Warning: this entry contains some of the worst moments of disco madness ever known to man.
This past week at work, my friend David's been obsessed with Bye, Bye Birdie for some reason. I'm ashamed to say that I've never heard the show before, so he burned a CD for me, and has spent the past seven days finding ways to torture me by filling the days with BBB references.
"Did you know that the original Bye Bye Birdie had three guys named Dick in the cast?" he asked.
"That's an awful lot of Dick," I said. "No wonder Paul Lynde was involved."
"You think you're funny, doncha?" asked David, doing his best Paul Lynde. And actually, I have to admit, he does a pretty good impersonation.
I grinned. "I was kind of disappointed by 'Kids.' I had heard so much about it, but really, he's not a very good singer. It didn't sound that much like the 'classic' Paul Lynde, at all. I guess I kind of expected him to sound like the guy you hear on Hollywood Squares, but when this was recorded, he was a bit younger."
"Not that young," said David. "He'd been around for quite a few years by that time. And do you know how many movies he was in?"
"And then he winds up as a second banana on the Donny and Marie show," I said, shaking my head. "Poor guy."
"He was on the Donny and Marie show?" David asked. "I so don't remember that, and I used to watch it."
"I know, I watched it too, and didn't remember him at all! But yeah, he was a regular. See, the head of the ABC network, Fred Silverman, tested Paul Lynde out for his own variety show around 1975, as well as two other shows, as summertime specials. Whoever did the best, would get their own show. And even though Paul Lynde had higher ratings, Fred Silverman gave Donny and Marie the series shot, but asked Paul Lynde to come on as a regular."
By this point, David was looking at me as though I had two heads, and that's saying something, because he knows an awful lot of trivia. "How do you know this?"
"Center Square: the True Life Story of Paul Lynde," I said, grinning. "It's a great bathroom book. But really, I don't remember much about him being on. I saw one godawful clip about a year ago where he played Darth Vadar's assistant on one of their skits, and they all ended up singing some disco song at the end. It was abysmal."
"Those variety show skits always were terrible," said Dave, nodding. "Especially when they involved disco. Remember when Dolly Parton put out a disco album? I mean, everyone was doing it, back then...and none of them were any good."
"Dolly Parton did disco?" I asked. "I do NOT remember that."
But she did...and I have to admit, in comparison to some disco celebrity turns, it's not all that bad:
"I think the worst one was Ethel Merman singing disco," I said.
"Ethel Merman did NOT sing disco," insisted David.
"Yes, she did! How can you not know that one?" I asked.
David started to laugh, hysterically. "That can NOT be true!"
Just to prove it to him, I did a little research that night, before Corb and I went out to dinner.
Corb looked at me as though I had left a giant turd in the middle of the room. "What in god's name are you listening to?" he asked.
"Ethel Merman!" I said. "'There's No Business Like Show Business,' disco style. It's almost as good as 'Mamasita, Donde Esta Santa Claus'!"
The funny thing is, I actually remember, as a kid, watching, in fascination, as Ethel Merman introduced this song on Good Morning America. The hosts went on and on about how, 'disco is so universal, it's even getting America's beloved musical treasures to get in on the act!'
Jesus, they should have kept it buried. Seriously, I'm not sure there are any worse train wrecks in American musical history.
For one thing, I'm not sure it actually ever ends. The song just goes on and on and on. Even the introduction lasts forever. It takes Ethel Merman five hours just to start singing, while that infernal disco beat just plods onward and upward. I don't know, maybe she was hobbling to the mike with her walker, and they had to vamp until she finally reached it.
And then she starts singing. Oh, egad! At first she's really talking more than singing, and then, unfortunately, she actually makes the attempt the open her mouth. Talk about warbling! At one point she hangs on to the final note of "let's go on with the show" like a dog hanging on to a chew toy.
Oh, and even worse, are the girls singing chorus in the background. At one point, they're forced to make believe that they're actually excited about singing the damn song, and let out all these really fake whoops and cheers. They must have snorted an awful lot of coke to get through that one.
Later on, these same girls start singing "why why why baby/why why why baby?" about a dozen times...something I'm sure that the poor fools who actually plunked down a few bucks to buy this mess were asking, themselves.
Never fear! Ethel answers them by saying, "Because...there's NO business! Like show BUSINESS! Like no BUSINESS I noooooo..." There's that chew toy, again.
I tell you, by the end of the song, I need a moist towelette. It truly is plumbing the dizzying depths of disco. After listening to this, I totally understand why punk rock was invented...just so Ethel Merman couldn't put out another album.