The Fifth Estate
About The Fifth Estate
Best known for their playful rearrangement of "Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead," which became a hit in 1967, the Fifth Estate were a rock band from Stamford, Connecticut that started out playing garage rock, later evolving into a more adventurous sound incorporating folk-rock and baroque psychedelia. The group's story began in 1963; a teenaged keyboard player named Wayne Wadhams began hosting regular jam sessions in his basement, and a core of musicians coalesced from his musical workouts, including guitarists Rick Engler and Bill Shute, bassist Doug Ferrara, and drummer Ken Evans. The five players formed a band called the Decadants; before long, the group changed the name to the Demen, and they caught the ear of Kevin Gavin, who saw them play an all-ages show and was impressed with their songs and their ability to work an audience. Gavin became the Demen's manager, and in 1964 he helped them score a deal with Veep Records, who persuaded the band to change their name to the easier-to-pronounce D-Men. A pair of singles for Veep and one for Kapp earned East Coast airplay but didn't become hits, and while touring the Midwest, the group ran across a Michigan-based underground newspaper called The Fifth Estate. The D-Men liked the name and its subversive subtext, and when they signed to Red Bird Records in 1965 after the addition of singer Chuck LeGros, they adopted the Fifth Estate as their new handle. Red Bird went out of business not long after the release of "Love Is All a Game," and by the time the Fifth Estate landed their next record deal, LeGros was out of the band.
The group had been working with lyricist Don Askew (he wrote songs with Wadhams that were recorded by the Brothers Four and Reparata & the Delrons), and when Askew quipped one day that any song could be made into a hit with the right studio treatment, the Fifth Estate cheerfully took him up on the challenge. They came up with a glossy but clever baroque pop arrangement of "Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead," which first appeared in the classic 1939 film The Wizard of Oz, and after Jubilee Records heard the demo, they signed the group to a contract. In 1967, record buyers proved Askew was right when the Fifth Estate's interpretation became a major hit, rising to number 11 on Billboard's singles charts. The Fifth Estate toured and recorded steadily over the next two years, but while their work was strong, "Ding Dong!" proved to be their only Top 40 hit, and the bandmembers found themselves at odds with Jubilee when the label released a pair of singles credited to the Fifth Estate that were actually the work of session musicians, with no input from the band. By the end of 1970, the Fifth Estate had broken up and Jubilee was out of business. Most of the members remained active in music, and they reunited in the 21st century, releasing two new albums, 2011's Time Tunnel and 2014's Take the Fifth; both albums were co-produced by Shel Talmy, and featured Bob Klein on keyboard and guitar, who joined the band after the death of Wayne Wadhams in 2008. A comprehensive collection of the band's music, Anthology, Vol. 1: The Witch Is Dead, was released by Fuel 2000 Records in 2012. ~ Mark Deming