“Some of us stay and some of us go, sooner or later, we all make the little flowers grow.” – Lee Hazlewood (1929-2007)
The moustachioed master of song, Lee Hazlewood, was a sort of wandering psychedelic cowboy who brought the timelessness of old sensibilities to the unfurling swirl of counterculture. He wasn’t stationed all that far outside of normville, but nevertheless, he went his way and everyone else went theirs. As he said when discussing why he initially became a record producer: “They didn’t do them the way I thought was right.”
He thought that the tracks on the radio were flimsy, and he set out to fix that. Soon enough, he would be a frontman in his own right and therein he made music into his storytelling marionette. His tales were always fit for novels and the kaleidoscopic soundscapes he crafted were akin to loquacious prose. In this guise, he reinvigorated the careers of various phenoms who he duetted with, including his iconic collaborations with Nancy Sinatra.
Part of the reason he was so successful as a sonic Svengali was because he understood the ways of music with the clarity of someone looking at it suspended in amber from afar. He simply travelled around Europe weaving his musical tales and then returned to the studio to make them work in a viable fashion. As he once told Nancy Sinatra when they were heading into ‘These Boots are Made for Walkin’’, “You can’t sing like Nancy Nice Lady anymore. You have to sing for the truckers.”
A poet who made music his master, Hazlewood enamoured himself with people as wide-ranging as Mark E. Smith, Nick Cave, Slowdive, Miles Kane, Beck and more. Thus, his stylings are fated to forever echo in the welter of modern music with its crisp perfection. Below, we have charted his career from start to finish with some of the finest tracks he crafted.
Lee Hazlewood’s six definitive songs:
‘The Girl on Death Row’ (Duane Eddy)
When pop culture finally got swinging, Lee Hazlewood was deemed an elder statesman. Thus, he partnered with the rather more commercially viable face of Duane Eddy and set about colouring the charts with a bit of literary majesty as though Ricky Nelson and Flannery O’Connor had a love child.
This classic tune is sultry and dignified with strings bringing pizzazz to an otherwise reverb-drenched anthem. In fact, it’s got so much echo in the mix that it makes you feel like you’re just wandering out of the dentist’s. However, cutting through this smoothed-out music malaise is a tale that tugs the ear with a dramatic aura. It’s got Hazlewood written all over it: uber cool.
‘Your Sweet Love’
To put it simply, the arrangement on this song is one of the most beautiful ever crafted for pop music. It’s a subtle tower of song, tickling the rafters of cloud nine without ever losing sight of its pillow-propped foundations. As high as kite, Hazlewood has crafted the most cinematic lullaby ever as he muses on the boon of love.
With a sumptuous dreaminess, Hazlewood sings about the embalming bubble of devotion with a hushed assurance that almost makes you think he’s singing it while asleep. Typically, however, with Hazlewood, there is an air of realism in the mix as he continually mentions the pull of other suitors in the sort of love song that you mightn’t offer up a gift to a partner for fear that the honesty therein might perturb even if it comes from a sweet place.
‘Some Velvet Morning’
Originally penned as the soundtrack to Nancy Sinatra’s television special Movin’ with Nancy, this epic postmodernist look at the love song format is as thrillingly refreshing as it is an exposition of pure skill. On the one hand, it’s manic, on the other, it’s a mark of mastery as good as a lecture in the craft of texture and storytelling.
The song is an innovative epic that turns the classic complimentary duet on its head with Hazlewood’s moody operatic section performed in a 4/4 time structure and for Nancy to take the mic and sing over twinkling strings in 3/4 time. This mashing-up of melodies may well be jarring, maybe even dementing sometimes, but there is an undeniable brilliance to the innovation, and there is no way you can listen through without interest.
‘For a Day Like Today’
With Hazlewood often being touted as a cinematic storyteller in music, it made sense that he would frequently be involved with soundtracks. Perhaps his greatest offering on this front was his epic work for the 1970 television special Cowboy in Sweden. Picking up where he left off with Nancy Sinatra, this is a perfect example of his prowess in this era.
With sexy vocals from Suzi Jane Hokom, the song is the flirtatious kind that beguiles the ear with a woozy whisper. However, it isn’t a straightforward seductress either—it prides itself on the juxtaposition of celebrating a fateful day in the least jubilant fashion imaginable. Auspicious tidings are rarely met with such muzzled announcements, making you think, ‘What else is going on here?’
‘If It’s Monday Morning’
Without sounding like a god-awful cheesy coffee mug, it takes a legend like Hazlewood to bring some sort of appeal to Monday mornings. “There were times when being together was fun,” he begins in the spoken set-up to the gag, “And there were times when being apart was even more fun. And there were times when there was nothing but time, and that was no fun.”
These opening lines could be lifted from the pages of Carson McCullers. I mean, not to bang on about him being literary, but his songs have a sense of life beyond themselves that few others can muster. Alongside that, the intonation of his textured guitar playing also comes to the fore on this little ditty.
Hazlewood’s final outing was never going to be a quiet or withdrawn affair. He made going out with a bang sound like a whimper with the whirlwind of sound and fireworks that he threw into his swansong record, Cake or Death. Abuzz with a menagerie of fluttering influences, he welcomed you into his whirling mind for one last spinning trip in uncompromised style.
‘Baghdad Knights’ is like some old showtune. Blasting off with horns, blues guitar soon comes in kicking like a mule on speed. Then his anti-war poetry takes to the stage as he tells of a soldier stationed on the outskirts of hell. As sagacious as ever he rattles off harsh truths with an irascible wit akin to Kurt Vonnegut as he utilises bombastic techniques to illuminate the absurdity of war.