Rod McKuen Biography

Rodney Marvin McKuen, 29 April 1933, Oakland, California, USA. One of the revered poets of the late 60s love generation, Rod McKuen is also a highly acclaimed singer, songwriter and soundtrack composer. He took a slow route to the top, performing various manual jobs as a young man and also serving two years as an infantryman in Korea. In the mid-50s McKuen embarked on both a pop career (‘Happy Is A Boy Named Me’ was released in the UK in 1957) and an attempted acting career, combining both by appearing as a musician in the rock ‘n’ roll exploitation movie Rock, Pretty Baby in 1956. He also spent a spell as a vocalist for Lionel Hampton and a nightclub performer, before heading to Paris in the 60s. It was here, in the company of Jacques Brel and Charles Aznavour, that he began writing poetry in a free verse form very typical of the times. Described by Newsweek as ‘the king of kitsch’, McKuen became one of the few poets able to sell his work in large volumes, and he became a wealthy man. His 60s books included Stanyan Street & Other Sorrows, Listen To The Warm, and Lonesome Cities.

McKuen’s musical career continued when he wrote the score for the 1969 film adaptation of The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie including the title song ‘Jean’ and contributed six songs to the soundtrack of the same year’s A Boy Named Charlie Brown. He also wrote several symphonies, suites and concertos during this period, earning a Pulitzer nomination for The City: A Suite For Narrator And Orchestra. The most interesting of his numerous pop forays include McKuen Country, on which he enlisted the aid of Glenn Campbell, Big Jim Sullivan and Barry McGuire in a perfectly acceptable stab at country rock, and a series of bestselling easy listening albums recorded with arranger Anita Kerr as the San Sebastian Strings. Among his best remembered compositions are ‘Love’s Been Good To Me’ (recorded by Frank Sinatra on an album of McKuen songs, A Man Alone... ), ‘I Think Of You (music by Francis Lai and a hit for Perry Como), ‘Soldiers Who Want To Be Heroes’, ‘The World I Used To Know’, ‘Jean’, ‘Doesn’t Anybody Know My Name’, and ‘The Importance Of The Rose’. He also translated/adapted many of Brel’s compositions for English-speaking artists, producing such well-known songs as ‘If You Go Away’, ‘Amsterdam’, and ‘Seasons In The Sun’ (a hit for both the Kingston Trio and Terry Jacks). McKuen disappeared from the limelight in 1982 after being diagnosed with clinical depression, but continued to write from his southern California base. He surfaced occasionally during the 90s, providing voiceovers for episodes of The Little Mermaid and The Critic and appearing at 1997’s Carnegie Hall tribute to Frank Sinatra.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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