Ethel Merman

Ethel's Riding High

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In the early 1970s, Ethel Merman, in her 60s and retired from the Broadway stage, made a series of albums for Decca Records in London, backed by the London Festival Orchestra and Chorus conducted by Stanley Black. First, there was Merman Sings Merman, on which she re-recorded a collection of songs she had introduced in her musicals. Then, there was a new studio-cast recording of her biggest stage success, Annie Get Your Gun. Last up is Ethel's Ridin' High. On this album, having largely exhausted the major songs from her shows, she did a few more, but devoted most of the album to her renditions of other people's hits, again drawing most of them from stage musicals. "Gee, But It's Good to Be Here" came from her 1956 show Happy Hunting; "Some People" (heard in a medley with "People" from Funny Girl) was drawn from her 1959 show Gypsy; and the title song came from 1936's Red, Hot and Blue! "Whispering" was the 1920s Paul Whiteman hit, and Ira and George Gershwin's "Someone to Watch Over Me" was another '20s artifact. Otherwise, the songs were from '60s musicals. Merman's clarion voice and commanding manner were made for songs like "The Impossible Dream" (the dream didn't even sound unlikely, much less impossible, in her hands) and "On a Clear Day You Can See Forever." She was less convincing on Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley's "What Kind of Fool Am I," if only because she clearly didn't consider herself any kind of fool, but she did better with the same writers' "Nothing Can Stop Me Now!," which was more her sort of sentiment. And she was surprisingly good with "Sunrise, Sunset" from Fiddler on the Roof. It all made you wish she had made more independent records during her career instead of sticking largely to her own stage hits, especially given that this would turn out to be the last album on which she sang songs new to her repertoire.

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