For some people, Ethel Merman's disco album sounded the death knell for the entire disco movement. It seems that everyone from Mickey Mouse to Barry Manilow was entitled to jump on the disco bandwagon with impunity, except Ethel. Disco was considered beneath the Broadway legend by her fans, while disco junkies just couldn't get their heads around Mama Rose jumping into her best sequined boots and belting out a selection of showtunes under a mirrorball. The album sank without a trace and was considered a sad career low for one of the greatest vocalists of the 20th century. Thankfully, this opinion is being revisited with the passing of time.
If you don't know who Ethel Merman is then you're either very young, not gay or completely out of touch with your cultural heritage! Ethel is an old school gay icon, a contemporary of Judy Garland, who experienced her hey day in the 1950s. Ethel was the queen of Broadway, before moving into films and television. As with most ageing gay icons, Ethel's choice of material became increasingly camp with age. She became a regular on "The Love Boat", had a recurring role on "That Girl" and most fabulously, played a villain on "Batman" called Lola Lasagne! With that career trajectory, it was only a matter of time before Ethel tried her hand at disco and the result is quite spectacular. Despite the backlash the album received on release, "Ethel Merman's Disco Album" is finally being recognised as an outrageously camp monument to a true legend.
The album has aged surprisingly well, probably due to the fact that it didn't sounded contemporary - even on release. Ethel sings 8 showtunes which have been given a disco make-over. A couple of the disco interpretations don't quite work but many of them do. The best known track is probably Ethel's disco version of "There's No Business Like Show Business". It is wonderfully camp but, in my view, one of the weaker songs. My personal favourites are "Everything's Coming Up Roses", "Some People" and Gershwin's brilliant "I Got Rhythm". In fact, the album is worth purchasing for Ethel's outrageous take on "I Got Rhythm" alone. Disco queens and fans of all things shiny and camp will fall for disco Ethel. I know I have!
The album can be purchased from Amazon and most other online retailers.