“I asked him if he wanted to use any of his songs, and he said, “No.” We had a long chat before we did any of this. He said, ‘No, I want you to do it and I want to just be a singer.’ So I said okay.” -Shel Talmy
Originally titled Will The Real Lee Hazlewood Please Stand Up?, Forty was a different kind of Hazlewood album, one in which Lee just focused on being a performer. In 1969 on the eve of his fortieth birthday, Lee flew to England and enlisted Shel Talmy (The Kinks, The Who, Chad & Jeremy, Bert Jansch) to produce an album and hand pick the songs. Shel picked some incredible songs for Lee to sing and even wrote him a song that should’ve been a hit, “Bye Babe.” Recorded at famed IBC recording studio with cream of the crop British session musicians and arrangers, no expense was spared.
Nicky Hopkins piano/organ work on “The Bed” and “The Night Before” evoke his then recent work with the Rolling Stones on Beggar’s Banquet and Let It Bleed. Arranger David Whitaker’s (Serge Gainsbourg, Vashti Bunyan, Air, “Bittersweet Symphony”) wizardry creates a lush, sophisticated orchestral sound.
“He was one of the more unique arrangers I’ve ever run into. I think “It Was A Very Good Year” is one of the best arrangements of that song ever.” – Shel Talmy
Forty begins with the boozy suite “It Was A Very Good Year”, a swingin’ shapeshifter that could’ve been a James Bond theme. The album traverses many styles from melancholy baroque orchestral pop(“What’s More I Don’t Need Her” “Bye Babe” & “The Night Before”) to country funk (“The Bed” & “Let’s Burn Down the Cornfield.”)
Light in the Attic Records is proud to continue its Lee Hazlewood Archival series with an expanded reissue of Forty. Every track Shel and Lee recorded for Forty are included here for the first time, including the outtake “For Once in My Life” and the previously unreleased backing track “Send Out Love.”
In exchange for piles of money from major labels, Lee and LHI made promises to produce an amount of recorded material that wasn’t humanly possible for one man and a small label. The logistics didn’t matter to Lee; once the check was cashed, he would do his damnedest to deliver the herculean output. Forty was one of those records, but what a beautiful way to meet a quota.
Lee liked his work with Shel so much that tracks from Forty were included on subsequent Hazlewood albums Cowboy in Sweden (1970) and Movin’ On (1977).