From folk anthems to movie themes and French chanson ballads, 25 songs from one of the great pop culture icons of his time, including three previously unissued tracks.
Over and over in his work, Rod McKuen proclaimed himself a man apart from the crowd. The secret of his enormous success as a performer, composer and writer is that he spoke for countless other loners across the world. A born outsider, McKuen was embraced by millions of fans who connected with the expressions of desire, nostalgia and self-acceptance found in his songs and poems.
The jacket copy of his 1972 book And To Each Season… sums up his impact: “Rod McKuen is both the best-selling poet in history and the best-selling author in this country [USA]. In the past five years, his poetry has sold nearly eight million copies, and his songs, which have been translated into at least 10 languages, have sold more than 100 million records.” Television specials, sell-out concert tours, film soundtrack projects and other ventures brought him still more exposure and acclaim. It is no exaggeration to call McKuen as much a voice of his era as Bob Dylan or Allen Ginsberg.
In the early 1960s, he began to visit France and gain entry into Parisian songwriting circles. By 1964 he was co-writing with a host of leading French chansonniers, most notably Jacques Brel. He both translated and freely adapted Brel’s lyrics, resulting in such international hits as ‘If You Go Away’ and ‘Seasons In The Sun’. McKuen was deeply influenced by the French chanson school both as a writer and a performer. Although his work lacked Brel’s ferocious edge, his blend of romantic idealism and mature fatalism had much in common with European sensibilities.
His ability to frame plainspoken, emotion-laden lyrics in melodies that drew upon classic pop, folk and European chanson influences continued to earn him covers into the 70s. Frank Sinatra devoted his 1969 album “A Man Alone” to McKuen material, turning in suavely bittersweet renditions of such tunes as ‘Lonesome Cities’, ‘Love’s Been Good To Me’ and ‘I’ve Been To Town’. Meanwhile, McKuen gained even wider exposure by composing songs for the films The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie, A Boy Named Charlie Brown and The Borrowers.
Still another creative avenue opened up when he collaborated with pop arranger/composer Anita Kerr on a series of thematic albums beginning with “The Sea” in 1967. A soft-pop landmark of its era, the LP featured actor Jesse Pearson murmuring McKuen’s gently erotic poetry over a backdrop of instrumental pieces performed by the San Sebastian Strings and beachside sounds. “The Sea” went on to earn gold certification and spawned further McKuen/Kerr projects built around environmental and seasonal motifs.
This compilation offers a taste of the breadth and diversity of McKuen’s output as a songwriter. The versions of his tunes gathered here testify to his versatility, craftsmanship and feel for a strong hook. From novelty ditties and folk anthems to movie themes and French chanson ballads, these songs cover exceptionally wide ground. Whatever the style he worked in, he constantly returned to the same topics lyrically: fleeting love, the pleasures of the past, the longing for both home and the need to be free.
McKuen’s death in January 2015 left some of his dreams still unfulfilled but there was no denying the scope of his accomplishments over a 50-plus year career. Through ability, tenacity and sheer will, he overcame enormous obstacles to become one of the great pop culture icons of his time.