Jennifer Warnes from the cover of her first LP
If you follow the Iron Leg Radio Show, you’ve probably heard these tunes (and the story behind them) before.
Jennifer (in actuality Jennifer Warnes) was a Los Angeles based folk/pop singer and actress who had her first time in the spotlight as a regular on the Smother Brothers show.
It was during that time that she recorded a pair of very cool albums for the Parrot label under the guidance of a cat named Marty Cooper.
The albums are both excellent and feature a variety of interesting cover material by folks like The Bee Gees, Donovan, the Rolling Stones, Procol Harum, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, as well as some really cool original material, much of it provided by the aforementioned Mr Cooper.
When I started to run down the information of Jennifer’s early albums, I was surprised when Cooper’s name started to pop up in some very interesting places.
Cooper wrote songs as diverse as the Marathons ‘Peanut Butter’ and Donny & Marie’s notorious ‘A Little Bit Country, A Little Bit Rock and Roll’, worked with Jack Nitzsche on ‘The Lonely Surfer’, co-produced the Cinders ‘Cinnamon Cinder’ with Nitzsche, wrote and produced a 45 for Charity Shayne aka Catherine ‘Gypsy’ Share, later of the Manson Family, and countless other pop, folk and soul 45s. The man was a regular pop Zelig.
Anyway…his work with Jennifer Warnes on those two Parrot albums, ‘I Can Remember Everything’ and ‘See Me Feel me Touch Me Heal Me’ was really, REALLY good.
Warnes had a beautiful contralto voice, and the choice of unusual material, mixed with some outstanding baroque arrangements (in this case by the legendary Perry Botkin, Jr) makes for a solid listening experience.
Though I originally picked up the albums for her covers of the Stones’ ‘I Am Waiting’ and her versions of a couple of songs from ‘Hair’, the track that really grabbed me – which I bring you today – is a tune called ‘The Park’.
Co-written by Cooper with “S. Pulley and T. Lane” (I haven’t been able to find first names for those writers but they got around, having written songs for Mama Cass and Them among others), ‘The Park’ opens with a twangy guitar line and subtle washes of strings.
When Warnes comes in, it’s almost shocking how much she sounds like Karen Carpenter (a full year before the first Carpenters record).
The song is the kind of thing that was only really happening in the late 60s, mixing a conventional pop feel with touches of far-out-ness. It never really crosses over fully into sunshine pop territory but I can see how it would appeal to fans of the sound.
Her version of ‘I Am Waiting’ (long one of my favorite Stones songs) is cool, too, simultaneously fleshing out, and mellowing the original feel of the song. It is also a testament to her versatility as a singer.
Both of the Parrot albums are relatively easy to find and inexpensive (maybe 10-20 dollars each). If you get your hands on them, and dig her voice, you should also seek out her somewhat rarer, third album ‘Jennifer’ from 1972, produced by none other than John Cale, which features the cream of the LA scene backing her on some more well-chosen material.
It would be another four years before she would break through into the pop charts with ‘The Right Time of the Night’.
I hope you dig the tune, and I’ll see you all next week.