Ethel Merman

Annie Get Your Gun [Original Cast Album]

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Irving Berlin came from the old school of Broadway songwriters who did not write songs specifically for characters and plot points, but rather as independent numbers in shows that were more revues than book musicals per se. But Berlin was also highly adaptable, and he approached his assignment as substitute for Jerome Kern (who had died suddenly) on Dorothy and Herbert Fields' musical about Annie Oakley in the spirit of integrated musicals that producers Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II had established with Oklahoma! only three years before. Berlin's songs for Annie Get Your Gun were all about character and plot, from the bawdy "Doin' What Comes Natur'lly," in which Annie affirms the value of a common-sense barnyard education, to the witty "Anything You Can Do," which illuminates her final confrontation and reconciliation with love interest Frank Butler. Ordinarily, that should have meant that the songs were less easy to extract for the hit parade, but in fact Berlin's score produced more chart hits through cover versions than any Broadway score before or since. (For the record, they were: "They Say It's Wonderful," Top Five for Frank Sinatra with three other chart versions; "Doin' What Comes Natur'lly," Top Five for Freddy Martin & His Orchestra, vocal by Glenn Hughes, with two other chart versions; "The Girl That I Marry" for Frank Sinatra; "I Got the Sun in the Morning," Top Ten for Les Brown & His Orchestra, vocal by Doris Day, with one other chart version; and "Who Do You Love, I Hope?," Top Ten for Elliot Lawrence & His Orchestra, vocal by Rosalind Patton. "There's No Business Like Show Business," while never a hit single, quickly became a standard.)

Oklahoma! had also established the popularity of original cast albums, and only ten days after the May 16, 1946, Broadway opening, star Ethel Merman was in a recording studio with other members of the stage production to record 12 songs from the show for release on a six-disc 78 rpm album six weeks later. (For reasons not yet explained, second leads Betty Ann Nyman and Kenny Bowers were not present, and for the recording of their duet "Who Do You Love, I Hope?," they were replaced by Robert Lenn and Kathleen Carnes.) Merman and her co-star Ray Middleton were Broadway veterans of the pre-microphone era, experts at projecting their voices from the footlights to the rear balcony, and their stage styles carried over to the recording. Merman, of course, possessed a clarion voice that was never better represented than in songs like "Doin' What Comes Natur'lly" and "I Got the Sun in the Morning," while Middleton's sonorous baritone informed "The Girl That I Marry" and "My Defenses Are Down." And when the two got together on "They Say It's Wonderful" and especially "Anything You Can Do," the belting reached near-bellow status. But that isn't to say the songs, crafted for the performers, didn't support their interpretations. Berlin wrote simply and directly, his jokes broad, his emotions direct, and the singers hit his meanings as surely as they did his notes. The result was exactly what a cast album should be, an accurate representation of the music of a show. And since this show was a landmark in Broadway history, that made the cast album an important contribution to musical history as well as an aural delight.

It reached the Top Five in 1946 and was reissued regularly over the years. On July 25, 2000, Decca released a revamped CD version featuring 24-bit digital remastering from the original lacquer masters for optimum sound. The songs were resequenced to reflect the actual onstage running order. And four tracks were added, though they did not come from the original sessions. Several minor songs, among them "Colonel Buffalo Bill" and "I'm a Bad, Bad Man," were not recorded back in 1946, nor was an overture. For the 20th anniversary revival in 1966, Berlin wrote a new song, "An Old-Fashioned Wedding." All of these efforts were included on a 1973 British studio cast recording featuring Merman, and those versions appeared on the 2000 CD reissue of the original Broadway cast album. On "An Old-Fashioned Wedding," a mid-60s Merman compared unfavorably with her mid-30s self from earlier on the disc, but the bonus tracks were worth hearing to get a fuller sense of the score.

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