Dick’s Picks: Never one to rest on his musical laurels our resident ‘vinyl oracle’ has decided to loosen the top buttons on his shirt, apply a liberal dash of cologne and shine his glitterball on this so-crap-it’s-great disco oddity by Ethel (yes Ethel) Merman……..
Ethel Merman (1908-1984)
Who, What, Why?
Born in 1908 Merman was a US actress and singer and leading light in musical theatre, back in the ’40s/’50s she was a household name and was often referred to as “the undisputed First Lady of the musical comedy stage.”
To reduce her illustrious career down to one sentence you could do worse than say, “she sung the Irving Berlin song “There’s No Business Like Show Business”, from the musical Annie Get Your Gun”.
So What’s Ethel Merman’s Disco Album all About?
First of all you have to cast your mind back to the heady days of 1979, Saturday Night Fever was just over a year old and had introduced underground club culture to the mainstream (helped in no small measure by the superb suite of pop/disco hits written/performed by the Bee Gees for the OST) disco was at its commercial zenith, seemingly everybody was grafting a 4/4 beat, syrupy strings and funky guitar to their records in an effort to grab a slice of that glittery disco pie, the gift that seemingly just kept on giving, don’t believe me, check these….
….actually that Muppets/Cookie Monster 12″ was the first ever remix credited to Larry Levan who would go onto be the resident DJ at the Paradise Garage (but that’s another story)…..
As you might imagine by 1978 the (then) septuagenarian Ethel’s star was no longer on an upward curve, she needed a bit of a contemporary makeover…..enter the disco album!
To really cash in on disco something of a formula had emerged; take an old song, add the prerequisite 4/4 beat, some female backing vocals, string section, funky guitar and you’re off; think Donna summer’s take on ‘Macarthur Park’ or the Trammps version of Judy Garland’s ‘Zing Went The Strings Of My Heart’. Ethel’s album would do just the same, featuring wildly inappropriate updates of 1930s/’40s showtunes, all given a rock solid 4/4 backbeat.
However, here’s the really interesting bit, Ethel apparently hated disco and refused to sing over the repetitive thud, thud, thud of the kick drum! The solution? In these pre-sampling/digital days Ethel recorded the entire album with a pianist and her vocal takes were grafted onto the finished backing tracks, let’s just say on some tracks timing is an issue! What a swizz!!
Here’s a taste….enjoy!