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Rod McKuen

Rod McKuen was one of the best-selling poets in America during the late '60s, and also achieved considerable success as a songwriter, soundtrack composer, and singer. McKuen's recordings alternated between poetic pop songs and spoken word readings of his verse, and his more serious composition work earned him two Oscar nominations and one Pulitzer nomination. Additionally, his translations helped bring the work of legendary Belgian songwriter Jacques Brel to prominence in English-speaking countries. His literary work often dealt with themes of love, nature, and spirituality, and critics didn't always accept it, some deriding it as simplistic and sentimental. However, even as his initial flower-child audience grew older, McKuen remained as popular as he was prolific, selling millions of copies of his books (having written upward of 30) and increasingly becoming the subject of academic study.

Rodney Marvin McKuen was born on April 29, 1933, in Oakland, CA. He lived with his mother and stepfather, the latter a frequently violent alcoholic, and ran away from home at age 11. He drifted up and down the West Coast, working a succession of odd jobs -- ranch hand, surveyor, railroad worker, lumberjack, rodeo cowboy, stuntman, radio DJ, and more -- and sending some of the money home to his mother. Seeking to make up for his relative lack of formal education, he started keeping a journal, which grew into a regular writing habit and resulted in his first poetry and song lyrics. He found work as a newspaper columnist, and served in the Korean War as a propaganda script writer. Returning to the U.S. and settling in San Francisco, he read his poetry alongside Beat icons like Kerouac and Ginsberg, and began performing as a singer at the famed Purple Onion -- first folk songs, then original material. His regular appearances led to a recording contract and several late-'50s pop albums for Decca. He also attempted to start a career as an actor, appearing in the rock & roll-themed pictures Rock, Pretty Baby (1956) and Summer Love (1958), also performing some of their music, as well as the Western Wild Heritage (1958). He also sang with Lionel Hampton's band, and moved to New York in 1959 to compose and conduct music for the TV show The CBS Workshop.

McKuen spent most of the earlier part of the '60s in France, where he met many of the country's top songwriters. He began a lengthy project to translate the work of legendary singer/songwriter Jacques Brel into English, and his efforts helped make "If You Go Away" into an all-time pop standard; elsewhere, British singer Scott Walker recorded many of McKuen's adaptations in the late '60s, and Terry Jacks turned the translated "Seasons in the Sun" into a chart-topping pop hit. McKuen also translated songs by numerous other French writers, including prominent names like Gilbert Bécaud, Pierre Delanoé, Michel Sardou, and many more. McKuen began to publish books of poetry during the latter half of the '60s, and earned a substantial following among the hippie generation with collections like Stanyan Street and Other Sorrows, Listen to the Warm, and Lonesome Cities. Additionally, his Lonesome Cities album of readings won a Grammy for Best Spoken Word Recording in 1968.

McKuen recorded most of his spoken word albums for RCA, and reserved his musical efforts for Warner Brothers. Starting in 1967, he teamed with arranger Anita Kerr and the San Sebastian Strings for a series of mellow vocal pop albums, including The Sea (1967), The Earth (1967), The Sky (1968), Home to the Sea (1969), For Lovers (1969), and The Soft Sea (1970). McKuen found increasing acclaim for his songwriting in 1969: having recorded "If You Go Away," Frank Sinatra commissioned an entire album of poems and songs, which was released under the title A Man Alone: The Words and Music of Rod McKuen and featured "Love's Been Good to Me," which went on to become one of McKuen's best-known songs. Additionally, McKuen earned an Oscar nomination for Best Song, thanks to "Jean," his theme for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie; "Jean" had been recorded by Oliver for a number two pop smash. McKuen's work on the score of A Boy Named Charlie Brown earned him a second Oscar nomination in 1970, and his co-write "I Think of You" was a major adult contemporary hit for Perry Como in 1971. Other popular McKuen compositions of the era included "The World I Used to Know," "Rock Gently," "Doesn't Anybody Know My Name," "The Importance of the Rose," "Without a Worry in the World," and "Soldiers Who Want to Be Heroes," among others.

McKuen later moved into larger-scale classical-style composition, writing a series of concertos, suites, symphonies, and chamber pieces for orchestra. His piece The City: A Suite for Narrator & Orchestra was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in Music. He cranked out a steady stream of poetry during the '70s, and his 1977 book Finding My Father, a chronicle of his search for information on his biological father, helped spark changes in the availability of such information to adopted children. He also continued to record on an intermittent basis, including albums like New Ballads (1970), Pastorale (1971), the country-rock outing McKuen Country (1976), and the disco pastiche Slide...Easy In, a campy outing with strong gay undertones that produced a European hit in "Amor, Amor." McKuen retired from live performance in 1981, and a year later he was diagnosed with clinical depression, which he battled for much of the next decade. He continued to write poetry, however, and made appearances as a voice-over actor in The Little Mermaid and the TV series The Critic. ~ Steve Huey, Rovi
full bio

Comments

Discovered Rod McKuen in the mid 60's after hearing selections from his album, "Through European Windows". Then came, "The Sea", I was stationed in Panama City , Florida, the perfect backdrop. "It seems like this beach towns population were but two."
Rod McKuen's The Sea is one of my favorites ! :-)
kkclowe4
One of my favorite poets and song writers. His songs have sustained me during trying times.
met Rod McKuen in Chicago in the 70's.....had been following him since early 60's.....my 18 year old grandson now has all my books......a n o t h e r McKuen fan! I listen to McKeun frequently.. . . . a l s o to Glenn Yarborough who recorded MANY of his songs. :)
rod mcuen did an album in the 1950's of traditional folk music such as SCARLET RIBBONS, WILD GOOSE, ETC. anybody heard of it?
artallday1
I fell in love listening to Rod. We married and named our kitten Sloopy. The cat grew up and so did we. Still married at 44 years and still love Rod.
Leighlmt
His website is http://www.m c k u e n . c o m / A Safe Place to Land. He is as wonderful as ever. You can read his blogs and order books and CD's. He also lists his concert dates. I grew up loving the man and still cry when I hear a A Cat Named Sloopy. Thank you Rod Mckuen for your voice, your words, your very being.
I first heard a song by Rod McKuen while in college during the mid-sixties. I continue enjoying listening to his recordings. I collect his records and all sorts of memorabilia, e.g., autographed books, etc.
http://store . s t a n y a n h o u s e . c o m / c d s . h t m l

Try the above address for Rod's CDs.
If iv'e got this right does anyone remember A Cat Named Sloopy by Rod from early 60s..
As far as I can determine, only 4 of his recordings were digitized for CD by the record companies. They were The Sea, Home to the Sea and (I think) Lonesome Cities, and of course the greatest hits recording that is on Pandora. I am in the process of digitally ripping the vinyl copies of his music that I have, especially The Earth and The Sky . I'm not sure what I will do with copies when I get done, other than for my own use, what with the ridiculous copy-write issues that exist today.
i loved all of the earth, the sea, the sky...my mother listened to it and i did as well. he came to UNCP in the late 70's and read poetry on the steps of my dorm. many nights i listened to his music as a grown adult.
tntmiller4
I wish his CDs were still available.
info06812
Rod McKuen used to appear with Glenn Yarbrough: what incredible concerts they were!
listen to the warm
This poet and song writer is tops. He has been my favorite since 1967,
when The Sea album came out.
Wonderful poet/artist! As the years roll by, the more I appreciate his true skill. I was listening during the Warner Brothers years. My sister turned me onto his books/songs. In these times, when trash passes for true art, insults our intelligence , and bashes our senses, it would do us good, to reflect upon his work.

Regarding the above "bio" Rod DOES still perform live from time to time.. His performance schedule can be gleaned from his website.. I forgot exactly what it is, but easy enough to google. Rod Rod Rod, this country needs you now more than ever... Jack C. Hays
ltcgarrett
Oh how, my love life, moodiness, and happy days were filled with Rod's music and poetry. He is part of the treasury of albums I collected. What a talent! POLLY SEALES 6-2-11
I courted my wife reading his poety. Saw him in a concert around 1968. He was immensley popular at the time
safari752
Amazing!! So easy to listen to.
phjsmith03
love him
please reinstate 'listen to the warm' album as it was originally in the 69-70 time period. None other versions hit the 'mark' like this one did...rememb e r us baby boomers are a very large untapped market when it comes to our first love of each song and every nick and cranny,every change weakens our reason to buy and we don't like to 'settle' for an inferior.. (to us).. product.
Give us what we want and you will be handsomely rewarded for your own young generations to come !!!!!
thatldu1421
artengrave.. . . the McKuen trio exists!! You can purchase the SEA at Amazon.com in CD format. I have been a fan of Rod McKuen for a long time, and LOVE the trio. I also have been looking for them for a long time. :))
This man awakens the young women in me...still at 72
john@johnste p h e n s r e a l t o r . c o m
I have always loved his poetry and his music.
artengrave
I am beginning to think the McKuen trio, Earth, Sea, Sky is an urban myth. Does any one have proof of their existence? I have been casually browsing for them since the late 70's!
Glen Yarbrough sings Rod McKuen is a great album
I was a fan of Rod McKeun back in the 60's. I still feel the romantic side of him.
bettyg123456 7
I too am looking for the earth, the sea, the sky? anybody??
bettyg123456 7
Is he still living?
jzbell2000
I have read his poems and have most of his books.I Have collected his songs for over 35 years.
ccoffin53
Falling in love with Steve Mauney while listening to The Sea. Innocent and carefree days to always be remembered with a soft smile.
Rod will always remind me of my care-free days! Reading his bio about his childhood, and lack of a "formal" education give me an even greater appreciation of what he's accomplished in his life time.
I'd forgotten about the Earth Sky & Sea albums. Is the music available anywhere?
All McKuen books and albums can be purchased at amazon.com
Ifell in love with Rod every time I listened to The Sea
His bio gives a lot of reason to the series he did with the San Sebastian Strings entitled "The Earth", "The Sky", and "The Sea".
lcostincpa
Where can I buy his earlier works The Earth, The Sky and The Sea on CD?
I really liked those albums.

Leonard
lcostincpa@c s . c o m
zorads
i really would like his album, the sea.

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