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The Triple A List, My Favorite Songs Ever One By One: Ethel Merman’s “It’s De-Lovely”

At the height of the Broadway musical Ethel Merman ruled like nobody before or after, appearing in five Cole Porter shows in succession from 1934 to 1944 and bringing to life some of the splendid songwriter -as a lyricist on a par with Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter’s greatest songs including 1934’s “It’s De-lovely” – a duet with Bob Hope.

Cole Porter -the debonaire, closeted, songwriter brought a uniquely American sensibility to high society where the social standing had much less to do with birth and more to do with money. In the US, in the Hamptons, on Broadway, the upper classes had the brash impudence and arrogance of a world where do-re-mi was the calling card. It lived in contradistinction to the stuffy, drafty English peership; you could take high society out of the Lower East Side but you couldn’t reverse the process.

This was the just post-depression, pre-WWII USA, as it found its footing in its upcoming position as the leader of the Western Hemisphere, a delirious world of cool and hot, Broadway and speakeasys and jazz and as time goes by, the world of Merman seems a little lost to us. I knew Merman from Susan Heyward’s brutal take down as the Merman inspired Helen Lawson: a nasty, backstabbing, front stabbing, any which way Broadway legend. Merman certainly had the brashness to take you down with a roar and on stage, singing Porter songs, she would make the roof rattle, squeezing every ounce of energy over every single epigram.

“It’s De-Lovely” might be Porters best song, but then again it might not, maybe it is “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” or “You’re The Top” or… but why not “It’s De-Lovely”? And perhaps it’s the best because of the show stopping brilliance of the ending? Except it is one of those great songs that has no weak spots, no soft underbelly, it starts at the top with the meta intro:

I feel a sudden urge to sing
The kind of ditty that invokes the spring.

I’ll control my desire to curse
While you crucify the verse.

This verse I started seems to me
The Tin-Pantithesis of a melody,

So spare us all the pain,
Just skip the darn thing and sing the refrain

Forget anything else… “Tin-Pantithesis of a melody” Astonishing.

The song itself began life at a dinner where the guests were complimenting the dessert. “It’s delightful” said one guess. “It’s delicious” claimed another and the third cracked “It’s de-lovely” and Porter went “aha”…

The storyline takes a couple from early romance, to marriage, to baby makes three. Here is the only video I can find from “Red, Hot, And Blue”:

The song itself is both a rollicking good time, an earworm par excellence and one of the great endings ever. You can’t hear the coda without joining in at the top of your lungs as Merman grabs it and won’t let it go… it builds and builds to its inevitable conclusion:

“It’s delightful, it’s delicious
It’s delectable, it’s delirious
It’s dilemma, it’s delimit, it’s deluxe
It’s de-lovely”

Quite.

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