Richard Harris: A Tramp Shining (1968)

 |   |  1 min read

Richard Harris: A Tramp Shining (1968)

Because there is a such a lot of great music about these days -- and of such overwhelming diversity -- you'd sound like you were wallowing in nostalgia if you suggested things were better in the old days. But in one way they were.

Look at the singles charts.

Once upon a time you got magnificent oddities being played on rapid rotate radio. And I don't mean Bob the Builder or Rolf Harris' Two Little Boys, more along the lines of Lee Marvin's whiskey-inspired, baritone Wandering Star or Richard Harris on Jimmy Webb's surrealistic epic MacArthur Park. Neither Marvin or Harris were known as singers, they were movie actors.

If there are songs like that out there these day you can guarantee they won't get past the gate-keepers at radio.

MacArthur Park was such a bombastic marathon -- seven minutes 20 seconds -- we needn't address that one, but it first appeared on Harris' album A Tramp Shining on which all the songs and arrangements were by Webb who was at a creative peak and damaging the charts with songs sung by the 5th Dimension and Glen Campbell. Which explains why he could afford to pay for the recording of the album himself, it was to be his major statement, or grand folly.

A Tramp Shining was however a very different affair from Webb's pop singles: a heavily orchestrated album in which Harris' fragile voice delivered songs of great sadness (titles include Name of My Sorrow, In the Final Hours, If You Must Leave My Life).

Yet there was also something optimistic in the swelling strings and horns, and Harris sang as if he'd lost everything but was in the process of picking up the pieces and regaining his dignity, even when he sings "now nobody wants me . . . . these are the final hours".

It is an odd album and you have to like a lot of dramatic strings, and MacArthur Park in the context doesn't sound remotely strange at all.

The album was even nominated for a Grammy and went to number four on the US charts.

Yep, things may not have been better in the old days, but they were certainly . . . different.

For more one-offs, oddities and songs with an interesting back-story check out the daily updates From the Vaults.

Share It

Your Comments

post a comment

More from this section   From the Vaults articles index

The Incredible String Band: No Sleep Blues (1967)

The Incredible String Band: No Sleep Blues (1967)

In a recent interview with Elsewhere the great producer Joe Boyd spoke about the Incredible String Band whom he had worked with -- until they got into Scientology and then things went rather odd in... > Read more

Sarah Vaughan: After You've Gone (1963)

Sarah Vaughan: After You've Gone (1963)

Some very serious jazz people don't take British pianist/singer Jamie Cullum very seriously. They point out he also sings pop, his repertoire includes songs by the White Stripes and hip-hop artists... > Read more

Elsewhere at Elsewhere

IGGY POP AND THE STOOGES, AGAIN: Loud, fast and out of control

IGGY POP AND THE STOOGES, AGAIN: Loud, fast and out of control

A few years ago, a cartoon in a rock magazine captured the essence of the Stooges. It showed a guy in headphones whose head had exploded and his friend in the other room saying over his shoulder,... > Read more

Joe Henry; Civilians (Anti/Shock) BEST OF ELSEWHERE 2007

Joe Henry; Civilians (Anti/Shock) BEST OF ELSEWHERE 2007

With a small band, and guests Bill Frisell (on guitar) and Van Dyke Parks (piano), the much ignored Henry continues his singular path which owes a little to a less grumbly Tom Waits but remains... > Read more