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Tom Jones - Love's Been Good To Me

In the case of Rod McKuen, "prolific" might well have been an understatement. Before he turned 35, McKuen had already lived many lives - from farm hand, lumberjack, rodeo cowboy, disk jockey, and U.S. Army veteran to singer, songwriter, actor, and the most commercially successful poet of his time - or any other. Despite an enviable career that saw him receive two Academy Award nominations and Frank Sinatra dedicate an entire album to him, the songs of Rod McKuen frequently haven't received their due, and even after his death, he remains an oft-misunderstood and critically-derided figure.

Tom Jones - Love's been good to me

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There has been a mini-McKuen renaissance on CD as of late, with the releases of Reflections: The Greatest Songs of Rod McKuen (full disclosure: I wrote the liner notes for that collection) and his soundtrack to A Boy Named Charlie Brown from Varese Sarabande, and The Sea/The Earth/The Sky (his collaboration with Anita Kerr) from Cherry Red's El Records. Now, Ace Records has curated a splendid overview of McKuen's rich legacy of song with the latest entry in its Songwriter Series. Love's Been Good to Me: The Songs of Rod McKuen brings together 25 tracks from a "Who's Who" of international song including two Sinatras, a host of country, folk and soul superstars, and of course, Rodney Marvin McKuen himself. In doing so, it places a singular oeuvre in perspective.

The title song of this collection, a world-weary look back has been famously surveyed by artists including Frank Sinatra and the late-in-life Johnny Cash. Here it's Welshman Tom Jones who, in his 1970 rendition, touchingly brings to life McKuen's wistful reflection of a lifelong "rover." Jones has long been able to blur genre lines between pop, country, blues and beyond, but it's no surprise that many pure country artists such as Cash and Waylon Jennings have been drawn to the McKuen catalogue. Here, Jennings is heard with his 1966 recording of "Doesn't Anybody Know My Name," like so many of McKuen's songs a backward glance at old flames and family, but with some surprising lyrical twists as to the narrator's identity. Though academics struggled to comprehend McKuen's appeal to the masses, many underestimated the power of the universal sentiments he eloquently and simply put into words: themes of love, loss, and longing; of man's connection to nature and animals; of feelings of loneliness and solitude. When writing songs, the musical polymath set his lyrics to compelling, accessible melodies. Glen Campbell's emotionally direct voice proved a perfect match for the songwriter on 1967's gentle "The World I Used to Know," as did the perennially relaxed Perry Como on 1971's beautiful "I Think of You" (co-written by McKuen and film composer Francis Lai).

Belgian composer-lyricist Jacques Brel was known for his unflinching musical honesty. McKuen befriended Brel, a fellow outsider, while living in France, and discovered a kindred spirit in the songwriter, whose hauntingly dramatic chansons frankly addressed such then-taboo topics as death, sex and abuse. Most interestingly, Brel's works were marked - in stark contrast to McKuen's - by a lack of sentimentality. Yet in his adaptations of Brel, McKuen artfully tapped into the core truths expressed by his friend even as he brought a less bleak, more humanistic worldview. Among the songs he transformed were 1961's "Le Moribond" into "Seasons in the Sun" and 1959's "Ne me quitte pas" into "If You Go Away." The former is presented on Ace's anthology in Terry Jacks' chart-topping 1973 rendition, still one of the biggest-selling singles of all time. The latter charted in 1966 for Damita Jo and in 1974 for Jacks, and has been recorded by everyone from Barbra Streisand to Scott Walker, but the honors here go to the one and only Dusty Springfield. Brel is further represented on Love's Been Good to Me by his adaptation of McKuen's "The Lovers" into "Les Amants de Coeur."

This Principle therefore prevented him from any Thought of making his Fortune by such Means (for this, as I have said, is an active Principle, and doth not content itself with Knowledge or Belief only.) Had he been greatly enamoured of Sophia, he possibly might have thought otherwise; but give me Leave toPage 159say, there is great Difference between running away with a Man's Daughter from the Motive of Love, and doing the same Thing from the Motive of Theft.

HER Mother first perceived the Alteration in the Shape of Molly, and in order to hide it from her Neighbours, she foolishly clothed her in that Sack which Sophia had sent her. Though indeed that young Lady had little Apprehension, that the poor Woman would have been weak enough to let any of her Daughters wear it in that Form.

Poor Seagrim was thunderstruck at this; for he was no Stranger to the Fault in the Shape of his Daughter. He answered, in a stammering Voice, 'That he was afraid Molly would be too aukward to wait on her Ladyship, as she had never been at Service.' 'No matter for that,' says Sophia, 'she will soon improve. I am pleased with the Girl, and am resolved to try her.'

BURT BACHARACH: Jerry Orbach - he was wonderful in the show. I mean, but I remember with Jerry Orbach coming into New York when I came into New York, and we'd come to see the show maybe after he'd been playing three months, and I'd go backstage and see the cast, and Jerry Orbach would say to me, man, if I have to sing this song again one more - you know, because it's - granted, it is a very note-y (ph) - in other words, it's not an easy song to sing. My motivation was the urgency that makes it work dramatically, or you think it's going to work dramatically by the anger that comes through in that many notes and that many words. But Jerry, after three months of saying, why'd you have to make it so difficult, night after night? He's up there doing "Promises, Promises."

BACHARACH: Well, Hal had been doing it longer than me and kind of successfully. He had hits. And, you know, it was an interesting time in the Brill Building, the famous Brill Building. There were seven floors of music publishers...

BACHARACH: I think we get involved with a motion picture that probably never should have been made. Making a motion picture, a movie musical with new songs, it's not like you can go to Boston and try it out. The film is shot. And the idea that you can replace a song and reshoot the scene and the sequence - the picture was called "Lost Horizon." And it presented its own set of problems. And I must say that I wrote the score, the background score, as well as writing the songs with Hal. Songs sounded good. I mean, they still sound good to me.

GROSS: So I thought we could close with another song. And this is a song that you wrote - that you didn't write for "Promises, Promises," but it's been interpolated into the new production. And the song is "I Say A Little Prayer." And I thought we'd use Aretha Franklin's 1968 recording of it.

In 1998, 12 years earlier than my interview with Bacharach and Hal David, I spoke with Bacharach and Elvis Costello, who had begun collaborating together. The two would have been unlikely collaborators in the '70s, when Bacharach was famous for his harmonically and rhythmically complex, highly orchestrated pop songs and newcomer Elvis Costello was performing unpolished, high-energy pub rock. This unlikely duo was formed when they were asked to co-write a song for the film "Grace Of My Heart." They continued to write songs together.

ELVIS COSTELLO: Well, I - obviously, you have different dispositions about harmony. And also, I mean, I've always been intrigued by Burt's use of uneven meter. And I can't say I've imitated it, but I found myself doing it. I think if you're not a particularly schooled musician, you might do it in a very natural way. And I think the reason that those odd bars now and again in Burt's compositions work so effectively is because they're never done with self-consciousness. They're done to enhance the naturalistic way in which people express themselves. I think it mirrors the way we speak or the way we think in uneven phrases. We don't think all exactly in 4/4. And therefore - you know, we confide, and then, we suddenly blurt something out. Well, I think that that's where the passion lies in his compositions.

BACHARACH: Oh, I don't think I would have ever been a good enough jazz pianist, bop pianist. You know, I was influenced by it. But the same reason I never became a serious classical composer starting with Darius Milhaud and Henry Carroll - it was a learning process. I liked the music, appreciated the music. I always felt that if I pursued it, you know, I'd be writing maybe on a commission from a symphony, that I'd hear the work two years later. I'd have to supplement my income by - or make money teaching at a university. It's a hard route, you know? I like a nice place to live in. And I wasn't going to get it that way. I like the comfort level a little too high. And the other thing is I just didn't want to do it enough.

BACHARACH: So there will never be - maybe that's the thing. But there'll never be a regret coming from me - you see? - where I'll say, oh, God. It - just been different, if I'd written that one great symphony. Well, that's off the list. That doesn't - that's just a fabrication in my mind, for me to ever say that.

BACHARACH: Say I had a figure that went (vocalizing), OK? And there was the trumpet that's going to play then. Now, rather than just notate it that way, I might write something - I'm very big with putting a hold on. I like that expression. It just kind of fits a lot of different figurations. So that could have just been, (singing) hold on, and I'll be there. Now, you see; in the hands of a good flugelhorn player, you get that. He'll understand that. He'll understand that better because he'll to understand it's not how long you hold a note because it's notated. A dotted eighth note - sure, that's how it will probably speak. But he understand if you sang it just where you release that note. 041b061a72


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