Music Reviews

#MusicMonday – The Wiz

My favorite hits from the cult classic that killed the Blaxploitation era.

Joel Schumacher died like a week ago, so I want to first dedicate this post to him and Michael Jackson. The Wiz is considered to be the movie that destroyed the Blaxploitation era, but it was a cult classic by the time I became aware of it. 

I’ll always appreciate my fifth grade teacher, Ms. Holliday, because she took the time out to expose us to things like the Cha-Cha Slide and the The Wiz. I didn’t realize until much later how integral these things would be to my experience of being Black in America. 

Back in the spring of 2011, I did a Classics of Children’s Literature course at the University of Houston. In it we covered stuff like Peter Pan and The Brothers Grimm, so there was a ton of deep diving into the history behind these classics and their later variations. It was then that I learned about The Wiz’s box office failing, and the drama behind Diana Ross’ casting. 

If you ever get the time to research it, the history behind the making of The Wiz is fascinating. Some people don’t appreciate Joel Schumacher because of his Batman movies, but George Clooney is still my favorite Bruce Wayne to date, and the decision to put Oz in an urban setting instead of keeping it rural like the play was genius.

To be quite fair, I couldn’t pick three favorites from this movie. I have an absolute favorite, and one or two songs I’m not too fond of, but there were some really good hits in this movie, so I’ll try my best to name the ones that I really liked. 

I recently showed this movie to my husband, and he immediately picked up on this song because Wiz Khalifa has apparently used the opening for one or two of his mixtapes. Personally, I just like how it sounds when the Munchkins go “He’s the Wiz!”. 

When my fifth grade teacher showed us this movie, we were in a dark room. So when Dorothy lands in Munchkinland, and the Munchkins start popping out of the wall, I was scared. Apparently that was a common reaction, but, thankfully, it does get better as you get older. 

So my absolute favorite song off of this soundtrack is Michael Jackson singing “You Can’t Win”, for obvious reasons. “Ease on Down the Road” charted, and was definitely popular, but I got tired of how much it was sung very quickly. 

That being said, “You Can’t Win” was originally written for the play to be sung by the Winkies to Dorothy about the futility of escaping from Evillene. It was apparently dropped from the play, and brought back for the movie to be used by the Scarecrow instead. This makes me wonder what the Scarecrow’s song was supposed to be originally, but I’m not sure how I’d feel about seeing The Wiz on Broadway. I saw Sweeney Todd back in 2018, and enjoyed it, but I think I might like The Wiz too much to truly appreciate the performance. 

Oh well, that’s a thought for a post-COVID-19 world. 

I guess the title for this song is supposed to be “Mean Ole Lion” instead of “Mean Old Lion”, but I don’t think anyone truly cares. That being said, I always favor this one over both of the Tin Man’s songs because the performance is so animated. 

Ted Ross reprises his role from the play, and I can’t say I blame the casting director. This is the first time you meet the lion, so he comes off very strong and flashy, and – except for a few moments in the subway – this is the best you’ll get of him for the rest of the movie. 

This song is so jazzy, that you can’t help but bounce along to it. 

When I first saw this movie, this song stood out the most to me. Probably because that same fifth grade teacher would later say, “I’m just like Evillene: y’all bet not bring me no bad news”. 

IMDB notes that this was the first time that the two wicked witches were given names – here they are supposed to be twins – up until Wicked. IMDB also notes that Eartha Kitt was considered for Evillene, but I can’t see the song coming out the same. Mabel King’s version just sounds right to me. I remember watching The Wiz Live! and being mad at myself for being so disappointed in Mary J. Blige’s rendition of “No Bad News”. 

Yet another reason why I wouldn’t want to go see the play: I’d want everything to sound the same. 

Some people call this the “Emerald City Sequence”, and I know Quincy Jones titles it the “Emerald City Ballet”. The person who uploaded the video titled it “The Color Is”. All I know is, I couldn’t make a post about The Wiz without it. 

I’ve always loved this scene. It’s beyond iconic. I love the different colors, I love the players, I love the cameos, and I love the uncredited voices. Quincy Jones and Iman both make an appearance, though you’ll really have to search to find the latter – probably in the green sequence. 

I really love how you get this idea that the Emerald City Players are all representatives of the upper class. And they’re all being manipulated by the Wizard and his ever-changing fancies. 

The Wiz is ultimately my favorite straightforward version of The Wizard of Oz, and I have to say straightforward because Wicked is great, but it’s really the Wicked Witch of the West’s story. I’ll be showing this version to my grandkids, who will probably hate it, but I’ll still be happy to share it with them. 

I’m happy I was able to share it with you.  

If you would like to keep up with me and my adventures in appreciating the many different types of music, please be sure to subscribe to this blog. If you just want to chat with me about these particular songs, or even this movie, make sure to hit me up in the comment section.

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