November 29, 2008
Record Review: The Very Special World of Lee Hazlewood
The Very Special World of Lee Hazlewood
1966 | Water
I’ve been listening to an awful lot of Lee Hazlewood these past few months, specifically The Very Special World of Lee Hazlewood, after having gone my whole life having “never heard of him.” The words “never heard of him” belong in quotes because, at this point, your awareness of pop culture would have to equal that of, say a 90 year old Ukrainian peasant to be actually unaware of Hazlewood’s influence on music. The man is most easily recognized as the songwriter behind Nancy Sinatra’s 1966 smash “These Boots Are Made For Walkin,’” but also had several instrumental rock hits with Duane Eddy in the late 50’s, most notably the “Peter Gunn” theme.
So there: you have heard of Lee Hazlewood. And I had, too, but the average listener was only ever aware of Hazlewood through his association with “bigger” stars. Therein lies the problem with and charm of Hazlewood’s solo recordings. Here was the writer of a catalog of songs that arguably par that of contemporary Burt Bacharach, for whom in the studio money and resources were no object; but who’s solo material went largely unnoticed.
Maybe it’s the voice: Very Special World opens with “For One Moment,” a crawling lament about a lost lover. Hazlewood’s deep baritone is drenched in reverb, symphony orchestra and what sounds like a choir of angels in the background. Later, on the old age lament “My Autumn’s Done Come” Hazlewood sounds like an alternate universe Johnny Cash, one who was sucked in by the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, but who sings with conviction nonetheless. Hazlewood’s voice sticks out like a sore thumb on Very Special World’s more rollickin’ numbers, specifically the John Barry-esque “When a Fool Loves a Fool,” and the man’s own take on “These Boots are Made For Walkin.’” The latter, obviously recorded after it was a surprise megahit, is stuffed with asides from Hazlewood about how big a hit it was (“And this is the part of the record where everybody said, ‘Why, no. That can’t be number one!”). Hazlewood’s undiminished Oklahoma drawl is a sore thumb, but it’s an endearing thumb. The listener finds himself hanging on every phrase, wading through that weird delivery, to hear where each miniature story goes next.
There’s something incredibly “movie-score” about Lee Hazlewood’s solo albums, and Very Special World is no exception. Hazlewood had the talents of the best musicians the LA sound machine had to offer at his disposal. Much the same as Jonathan Richman (though on a much grander scale), I feel like listening to a Lee Hazlewood record drums up nostalgia for a 1960s that never actually existed outside of the records themselves. It’s not country, it’s not folk, it’s not jazz. It’s certainly not goddamn easy listening. It’s The Very Special World of Lee Hazlewood. Consider yourself lucky if you stumble upon it.
by Brook Pridemore