Lee Hazlewood

Album Reviews:

1968: Nancy & Lee [with Nancy Sinatra]

1968: Something Special

Nancy & Lee

Rating: 9.8/10
Rated as
: Album
Album Status: Classic
Released: 1968
Specific Genre: Baroque Pop, Psychedelic Pop
Main Genre: Pop, Psychedelia
: Country Pop, Traditional Pop, Sunshine Pop
Label: Reprise

Side A: 1. You’ve Lost That Lovin‘ Feelin‘ 2. Elusive Dreams 3. Greenwich Village Folk Song Salesman 4. Summer Wine 5. Storybook Children
Side B: 6. Sundown, Sundown 7. Jackson 8. Some Velvet Morning 9. Sand 10. Lady Bird 11. I’ve Been Down So Long (It Looks Like Up to Me)

Some velvet morning when I’m straight

It’s bloated, lush, woozy and sentimental, it’s full of self-aggrandizing ideas about supposed romance, plushy melodic cushions supported by self-deprecation, and full of sweeping phantom choruses to make the gods weep. It parades as an almost embarrassing attempt to further exploit Sinatra’s commercial appeal – a sort of sell-out project, as if that was even a viable category in the very special world of Lee Hazlewood. There are also a couple of upbeat, dumb country pop throw-away songs. But dumb is not stupid: this album contains some of Hazlewood’s most astounding songs, and these tended to be one thing: They were weird. “Some Velvet Morning”, for instance, starts like a hazy, half-forgotten memory of a bittersweet (Frank) Sinatra-ballad, gains tempo for the intro, but then plunges into slow motion before gathering momentum from the jazzy velour debris to rise as a full-grown aching blur from the string section’s lowest registers.

Hazlewood and Sinatra knew a thing or two about pop mythology (check out the invisible horse alluded to on the album cover – they know you know it’s pretense), and their album sounds like nothing else in the context of baroque psychedelia. The late-night-drama of “Summer Wine”, the hopeless flirt of “Lady Bird” or the elysian hangover of “Some Velvet Morning” are enduring classics of pop, but they are also so odd. Hazlewood re-recorded these songs with Sinatra, and while I do love the earlier versions with Suzi Jane Hokom, the versions with Sinatra are the definite forms (ironically because Hokom knew what she was doing, while Sinatra clearly sees the whole thing as a game). Baroque, lushly orchestrated pop is not my cup of tea, but the glorious spectacle of someone testing the limits of what he could get away with on his invisible horse very much is. What can I say about Hazlewood, I’m an addict.

Something Special

Rating: 6.5/10
Rated as
: Album
Album Status: for Genre-Enthusiasts
Released: 1968
Specific Genre: Piano Blues, Country Pop
Main Genre: Blues, Pop
: Folk Pop, Vocal Jazz, Traditional Pop
Label: MGM

Side A: 1. Shades 2. This Town 3. Child 4. Stone Cold Blues 5. Little War
Side B: 6. Them Girls 7. Fort Worth 8. Hands 9. Mannford, Oklahoma 10. Summer Night

Why do they call the steak Sinatra – and the Hamburger Hazlewood?

Sure, Something Special – but à la Hazlewood. The album consists of formulaic jazzy piano blues numbers sounding as if written on a sozzled afternoon and recorded after a few bottles past caring. But the relaxed atmosphere actually covers up (and supports) some well-written ditties (the kitschy and gentle folk pop of „Little War“ and „Hands“) and some easy-going but poised blues songs („Stone Cold Blues“). Hazlewood’s persona as a sloshed barroom entertainer works perfectly with weird groovy ballads like „Fort Worth“ or „Summer Nights“. He famously regarded his own records of even the biggest hits as demo versions, and he must have seen this session as a private joke among friends – no orchestration, no big production, just stripped-down folk or jazz combo arrangements, and producer Billy Strange adding simply baffling scat-noises to every single song, scatting most of the solos over the piano lines. He honestly sounds sort of like a revved-up bullfrog assaulting the studio (“Go-go-gong-gong-GONGONGONG!”). I assume these were stand-in performances for a later guitar track or whatnot. But for Hazlewood to hear and record Strange’s scatting and then to decide to just go with it – it’s so, so Hazlewood. It’s a small wonder this was even thrown on the European market at all. I mean, this is 1968, the year of Nancy & Lee, coming from the songwriter of some of the most successful hits of that period.

While this here certainly is not Hazlewood’s shining moment as a songwriter, this a still fully written little songs. The pure glee of jaunty fluff-pop like „Them Girls“ („Them girls’ll be the death of me / but if I gotta go / I’ll go gladly – for them girls“) has me in stitches, and the piano pop blues of “Summer Night” is among my favourite numbers in his entire catalogue. Lee conjures up the sweaty feeling of having to go out to flirt while he just wishes he „already had it done / on these summer nights“, a twisted take on the Lovin’ Spoonful’s „Summer in the City“. The straightest barroom blues comes with “Stone Cold Blues” and features an essential quote: „If Martoni is such a good place / to eat and drink and be good / – Why do they call the steak Sinatra / and the hamburger Hazlewood?“ That’s the blues, ladies and gentlemen.

Something Special is not essential, but very much worth seeking out for the Hazlewood-addict. And it is one of the three albums on the elementary double-disc The Complete MGM Recordings, which is the best buy for two of his epochal records, so you’ll end up owning this one either way.

Trivia: There is confusion about the exact first release of this album. The liner notes of The Complete MGM Recordings state it was produced, but then shelved by MGM and released in Germany only in 1986 – the believe that the album ‘wasn’t heard for nearly two decades’ is often repeated, but might just be an American perspective. The liner notes of the Light in the Attic-reissue mark it as released in 1968, but also originally only in Germany. I looked into it and found a Dutch 1968-issue of the magazine Hitweek online that notes the album as published on page 10.