The songs from the 1939 musical fantasy film The Wizard of Oz have taken their place among the most famous and instantly recognizable American songs of all time, and the film's principal song, "Over the Rainbow", is perhaps the most famous song ever written for a film. Music and lyrics were by Harold Arlen and E.Y. "Yip" Harburg, who won an Academy Award for Best Song for "Over the Rainbow."
Herbert Stothart, who underscored the film, won an Academy Award for Best Original Score. Some of that underscoring was, of course, based on Harburg and Arlen's songs. Georgie Stoll was the associate conductor and screen credits were given to George Bassman, Murray Cutter (who did "Over the Rainbow"), Ken Darby and Paul Marquardt for orchestral and vocal arrangements. As usual, Roger Edens was heavily involved as the unbilled musical associate of Freed. Incidental music was contributed by Stoll, Bassman, Robert Stringer and also Conrad Salinger.
The songs were recorded in a studio before filming. Several of the recordings were completed while Buddy Ebsen, who was supposed to have played the Tin Man, was still with the cast. So while he had to be dropped from the cast due to illness from the aluminum powder makeup, his singing voice remains on the soundtrack. It is Jack Haley, who eventually played the role, that is seen and heard singing "If I Only Had A Heart", but Ebsen's voice is still heard on the group vocals of "We're Off To See The Wizard". In those vocals, his voice is easy to detect. Ray Bolger (and also Jack Haley) were speakers with a distinct Boston accent and did not pronounce the r in wizard. Buddy Ebsen was a Midwesterner, like Judy Garland, and pronounced the r.
Although an orchestra underscores nearly the entire film, approximately the last third of the movie contains no songs. Once Dorothy and her cohorts are handed the task of killing the Wicked Witch, the mood of the film goes a bit darker. This was not originally intended—the last three songs in the film, "The Jitterbug," the vocal reprise of "Over The Rainbow," and "The Triumphant Return" were all excised from the film before its official release.
Most of the songs were first heard on radio on a fifteen-minute program called MGM: Leo Is On the Air a few months prior to the film's release. In what must have been an extremely unusual step at the time, the actual soundtrack versions of the songs were used.Brunswick Records had earlier recorded a single of "Over the Rainbow" as well as "The Jitterbug", a song eventually deleted from the film, but MGM had suppressed the recording because they wanted to preview the songs themselves. The radio preview proved a huge success and, through repeated live radio playings, "Over the Rainbow" soared to the top of the hit parade charts even before audiences saw the film. An obviously staged "backstage glimpse" at the planning and making of the film, hosted by Robert Young, and featuring Judy Garland, Frank Morgan, lyricist E.Y. Harburg, and composer Harold Arlen, was the subject of an episode of the Good News of 1939 radio program. This program also gave a sneak preview of some of the music, but interspersed it with comedy skits by such artists as Fannie Brice. Ms. Brice, in her radio persona of Baby Snooks, was featured in a skit in which Lancelot Higgins (Hanley Stafford) tried to tell her the story of The Wizard of Oz, but was constantly interrupted and almost kept from attending the film's premiere by the toddler, who virtually forced him into taking her along. The entire program, as well as the Leo is On the Air episode, is included as a supplement on the Wizard of Oz DVD.
The first record album of music from the film was not a soundtrack album in the sense that the term is used today, or even an original cast album, although it is sometimes erroneously called so. It was, instead, a U.S. Decca four-record 78 rpm studio cast album of songs from the film released in 1940, featuring Judy Garland as Dorothy but with the Ken Darby Singers in other roles. Darby had also been one of the film's music arrangers, but the arrangements made for the film were not used in this album. This album was about twenty minutes long. There was no overture or finale included, and most of the songs were not placed in the same order that they were heard in the film. The album also used some introductory song verses which had not been included in the motion picture and were not used in the MGM radio previews. Two songs heard in the film as finally released were omitted from the album - "Optimistic Voices" and "If I Were King of the Forest"; however, the album did include the song "The Jitterbug", which had been deleted from the film. It also used, oddly enough, dialogue which never appeared in the movie; at one point, during "The Merry Old Land of Oz", Dorothy says, "We can't go to see the Wizard like this! We're all dirty!", after which the group supposedly enters the Wash and Brush Up room in the Emerald City. The reprise of "Over the Rainbow" and the "Triumphal Return" sequence were also not included.
The orchestra on the album was conducted by Victor Young. In the "Munchkinland" medley, the Ken Darby Singers provided the voices of the Munchkins, but they were not altered to sound "chipmunk"-like, as in the film. The role of Glinda was sung by an unnamed soprano with an operatic voice, the solo part in "If I Only Had a Brain" was performed by composer Harold Arlen, and in the song "If I Only Had A Heart", the role of the Tin Man was sung by a tenor whose voice bordered on falsetto. The two songs Garland sang on the album, "Over the Rainbow" and "The Jitterbug," had already been released as a 78-rpm single in 1939 only a month after the film's premiere, on a single that had nothing to do with the Brunswick Records recording released by MGM, and were incorporated into the 1940 album.
On the rest of the 1940 album, an unnamed soloist took the role of Dorothy.
This album was quite a success, and after being reissued in a 45-rpm version  and as a 10-inch LP, it was finally re-released in 1956  as one side of a 12-inch 331⁄3 rpm LP, the other side occupied by cover versions of songs from Disney's Pinocchio (1940), with Cliff Edwards, the film's Jiminy Cricket, as lead soloist. This is also the year that MGM Records first released an authentic soundtrack album of The Wizard of Oz.
The 1940 Decca "cover album" stayed in print throughout the 1950s, even after MGM Records' authentic soundtrack album of The Wizard of Oz was released. Judy Garland's 1939 cover versions of "Over the Rainbow" and "The Jitterbug" were released years later on the 1994 Decca box set The Complete Decca Masters (plus), which featured all of Garland's Decca singles and several alternate takes. The Decca single of "Over the Rainbow" has been released on an MCA compact disc entitled 20th Century Masters – The Millennium Collection – The Best of Judy Garland, among various other compilations; the entire album was scheduled to be released on CD for the first time in 2014, as part of a 75th anniversary Wizard of Oz collection.
Tracks in the 1940 album, in the order in which they appear:
In 1956 – the year that the film was first shown on TV – MGM Records released their own authentic 40-minute LP soundtrack album from the film. This album featured not only most of the songs, but also enough dialogue for listeners to be able to follow the story, almost exactly as heard on the movie soundtrack. There were a few minor revisions in this 1956 edition, i.e. Aunt Em's two lines "Dorothy, please, we're trying to count!" (referring to their farm chickens) and "Dorothy, Dorothy, we're busy!" were turned into the single line "Dorothy, Dorothy, we're busy! Please, we're trying to count!". The songs "Optimistic Voices" and "The Merry Old Land of Oz", and the Tin Man's instrumental dance to "If I Only Had a Heart", were omitted from the LP release; also gone were half of the orchestral main title music, half of the "Munchkinland" medley, the entire Professor Marvel sequence, the moments during the tornado scene during which Dorothy sees people – including Miss Gulch – flying past her window, the talking apple trees scene, the appearance of the witch on the roof of the Tin Man's cottage, the poppy field sequence, the moment when the Lion reads "Surrender Dorothy" in the sky, and the scene in the Haunted Forest in which the Tin Man is mysteriously lifted into the air. Also gone was the moment in which the Scarecrow says, "They tore my legs off, and they threw them over there", and the Tin Man answers, "Well, that's you all over", and the scene in which Dorothy's friends are scaling the cliff to get to the witch's castle, as well as many other tiny bits from the film. Perhaps most interesting was the total elimination of any reference to the Ruby Slippers, a very significant and pivotal part of the film.
This soundtrack recording eventually supplanted the 1940 studio album. Throughout the 1960s, '70s, and '80s, it was constantly reprinted and re-released (each time with different cover art), and the album eventually appeared in an expanded version on CD in 1989, released by CBS Records instead of MGM. The 1989 release also contained the original deleted film version of The Jitterbug, albeit without its full intro, as a bonus track. In 1998, to coincide with a digitally restored and remastered theatrical reissue, the album was reissued on Rhino Records as The Songs and Story of the Wizard of Oz. The album was edited from the digital stereo soundtrack of the film's 1998 re-release, created from surviving multiple recording stems, and as such was the first album to feature many of the songs in stereo sound.
In 1963, MGM Records issued an entirely new LP recording featuring four selections from The Wizard of Oz, this one a true cover version with none of the film's cast. Also included on the album were selections from Victor Herbert's Babes in Toyland. This album quickly sank into obscurity and has never been issued on CD. It featured such artists as Jackson Beck.
In 1995, all previous albums of The Wizard of Oz were supplanted by Rhino Records' extensive, new 2-CD soundtrack album featuring not only all the songs, but also all of Herbert Stothart's background music, as well as outtake pieces of music, the opening and closing credits music, all of the songs cut from the film following its sneak previews, and demos for the songs. (See track listing below.) In all, this album played for well over two hours, longer than the actual film. All of the songs and music, except for the demos, were presented in the exact order that they would have been heard in the film had it not been slightly trimmed before release.
The 1995 album contains no spoken dialogue. One vocal not heard on the album is the guards' chanting of "O – Ee– Oh! Yeoo – Oh!" outside the Wicked Witch's castle since only the instrumental music track is included. Also unheard is the "Lions and tigers and bears!" chant. Another oddity is that although a full track of the "Cyclone" instrumental is used, in lieu of the film's shortened soundtrack which has an audible edit, only one of the two tracks for the segment was located, so the mix is different from the "normal" version.
A single-disc version was also produced, containing only the vocal selections, the main title, the "Cyclone" instrumental, and the score for the final scene where Dorothy goes home. The single-disc still contained all of the vocal outtakes, with the exception of the "Over The Rainbow" reprise, and extended versions of songs but discarded almost all of the background score. Despite the existence of multi-track recordings, which had been made to create a more full and balanced monaural track for the film, none of the music on either release was mixed in stereo.
In 1998, when the film received a complete digital video and audio restoration, including a new stereo mix, Rhino Records released The Songs and Story of "The Wizard of Oz", which expanded the 1956 MGM album even further, taking off The Jitterbug, adding the deleted dance music from "If I Only Had a Brain", and including additional bits of dialogue absent from previous releases. This was also the first time that the Oz songs were made available on CD in stereo, some in simulated stereo, and some in true stereo thanks to the existence of most of MGM's original multi-track recordings of the music from the film.
This set does not include any spoken dialogue. Its main purpose is to present the songs as well as the pure audio background music from the movie. The set is quite extensive because it contains many "extended versions" of songs and background music with which most people are familiar. All of the songs from the movie are presented on the set in their full and even some extended, vocal versions. Vocal tracks are identified (vocal) in bold type; other tracks are instrumentals.
Many other studio cast albums of the songs from the film (aside from the 1940 and 1963 ones) have appeared over the past fifty years, most of them fairly obscure and never issued on compact disc. Golden Records released a seven-minute 45-rpm album of the story with four songs from the film, narrated by Art Carney. The music was sung and played by the Mitch Miller Chorus and Orchestra.