Thursday, January 09, 2014

The Ethel Merman Disco Album

You asked for it! Perhaps inevitably, the subject of this album, the music gods' gift to drag queens everywhere, came up in discussing the "Disco Sellout" collection recently posted here of mainstream music stars' late '70s disco cash-in records.  Unlike those individual songs, Ethel Merman, the 70-something star of stage and screen musicals, cut an entire album of confoundedly inappropriate showtunes set to a well-produced orchestral disco beat. "The Ethel Merman Disco Album" is widely known and loved by bad/strange music fans, and one that lives up to the legend. 'Twas even re-issued on (now out-of-print) CD back in 2001, with a bonus track that I don't have, as I took this off my vinyl.

All the songs are lengthy "extended disco versions" (only 3 tracks on side one!) which begin with interminable kick-drum thump thump thumps, intros, and then - finally - La Merman starts singing after like a minute and half.  It is so worth the wait. Merman hated disco and refused to sing over it, so after initially singing with a pianist, they took her voice and, lacking today's beatmapping technology, then tried to fit her vocal tracks over the disco backing.  It sometimes sounds slightly off, a bit wobbly.

And then there's her vocals: Merman was one of the last singers left from the pre-microphone days, when live theater performers had to belt out songs with operatic fervor to hit the back rows. Rendered here, it's the musical equivalent of the hammy actor "chewing the scenery." Ethel sounds like she's ready to bust a gut as she bleats out "There's NOOOOO business like SHOOOW business!," on a track later famously sampled by Negativland. Pretty much the reason why the phrase "camp classic" was coined. 

Ethel Merman Disco Album

1 theres no business like show business
2 everything's coming up roses
3 i get a kick out of you
4 something for the boys
5 some people
6 alexanders' ragtime band
7 i got rhythm


Anonymous said...

Wow! Thanks for sharing this great album. Hearing Ethel Merman sing her "signature" song, "There's no Business Like Show Business" to a disco beat is a "total trip".

Muff Diver said...

Sweet Baby Jesus! Oh, happy day!

Finally, a long-coveted audio (oddio?) curiosity is here.

I'll put this LP up in my Pantheon of Crap, right next to Music To Suffer By :)

Mr. Fab, have I told you how awesome I think you are, in the last 5 minutes or so..?

Thanks, Mr. Fab. Happy New Year!

Mr Fab said...

Ha, you-all are very welcome. Dare I record Myron Floren's "Disco Polka" album now, or should I have mercy on everyone's ears?

Crafty C said...

thank you!

and i would have absolutely no prob with the disco polka!

Anonymous said...

No! No! No! I did not ask for this. But clearly, this is something that I need!--Bill

Anonymous said...

I second the Myron F disco polka post. Do it for the children.

Mike said...

One of my favorite thrift store finds. Disco Ethel made her way into many a mixtape back in the day, and friends still curse me for it.