Lee Hazlewood, 1929-2007
One of the world's greatest songwriters passed away Aug. 4 after losing a battle with renal cancer. Lee Hazlewood was 78.
Possessing a deadpan baritone voice and a laconic wit, Hazlewood is best known for his kitsch-pop and country-esque collaborations with Nancy Sinatra, including "These Boots Are Made For Walking," "Sundown, Sundown," "Jackson," "Sand," and the gothadelic "Some Velvet Morning," one of the most hauntingly beautiful songs ever. Although it was covered often, the original was never surpassed.
But Hazlewood also cut several solo albums that have become cult classics, changing hands among collectors for large sums. My favorite is Hazlewoodism: Its Cause And Cure (1967). Since that one's very hard to track down, you might want to search for the intelligently curated compilation CD Polydor issued in 2001 titled Lee Hazlewood: Twenty Classic Recordings (it's part of the label's Lounge Legends series). "The Girls In Paris," "After Six," and "In Our Time" especially resonate with their sly lyrics and sprightly, timeless melodies.
One senses that Hazlewood was a calculating pop craftsman, yet also a true poet and natural-born storyteller—a rare combination, for sure. You can practically hear him winking during many of his best tunes, and he would sometimes comment on songs while they were in progress (e.g., “This is the part the producer says we should cut if we want it to get on the radio.”). He seemed to view making the charts with skepticism and a healthy sense of humor; he knew he had a gift, but he didn't appear to take himself too seriously and was genuinely bemused when he discovered late in his life that he had a rabid cult following among many hip musicians. And though he penned numerous hits (and produced some for guitarist Duane Eddy and others), he never came off as a hack. His clever, instantly accessible songs have a durability that belies their supposed ephemeral status as radio fodder. Hazlewood was also a deft arranger and he stands as one of the finest practitioners of orchestral pop.
You can join music geeks in mourning on the I Love Music discussion board and read one of the last interviews Hazlewood granted in this Sydney Morning Herald piece. And Nancy Sinatra pays her respects here.
This video of Lee and Donnie Owens performing “After Six” provides a glimpse into Hazlewood's winning charm and songwriting skill.