Posts Tagged ‘Richard Harris

09
May
20

Richard Harris “A Tramp Shining”

Even though “MacArthur Park” is Richard Harris’ most well-known song, I’ve heard this album less than his other ones, for some reason. I guess this was his first solo album. I’m not sure how he and Jimmy Webb got together—I’m sure Jimmy Webb’s version is in his memoir, which I’d like to read sometime. It’s no surprise that all of these songs are really catchy, quite romantic, and a little corny. I mean corny in the best way—or at least in the way I like. I know this kind of somewhat overblown, baroque, romantic, pop song is a bit much for some people, but you’ve just got to let it wash over you. If you allow it to, this music can really fill some missing part of whatever might be missing, for you. I don’t know who I’m talking to, here—any fans of this stuff know what I’m talking about—though I’m guessing almost everyone I know resists it. There are little “interludes” between a lot of the songs, which is a nice touch. Pretty much all of the songs, maybe all, have some heavy-duty string arrangements, and there are also some first rate LA studio musicians playing. I’m a huge fan of Jimmy Webb’s songwriting—so that’s primarily where it’s at, for me. And then, it’s Richard Harris’ singing—his super-dramatic style, that pretty much takes it over the top, and then some.

Like the rest of the Richard Harris records, I’m going to include this as a regular listening one—and I’m sure in time I’ll develop some favorites among some of these songs, though they’re all good. Right now, I’ll say, “If You Must Leave My Life” is right up there. “MacArthur Park,” though, really is a masterpiece. There are two types of people in the world, those who think it’s a masterpiece, and those who can’t stand that song (and while I respect your opinion, I wildly disagree). If you haven’t heard it in awhile, your memory of it might be that it’s like 20 minutes long, but at just over seven minutes, it’s incredibly economical, in that there are four distinct parts to. It really is kind of amazing. I guess one thing that does bother people is that they have no idea what the crucial part of the lyric means: “Someone left the cake out in the rain.” The confusion here always baffled me. Are you familiar with the the phrase, “I love you?” Now there a is real mystery, but you don’t hear people whining, “what’s that mean.” “Someone left the cake out in the rain” means: “Someone left the cake out in the rain.” Well, plus more. Like with “I love you”— how there’s something behind that, which means much, much more—the same is true with the lyrics of this song. What’s with people needing to have everything spelled out of them, anyway? It’s not something you reinterpret with clunky explanations—it’s something you feel.

09
Feb
20

Frank Sinatra “Watertown”

In an attempt to keep these reviews shorter, I’m going allow myself the option to write about a record and then return to it if I feel like I have something to say—and this is one where I’m sure that will be the case. I am currently obsessed with this record, which Frank Sinatra put out in 1970, quite possibly to a bit of head scratching. I think it’s one of those records that has been “rediscovered”—though that’s probably kind of annoying to people who were big fans of it all along. I would always group it with the later, sometimes weird and goofy Sinatra albums (like the one where he sings about Uranus), but I was wrong about how much I’d grow to love it. In fact, as of this Saturday, I have roughly 400 vinyl records (I had many more at one time but lost almost all of them) and this, right now, is my number one favorite, which also means it’s my favorite Sinatra record—and I have a lot of favorites.

The album cover looks like the menu of a vegetarian restaurant in 1979—though, I actually love the cover, and will buy an extra copy to hang one on my wall—but it sure isn’t a glossy photo of Frank in a hat with a cocktail. The lyrics are inside, and the lyrics are crucial. This is a concept record, produced by Bob Gaudio and written by him and Jake Holmes. It’s not so unusual for Sinatra, a concept record of sad love songs—except this is not standards, but late Sixties pop. It’s somewhat similar to what was previously my favorite record, Richard Harris and Jimmy Webb’s The Yard Went On Forever, in both themes and style, and seeing as that came out two years earlier, I wonder if it was an influence for this one? I also wonder (and I’m sure I can find this out someday) if Sinatra and Richard Harris were friends or rivals? Anyway, Bob Gaudio was one of the Four Seasons, which almost sounds like a Spinal Tap-ian joke when you say it that way, but look at his songwriting credits. He’s no less legendary than anyone who’s written a pop song, yet his name was not familiar to me until very recently. It seems weird to say that people like him and Jimmy Webb are underrated, but that’s our culture for you—and the Dylan and Beatles world we live in. If anyone ever wants you to explain that fuckin’ black rectangle in 2001: A Space Odyssey, tell them to think of the Beatles—not so much what they were, but how our culture creates these things that suck up all the light, rendering us blind to everything else, and create so much noise it also deafens us. Then those are those things, and there are very few of them at that—and everyone else is washing dishes at Applebee’s, if they’re lucky.

Since I’m a song person, I can love a record for one good song, or hate it because it only has one good song. A collection of great songs, especially in order, and creating a story—that doesn’t come along very often, but here it is. I’m going to have to write about this again just so I can go through song by song and really appreciate each one. I’d say half of them should have been major hits, as standalone songs—and would have been if our world wasn’t bullshit. The other thing I want to do later is read more about this record—I think there might be websites and newsgroups about it—has anyone done one of those 331/3 books yet? This would be perfect for one of those. Maybe I’ll finally do a proposal. But it would be daunting, too, because there’s got to be some people out there for whom this record is it. Maybe I’ll meet one of those cats sometime, maybe online, or we can write a good old-fashioned letter. Or maybe I can start a Watertown meeting in my town. Oh, one thing I do want to mention right now—after I bought this record and was immediately impressed by it, for about the first hundred listenings I felt that it kind of pooped out at the end—didn’t finish as strong as I’d have wished it to. That was before I paid close attention to the lyrics (as much of a lyric fanatic as I am, sometimes when the music is strong enough, I just kind of ignore the lyrics for the longest time). You’ve got to pay attention to the lyrics on this record, and especially on that last song. It’s just devastating.

28
Feb
19

Richard Harris “Slides”

This record is thrift store gold, not because it’s a rare find and worth anything, or even that it’s a great record, but because you will see it in thrift stores—usually recycling back through several times because people will buy it on a whim because of its whimsical cover (designed to look like a photographic slide, but record album size, with a clear plastic window revealing a very corny photo of Harris in a matching denim jacket and hat). Then they find they can’t deal with Harris-world, and send it back into the system. But if you do see a copy—and if you haunt the thrift store record bins long enough, you will—you should really buy it and give it a chance, because maybe, like me, the Harris-switch will flip in your brain and you’ll understand him as the genius that he is. I normally will never use the word genius—even for an undeniable one like Thelonious Monk—though sometimes I’ll use the word in a somewhat ironic way, like the genius who drives his car through something destructive but non-life-threatening. But then there is a certain type of genius where the word must be used hyperbolically to make your point, because pretty much no one agrees with you (though in the case of Ricard Harris, I bet there is a legion of people who do agree with me, but they’re people kind of like me—old guys, smoking pipes, who generally complain a lot, but love a few things passionately about which they spout their feeling via blogs to a totally indifferent and uncaring world wide nothingness).

This may be the first Richard Harris record I bought—though I’m not sure. I can’t really remember if I realized I was in love with “MacArthur Park” and then sought out Richard Harris records, or if it was the other way around. I think maybe I had this record for awhile before I figured out that I loved Ricard Harris records—I think for a long-ass time I didn’t really play it—and just was aware of the pretty ridiculous song, “Gin Buddy.” I mean, that is a great song, but it’s pretty silly, too. “He ain’t drunk, he’s just foggy, so one more gin toddy, and then I’ll take my old gin buddy home.” A lot of Richard Harris’ earlier stuff is written by and in collaboration with Jimmy Webb, one of the best songwriters of all time, and certainly the greatest weird one. There’s no J. Webb on this record, but who there is a lot of is Tony Romeo—in fact you could pretty much call it a Tony Romeo album with Ricard Harris singing—he wrote or co-wrote all but one of the songs, produced it and played on it. A great and prolific songwriter, he’s best known for the Partridge Family hit “I Think I Love You” (a song I think about every year on this (almost) date, the birthday of the first girl I ever had a crush on (never got over it) and for that, T. Romeo will always hold a place in my heart).

If you are one of the impatient youth, and don’t take the time to fully digest an album like you need to do with this one, you might just drop the needle on the title track, “Slides” which has a kind of really nice intro, just Harris singing to harpsichord. Then he goes onto narrate an actual slide show (we get slide projector sound effects, and some visual accompaniment and lyrics on the back cover). I like it, but I can see how it might kind of freak out the casual listener. But then the last song, “There Are Too Many Saviours On My Cross” (the only one written by Harris) is essentially spoken word (aka poetry) with orchestral accompaniment that sounds like the soundtrack for a very grim period war tragedy. It’s well-done, over the top, but probably not everyone’s cup of tea. It would be a crime to judge the album by these last two songs, though, because there are some really beautiful pop songs earlier, and if you don’t believe me, play them one at a time. “Roy” sounds like it’s going to be a Partridge Family song, and it builds to an emotional climax, a great pop number. “How I Spent My Summer” is also good, and sounds eerily like a Jimmy Webb song. “I’m Comin’ Home” is almost ridiculously catchy, one of those songs that you find yourself singing along with the chorus the first time you hear it. “Once Upon a Dusty Road” is another one that starts out quietly and then builds dramatically, then subsides, then explodes again, which Richard Harris can really pull off. The song that really snuck up on me on this record, because it’s just kind of hidden in the middle of the first side, is “Sunny-Jo”—it’s a very emotional love song (and no, I never even have been in love with someone named Sunny-Jo) that just kills me. It’s my favorite song late in the evening on the last day of February. I like it so much I’m going to put it on again, and I don’t joke about things like that.

25
May
18

Richard Harris “The Yard Went On Forever”

First of all I’ve got about five Richard Harris albums, which is four or five more than normal people. It’s hard for me to explain his appeal to me—I guess it starts with him not being afraid to be way over the top, even ridiculous, and without irony, or if there is irony, a very convoluted version of it. Part of it is Jimmy Webb—it’s probably more accurate to call this a Harris/Webb collaboration than a Richard Harris album—but R.H. does almost equally as well with Tony Romeo (but that’s another record). This one is Jimmy Webb, sounding like he’s trying to recreate the MacArthur Park glory on the very first song here, “The Yard Went On Forever”—of course it does’t come close—but perhaps what it is is an allusion to it—indicating that this record is a continuation of MacArthur Park—for all those people (like me) who, as epic as M.P. was, wanted more. I believe this was R.H.’s second album, the first being from earlier the same year (1968, a half century ago!)—A Tramp Shining. There are those who found MacArthur Park the “pinnacle of human achievement” (that was me), as well as a fair continent who, if time travel was invented, would get around to eradicating that song only after assassinating Hitler.

For some reason I’ve listened to this Richard Harris album less than the other ones I own, so I’m happy my random system chose it on this evening. I’ve probably been mildly scared off by it because it’s so confusing, pretty much on every level. After I write this, I’ll be curious to see if anyone on the internet has tackled it. Just the cover makes no sense at all; I won’t even try to explain it. Find a thrift store and see for yourself. In the gnarly profile photo on back, R.H. looks like he’s been rolling in the dirt with several layers of historically accurate movie rolls (remember, he’s even more well-known as an actor). If that’s not enough, the cover opens to reveal a giant-size portrait of R.H., full cop-look, and the photo is so huge I got out my tape measure to measure his ear—over eight inches! I wonder how many people got high, over the years, and focused in on that photo? The ear is one part of the human body that you really don’t want to isolate and think about too much.

No printed lyrics, but maybe that’s just as well, as it lets me off the hook a little, interpretation-wise. You can understand them anyway—this guy enunciates like someone with theatre training. The songs are apparently all by Jimmy Webb, who is also the producer; he’s a great songwriter, as you know, and even his non-hits sound like they’re probably hits somewhere, or should have been. This record has full arrangements, backup singers, strings, horns, and a lot of atmosphere. Only four songs per side—I love how they used to do that—there’s enough space between the grooves and the label that you could grow crops there. I can usually listen to a record once through and pretty much get it, but this is going to be a two day project—and I’m going to go song by song. This mammoth achievement deserves that, and it’s fun to do that once in awhile. Plus, I’ve always loved, as an expression, “the yard went on forever”—without knowing what it means. I borrow it, as a non-sequitur, from time to time.

The title song is first (I like when they do that) and it starts with an angelic choir sounding kind of ominous (“Has everybody got a place to hide?”) and then R.H. sings “Can you hear them singing, the women of Pompeii, with Kansas City housewives…” If that doesn’t baffle you, the song fades to silence, two minutes in, and then starts up again with him singing about “The volcanoes and tornados on doomsday.” Then the angels again, but now R.H. is standing with the Nagasaki housewives. Then the angelic choir singing something I can’t understand—is it Esperanto, or Latin? This is not a song, it’s an art film! “Watermark” then is equally hyper-dramatic, with full strings, and I have no idea what this is about either, but this line jumps out: “I keep looking through old varnish at my late lover’s body.” This is heavy stuff. Then “Interim” which sounds like a convoluted lover’s lament (addressed to “you”) with lines like: “We were wound about so tightly that we couldn’t touch each other with a straw,” and “I have several lives to live/and each one of them continues without asking/it’s all that I can do to count my skeletons/and take my paid vacations.” Insane. Finally, “Gayla” which I believe is a woman’s name (not “Gay L.A.”)—the song starts out quiet and sentimental, and then turns on a dime and goes into another show-stopper chorus (for the fourth song in a row), then back to being quiet—then again to an even bigger finale, singing “God damn you, God damn you, and your dirty joke.” Somewhat bitter and sad? And then a reprise of the angelic choir: “Is everybody safe”—all this in three minutes.

If all that wasn’t enough drama for one LP, the second side starts off with a monster nine minute epic called “The Hymns from Grand Terrace.” It’s another movie, a love story, lush and emotional, that begins with, “He married her…” and he’s not speaking in the second person, if you know what I’m saying. That’s interrupted by a jaunty western traveling sojourn, then some truly happy imagery of happier times: “Cars would pass, we were out of gas, and didn’t care.” Then a total fade-out followed by a kind of song-length bridge with a really cool guitar part that could have been the foundation of a hit song if it wasn’t in service of this monumental epic. Then back to the drama, of course: “If I could face the fate that waits to cast me into shambles/and sit across the velvet boards from God, then I would gamble.” And when the song ends you’re not sure it’s over, because the next one, “The Hive,” starts right in like it’s part of the previous song. I’m listening closely, trying to figure out what this “hive” is—it’s not real happy. “And now they’ll all get roaring drunk/pretending they’re essentially alive,” and “God blessed our happy cubicle/keep it safe and sanitized/homogenized and pasteurized/there’s no place like numb.” There’s an orchestral segue into “Lucky Me”—a sad song masterpiece: “Lucky me, there’s no more we,”—that post-breakup justification that it’s better now—“No more I love you’s I could not return”—not fooling anyone, of course. Maybe one of the purest expressions of misery known to man, how much happier he is now, without her. And we end with “That’s the Way it Was”—a totally corny lament about a past time, a far off town, an idealized childhood, with each image punctuated by “And the honey bees would buzz”—which—after just a song ago, sinking into the horror of the hive—is hardly convincingly happy. And it ends with an overlapping of the angels, now singing part of the chorus from the first song, while R.H. barely holds back the tears with, “There once was a town… where a man could fall in love,” and finally, “And the yard went on forever.” At which time it’s supposed to all make sense. And it does!




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