Rod McKuen: Greatest Hits of Rod McKuen

Expanded edition of McKuen’s popular 1969 hits album

San Francisco poet and singer Rod McKuen was as popular with the people as he was reviled by critics. The latter labeled his works schmaltzy and facile, while the former bought his books and records, and attended his readings and concerts in tremendous numbers. The gap between his lack of critical accolades and his surfeit of popular acclaim likely hinges on the resonance his plainspoken words of isolation and spirituality struck with an audience who might otherwise not read poetry. The raspy earnestness of his vocal performances was often parodied, but the loneliness that threaded through his songs struck a deep emotional chord with listeners, and his uplifting messages provided hope.

Despite the sales of his records, McKuen’s chart success as a musical artist was limited; more successful were his songs, which were recorded by Oliver (“Jean”), Terry Jacks (“Seasons in the Sun,” an English translation of Jacques Brel’s “Le Moribond”), Damita Jo (“If You Go Away,” a translation of Brel’s “Ne Me Quitte Pas”), Perry Como (“I Think of You,” co-written with Frances Lai), Frank Sinatra (“Love’s Been Good for Me”), Perry Como (“I Think of You”), the Kingston Trio (“Ally Ally, Oxen Free”), Waylon Jennings (“Doesn’t Anybody Know My Name”), and many more. Other writings – notably “Listen to the Warm” and “A Cat Named Sloopy” – remain fan favorites in both their original poetic form, and when subsequently set to song. The former is included here as a bonus track, the latter, unfortunately not.

This 1969 collection was unusual for its time, as rather than anthologizing existing recordings, McKuen re-recorded a hand-picked collection of his most popular songs with new arrangements by Arthur Greenslade. The album was among the most popular of his catalog, selling gold, but eventually falling out of print. A 1996 CD release by Laserlight also fell out of print, after which an anthology by Varese Sarabande filled the gap. But Real Gone has now reissued the 1969 album with original cover art and six added tracks, including McKuen’s bittersweet theme song for the movie The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, the late-night jazz love song “Rock Gently,” and a duet with Petula Clark on the oft-covered “The Importance of the Rose.” As when originally released in 1969, this collection is an excellent introduction to McKuen’s popular charms as a poet and singer. [©2020 Hyperbolium]

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