September 12th – Ethel Ennis – Thrill Me

Despite a 50 year career (and counting), Ethel Ennis is not much recorded.  Most of her albums are unavailable on CD, bar the first three and the last couple, but are worth searching out.  Her voice is beautiful with a very pure tone and has barely changed in half a century.  She is not one for vocal pyrotechnics but plays close attention to the lyrics.

The song is something of a rarity.  With music by Lewis Gensler and lyrics by Yip Harburg, it first appeared in the Broadway review Ballyhoo of 1932 and promptly sank without trace.  Lena Horne sang it in cabaret and Susannah McCorkle recorded it on her album of Harburg songs in 1980.  Its relative obscurity may be due to the extraordinarily masochistic nature of the lyric – ‘thrill me with a kiss that’s vicious … though it’s all fictitious’.  McCorkle swings it and goes for the humour but Ennis chooses to sing it as a conventional ballad which only adds to the sense of dislocation once you realise what she’s actually saying – and the cynicism of the words is all the more uncomfortable for being sung by a young voice.  She re-recorded the song – an uptempo version – in 1964 but this is easily the more effective rendition.

There’s a wonderful sense of ennui about it all – ‘nothing lasts forever – that includes the thrill of love‘.  If only Shirley Horn had got around to it.