September 22, 2013

Listening to Oliver.

Do you remember Oliver?
His clean-cut good looks and soaring tenor voice were the perfect vehicle for the uptempo single entitled "Good Morning Starshine" from the pop/rock musical "Hair," which reached #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 in July 1969, sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc by the R.I.A.A. a month later. Later that fall, a softer, ballad single entitled "Jean" (the theme from the Oscar-winning film The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie) bested his previous effort by one, reaching #2 on the Hot 100 and #1 on the Billboard Easy Listening chart. Written by longtime beatnik poet Rod McKuen, "Jean" also sold over one million copies, garnering Oliver his second gold disc in as many months.
This kind of recording is the kind of thing that I rejected at the time as commercial/mainstream/square/cornball, but I'd recently rediscovered "Good Morning Starshine" and found it quite beautiful, enough to look him up in Wikipedia just now and enough to make me add "Jean" alongside "Good Morning Starshine" in my iTunes.

And remember Rod McKuen? Remember when people loved him and then the cultural elite delivered the message that you're supposed to hate him?
Frank W. Hoffmann, in Arts and Entertainment Fads, described McKuen's poetry as "tailor-made for the 1960s [...] poetry with a verse that drawled in country cadences from one shapeless line to the next, carrying the rusticated innocence of a Carl Sandburg thickened by the treacle of a man who preferred to prettify the world before he described it."

Philosopher and social critic Robert C. Solomon described McKuen's poetry as "sweet kitsch," and, at the height of his popularity in 1969, Newsweek magazine called him "the King of Kitsch."

Writer and literary critic Nora Ephron said, "[F]or the most part, McKuen's poems are superficial and platitudinous and frequently silly." Pulitzer Prize-winning US Poet Laureate Karl Shapiro said, "It is irrelevant to speak of McKuen as a poet."
Wow! Listen to the hate.

"'Listen to the Warm,' remember that?" I ask Meade, as I look for an Amazon link that I thought would go amusingly on the words "Listen to the hate," above. "You can't even buy that now." But I remember high school kids who clutched that book and felt lucky to have it. What other poetry books — in our lifetime — have experienced that kind of young love?

Meade says, "There was an audio," and you can still buy that.  And you can buy endless other works of poetry in audio form, albeit with music (or something approaching music) supporting the poetic verbiage so you don't have to think "poetry."

We're reveling this morning in "Good Morning Starshine"...
My love and me as we sing our
Early morning singin' song
And "Jean"...
Jean, Jean, roses are red
All the leaves have gone green
And the clouds are so low
You can touch them, and so
Come out to the meadow, Jean
Jean, Jean, you're young and alive
Come out of your half-dreamed dream
And run, if you will, to the top of the hill
Open your arms, bonnie Jean
Till the sheep in the valley come home my way
Meade says, "What'd he say? Till the sheep come home? Why not till the cows come home?"

I say that old Rod avoids clich├ęs, at which point the first line of the song repeats, "Jean, Jean, roses are red," and we laugh.
And all of the leaves have gone green
While the hills are ablaze with the moon's yellow haze
Come into my arms, bonnie Jean
Jean, you're young and alive!!
If you're listening to the Oliver recording, you won't question those 2 exclamation points.
Come out of your half-dreamed dream
And run, if you will to the top of the hill
Come into my arms, bonnie Jean
Superficial and platitudinous and frequently silly....

"What's that line," Meade asks "'Come out of your half dream...'?" I'm reciting the lyrics and Meade has free-associated, via "dream," to "Time passes slowly when you’re lost in a dream...." All neural pathways lead to Dylan (chez Meadhouse). I see I did put that CD into iTunes, and Meade sings along:
Ain’t no reason to go in a wagon to town
Ain’t no reason to go to the fair
Ain’t no reason to go up, ain’t no reason to go down
Ain’t no reason to go anywhere
"See that's your argument against travel," Meade says. There's no reason to go anywhere, and when you stay where you are — lost in a dream — time passes slowly. It's as close as we can get to immortality.


betamax3000 said...

Re: "All neural pathways lead to Dylan (chez Meadhouse)."

If Bob Dylan Lived in the World of the Novel "Logan's Run" We Would Only Have the Following Two Albums:

Bob Dylan (1962)
The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan (1963)

No "Highway 61 Revisited", No "Blonde on Blonde", No "Blood on the Tracks" etc, etc.

Something to Contemplate.

David said...

Gibran's "The Prophet." Prose of course, but a great assistance in getting laid in the 1960's.

Kirk said...

One of the best concerts I ever saw was back in the early '70's(?), a benefit for prison reform, at Notre Dame. John Denver, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Steve Goodman, and Oliver. I think he was introduced by his given name. We thought what is he doing on this bill?

Needless to say, he brought the house down.

jr565 said...

Yuck! (on good morning sunshine)

cassandra lite said...

McKuen would've done well to stay as a lyric writer. The majority of Billboard-charted ballads, if not the entirety of the Brill Bldg output, had simple couplets and treacly messages. He'd have been hailed instead of derided.

SteveR said...

"Good Morning Starshine" holds up well. "Jean" I never thought much of except it's use for torturing anyone named Jean.

jr565 said...

Yuck! (on good morning sunshine)

Big Mike said...

This kind of recording is the kind of thing that I rejected at the time as commercial/ mainstream/ square/ cornball, but I'd recently rediscovered "Good Morning Starshine" and found it quite beautiful, enough to look him up in Wikipedia just now and enough to make me add "Jean" alongside "Good Morning Starshine" in my iTunes.

Like me, Professor, you're getting old.

surfed said...

Same here Perfesser. The song "98.6" by Keith falls into the same category. I guess you could call it a guilty pleasure. There was an interview with Keith I read somewhere recently and he related that he was in the loo (circa 1967 where 98.6 first attained chart status) in England using the urinal when who should appear next but John Lennon who was a BIG fan of the song. How's that for affirmation. Taking a piss with John Lennon who's telling you how much he likes your big radio hit.

surfed said...

Addendum - how come we don't feel the same way about Dion's "Abraham, Martin and John"? The syrupy and schmaltzy strings and gawd awful harp (indeed, staples of 60's recording production values) would have ruined any and every other song they touched - but not this one. Was this song such a zeitgeist grabber that it didn't matter what kind of shit they wrapped it in?

Bob said...

I think that Good Morning Starshine was featured on Sesame Street regularly after it became a hit, which is where I remember hearing it.

surfed said...

Joe South - "Games People Play"

madAsHell said...

Tommy Roe
Gino Vanelli
...and others, were promoted to take baby sitting money from 14 year old girls.

St. George said...

Travel is good for creativity. It creates new connections.

For example, had George Harrison not spent two weeks in the tiny southern Illinois coal-mining town of Benton in September 1963 (before the Beatles came to America), he might never have discovered the obscure song "I've Got My Mind Set on You" which he backflippingly covered in the 1980s.

I thought I knew a lot about the Beatles until I read about this in Slate last week. It would make a great movie.

Apparently he got on stage with a local rock 'n' roll band...and blew away the audience.

Don said...

An interesting variation on Oliver's Good Morning Starshine is Good Morning Starbucks by the always entertaining Capitol Steps.

The first Rod McKuen song I remember was Seasons In The Sun (From the Kingston Trio's album Time to Think which preceded Terry Jack's version by more than a decade!), followed quickly by The World I Used to Know from the Kingston Trio album Back In Town which was recorded live at the hungry i (and also included the earliest recording of Chet Power's [Let's] Get Together).

Don said...

@Kirk (9/22/13 @ 11:28) I would like to hear a lot more of Steve Goodman.

@surfed (9/22/13 @ 12:29) Interestingly, Abraham, Martin, and John, which I remeber hearing in late May 1968, has a fourth verse whose subject is not mentioned in the title -- it was eerily predicting ("Someday soon it's gonna be...") the asassination of Bobby Kennedy!

Sam L. said...

I always ignored those jerks trying to harsh my mellow.

RigelDog said...

"Jean" is a lovely ballad with a Celtic-inspired melody. Thanks for reminding me of it; it was one of the songs in my small collection of guitar songbooks and I loved singing it.

Greek Donkey said...

I am a little younger than and, perhaps because of that, always loved both of those and lso added to iPod this year. Now waves of nostalgia and past youth washing over me. Nice feeling ctually.

Jim said...

Gliddy glop gloopy nibby nobby noopy.

traditionalguy said...

Was Jean a song first or a movie first? I did love that song and felt real empathy for the suppressed female professor he seemed to be singing about.

The Thomas said...

After Rod McKuen, how can anyone complain about Vocal Fry?

eddie willers said...

McKuen was at the top of the Bad Poets Society until bested by Maya Angelou.

Hazy Dave said...

I just read a volume of four short novels by Muriel Spark, one of which was "The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie." I don't recall ever seeing the movie. Anyway, these Oliver tunes are definitely guilty pleasures of sixties pop!

southcentralpa said...

And here I thought you were talking about Oliver! Still can't believe that won Best Picture Oscar ...