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The Fifth Estate

Best remembered for their 1967 novelty smash "Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead," pop combo the Fifth Estate began their career in Stamford, CT, in 1964 as the Demen. Originally comprised of singer Don Askew, guitarists Rick Engler and Ken Evans, bassist Doug Ferrara, keyboardist Wayne Wadhams, and drummer Bill Shute, the group soon changed its name to the D-Men, honing a British Invasion-influenced garage approach that resulted in a contract with the tiny Veep label. Their debut single, "Don't You Know," appeared in the fall of 1964, soon followed by "I Just Don't Care"; neither single earned notice outside of the Stamford area, and the D-Men adopted a folk-rock sound for 1965's "So Little Time," their lone effort for the Kapp label. Following the addition of lead vocalist Chuck LeGros, the band adopted the name the Fifth Estate, relocated to New York City, and in May 1966 returned with "Love Is a Game," one of the last-ever singles on the venerable Red Bird label, which closed its doors soon after the single's release. Although Askew and Wadhams were enjoying some success as songwriters, placing material with the Brothers Four and Reparata & the Delrons, the rest of the Fifth Estate were growing increasingly disenchanted with the music business -- frustrations reached their peak in late 1966, when LeGros stomped off-stage during the middle of a set and never returned.

While performing at a Christmas party not long after, Askew reportedly cracked that given the proper production and promotion, any song could become a hit; his bandmates took the bait, and Askew and Wadhams set to work on adapting the Wizard of Oz chestnut "Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead," basing their arrangement in part on Michael Praetorius' dance suite "Terpsichore." Jubilee Records heard the demo and quickly signed the group, with "Ding Dong!" falling just shy of the Billboard Top Ten in mid-June 1967; the Fifth Estate spent the summer touring as part of a package headlined by Gene Pitney and the Happenings, and in August released the follow-up, the Lovin' Spoonful sound-alike "The Goofin' Song." The record went nowhere, as did the subsequent "Heigh Ho!" As some of the lineup returned to college, the Fifth Estate recorded and performed sporadically -- later Jubilee singles including "Do Drop Inn" and "Coney Island Sally" substituted session musicians for members who were MIA, and 1969's "The Mickey Mouse Club March" featured none of the official members at all. When Jubilee called it quits later that year, the Fifth Estate followed suit; Wadhams later enjoyed a career as a producer and arranger of some note, also teaching at the Berklee School of Music; in 1995, his Boston Skyline label issued the 27-track D-Men/Fifth Estate compilation Ding Dong! The Witch Is Back. ~ Jason Ankeny, Rovi

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