I start by quoting myself from other comments I have done on McKuen:
"Rod McKuen is an acquired taste. His detractors would say he is pretentiously poetic, maudlinly romantic, ponderously repetitious, slightly narcissistic, boringly middle aged, full of middlebrow banality and with a voice somewhere just below Bob Dylan on the dulcet tone scale. To me this is all true but how you take it depends on where you stand… He certainly is poetic (and has published volumes of poetry to prove it), unashamedly romantic, thematically consistent, always world weary with an old mans (or a wise mans) attitude even when he was young, and with a voice that sounds as if it had lived".
I have also said;
"Though there are similarities you would never mistake him for Henry Rollins in either his music or his spoken word. He could also pass for a less country Lee Hazlewood. Apart from Rollins and Hazlewood thematically he is also not that far removed from Brian Wilson or Ray Davies of the Kinks. He and they are out of step with the world and don’t mind being so, and they are also relatively upbeat".
McKuen recorded this album in Mexico, Great Britain and the United States in 1972 and that international character is reflected in the covers and collaborations. I'm not sure if some of the collaborations are McKuen's translations of foreign languages into English or genuine collaborations but it matters not as McKuen arranges, adapts and chooses songs that meet his world view.
On this album the spirit of Jacques Brel is never far away. McKuen, a close friend and incredibly influenced by Brel in the early 60s, can't help but be influenced by him. And, this album (like many McKuen LPs) has the feel of a Brel French chanson album (though Brel is more harsh in his observations).
Chanson songs are French-language songs where the quality of the lyric (usually drawing inspiration from poetry writers) is most important and where the rhythm of the music follows that of the text. The music is usually in the cabaret or adult popular style.
McKuen's loved the chanson style but his 70s music became lusher and more MOR with strings and whatnot. On hearing the music alone many would dismiss this album instantly but what is missed is the lyric. The music creates a backdrop that heightens the emotions of the lyrics and those lyrics were becoming increasingly difficult and darker.
McKuen was always a man living in the past, looking on at the world melancholically, sensitive to the arrows and barbs of others whilst moving forward ever so slowly. But in the 70s it seems the darkness inherent in his songs became more final, maybe. Perhaps it was because he was older (he was 42 at the time), perhaps he was again wounded by others, perhaps friends had died, or perhaps he had internalised the social and economic strife which plagued the 1970s. I suspect it was all of this. McKuen sings about himself, his relationships (both platonic and earthly) and those relationships he observes but there is a feeling that the world around him has permeated the mood of his music even if he refuses to recognise it.
Almost every song has a reference to loneliness, loss, or death but they remain surrounded in hope, a hope based on a belief in good. Solitude becomes a home, finality is accepted, contentment can be achieved and there is a real hope for a better (or perhaps, happier) world.
observations can be sharp…
but he is not a social polemicist….
he is a romantic…
but there is little narcissism …
is a social creature…
thoughts and privacy.
His philosophy would not survive the criticism from any department of political science.
And, perhaps, his philosophy cannot compete with facebook, iphones, nano technology, smart cars, texting, and everything else made to make our lives better, errr faster, but in the warm winter sun with a glass of wine in hand none of those 21st century conveniences work quite as well.
All songs by Rod unless otherwise indicated.
Tracks (best in italics)
- And To Each Season – a beautiful start to the album and perhaps it sets the mood for the rest of the album. This is Rod's "Turn Turn Turn".
And to each season
something is special
lilac, red rose or the white willow.
Young men of fortune
old men forgotten
green buds renewing
the brown leaves dead and gone.
- Smell The Buttercup – (Rod McKuen/Hildegard Knef)- A seemingly optimistic song though the "buttercup" goes away and the "river" that flows becomes muddy.
- Thank You Baby – (Rod McKuen/Bruce Johnston/Dinee Dudley)- a lullaby of a song. Rod and Beach Boy Bruce Johnstone wrote a few songs together and this song is indicative of both Rod and Bruce.
- Moment To Moment – from the film (?) "Moment to Moment". This is Rod at his most Jacques Brel-ian (well, a lot of his music is but perhaps this is more so)
- To Die In Summertime – More Brel and a feeling of "If You Go Away". There is a request to "die in summertime or not to die at all". Some echo effects sound charmingly dated and the lyric is catchy.
- Solitude's My Home – (Rod McKuen/Georges Moustaki) – a collaboration with Moustaki, the famous Egyptian-French singer-songwriter. Nice. Really nice.
- October Odyssey– (Rod McKuen/Georges Delerue)- Georges Delerue was a French composer who composed much music for cinema and television. Beautiful and a "autumn of my years" type song.
- The Time To Sing My Song – (Rod McKuen / Michel Fugain) – a collaboration with French singer and composer Michel Fugain. An upbeat song with an upbeat chorus right out of American TV variety …though the correct time to sing "my song" is now because "I'm young and free".
- Cowboys And Indians – (Dick Halligan / Terry Kirkman)- a cover of the Blood Sweat & Tears song from 1971. Quite weird but the lyric must have appealed to Rod who worked as an actor in his youth and played cowboys.
- We May Never Touch The Sun – (Rod McKuen/Serge Lama/Yves Gilbert)- a collaboration with French singers Serge Lama and Yves Gilbert. A love song which could have come from any number of French films from the 70s.
- We Will – (Gilbert O'Sullivan)- Arranged by Rod. A cover of the 1971 hit (#16 England) by Gilbert O'Sullivan. A lyric similar to what Rod had been doing all along.
- Waltz From Concerto #3– with Leslie Pearson on piano. A musical interlude and a good one.
- Heaven Here On Earth – Another upbeat song with a Broadway feel about (I think) religious hypocrisy. He seems to be saying that the only way to heaven is to work and suffer for a heaven on earth but not that heaven on earth is heaven, I think.
- The Far Side Of The Hill – (Rod McKuen/Christian Chevallier/Frank Thomas)- McKuen admired French composers Christian Chevallier and Frank Thomas. Here he covers their song originally done by French group Les Troubadours in 1970. This is fluff, 70s MOR fluff of the "there is a brand new world waiting for us, where people are free". But, it is catchy.
One of Rod's best 70s albums (that I've heard) …. I'm keeping it.
Nothing no where
And To Each Season
Solitude's My Home
The Far Side Of The Hill
an interesting interview with McKuen
- Rod also produced this album.
- Not really trivia but an observation: This would be perfect music if you are stuck in a house, in winter, in upstate New York.