The following is my entry in The Wizard of Oz Blogathon, being hosted by the blog Taking Up Room from Aug. 23-25, 2019. Click on the above banner to read bloggers’ takes on a variety of topics related to this classic movie musical!
At first, I felt intimidated at the thought of writing for this blogathon. What is there to say about this delightful movie that hasn’t been said in the past 80 years? But the best aspect of The Wizard of Oz is that it is so stuffed full of goodies big and small, you can look around in its deepest nooks and crannies and find something to write about.
As with most Oz fans, I’ve been watching this movie ever since I was a kid. (Remember CBS’ annual broadcasts of the movie in TV’s pre-cable days?) So by the time I was an adult, I would have imagined that I knew every aspect of the film — including its delightful score — by heart. But until the multi-CD release of the movie’s complete soundtrack by Rhino Records in the mid-1990’s, I was barely aware of one of the movie’s sonic treats.
After the movie’s starring quartet (shown above) recover from the Wicked Witch’s poppy-induced stupor, they’re more eager to reach the magical city of Oz than before. “Let’s run!” says Dorothy — which they do, to a pleasant enough song titled “Optimistic Voices.”
But it’s only when you hear the isolated version of the song that you realize how truly happy the tune makes you. Short as it is (a little over a minute long), it’s as charming an earworm as anything in the movie.
The song’s music is by Herbert Stothart and Harold Arlen, who wrote the lyrics with E.Y. “Yip” Harburg. Arlen and Harburg wrote hundreds of songs together, and 1939 was definitely a banner year for them. Besides their winning an Oscar for Judy Garland’s iconic song “Over the Rainbow” (which was saved at the last minute from getting cut from the movie), they also wrote Groucho Marx’s memorable warbler “Lydia the Tattooed Lady” for the Marx Brothers comedy At the Circus.
Legend has it that the song was written to bolster the spirits of moviegoers who were suffering through the Great Depression, much as the tune “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?” was intended for Walt Disney’s 1933 cartoon The Three Little Pigs. In any case, the movie has quite a bit of fun with the song. When it begins, the Scarecrow (Ray Bolger) gives a startled look as he wonders where the music is coming from. Eventually, the quartet skips toward Oz in time to the music.
As with everything else its creators touched, “Optimistic Voices” has become one of the musical gems of The Wizard of Oz that never gets old. Not bad for a minute of marginal music.