13 Rerelease review
Light in the Attic Records just rereleased Lee Hazlewood’s out-of-print 1972 album 13, a work rooted in the political turmoil, cynicism, and paranoia of the early 70s during Nixon. Hazlewood, best known for producing Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made for Walkin,’” recorded many solo albums in the 60s and 70s, characterized by his distinctive baritone voice and idiosyncratic production skills on lush lounge, bubblegum pop music, and folky, country tunes. 13, stands out rather starkly in musical direction from Hazlewood’s other albums as he explores the soul-funk idiom. While the songs feature the type of seedy characters often found on his records, the seediness is especially pronounced on 13 as funk instrumentation like fuzz and wah-wah guitar with brass, organ, elastic bass, and a solid beat, provides music reminiscent of the era’s grindhouse films.
*13* originally only saw release in a limited number of countries excluding the United States. It was released on CD in the early 2000s, but again on a limited basis, so this is the first time that the album is widely available. Hazlewood lived and worked in the US, throughout the 60s, but started traveling the world on the business of his independent production label Lee Hazlewood Industries (LHI). Fed up with what amounted to minor success in the US, Hazlewood found he had a following in Sweden and decided to settle there in the early 70s, becoming a recluse of sorts in self-imposed exile from Nixon’s America as he worked on a number of projects. It is out of this unique context that 13 was able to become the perfect musical example of early 70s drugged-out paranoia and disillusionment with the prior decade’s idealism.
13 is R&B instead of Hazlewood’s usual styles because before he went to Sweden, he hired musician Larry Marks to produce a contemporary R&B funk based style for LHI. Originally recorded as a Marks album in 1970, 13 got shelved due to LHI’s financial straits and lack of distribution. When Hazlewood left for Sweden, soon after working with Marks on the album, he took the unreleased 13’s tapes. In 1972, Hazlewood released a new version of 13, with his vocals replacing Marks’.
13, though it did not start out a Hazlewood album, still has much of the artist’s usual traits on the album. From the era and cover art alone, one can nearly tell that 13 is a masterpiece of early 70s burst-bubble hippiedom, a place for the idealism of flower power to choke on the polluted haze of "stonery" non-conformist angst and paranoia. The cover art shows the center of a dart board with Hazlewood’s head right under it, surrounded in the background by darts, presumably thrown daringly around his cranium. Besides immediate humor, such an absurd photograph is likely a joke that Hazlewood is hardly in the same category of fame or influence as the assassinated political leaders of the era like Martin Luther King Jr and President John F. Kennedy or of then recently deceased rockers like Jimmy Hendrix who were also thought to possibly have been killed by “The Man.” Furthering the paranoid interpretation of the album cover is Hazlewood’s change in appearance from his typically fancily dressed, shorthaired, and mustachioed look to a hippie look wearing a plain navy blue sweater with long hair and no mustache. The number 13 that gives the album its title also lends it weight toward such an interpretation of tongue-in-cheek paranoia as Jesus had 12 apostles making him the '13th' person, ripe to be crucified.
Hazlewood was nothing if not a tasteful user of kitsch. Although funk was revered by critics in 1972, there were plenty of cash-in attempts in the genre, as session musicians were hired to compile libraries of ready-made funky music for soundtracks to films and commercials. It is this contemporary kitsch-funk that one is reminded when hearing the opening of 13 as the lead track “You Look Like a Lady” kicks off with propulsive horns and a heavily funky rhythm section. Such musical elements may seem a bit dated since much pop music of that era was similar due to crossover influence of black music and the massive success of horn-driven bands like Chicago. However, pop artists would not have tried to emulate this sound were it not a pretty groovy sound that required high levels of musical ability. Still, one hardly expects to hear a voice like Hazlewood’s, suited to his own folk-country, to come out of such a heavy funk.
“You Look Like a Lady,” also displays Hazlewood’s classic sense of humor and the non-conformist "stonery" ethos of the album. For one thing, the idea of a person looking like a lady, but not necessarily being one has been used for comedic reasons, but also speaks to non-conformist identities like transgenderism and homosexuality, much like Lou Reed’s classic hit from the same year, “Walk on the Wild Side.” In addition to shattering taboos surrounding sexuality, “You Look Like a Lady,” quickly establishes the album’s breaking of the taboo of drug references, the opening lines of the song and album being: “My head is bad / My mind is through / Ain’t been so stoned / Since I was new.” The song is about a drifter and one gets a sense of both the urgency of his movement and the deeper longing that he experiences.
The chill of the next song “Tulsa Sunday,” sets a pattern on the album of alternation between fast and slow tempo tunes. The song is slow funk, filled with building fuzz and guitar in addition to the floating and falling horns that traipse along to complement Hazlewood’s slow, almost drunken vocal. The song's instrumental aspect alone might be enough to qualify it as drug referential, even without all its lyrical assertions. In “Tulsa Sunday,” Hazlewood serenades a mysterious “Priscilla,” who may or may not be the person who “looks like a lady,” or, for that matter, may or may not be Elvis’ wife. He asks her to “Take a look at that sun, Priscilla, / don’t it make you want to fly? / take a look at that sky, Priscilla, / don’t it make you want to get high?” While it might be perfectly reasonable to dismiss these as banal stereotypical stoner lyrics that lack any substance, keep in mind that was kind of the point in the first place as Hazlewood puts his own perverse spin on the hippie drug culture through what are often intentionally exaggerated and stereotypical tropes.
Following the languor of “Tulsa Sunday,” is the upbeat “Ten or 11 Towns Ago,” which contains the line that may be most indicative of the album’s hippie nonsense ethos: “One week in San Francisco / Existing on Nabisco / cookies and bad dreams / sad scenes and dodging paranoia.” The line recalls San Francisco as the home of hippiedom, but beyond that, seems to be evocative of lines from the song “Truckin’” by that scene’s premier band, Grateful Dead: “Livin’ on reds, Vitamin C, and cocaine / all they can say is ain’t it a shame?” Whether Hazlewood is lampooning such cultural references or trying to make his own stab at them is up to each listener to guess, but this does not seem to be a song that takes itself too seriously.
On what many describe as Hazlewood’s “soul album,” the track that is most discernibly soul is “And I Loved You Then.” It is heavily reminiscent of Isaac Hayes and fits the album’s narrative of a character that for all his movement is stuck in the same place. One does not generally think of Hazlewood as soul balladeer, but this is his stab at it and he sings on his own terms.
*13* ends on the funky “Hej, Me I’m Riding,” pronounced “hey.” The misspelling is once again that anti-grammar ideals of hippiedom rearing its head. It explains the background of the drifting speaker as someone whose brother died and father left, which is a timeless blues trope. Despite this, the narrator has managed to make a life for himself, his “riding,” being that he is on the ride of life. It is a summary of the album’s speaker’s situation, somebody with no real home, who is kind of just drifting along. In a sense, one might say that it was also a summary of Hazlewood’s situation at the time as he felt there was not much for him back home in the U.S, while Sweden could never really be his home.
*13*, though not necessarily representative of his broader work, is still an essential Hazlewood album. Even though this is such a drastic production departure from his more typical symphonic orchestrations, he was known for quirky production, so this is not too unfamiliar. Are you going to hear a great soul singer? No, but you are going to hear a highly unique singer on a great psychedelic pop and soul album filled with hazy 70s morose.