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Disco wrecking ball: who recorded Ethel Merman with a disco beat? Could it be ... Satan?

The Ethel Merman Disco Album * Fynsworth Alley

Why do we love the Bad? Do we need it to recognize the Good? Could we fully appreciate a glorious pop music masterpiece like Donna Summer's "Last Dance" without the bellowing sonic boom of something like, well, The Ethel Merman Disco Album? Do we need that sort of balance in our lives? Or is just simply funny to hear someone fail big?

Now reissued on CD for the first time, 1979's The Ethel Merman Disco Album raises those questions and a few others. It's more than just a prized recording for collectors of junk culture to slip lovingly between their copies of Walter Brennan's "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town" and William Shatner's "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds." It's a study of what went wrong with disco, of music created by people who had no idea what they were doing. Why, for example, did someone think Merman's fan base wanted to hear the then-71-year-old Broadway diva shout "There's No Business Like Show Business" over a 120 beats per minute track? Was there a meeting at A&M where a cynical suit said, "Let's put show tunes and disco together! The homosexuals will love it"? And why did Merman refuse to sing the songs to the disco track, instead demanding the music be built around her? Why weren't the services of producers like Giorgio Moroder or Dan Hartman procured for the music? Why, instead, was Peter Matz, of The Carol Burnett Show's decidedly uncool Peter Matz Orchestra, brought in to make it funky? And who liked the finished product?

It's a mystery, really, but the answers may lie somewhere in the wretched thumping version of "Alexander's Ragtime Band," if only someone were brave enough to listen to the end. So welcome back, Ethel. You made the Grey Gardens of disco. And we'll all be playing it at our next party, just to watch the jaws drop.
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Article Details
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Author:White, Dave
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Sound Recording Review
Date:Mar 4, 2003
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