political purposes…it's another example of how out of control the BBC is."

But not all politicians are of that mind, even those who find the anti-Thatcher campaign distasteful. Rob Wilson, Conservative MP for Reading East, tweeted yesterday: "While unpleasant, BBC right to play leftie-hate song reMrsT [sic]. She didn’t free millions to censor tiny no. of nasty idiots."

Former Radio 1 controller Trevor Dann, speaking on BBC1’s lunchtime news bulletin today, said: “I’m absolutely sure it should be played. It’s not the BBC’s chart, after all, it’s the official chart, it’s funded by the music business as a whole, and it’s the BBC’s duty to report it.”

The OCC said in a statement yesterday that because the song was “out of copyright (and therefore in the public domain), there are a number of versions of the same recording (taken from the 1939 movie) available to buy across several digital retailers.

"In line with standard procedures, the Official Chart position under the artist credit The Wizard Of Oz Film Cast combines sales all the versions derived from the 1939 film recording, including versions credited to Judy Garland or The Munchkins. In fact, Garland’s vocal (either sung or spoken) does not feature on the track."

There have also been lesser sales this week for Ella Fitzgerald’s version of the song, which has not charted in the U.K. before, but is known to music fans in numerous guises. An instrumental version of it was played by the Wally Stott Orchestra as the end theme of the hugely popular 1950s surreal British radio comedy "The Goon Show," while another recording by Stamford, Connecticut pop quintet The Fifth Estate reached No. 11 on Billboard’s Hot 100 in 1967.