Friday, 13 May 2016

Sing it Again, Rock!

Rock Hudson: film actor, TV star and, sadly, the first major celebrity to die from an AIDS-related illness. But singer?

Apparently so, if the album Rock, Gently is anything to go by. Subtitled Rock Hudson Sings The Songs Of Rod McKuen, Rock, Gently wasn’t Rock’s first foray into pop: he recorded solo versions of several tracks from his hit movie Pillow Talk (co-starring Doris Day), two of which were issued on a 7” in 1959: Roly Poly and Pillow Talk. He also recorded a version of the film’s hit song (You’re My) Inspiration.

The year before Rock, Gently was issued McKuen and Hudson were to issue a co-credited 45 coupling Wings with a cover of the classic Love of the Common People. Promo copies were pressed, and full page ads were taken out in the music press, but I’ve yet to see a stock copy listed anywhere, which makes me think that it never reached the shops. Neither track was included on Hudson’s debut (and only) album as neither song was composed by McKuen. I’ve just tracked down a copy on eBay and purchased the same. I’ll let you know how terrible it is in due course!

Rodney Marvin John Michael James McKuen and Hudson (born Roy Harold Scherer, Jr) had been friends since the late 50s; they appear to have met when McKuen was contracted as a bit-part player to Universal. At that time Hudson was a worldwide star, but McKuen’s own career had been patchy, involving meagre movies roles as well as stints as a poet, activist and folk singer. Then there were the infamous Bob McFadden sessions which yielded the Brunswick single I’m a Mummy, subsequent album Songs our Mummy Taught Us and the follow up Dracula Cha Cha, before he hit it big – writing English lyrics for Jacques Brel. He’s responsible for, among others, the mega hits Seasons in the Sun and  If You go Away. He also wrote the Oscar nominated-song Jean, which appeared on the soundtrack to the hit movie The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, which Hudson covers on this collection.

Recorded in London, and documented in book form as First Recordings, London, March 1970, Billboard liked the album: ‘Hudson comes of strong as a compelling balladeer’, their reviewer wrote, declaring that ‘this package offers much for MOR programming and sales’. Rock, Gently was issued in 1971 on McKuen’s own Stanyan Records label. The name Stanyan came from McKuen’s hit poetry anthology Stanyan Street And Other Sorrows.

Stanyan was an interesting set up with an eclectic roster, and although the company had a distribution deal with Warner Brothers Records, McKuen preferred to sell direct to the independent trade and via mail order: ‘By selling my records directly to the customer or retailer, I am able to hold the list price down,’ he revealed to Billboard in January 1973. Hudson, who was very pleased with the results, fell out with McKuen when he discovered that orders for the album would not fulfilled by Warners but rather by McKuen’s own mail order operation. Consequently Rock, Gently didn’t sell, didn’t chart and there was no follow up.

Anyway, have a listen to a pair of tracks from the album – the opener Open the Window and See All the Clowns and Things Bright and Beautiful and see what you think.


1 comment:

  1. Things Bright and Beautiful is OK - Open the Window and See All The Clowns was ruined by the arrangement, IMHO.


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