Agony Shorthand

Friday, February 07, 2003
WHAT WAS IT ABOUT LEE HAZLEWOOD?....Good question. The man had what could be at best described as an "interesting" voice (totally inept in terms of range, but like Bryan Ferry's, still a voice that can only be copied, not equaled). There's the soaring strings, the cowboy cliches, and the song arrangements right out of the 1960s Bacharach/Goffin/King songbook. Hazlewood sings stuff so cornball you wouldn't even want to repeat it in mixed company, and yet you laught it off as you would if it were coming from your batty old Grandpa. I am a newfound believer in Mr. Hazlewood -- now that his out of print 1960s/early 70s LPs are trickling out on CD from a variety of labels, I'm finding out just what it was that made him so special. The best two that I've found came out on a German (I think) label called LHI Records -- Love and Other Crimes and Poet, Fool or Bum. (They say (c) 1997, but I have never until this year seem them in the racks, and I've been lookin'). (Update: the Lee Hazlewood web site says they're -- gasp -- bootlegs!). Where do you file these, if you're a record store employee? These were found in Oldies -- fair enough -- but other times I've looked for and found his stuff in Folk, Country, and in Rock. I suppose a case could be made for Blues and for Comedy as well.

What's to like? Well, there's certainly the bizarre undercurrent of sex that pervades Lee Hazlewood's work, even if it's of the non-explicit 1960s variety. It's not just having collaborated with known hotties Nancy Sinatra, Ann-Margaret, Suzi Jane Hokum and the Swedish woman on Cowboy in Sweden (don't know what she looks like, but come on, she's Swedish). It's the trading in double entendres and the out-and-out leer in his voice that turns this somewhat homely pepperpot into a full-on stud when he's in the studio with these women. You get the feeling that he consumated a relationship with each and every one of them, and entirely on his terms. But on Love and Other Crimes and Poet, Fool or Bum , Hazlewood is mostly flying solo. His affable bumpkin persona is never more apparent than on these CDs -- marveling at the world around him, totally self-deprecating ("The Fool", "Poet", many more), lamentations in simple terms of the realtionships he's helped destroy, and always, always staying optimistic and ready to move on ("Forget Marie"). As on so many of his songs, his tongue appears to be firmly planted in cheek, but it's never hilarious, just eminently amusing, track after track. Sometimes the jokes just clunk -- like on his reading -- reading is definitely what it is -- of "Whole Lot of Shakin' Going On". But that's the exception. With 27 tracks and 25 tracks respectively, these CDs contain maybe 5 throwaways between them. There are others that have just come out, too, including this thing on Ace called These Boots Are Made For Walking -- The Complete MGM Recordings that my local record store is selling for something like $25. Anyone have an opinion on this one?