If people remember Lee Hazlewood at all, it’s for composing the no. 1 1966 single for Nancy Sinatra, “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’.” It’s a fab, sassy, and catchy-as-hell song, no doubt about it. But, to understate things, there’s a lot more to Hazlewood than this quasi-novelty tune with its libido-stimulating bass line. As a companion piece to this article on Wyndham Wallace’s Hazlewood bio/memoir, Lee, Myself & I: Inside the Very Special World of Lee Hazlewood, I present what I consider to be the 10 best Lee songs that never topped the charts. Narrowing the list to a mere 10 entries wasn’t easy to do, as the man was one of America’s finest songwriters. A comic, a romantic, a cynic, a poet, a drunk, and a fool, Lee composed in many different modes and tapped a stunning well of emotions from his deep, deadpan voice—as you will hear below… That he created such a large, compelling canon while regarding his musical career as merely a job makes the result somehow all the richer.
“Some Velvet Morning” [from 1968's Nancy & Lee] A consensus choice as Hazlewood’s greatest song, “Some Velvet Morning” is perhaps the summit of eerie, orchestral psychedelia from the ’60s. The track’s dual personality, as embodied by Nancy (dreamy and feminine) and Lee (menacing and masculine) and the resultant changing tempos, is masterly executed and induces a beautifully melancholy sort of disorientation. Be sure also to check Lydia Lunch and Rowland S. Howard’s devastating version of “SVM” from 1982.
“Sand” [from 1968’s Nancy & Lee] Another stately duet with Ms. Sinatra. This struts in slow-motion and oozes sexiness. Extra credit for the backward-guitar solo. It's also been covered with Teutonic severity by Einstürzende Neubauten, oddly enough.
“In Our Time” [from 1967’s Lee Hazlewoodism - Its Cause and Cure (reportedly being reissued by Light in the Attic in the near future)] Here’s Lee thinking he can go shaggy head to shaggy head with the hippie rockers—and he’s right. This is a righteous Beatles homage/rip (note “Day Tripper” riff), replete with faux-psych-pop lyrical babble, e.g., “Holding hands in the L'œuvre/Used to be such a groove/Now we take trips and never move."
“Your Thunder and Your Lightning” [1977 single; from Back on the Street Again] Perhaps Lee’s most ominous and horndoggiest song, it also slightly nods to the booming disco movement afoot in 1977. (Thanks to Holy Mountain Records owner John Whitson for the tip.)
“Las Vegas” [from A House Safe for Tigers] Here’s a real anomaly in the Hazlewood catalog: a brassy, chase-scene-funk instrumental. Sounds like something you’d hear on a library record from the KPM label.
“Califia (Stone Rider)” [from 1969 single collected on the LITA comp The LHI Years: Singles, Nudes & Backsides (1968-71)] One of the greatest specimens of Lee’s widescreen, “cowboy psychedelia” style, this song features Ry Cooder and Clarence White on guitar, Jack Nitzsche on keyboards, Don Randi on piano, and Suzi Jane Hokom singing her ass off.
“After Six” [from 1967’s Lee Hazlewoodism – Its Cause and Cure] The pinnacle of Hazlewood’s humorously self-deprecating alcoholic persona, who spends the duration of the song trying to persuade the bartender to serve him despite his penury. The economy and wit of “After Six” are truly remarkable.
“My Autumn’s Done Come” [from 1966’s The Very Special World of Lee Hazlewood] A stone lugubrious classic ballad of the sort that artists like Tindersticks and Kurt Vile have tried and failed for decades to match. One of the most poignant explications of the sunset-years mindset ever penned. That laggard “yeah” near the end communicates such a rich sense of resignation.
“She Comes Running” [from 1968’s Love and Other Crimes] Ornate and ebullient flower pop that's seemingly the antithesis of Hazlewood’s usual m.o., but he pulls it off with panache. “This is for Baby,” he slackly drawls at the beginning of this sparkling love song, and Baby must’ve been overjoyed.
“Dolly Parton's Guitar” [from 1977’s Back on the Street Again] “You made me happier than Dolly Parton’s guitar,” Lee sings over a slyly funky country-rock foundation. It’s a solid excuse for finessing a decent boob joke into a song. Plus, cowbell.
(Seattle's Light in the Attic Records has reissued several Hazlewood albums and overseen the most extensive archival excavation of his LHI label's output. All of those releases are highly recommended.)