One of my favorite things to do to help rein in my unwieldy iTunes library is to make smart playlists that randomly pick songs. I have 3 such playlists right now: Random 80 Minutes, Random 25 Songs and Another Random 80 Minutes. What they lack in creative naming, they make up for in eclectic song choices. What's even better is since they are smart playlists with live-updating, if I ever get tired of a few songs on the list, I delete them and replacements from the library magically appear. This process pulls stuff out of the furthest reaches of the library, songs I might not even think of otherwise.
Which is how "Ease On Down The Road" from the movie version of The Wiz came to be one of the my most played songs this week. It got me to thinking (as I am wont to do every couple of years) that I really should rewatch The Wiz in all its late 70s glory.
The only problem with that idea is that The Wiz is really an absolutely horrible movie. The concept of the musical is cool and intriguing. Based very loosely on L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, it has all the familiar cast of characters, this time portrayed by an all African-American cast. Instead of Kansas, it's Harlem. Instead of a tornado whisking Dorothy away to Oz, it's a snowstorm. Oz is an odd amalgam of fantasyland and 70s New York City. And instead of Judy Garland as Dorothy, it's Diana Ross. Too bad the execution did not live up to the concept.
As a kid, I was kind of obsessed with this movie. In hindsight, this does not surprise me but what DOES surprise me is that I was never able to watch it all the way through. Oh, I managed to get through the beginning just fine. Dorothy is deposited in a graffiti-filled Munchkinland and the standard Oz set up ensues. But really, I could never make it much past the scenes immediately following the introduction of the Scarecrow and the descent down the roller coasters of Coney Island to find the Tin Man. But it was in there that "Ease On Down The Road" makes its first appearance
I finally sat down in 1995 and watched the entire movie. It was a huge chore. I have a pretty high tolerance for musicals (higher than most guys my age) and even I had a hard time making it through this movie. Michael Jackson's turn as the Scarecrow is pretty good. I enjoyed 70s New York turned on its side a little bit through its reworking as Oz. But the songs are, by and large, horrible. Aside from "Ease On Down The Road," the only other song I even remember from this movie is "Brand New Day" which is performed just after Evilene the Wicked Witch gets flushed down a gigantic toilet. (yes, believe it.) Too many of the songs feature an extreme close-up on Diana Ross singing a solo, which considering Ross' famous diva-sized ego, should surprise no one.
I love the story about how Diana Ross allegedly forced her way into being cast as Dorothy, despite the fact that the filmmakers wanted to cast Stephanie Mills who had originated the role in the Broadway production. The argument was that Ross was too old, which caused Ross to make what seems to be some back-room deals in order to insure that she be cast as Dorothy, ultimately tying financing and production to her being cast in the role. You can read all about it here, but it's amazing! Despite the intrigue, it's still not my favorite Diana Ross story. That will always be the story of the DUI that Ross received in Tuscon, AZ while driving to rent a video from Blockbuster. Seriously, Diana Ross has to rent her own movies from Blockbuster? She's DIANA ROSS for Pete's sake! Jeff and I found great humor in this unfortunate event which probably means we're going straight to hell.
I've talked more about The Wiz than I thought I could, which means I'm inevitably going to go get the DVD from the library or from Netflix and at least watch highlights. If only it were streaming on the Netflix box!
(and I managed to get through the whole post without making a pee joke. Oops, I spoke too soon.)