Friday, 20 May 2016

Sing it Again, Again Rock

Now, cast your mind back to last week, when I introduced you to the horror of Rock Hudson’s lone album release Rock, Gently. As I told you at that time, Hudson and his co-conspirator Rod McKuen had also recorded a 45, coupling Wings (a Hollies song which first appeared on the charity album No One’s Gonna Change Our World) with a cover of the classic Love of the Common People, a song first issued in 1967 by the Four Preps. Promo copies were pressed and full page ads were taken out in Billboard to promote the release, but it appears that – probably due to lack of airplay – that the single never reached the shops.

I told you that I had tracked down a copy (unlike most of Rock’s other recordings, this coupling seems to have been ignored by YouTube), and I promised that I would let you know how terrible it is. Thankfully, the disc is just as hideous as I had hoped.

Recorded in London in 1970, unlike Rock Gently, which features Hudson as sole vocalist, Wings and Love of the Common People feature our two protagonists duetting with each other like some other worldly Simon and Garfunkel. Given their sexuality (Hudson, of course, although he had been married for a few years in the 1950s was gay; McKuen’s sexual preferences were rather fluid, with the writer telling a reporter from the Associated Press that ‘I’ve been attracted to men and I’ve been attracted to women. You put a label on,’) and their long friendship, the two songs could easily be construed as duets between a couple of same-sex lovers – something that certainly would have hampered airplay.

Not that that makes one iota of difference. Irrespective of if the singers are gay, straight, bi- or poly-sexual, it’s still a dreadful disc. And that’s after Hudson took five years worth of singing lessons ‘because I said to myself, someday a musical will come along and I want to be ready.’ Years of singing in his high school glee club hadn’t prepared him for this.

‘Rock and I first met and became friends in the 1950’s when we were both under contract to Universal-International as actors’, McKuen (who died in 2015) wrote in answer to an fan’s enquiry on his website. ‘He had been through some rough times in his personal life and I spent a lot of time with him on his set. He was pretty much of a loner and I certainly related to that.

‘It’s no secret that Rock and I both liked a good drink, in fact, other than Johnny Mercer he was the best drinking buddy I ever had. We spent a lot of nights knocking a few back and, with or without friends, the nights usually ended up around the piano. Rock loved singing on or off key and I liked the timber of his untrained voice. I guess in the back of my mind even then I always thought someone should produce an album of Rock singing but I certainly had no idea that it would eventually be me or that he would be singing my songs.

‘After finishing three films for Universal I was put on suspension by the studio because I turned down a script I didn’t like. This meant that because I was still under contract to them my days as an actor were over. I moved to New York to try my hand as a full time singer-songwriter. Rock and I stayed in touch and in April of 1961 he called and asked if I’d like an early birthday present. Sure. Six days before I turned twenty-eight our mutual friend Judy Garland was to make her first (now legendary) appearance at Carnegie Hall and Rock had tickets. What a night.

‘Eight years later I made my debut at Carnegie Hall and of course Rock was there to share my own triumph. We had already started talking about Rock singing my songs and he even knew Jean and The World I Used to Know by heart.’ Hudson and McKuen set up a company together, R & R Productions, and discussed the idea of issuing at least two albums – possibly one musical and one spoken word, and even a film, Chuck, starring Rock with a script by Rod.

‘As 1969 ended we had selected the songs and arrangers for the Rock, Gently album,’ McKuen continued. ‘He chose the title based on a song from my album New Ballads. 40 songs made the final cut and we ended up recording 30 tracks plus several duets.

‘The marathon sessions began in March of 1970 at Chappell and Phillips studios in London. Arthur Greenslade, my principle conductor for both concerts and recording was the leader on every session. I went for good tracks, knowing we could overdub vocals later back in LA. The sessions were documented by ace photographer David Nutter in a limited edition book entitled “Rock Hudson/Rod McKuen: First Recordings March 1970, London”

Hudson described the sessions as ‘terrifying,’ telling the Reuters press agency in July 1970 that ‘it was such a shock to hear myself on playback. What I thought was right was so totally wrong.

‘It took three days to loosen up properly. It took two weeks to do all the songs. We were supposed to do enough for one album but we ended up with enough for three.’

‘A full album of unreleased material is still in the can,’ McKuen revealed. ‘The material still in the can includes several duets I did with Rock. Warner Bros. Records did release one single we did together, Wings and Love of the Common People. My favorite of the released recordings is Gone with the Cowboys, a song I wrote with Rock in mind and one that given my own past has a great spiritual connection for me.’

The album, as I noted in last week’s post, didn’t sell. It was reported at the time that ‘according to Rock his buddy mistakenly forgot to arrange for a distributing company to pass the disk along to retailers. As a result, thousands of copies of Rock, Gently are gently gathering dust in McKuen’s warehouse’.

‘Rock was a misunderstood, complicated man but one of the good guys,’ McKuen added. ‘More stories on our relationship personally and professionally will have to wait for an autobiography if I ever get around to writing one.’ Maybe, now both of them are no longer here, the whole story will one day come out.


1 comment:

  1. I like Rock, and he had a great speaking voice, but Christ he was a bad singer.


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