I think it was Charles Shaar Murray who once penned a pithy one word ‘review’ of Lee Hazlewood’s 1974 album Poet Fool Or Bum. I suppose the content of that review is hardly a mystery and it’s fair to say that at times Hazlewood cultivated that aspect of his character to his own advantage.
Take for instance ‘My Autumn’s Done Come’ an exquisitely supine moment from his fourth solo outing The Very Special World Of Lee Hazlewood. Not yet half way through his life, here was a man whose body appeared filled with lead, and whose mind, reeking of Chivas Regal and Marlboro, was wasting away endless days on a hammock. “Kiss all the pretty ones goodbye / Give everyone a penny that cry / You can throw all my tranquil’ pills away / Let my blood pressure go on its way / For my autumn’s done come.” Nothing to do, nothing to live for. It’s certainly an evocative piece. One can imagine him relinquishing those loaded heels onto the earth, the dustcloud wafting skywards the perfect companion to the glorious weightlessness of the melody. Bum.
A leathery baritone with neither the luxurious glaze of Sinatra nor the passion, poise or gravitas of Scott Walker – but a match for Cohen or Cash in its lugubrious familiarity – Hazlewood was busier than it might have seemed. Indeed, by 1966 he was undoubtedly a veteran of the music business. From his early collaborations with Duane Eddy in the mid-‘50s, he had composed dozens of songs – some for movies – and had made a penny or two writing hits for the likes of Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra. He had recorded three solo albums of unremarkable country music. Each had bombed. But it was his partnership with Sinatra’s daughter Nancy which brought him to international prominence, and his authorship of their runaway smash ‘These Boots Were Made For Walking’ which yielded more tantalising opportunities: first of all it sealed him a contract with MGM, but it also ultimately enabled him to establish his own label, Lee Hazlewood Industries. At LHI he oversaw the emergence of Gram Parsons’ fledgling International Submarine Band as well as producing dozens of records for up and coming younger artists, few of which were, by then, as successful as those under his name. After three LPs with MGM, his later ‘60s albums would appear on his own label, two of which, the soundtrack to the surreal dreamlike television special Cowboy In Sweden and the stark and mournful (or completely self-indulgent, depending upon one’s mood) Requiem For An Almost Lady would have been be equally worthy inclusions in TNPC.
The case for choosing Very Special World over the others seems straightforward enough. Many of the songs, such as the dizzily hysterical opener ‘For One Moment’ benefit from Billy Strange’s superb orchestral accompaniment, the big sound one might have expected to hear on contemporaneous records by Gene Pitney or The Righteous Brothers, and which here provides the perfect antithesis to Lee’s deadpan miserabilism. “Big expensive demos”‘ Hazlewood called them. He had something of a way with words. How about about that for an opening couplet?: “The hurt I hurt is nothing like the hurts I’ve hurt before/ The things I feel do not feel like things I’ve felt before.” Poet.
In stark contrast, while the heartbreak stories continue on ‘When A Fool Loves A Fool’, on this occasion the emotional rupture is paralleled by a comedically jaunty melody (as if Herb Alpert has knocked up some gag accompaniment for The Benny Hill Show) racing furiously in the opposite direction from the solemn sentiment.
Here as elsewhere on the album, Hazlewood is ably abetted by incredibly versatile playing from the Wrecking Crew (Knetchel, Kaye, Blaine et al), and there are marvellous moments aplenty. The ticklish Jobim-like bossa nova of ‘Not The Lovin’ Kind’ is barely whispered, and this time reveals a man in total control, effortlessly keeping the feminine interest at arms length. And if his own version of ‘Boots’ turns into a self-congratulatory smugfest, he makes amends with the wandering travelogue ‘I Move Around’ and the epic smouldering ‘Sand’, adopting the slightly camp persona of guitar-slinging outlaw – here the vocal accompaniment provided by the woman who would break his heart, the muse for many of his most forlorn moments, Suzi Jane Hokom. The song – like many on the album – would be made more famous by others: this one appeared as a 45 with Nancy Sinatra and featured on the ’68 Nancy & Lee album, the knowing innocence of Nancy’s delivery making Suzi’s contribution sound matronly but simultaneously majestic.
Strange’s string arrangements are drowning in opulence on the marvellous redemptive ballad ‘Your Sweet Love’, but instead of roses and love letters it’s broken hearts which are being bartered on ‘My Baby Cried All Night Long’, which resurrects the avenging karma of ‘Boots’, loaded once again with Lee’s boozy barfly humour: “And the moral of this story is that you shouldn’t be caught messin’ / Where you shouldn’t been messin’ or you’ll end up cryin’ all night long.” Fool.
Hazlewood succumbed to renal cancer in 2007. He leaves behind a superb body of work, which despite his unapologetic claim (“The only thing I listen to is my bank account”), has entertained and influenced generations of musicians, and a biography written by longtime confidante Wyndham Wallace, Lee, Myself & I, which Spiritualized’s Jason Pierce declares to be one of only two books he’s ever read from cover to cover. Look up maverick in the dictionary- and there’ll be a photo of Lee there. Lee Hazlewood – Poet, Fool or Bum? I’d simply suggest ‘Very Special’
The 1969 reissue, the sleeve of which us pictured above, contains a slightly different running order from the original issue, with ‘My Autumn’s Done Come’ closing the album out. Somehow I feel it suits being there a little better. (JJ)