When I purchased the above disc the other day the clerk behind the counter said: “funny, naked chicks with mustaches usually don’t do it for me, but naked chicks with LEE HAZLEWOOD moustaches….”
That statement, in a way, encapsulates everything about the great (now late) Lee Hazlewood. Producer, writer, singer, he probably is most remembered for “These Boots are Made for Walkin'”, which probably kept him paid most of his life. That’s just the tip of the iceberg though. His production style (often described as cowboy psychedelia) could be both lush and ludicrous, and then there is that voice. Baritone doesn’t really do justice to the tone of Hazlewood’s voice. It sounds genuine, pained and full of all the knowledge that living as Lee must have brought. It’s the perfect foil to whomever his female duet partner may be that day. Whether it was Nancy Sinatra (“Some Velvet Morning“), Ann Margret (“Sleep in the Grass“) or Nina Lizell (“Hey Cowboy“) the formula was always the same. That’s not a slight, it was a great formula, and yielded many sonic delights.
Delight describes Lee Hazlewood – The LHI Years: Singles, Nudes, & Backsides (1968-71) perfectly. Lee’s output is scattered to say the least.* I actually have a few of the albums that these cuts are culled from, and the idea of a comp of cherry-picked nuggets is one of the best ways to appreciate (or be introduced**) to his output. “Sleep in the Grass” is either the most banal weed reference I’ve heard, or a disguised peon to nice weather. “Leather and Lace” is the aural equivalent of softcore porn. With this collection, Light in the Attic has done their usual excellent job of re-evaluation through judicious selection (not to mention copious liner notes).
The sound Hazlewood created can appear to be *easy listening* at times. But don’t be put off, that’s just the wafting odours of the late 60’s that bled into anything at that time. Perhaps it was easy to dismiss this kind of music as kitschy, but it’s really so much deeper than that. In the hands of anyone else, this type of music would be soft, meandering, nothingness……Hazlewood’s gift was the fact he was making HE would want to hear, without thought to chart position (or financial gain). I find it interesting that the AllMusic review of this compilation compares Hazlewood to Phil Spector. It’s certainly a worthwhile comparison and it also shows how far Lee-preciation has come.
So if you like moustaches and nudity check this out. Seriously though, it’s great to see a real American original (even if he did move to Sweden at the height of his powers) given the due he rightly deserves.
And did I mention it contains one of my top 10 songs EVER: “No Train to Stockholm“
* Who originally bought these records ?! Some of Lee’s catalog was re-issued for a VERY short time on Steve Shelley’s label in the early 2000’s (and goes for ridiculous money).
** The LHI years cover pretty much the “middle to second half” of Lee’s career. For the early highlights definitely check out Nancy & Lee, and also Califia (which showcases his production prowess with the likes of Duane Eddy, Dusty Springfield, etc.)