A Thought for Today

We cannot be sustained by dreams alone. Strength is in the deed, weakness in our unwillingness to perform it.


Seems like I'm not the only one who enjoys reading the liner notes of Rod's albums.

Dear Ken,

Lately Rod's voice can be heard coming out of several of the offices at my place of business. I've made arrangements to take 3 of my co-workers on a road trip with me to the Glen Ellyn concert.

Every day or so one of the younger girls will walk in and say "Who is this Rod McKuen?" In an effort to educate them, I've been loaning out my copy of the 1992 CD Greatest Hits of Rod McKuen. I must confess that what he classifies as his greatest hits are not necessarily my favorites (exceptions to that are Rock Gently, I'll Catch the Sun, & I think of You) but the liner notes to this CD contain a wealth of information about Rod's career and his inspiration at various times in that career.

I know you have a backlog for your Wednesday Flight Plans, but sometime when you are looking for some inspiration why not use some of the information from those liner notes.

Didn't you love the piece today about the Beverly Hills Rats? I laughed so hard, I spit out my coffee. I love it when Rod throws in things like that and it isn't even Friday yet.

Take care now and enjoy the Full Moon this weekend. They seem to be rolling around faster and faster each month don't they?

Rita Bartlow

Nice to hear from you again Rita and thanks for a good idea.

Of course the fact that I had no idea what Rita was talking about was just ever so slightly inconvenient. I went through every Greatest Hits album I had and there were no detailed notes to be found. After much to-ing and fro-ing we established that the album in question was "Without a Worry in the World" and that the copy I have in my possession differed from Rita's only by the exclusion of the booklet insert.

Rita was kind enough to scan the notes and mail them to me and Jay's database did the rest. The result of this collaborative effort is pretty lengthy but, as usual, makes for fascinating reading. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

You didn't select a poem or song lyric, Rita, so I've gone with with of your favorites, "Rock Gently".

If you have a favorite McKuen song, poem or story you'd like to share, drop me a line at and I'll include it in this column one Wednesday.

 - Ken, Johannesburg, October 16

A Few More Words About My Friends in The Netherlands

This album was Bert van Bredaís idea. Heís been after me for it for years. I said ďYes, Bert, sure you can have it", and went back to tending my tomatoes. He wrote letters, made telephone calls and endless faxes sputtered from his house to mine... and my house to his. He pleaded. He threatened. He got mad and got nice and got mad again. ( in fact, he doesnít call me anymore and I miss his pleasant harassment. ) In desperation he sent his brother Ed all the way from Holland to Los Angeles to pick up the tapes in person. The tapes still werenít ready and Ed is too nice a guy to shoot me, so he took a few tomatoes and my Christmas album back to Holland instead. His visit did get me moving, though. Finally I sorted through the dust and cobwebs of 30 years worth of analogue tapes and located these tracks from at least a dozen different sources. They were digitally mastered on July 3rd, 1992.

Now Bert has the tapes, but has been waiting a month for these notes. No doubt heís begun to ship this disc with blank booklets.

This CD would have come out one day, though without Bertís badgering, persistence and genuine interest in my work, it might not have been issued in your lifetime or mine. Bert runs an unusual and enterprising company. BR Music issues everything from Aznavour to Zamfir, with my stuff somewhere in the vast in-between. I thought this might be a pretty good place to mention how well I know and how much I appreciate Bertís work too. And to say this CD is dedicated to Bert and Ed with a large amount of love, affection and admiration.

Greatest Hits - Without a Worry in the World (BR Music)

I like singing songs as much as I like writing them. So, some of these words and some of this music is my own. I picked up a tune or two while traveling and several more were hits by other performers long before they became identified with me. In one way or another these songs and others have enabled me to travel the world and sing for my supper and breakfast under the very best conditions. They have been my good companions, my visa and my introduction to places and to circumstances around the globe.

Some of the records Iíve made and the songs Iíve sung have had greater success in one country than another. Holland, where this disc is first being issued, made my recordings of Amor, Soldiers Who Want to Be Heroes and Without a Worry in the World their own long before any other country heard or embraced them. South American countries will know my version of South America Take It Away better than citizens of The Far East. In Holland Theyíre Playing Our Song made the charts, but Americans will hear it here for the first time. I Think of You topped the hit parade in Great Britain but barely cracked the top forty in the USA. As for Jean, Seasons in the Sun, Rock Gently, Loveís Been Good to Me and If You Go Away Iím grateful that each has a valid international passport.

The World I Used to Know began life as Song With No Name. Randy Wood at Dot Records suggested that if I expected them to release Jimmie Rodgerís recording of it Iíd have to come up with a better title. I arbitrarily picked The World I Used to Know. Other artists who have recorded it include Johnny Mathis, The Kingston Trio, Glen Campbell, Jim Nabors, Bobby Goldsboro, Eddy Arnold & Glenn Yarbrough.

Every singer has influences and heroes. My early favorites include Frankie Laine, Sinatra - of course, Johnny Ray, Ella, Sarah & Louis, the highly original Jeri Southern and the brilliant Jo Stafford, who could always sing anything and make it personal and meaningful. I love Doris Day, Martha Raye and Petula Clark. My early influences were folk and country singers like The Weavers, Marty Robbins, Hank Snow, Burl Ives and the singing brakeman, Jimmie Rodgers.

For a while I gravitated to writing and performing folk songs myself. Doesnít Anybody Know My Name ( 2:10 - 6:18 ) is one of that genre and it has always pleased me that country performers like Waylon Jennings, The Kingston Trio, Vince Hill, Billy Strange and the second Jimmie Rodgers got around to recording it. And, it was Hank Williamís Jr.ís first recording ever.

In the fifties I had a film contract with Universal - International. My acting credits included a couple of musicals and a western... in the former I was the heroís best friend. In the latter, I was the good guy and got to wear the white hat. More important than the acting roles that now and again come back to haunt me on television were some of the friendships I made at the studio. Producer Donna Holloway was one of them. Returning from a film assignment in Paris, she brought me back a stack of Gilbert Becaud albums. Years later I wrote lyrics for six of Becaudís songs for his first English language LP. One of them The Importance of the Rose was used as the title and theme music for Princess Graceís television special ĎMonaco Cíest La Roseí. While lots of songs have been written advising all of us to stop and smell the shrubbery, Becaudís lovely melody for this one makes the message especially easy to take.

A lot of songs I write turn out to be waltzes, Iím not sure why. Iím a lousy dancer and even more hopeless when it comes to waltzing. Still, Iíve heard my waltz, Jean, played as everything from a rumba to a turkey trot. I wrote it as part of my score for Robert Fryerís film ĎThe Prime of Miss Jean Brodieí. My inspiration for it was as much Maggie Smith, the star of the film, as it was the character she played in it. It was a big song for both Oliver in America and overseas, a hit for Matt Monro in Spanish and Frederic Francoise in French, and it won me my first Oscar nomination. In the nearly 25 years since it was first written, Jean has had many recordings, including versions by Johnny Mathis, Bert Kaempfert, Don Cherry, Henry Mancini, Rock Hudson, Chet Atkins, James Last, Sergio Franchi, Peter Nero, al Martino, Jim Nabors, Percy Faith, The Mills Brothers, Les Baxter and The London Philharmonic Orchestra.

Imagine my surprise when I turned on the radio and heard a song so similar to my Rock Gently that it even used the same melody, not to mention nearly all of my original words. In fact, the only measurable difference between my song and The Other One was that The Other One had someone elseís name on it as author. Not nice. We settled out of court and I bought my granny a new motorized rocker. ĎNow I donít need my grandson to rock me gently any moreí, she says.

For a long time during the late fifties and early sixties I was that rare Southern California citizen who hadnít yet learned how to drive. Whether my destination was half a dozen blocks or as many miles I walked everywhere. Because my head was more often than not starting or finishing a song, I got lost often or wound up miles from where Iíd intended to be. If Loveís Been Good to Me has a rolling, walking rhythm to it, no doubt itís because it was written during one of my midnight walks to a favorite haunt, The Red Raven. Judging from the number of songs I started and completed going to and coming from that establishment, Iíd say the distance from my house to ĎThe Ravení must have been about thirty two bars.

Even a songwriter is allowed to dream, and I always hoped Loveís Been Good to Me would find its way to Frank Sinatra. Years later when Frank Sinatra and I were working on an album together I could not resist making an old dream come true. Frankís recording of Loveís Been Good to Me became a world wide hit and helped turn our ĎA Man Aloneí album to gold.

Like Amor, South America Take It Away comes from the forties. It was written by the veteran composer Harold Rome for his Broadway musical ĎCall Me Misterí. Bing Crosby and The Andrews Sisters had the original hit recording and it was a major success for Xavier Cugat. It was meant to be a conga, but I couldnít resist spoofing the fifteen minute popularity of the infamous Lambada with this arrangement. Mark Leggettís Pan Americos caught the spirit perfectly. As far as I know, theyíre still dancing cheeks to cheeks.

I wrote the English lyric, About the Time to Leo Ferreís Avec Le Temps for Marlene Dietrich. The older I get the more it turns out to be true. In addition to being a first class poet and philosopher, Leo Ferre is one of Franceís true musical geniuses. Besides writing words and music to hundreds of his own songs, he has provided beautiful and haunting musical settings for the poems of Baudelaire, Verlaine, Apollinaire, Rimbaud & Prevart.

The first time I heard Frank Sinatraís rendition of Gayle Caldwellís Cycles I fell in love with it. This was and is one of the great marriages of voice and song. It topped the charts for months. My own remake of Cycles cracked the top 40 for an hour or so.

In 1968 I decided I wanted to go to Europe to muck about, do some writing and just hang out for a while. To finance this enterprise I agreed to do three record albums for three different record companies. The Love Movement for Capital, Something Beyond for Liberty and for RCA Victor an album based on a new book Iíd written entitled Listen to the Warm. It never occurred to me how I would actually write 40 or so new pieces of material, get them arranged and recorded, do my mucking, hanging out and writing and be home in three months. I left anyway. In London I went looking for arrangers and didnít find any that impressed me enough to help out with the projects. Then Shirley Basseyís husband and manager, Ken Hume, introduced me to Arthur Greenslade. To anyone who knows anything about my recordings and tours for the 20 years or so that followed, the rest is history. A personal and musical friendship began and endured in earnest. Arthurís arrangements for Listen to the Warm helped earn me a gold record and a Grammy nomination.

A Boy Named Charlie Brown, based on Charles Shultzís enduring comic strip Peanuts, was the first full length animated feature I was asked to write songs for. Of the half dozen songs I contributed to the film, four made the final cut. Champion Charlie Brown is probably the best known of the group and this arrangement by Arthur Greenslade has all the buoyancy of a kidís first day at camp.

Petula Clark brought me the lovely Francis Lai melody I turned into I Think of You and Don Costa & Nick Perito took the finished song to Perry Como. Glenn Yarbrough, who recorded it first, has never forgiven me for this. I still plead Not Guilty and love Glennís version all the same. In England Vera Lynn made a beautiful disc of it and the great baritone Pegro Vargas had the number one record of I Think of You in Italy.

In 1954 while I was in the army stationed in Korea, I spotted this graffiti on a latrine wall:

ďSoldiers who want to be heroes
number damn near zero
but there are god damned millions
who want to be civilians.Ē

Writer Norman Mailer recalls seeing the same slogan on a john wall during World War II. No doubt our American Civil War and the Crimean conflict found suitable places for like sentiment. I never forgot the phrase and later put it into a song. The first recording of Soldiers Who Want to Be Heroes was made for Capitol in the sixties by The Gateway Trio. Because of what was termed its anti-Vietnam War sentiment it was banned by most radio stations and sank into oblivion, though not before I made The White House enemy list by continuing to perform it in concerts. One such performance, a concert at The London Palladium, May 24th 1970 was recorded and released on record.

Without my knowledge, Negrem - Delta Records in Holland took Soldiersí off the album and released it as a single and it had a fast climb up the charts to number one all over Benelux. Hit status followed in England and Australia. Les Compagnens de la Chanson recorded it in French and it became the number one record in Germany and Israel as recorded by actress - singer Dahlia Lavi.

Holland has been the place where many of my biggest hits took off. Amor was number one in The Netherlands in 1972 and my same record of it with a disco rhythm track added went to the top again all over Europe six years later.

Georges Moustakiís Le Metec, which I rewrote as Without a Worry in the World was one of the biggest records I ever had in The Netherlands and on the continent. Itís been equally successful in Greece, Italy and throughout South America. I call Moustaki The Grande Marshall of the Guitar. Heís a husky gentle man with a great bushel of a beard who is every bit as adept at drawing and painting as he is at composing and singing.

Iíve traveled to Holland off and on for thirty years. Made great friendships and great love there. Written songs ( Solitudeís My Home was finished on a Dutch dock and so was Iím not Afraid ); worked on books ( half of Moment to Moment was completed at Hotel de LíEuropa ) and had too many little moments and grand moments to ever remember the way they should be remembered in this always wonderful and never less than hospitable country. I doubt, though, that anything past or yet coming will top the thrill of the standing ovation I received at the Concertgebouw in October of 1971 when I started to perform ( The Port of ) Amsterdam. The track on this album was recorded during that concert.

Like If You Go Away and Seasons in the Sun, ( The Port of ) Amsterdam is an adaptation of the work of my favorite writer and performer, Jacques Brel. As friends and as musical collaborators we had traveled, toured and written - together and apart - the events of our lives as if they were songs, and I guess they were. When news of Jacquesí death came I stayed locked in my bedroom and drank for a week. That kind of self pity was something he wouldnít have approved of, but all I could do was replay our songs ( our children ) and ruminate over our unfinished life together.

There are dozens, hundreds of recordings of If You Go Away. Sinatra, Jack Jones, Shirley Bassey, Dusty Springfield, Norman Luboff Choir, Freda Payne, Glen Campbell, Johnnie Ray, Julio Iglesias, The Seekers, Michelle Lee, Scott Walker, Neil Diamond, Laine Kazan, Pearl Bailey, Nana Mouskourie, Al Martino, Hildegarde, Arthur Prysock, Barbara Dickson, Ray Charles, Robert Goulet and Sylvia Syms are among the artists who have recorded it vocally. Ray Bryant, Acker Bilk, Bud Shank, Chet Baker, Al Hirt, Wim Overgraauw, Stan Getz and Helen Merrill have done it with a jazz feel. It is considered by the performing rights societies to be one of the most recorded and performed standards in modern history. The original hit was a poignant rendition by the talented vocalist Damita Jo.

Seasons in the Sun was a gold and platinum seller around the world for Terry Jacks. It has been recorded by Ray Conniff, Andy Williams, Floyd Cramer, Pearls Before Swine, James Last, Tommy Sand & The Kingston Trio, among others. My own personal favorite will always be Brelís and when I perform it now I do it slower, more legato than on this album.

In the spring of 1965, with my old friend Ellen Ehrlich as my pronunciation coach and John-Jacques Timmel as producer, I set out to record some of my songs in French. Je Viens De Loin ( Frank Geraldís translation of Iíve Been to Town ) was one of the first results. The arrangement is by Roland Vincent and I particularly like his use of French horns to augment a blues piano.

I wrote And to Each Season as a fugue to be sung against Johann Pachebels Canon in G. The idea was to see the seasons of life as a continuing round. This arrangement is by Reg Guest and he conducts The National Philharmonic behind me. I have yet another arrangement by Arthur Greenslade for my Christmas album that features The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and The Swingle Singers. And somewhere, recorded at a concert I did in Vienna with Greta Keller but as yet unissued, is my favorite And to Each Seasons chart. Itís very spare, with just Ondes Martenot and rhythm quartet lending support to the vocal. Again, it was arranged by Arthur. Guess weíll save that version for ĎThe Uncollected Rodí, or ĎSon of Greatest Hits... or...

Theyíre Playing Our Song is another track that made the Dutch charts. I canít deny that itís fun to sing, but I almost never do it in concert because I usually mix up the words or lose my place in it.

There are recording engineers, musicians, music copyists and librarians, road musicians, publishers and faithful friends who should be thanked individually for their contributions to my recording and song writing life, and thus to this album, but the hour is late. Anyway, you know who you are. I do want to mention the extraordinary of the Master of Mastering, Kevin Gray, who, despite a rough case of jet lag, stayed awake, alert and digital to the end of the marathon session that produced the tape for this album.

And something should be said for whatís been left out of this collection. For a dozen years I was on and off the American, French, Japanese, Canadian, Italian and German charts with a series of albums I co-wrote and co-produced with the remarkable Anita Kerr. Our elements trilogy, The Sea, The Earth and The Sky all went platinum, and for a time seemed to change the way people perceived concept albums. No greatest anything in my life, especially a CD like this one could be complete without representation of our work together. Anita, whether arranging and conducting, composing her own inventive melodies, or blending her own voice with the numerous editions of her world famous Anita Kerr Singers is the consummate musician. She belongs here. Our work together belongs here. But, because the examples are so numerous, Iíve decided to save some of those for the next collection. Along with some of the other film songs, classical works, Sloopy, Oliver Twist and even The Mummy and In Search of Eros.

Itís been a long and happy journey and it isnít over. Kevin & I have already mastered 22 more tracks for ĎThe Latin Albumí and another two dozen ballads I recorded in the early sixties for a single CD to be entitled In a Lonely Place. And in two weeks I go into a studio to start a new album of new songs. And... yes, there will always be an end.

Rod McKuen, August 1992, Beverly Hills, California

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Click on the links below for new details (posted 09/28/2002).



notable birthdays

National Boss Day (USA)

Max Bygraves o Chuck Colson o Linda Darnell o William O. Douglas o Flea o Gunter Grass o Jeremy Jackson o Bert Kaempfert o Angela Lansbury o John Loudon o Kellie Martin o Eugene OíNeill o Alice Pearce o Tim Robbins o C.P. Snow o Suzanne Somers o Morgan Stevens o Noah Webster o Oscar Wilde

Rod's random thoughts Loving is the only sure road out of darkness, the only serum known to cure self-centeredness.

When one becomes aware of achieving greatness... their ability to be truly great is usually diminished.

Nobody's perfect, and that's one of the best things that can be said about man.


Rock gently... go slow
take it easy... donít you know
I ainít never been loved this way before
so rock me gently then weíll rock some more.

Some evening... youíll see
weíll rock on endlessly
but for now just rock me nice and slow
yeah... rock me gently... till itís time to go.

Hummm... ainít that pretty
hummm... ainít that nice
for the first time
I feel Iím skating on thick ice.

Rock gently... go slow
take it easy... donít you know
I ainít never been loved this way before
rock me gently then weíll rock some more.

Hummm... ainít that pretty
hummm... ainít that nice
for the first time
I feel Iím skating on thick ice.

Rock gently... go slow
take it easy... donít you know
I ainít never been love this way before
so rock me gently then weíll rock some more.

Heh... rock me gently... till itís time to go
we can rock a round the clock
but baby... lets rock slow...
easy baby... gently... make it slow...

 - from the album "Greatest Hits - Without a Worry in the World", 1992

© 1970, 1986, 1992, 2002 by Stanyan Music Group & Rod McKuen. All Rights Reserved
Birthday research by Wade Alexander o Poetry from the collection of Jay Hagan o Coordinated by Melinda Smith o Sound & Fury Dr. Eric Yeager o Webmaster Ken Blackie
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