McKuen goes country!
And why not, when this album was released in 1976 country music was all over the pop charts.
Country singers were regularly cracking the pop charts, country rock acts were in abundance, original rock n rollers were returning to their country roots, and trad popular artists were incorporating country sounds or at least putting out the odd country flavoured album.
Guy Mitchell and Dean Martin had already flirted with country sounds in the 60s and early 70s. Bing had a crack even earlier than that. Even Frank Sinatra flirted with some country sounds in the late 1960s. But by the 70s it was normal to pack up and record in Nashville (or bring Nashville to you?) as albums by Andy Williams ("You Lay So Easy On My Mind", 1974), Al Martino ("Country Style", 1973) and Perry Como ("Perry Como In Nashville", 1975) suggest.
And importantly Rod's temperament if not his style was distinctly "country".
As the liner notes to this album say:
Rod McKuen and country music – the two are rarely connected in the minds of those who appreciate the work of the world’s best loved poet. But Rod’s love of and affinity for country & western flavored songs is a long standing one. His collection of c&w records must be one of the largest in or out of Nashville and his own music and lyrics frequently echo his love of the country style. And McKuen songs are no strangers to the world of country music… witness some of the leading artists in the field who have performed them: Glen Campbell, Chet Atkins, Eddy Arnold, Bobby Goldsboro, Tom T. Hall, Tommy Roe, Waylon Jennings, Lynda K. Lance, Roy Clark, Johnny Cash, Bobby Wright, Don Cherry, Skeeter Davis, The Nashville Brass, Floyd Cramer, Hoyt Axton, The Anita Kerr Singers, Jimmie Rodgers, Leroy Van Dyke, Hank Williams, Jr. – just to name a few (can Loretta Haggers be far behind?)
It is noteworthy that nearly all these performers listed also write themselves, so they really have to like another writer’s work to perform it.
Rod McKuen and country? Right at home! He’s exactly where he should be. Exactly where you should be too. Join him there… in McKuen Country.
Rod's songs are perfectly suited to country singer … lost love, times past, home, regrets, loneliness, fear of loneliness, general melancholia but that doesn't mean country music suits Rod.
You would think that Rod's growl of a voice would be perfectly suited for country but it's not. He is to urban and in any event country singers aren't grizzled in the voice usually, just in appearance, occasionally.
When Rod tries to sing to the style he moves out of his range and the song doesn't work. The melodies and pace don't always match the vocals, as if his voice was trying to catch up to the music.
But when he nails it, usually on songs which hint at country, his songs are beautifully evocative in the typically Rod way.
And, luckily, most songs are done in Rod's normal voice, tempo and persona with country sounds to provide atmosphere, and even then some of that is very low key. And that is saying something – check out (in the trivia section at the end) the powerhouse musicians playing session for Rod. A weird group. The album was recorded in few places .. a pity it would have been (surreally) great to see all these people in the same studio at the same time.
The "country" in this album comes from the themes that Rod loves using and those themes are what made the songs attractive to country singers in the first place, as noted in the liner notes above.
The covers generally fit in with the originals whilst the originals are, mainly, updated songs Rod had previously done but has now given a county feel. And, I'm not sure the "brand new" compositions aren't actually dusted off old songs either but it doesn't matter in the least.
Central to Rod's music is the message and his telling of the message.
Check out my other entries for biographical details.
Tracks (best in italics)
- Silver Threads And Golden Needles – (Dick Reynolds, Jack Rhodes) – The song was first recorded by Wanda Jackson in 1956 but English pop group The Springfields (with Dusty Springfield) had a #20 with it in 1962 (the first single by a British group to reach the American Billboard top 20). Recorded by everyone, Linda Ronstadt also had a country Top 20 (#20, #67 pop US ) with it in 1974. This is just plain weird with chirpy female backing vocals over Rod's gruff grizzle. The standout is some very quirky guitar work. It isn't a total success but it it tickles me.
- Hello Heartaches – (Rod McKuen) – originally from the 1968 film "Joanna" but sung by Barbara Kay. "Heartaches" is a typically country motif and works here.
- My Old Man – (Rod McKuen) – Originally recorded for RCA in the 60s, here updated. Quite a bouncy song given that McKuen's father had deserted his mother before he was born. Undeniably catchy though.
- My Friend – (Hans Hammerschmid, Hildegard Knef, Rod McKuen) – around this period McKuen wrote a few songs with Hans and actress Hildegard … "We Live On Islands" on his "Sleep Warm" album from 1975. Strings added to the instruments. This is unusual as it comes across as a European ballad with country overtones, which is what it is, I suppose. It also has a downbeat twist … also very European, perhaps.
- Sunshine – (Rod McKuen) – A beautiful song with some great lyrics.
- Long, Long Time – (Gary White) – Linda Ronstadt had a #25 pop hit with this in 1970. Another beautiful song done beautifully by Rod.
- I'm Coming Home – (Rod McKuen) – originally done for the film " Lisa, Bright And Dark" from 1973. Rod is perfectly happy here and it works.
- Guess I'd Rather Be In Colorado – (Bill Danoff, Taffy Nivert) – The writers are husband and wife and members of the Starlight Vocal Band. They were friends from the folk scene with John Denver and co-wrote with him " Take Me Home, Country Roads". That and this song are taken from Denver's 1971 album " Poems, Prayers & Promises". This with it's gentle country folk lop works.
- Chester County – (Anita Kerr, Rod McKuen) – co-written with regular co-writer arranger and singer Kerr. Another winner. Gentle, though not quite country despite the themes.
- Rose – (Rod McKuen) – More country themes about a working family with mother, Rose, at its center. Quite jarring given the bounce and light hearted feel but tragic subject matter.
- The Story Of My Life – (Burt Bacharach, Hal David) – A early song by the hit writing pair which was a 1957 hit for US country singer Marty Robbins (#1 country, #15 pop US). A great song done respectably by Rod.
- The Summer's Long – (Rod McKuen) – Originally recorded in the late 1960s and then the song was given to (and recorded, perhaps, by) Summer's Children (a duo of Curt Boettcher and Victoria Winston). Quite beautiful. Recorded live in Denver, Colorado at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre.
- Help Me Make It Through The Night – (Kris Kristofferson) – The great Kristofferson song released on his debut self titled album from 1970. Sammi Smith had the hit with it in 1971 (#1 country, #8 pop US) but it was covered extensively including, by, Elvis Presley (1971), Joan Baez (1971), Willie Nelson (#4 country 1980 US). A good reading. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Help_Me_Make_It_Through_the_Night
- The World I Used To Know – (Rod McKuen) – Originally done by Rod on his "Seasons In The Sun" album from 1964. A great McKuen song whichever way he does it.
As if I wouldn't … I'm keeping it.
Nothing no where.
My Old Man
Sunshine – (Rod McKuen) –
Long, Long Time
The Summer's Long
Help Me Make It Through The Night
a video biography
- Musicians: Banjo – Pete Seeger, Roy Clark / Bass – Clyde Hoggan / Guitar – Barry McGuire, Big Jim Sullivan, Billy Strange, Dave Koonse, Don Costa, Glen Campbell, John Morrell, Rod McKuen, Roy Clark, Sneaky Pete / Harmonica – Tommy Morgan / Oboe – David Sherr / Piano – Leslie Pearson, Lincoln Mayorga, Paul Smith, Pete Jolly / Chorus Master – Evangeline Carmichael, Mike Sams / Producer – Rod McKuen, Wade Alexander
- Recorded In Nashville, Chattanooga, and Memphis, Tennessee; Los Angeles & Bakersfield, California; and London. Side 2 Song 5 was recorded live in Denver, Colorado at the Red Rocks Amphitheater