By Peter Filichia
It’s no April Fools’ Day joke: Doris Day will celebrate a birthday on April 1. The reclusive nonagenarian hasn’t graced a recording studio since 1967 or a film since 1968. Rumor has it that The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has wanted to give her an honorary Oscar, but when its administrators ask that she appear at the ceremony, Day essentially says, “Thanks, but no thanks.”
It’s her birthday, but we get the present. Here’s one of her most spirited recordings that Sony is re-releasing for the first time as a digital download. It’s the 1963 recording of Annie Get Your Gun in which Day portrayed sharpshooter Ms. Oakley and Robert Goulet played the almost-as-sharp shooter whom she loved to love and hate: Frank Butler.
Of course, seventeen years earlier, Ethel Merman and Ray Middleton had recorded the original cast album in an era before long-playing records, let alone stereo. Considering too that Decca had made that album, Columbia Masterworks president Schuyler Chapin was intent on recording Irving Berlin’s best score for a Broadway musical.
There are those who maintain that it’s the best score for a Broadway musical bar none. It certainly is if hit-song, standard-status means anything; there are precious few songs from Annie Get Your Gun that didn’t get representative recordings while the show was running and long after. Among the most heard were “The Girl That I Marry,” “They Say It’s Wonderful,” “I Got the Sun in the Morning,” “Anything You Can Do” and of course “There’s No Business Like Show Business.”
Both Day and Goulet were Columbia recording artists, so Chapin would have no problem there. But how to get the California-centric Day to New York to record with Goulet?
When the show was originally produced in France, it was called Annie du Far-West. This recording could be called Annie of the Far West and Frank of the Far East — because Day recorded her tracks in Los Angeles while Goulet did his in Manhattan. You’ve heard of two ships that pass in the night? These are two stars that never even passed each other in the hallway. If you think that Annie and Frank were far apart at the beginning of the musical, what about Doris and Bob?
Well, stereo DID involve separation, didn’t it?
Is any of this dual-studio business apparent? Take a listen to “Anything You Can Do (I Can Do Better),” the song which most depends on the two characters interacting. I’ll bet if I hadn’t spilled the beans, you’d never have known.
All the instruments were certainly together during the overture, which Franz Allers conducted. Here’s a surprise: the orchestrations were by Philip J. Lang, who had done the charts for the original 1946 production – his second-ever professional job on Broadway – but Berlin didn’t like them and brought in Robert Russell Bennett and Ted Royal. When this recording was made in 1963, Berlin was still alive, albeit seventy-five. Did he allow Lang to use his original orchestrations? Did he insist he re-do them, and these are the results? Was he even consulted or did the powers-that-be not want to disturb the septuagenarian?
Whatever the case, Lang’s work enhances Berlin’s starting right with the overture. One needn’t wait for “The Girl That I Marry” to hear a waltz in the overture; Lang turns a few bars of “There’s No Business Like Show Business” into three-quarter time. And while Lang could have made the overture a genuine hit parade, he makes it a tad more interesting by including the lesser-known (but still terrific) “I’m a Bad, Bad Man” before seguing into the famous “I Got the Sun in the Morning” with more strings than Pinocchio ever had.
After a chorus does some nice staccato accents in introducing “Colonel Buffalo Bill,” on comes Goulet. He amuses by being the grand superstar in the perfunctory way that he tells the crowd “I’m honored; I’m flattered” by their attention. In addition to admitting that he’s “a bad, bad man,” Goulet is funnier still in the way that he underlines the word “that” when he recalls “that night” – making it sound as if he’ll never forget it even if he were to reach Irving Berlin’s eventual age: 101.
Enter Doris Day to tell us about “Doin’ What Comes Natur’lly.” Lest we ever doubt that she’d be right for role, keep in mind her marvelous performance ten years earlier as Calamity Jane, who had a good deal in common with Annie Oakley; both were rugged women who didn’t automatically appeal to the butch men who were looking for dainty types.
That brings us to “The Girl That I Marry,” in which Frank details precisely what he wants in a wife. Two words he uses – “soft” and “polished” – could apply to Goulet’s rendition. “She’ll purr like a kitten,” Goulet sings and many listeners were doing just that by the time he reached this lyric.
In “You Can’t Get a Man with a Gun,” you may (or may not) miss Ethel Merman when Day sings “wonderful shot” without The Merm’s “wunnn-da-full” embellishment. Still, Day has the requisite spunk. She even makes “pistol packin’ mamas” sound like a 19th century term and not an Andrews Sisters anachronism.
Yes, when Day sings “They Say It’s Wonderful” in a most creamy voice, she’s more Day than Annie. But when Goulet comes in, he’s frankly Frank. When he sings that he’s been in love “once or twice,” you can tell he’s employing a euphemism.
There’s an irony that Frank’s “My Defenses Are Down” should include a lyric “Like a knight without his armor” – for Goulet did this recording shortly after having finished a twenty-two month stint as a knight WITH his armor: Lancelot in Camelot.
“Moonshine Lullaby” must be one of the few love songs to celebrate illegal liquor. And to think that little children join in and happily sing about the criminal product, too! You may not have noticed this throughout the years because Berlin’s melody is so – shall-we-say – intoxicating? Day does it justice.
When Annie is approved by Chief Sitting Bull and made his “honorary daughter,” she sings “I’m an Indian, Too,” which had at least one lyric that seemed headed for profanity: “son of a bear.” Merman made a listener know just what she had in mind; now how would it be handled by Day, who at the time was still playing a virgin at thirty-eight while filming That Touch of Mink?
Quite well, for Day shows she knows what she’s saying. She’s as comfortable with the potentially raunchy line as she is with another creamy cut: “I Got Lost in His Arms.”
You might feel that the recording has been hijacked when you hear track twelve. Who are these people who sing “Who Do You Love, I Hope?” In the show, they’re Tommy and Winnie, representing the secondary couple that musicals of that era loved to feature. Including Kelly Brown as Tommy and Renee Winters as Winnie does make the disc more of a cast album, but purists will notice that their earlier song, “I’ll Share It All with You,” wasn’t included. But it didn’t make the original cast album, either.
“Who Do You Love, I Hope?” swings. Winters gives a nice reading to the line “Love is my middle name.” (Note that this was long before Jennifer Love Hewitt came on the scene.)
Back to Day, who does a little ad-lib in “I Got the Sun in the Morning” when she adds “I’m doin’ all right” to her previous “I’m all right.” It’s a nice optimistic way to look at life, but I can’t help thinking about a line from a play that was still doing fine business when this recording was being made: Jean Kerr’s Mary, Mary. It has an accountant remind his client that this is not a “free” country. As he said, “People get the most erroneous ideas from popular songs. If all you’ve got is the sun in the morning and the moon at night, you’re in trouble.”
The question we all want answered: how long does Day hold the final note of “Yes, I can” – in which Annie insists she can’t be beaten in the fine art of note-holding? In fact, eight seconds. Merman? Ten. So Day is not Merman, but of course Merman was no Day. Let’s be glad we can hear both.
Aren’t we missing something? Oh, that’s right: “There’s No Business Like Show Business.” Traditionally, it’s the sixth song in the score, but Chapin and his two producers obviously felt that they could take some liberty with a studio cast album. The result of the Berlin, Day, Goulet, Lang, Allers, Brown and Winters collaboration? To paraphrase the song, most everything about it is appealing.