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DING, DONG . . . `WIZARD OF OZ’ SCORE RECALLS THE BEST OF THE CLASSIC

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It was with a certain amount of trepidation that I approached this two-disc, 82-track package of music from the 1939 classic "The Wizard of Oz," based in part on an experience I had as a child with an old vinyl soundtrack album, a collection of bits and pieces of music mixed with dialogue.

While most children who had the album probably enjoyed it, even then the purist in me objected to the songs and musical cues being cut off too early, to make way for movie dialogue. I didn't care about the dialogue. I wanted the music. And in those days, without videocassettes and VCRs, the only way we could hear the entire score was by watching the annual television showing.So it was a most pleasant surprise to play this new soundtrack album and discover that it not only has all the music from the film but includes a plethora of supplementary material, including tracks with Buddy Ebsen as the Tin Man. (Shortly after filming had begun, Ebsen was hospitalized because he had a reaction to the makeup; he was replaced by Jack Haley.) Included are the now-famous, excised "Jitterbug" song; a touching take of "Over the Rainbow," with Judy Garland tearfully breaking down - in character, of course; a take of Bert Lahr performing "If I Were King of the Forest," which prompts laughter from the other cast members; etc.

Film fans will love all the extras, but if you're just looking for the songs themselves, this will satisfy that longing as well. From Garland's one-of-a-kind recording of "Over the Rainbow" (the Oscar-winner as best song in 1939) to the Munchkins singing "Ding, Dong, the Witch Is Dead" to Ray Bolger, Jack Haley and Lahr's variations on "If I Only Had a Brain" and "We're Off to See the Wizard," this is unquestionably the "definitive" "Wizard of Oz" soundtrack album.

The instrumental transition and background music is also quite enjoyable, with a number of themes that will quite naturally bring back memories of the film itself. Even the colorful, informative booklet that accompanies the album is a remarkable achievement.

Of course, now that we do have videocassette tapes and VCRs, we can watch the movie again, anytime we want. But now, when we just want a listen, we can do that too.

RATINGS: four stars (* * * * ), excellent; three stars (* * * ), good; two stars (* * ), fair; one star (* ), poor, with 1/2 representing a higher, intermediate grade.