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Brian's Jennifer Warnes Repost and an Anthology That Never Was


(SCOTT)-OK, not really going to have a lot to add to this one myself, once you read it you'll see
why......this is an obvious labor of love here, and I'll leave it to you to see if you agree or not. I know (personally) that a LOT of work went into this, and I've listened to most of it, and it's quite good. Please check it out and report back, of course, opinions/comments are always welcome.  There'll be some stuff from me later tonight and tomorrow (HUGE football weekend for an Ohio State/Minnesota Vikings fan for certain), but for now, let THIS one digest.....Brian really went all out on this one, please appreciate and comment should you be inclined

Ok, be warned of a few things. First: This might be the most words ever put down in one place about Jennifer Warnes. I have always loved this woman's music and voice, so my enthusiasm will be loud and verbose, but please give it a read. I've put together a compilation, and it needs some explaining. And sorry in advance for all the emphasis with italics. It's my way. Second: this post touches on pop and country music of the 70's/80's. Way back when, pop music used to be made for people over 13, too... Anyway, if you feel you may be too hip for this party, please grab your Vampire Weekend albums and split... But if you wanna learn about an astonishingly talented singer and her journeys in and out of popular music since the 60's, read on...

As I mentioned in my last post here, I'm reposting the Reprise album Jennifer from 1972. It was one of my post popular downloads before Rust Belt Outpost got shut down (sigh), so clearly people liked it and/or were looking for it. This post of the album will be an upgrade: it's ripped @320kps from my 2013 Japanese import CD I recently bought. It's a stellar album, so download it from me and if you like it, please buy your own copy. It's a miracle it got reissued after 40 years. Do a search with her name and "Growing Bored" if you wanna read the original post I did. Keep in mind though, those links are dead. Now on to the lady in question and the anthology I've assembled....

Jennifer Warnes can be different things to different people. Scott remembers when she was a solo talent on the fringe of country and pop music in the 70's, but by the time I was a kid hearing songs in the 80's, she was the gal who did the movie song duets. Now, those two songs - "Up Where We Belong" and  "(I've Had) The Time Of My Life" - were two of the biggest songs of the 80's, and they hooked me when I was little. And yes, I loved Dirty Dancing and pop music as a boy, OK? If anyone has something to say about that, I'll put on Slayer's Reign In Blood or some Jandek and we'll talk music street cred all night....
Jennifer doesn't get much notice in rock/pop history, and I think I know why. She wasn't known really as a singer-songwriter like Joni Mitchell, but more a singer who was always excellent and reliable behind a microphone. She did a lot of session work...she's even somewhere on The Bootleg Series 1-3. And with the deluge of female singer-songwriters in the 70's (Carole King, Joni, Emmylou Harris, Carly Simon, Judy Collins) who all had something to "say" - yawn - she got lost in the shuffle, or maybe just dismissed as a pop singer. But to me it doesn't matter that she didn't write all of it - it's about what feelings come across in the songs and what she does with her voice. That voice was one of the first I ever associated with women in song. I was 6 in 1983 when I first heard her, and to me that became what a female pop singer should sound like: warm, vulnerable, but with a strength of feeling, and not octave-warblingIf angels do sing, they sound like Jennifer Warnes....

I'll try to condense her history from Wiki as we go along. Instead of putting 41 track names in a list amidst all this other text, I'll tell you that every song I mention is on this anthology. Settle in....
She was a child prodigy. She grew up singing in church. Offered a recording contract at seven years old. Father turns it down. Offered a scholarship to college at 17 singing opera. She turns it down. Gets involved in the booming California folk/cabaret scene. She then lands a contract with a London Records subsidiary in '67. Around the same time, she joined the cast of The Smothers Brothers Show. This was about the hippest place to be on TV in the late 60's. Also around that time, she was the female lead in a long-running L.A. production of the musical Hair.  

Now one thing might be apparent about her early years after you listen to all of this and if you watch the videos. It seems like the powers that be - whether on record or on TV - wanted to put her raw talent into a kind of blonde hippie ingenue mold, like Petula Clark or something. That's just my sense of it. There was back and forth with her name, too... managers changed it from Warnes to Warren, then found out there was another Jennifer Warren. At one point, she went just by the name "Jennifer". She released two albums on Parrot Records in 1967 and 1968. 

And they didn't sell. They may be a bit dated, but they shouldn't be dismissed out of hand. You can still hear her in there. I picked out some good tracks from both Just Jennifer and See Me, Feel Me, Touch Me, Heal Me. From the first album I've included "It's Hard To Love A Poet", "I Want To Meander In the Meadow", and "Sunny Day Blue". They're all definitely pop songs of that Summer Of Love era, but I like the huskily girlish voice she sings in. She was 20 or 21 when she released this album.

As you might guess from the second album title, she covers "We're Not Gonna Take It" from Tommy. Be warned: it's got these annoyingly loud horn parts after the intro (why do people always add extra crap to Tommy songs?). Despite this, check out her vocal. It is just startlingly raw and earnest....it sounds like she's about to blow the tape heads apart! Another great song she covers here is Dylan's "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues". If I would've known of it, it woulda replaced Judy Collins' version in my Dylan covers post. She sings it with so much soul...it's one of the best Dylan covers of the late 60's, and that's saying something! She also does "Let the Sunshine In" from Hair, with the apocalyptic verses missing from the 5th Dimension version intact. I think it's really good, and I've never been able to stand that song. Having played the female lead in Hair onstage so many times, she really belts it out! I've also included her take on the French song "Tell Me Again I Love Thee". While it's really different from the other tracks here, it shows why she was offered that opera scholarship.

After getting dropped by her label Parrot, she met Leonard Cohen in 1971, and they've been good friends and collaborators since. She toured with him in '72 (check the video section), sang on several of his albums over the years, and did a Cohen album of her own. But more on that later.

In 1972, she signed to Reprise and released her third album Jennifer, which I mentioned earlier and posted before. And for the first time she used her real name on an LP. I love every track on this album, but don't want to over-represent it since I'm giving it to you separately as well. It's haunting, it's sensual, it's an absolute masterpiece that got forgotten for 40 years. You don't just forget an album this good, and one that also is produced by John Cale! I've never heard him interviewed about producing this (it's always about The Stooges or The Modern Lovers)... I think it'd be an interesting story. To represent Jennifer in the anthology I've picked my three favorite tracks: the dramatic "Sand and Foam", the sexy and soulful "Be My Friend" (Isaac Hayes look out!), and the beautifully melodious pop of "Needle and Thread". This is her greatest album; it makes no concessions to a musical scene, it's really diverse, and for me it's utterly timeless.

And it didn't sell either! She was dropped by Reprise and the album was deleted from their catalog by 1974. She found work as a vocal arranger and guest singer on other artists' albums, and didn't release another album until '77. But I found a good song from this time....on March 3, 1975, she reappeared on The Smothers Brothers show. That night she performed "Brand New Start/If You Could See Through My Eyes" solo at the piano. It's a stunningly beautiful version of the songs - her singing is sublime. If you also look on YouTube, you can see a clip from that episode where they all square danced at the end of a skit. It's cute. 

By 1977, things were picking up. She released her album Jennifer Warnes on Arista, containing her first true hit, "Right Time Of the Night". It was a big pop and country hit (hah, and Taylor Swift acts like she's the first). "Right Time" is on here, and I've included four other great songs from the album. She covers the Rolling Stones amazingly ("Shine A Light") and Nazareth (a better-than-the-original "Love Hurts"). "Don't Lead Me On" is a great straight country tune. "Round and Round" is a very dramatic sad song, with maybe her most heart-wrenching singing of the 70's. And I find "I'm Dreaming" utterly beautiful: one of those perfectly sad Quiet Storm brand of pop love songs they don't make anymore... This album has never seen CD, hence a few of the vinyl sounds on "Round and Round".
In 1978, she did a duet with Eagles songwriter Jack Tempchin, his original version of "Peaceful Easy Feeling". It's a great duet; her harmony parts are gorgeous. She then recorded a duet with Steve Gillette called "Lost The Good Thing We Had". It's a sad song, but a good one. Then in 1979, she performed on Leonard Cohen's album Recent Songs. I pulled their duet "The Smokey Life" off of that. They really  complement each other vocally.

She kept things going with her next album Shot Through The Heart. The title track is a great tune that has a really complex hook. "I Know A Heartache When I See One" is an even better pop song than "Right Time..." was. Judging by her history with labels and management, I'm sure "Don't Make Me Over" is more than a little bit autobiographical. "Tell Me Just One More Time" is great, Steely Dan-ish pop. "You Remember Me" is another dramatic, Jim Steinman-esque sad road song. And check out the close-harmony acapella "Hard Times"....O Brother, Where Art Thou? fans should like it. Remember, she was a vocal arranger on the side...and she was good at it. One thing about Jennifer... her Arista albums are not easily classifiable: elements of country, rock, soul, pop, and bluegrass weave in and out. They really are unique.

Also in '79, Jennifer recorded her first song for a movie, "It Goes Like It Goes" from Norma Rae. It went on to win an Oscar. Maybe unexpectedly, the path of movie songs opened up to her. She next did "One More Hour" - written by Randy Newman - for the 1981 film Ragtime. A beautiful, almost-waltz ballad. I then pulled "The Direction You Take" from a 1982 Kazu Matsui album. While it is standard early 80's fusion-pop, it is a nice ballad, and it's one of the last times on record you hear her hit those high, girlish notes. She was 34 at the time.

Now comes her 80's hits. The ballad "Up Where We Belong" with Joe Cocker was huge. I wanted to put a performance version here, so I went looking. Most of the live versions from the period (The Oscars, Top Of the Pops, German TV) were lacking something - the arrangement would be weak or Joe's voice would be off. So I ultimately found a great version from a Belgian concert they did in '92. I'll talk about it more in the video section.

1987/88 was a watershed year for Jennifer, when the world couldn't help but notice her. She released both the Cohen tribute album Famous Blue Raincoat and the smash  hit "I've Had the Time Of My Life" from Dirty Dancing. I remember back then: you could not escape that song, especially if you were anywhere near a girl with a stereo in 1988. That single went platinum back when that still meant something. Don't go in thinking all her songs sound like this one, though... big misconception. And instead of dropping the shiny original single in this mix, I've included a live version from Top Of the Pops. I know it's an instrumental backing track, but it's live and she and Bill Medley are actually singing the harmony that well. Pros don't need "Pro Tools", you know what I mean? 
Famous Blue Raincoat has been well regarded ever since it came out, and any Leonard Cohen fan should have it. It's like the warmer female flip side to his album I'm Your Man. I didn't want to only just copy the album versions over, though. "Song Of Bernadette" is from an '88 Smothers Brothers TV appearance (a little hiss, but a great version) and "Joan of Arc" is from the same Belgian 1992 concert as the song with Joe Cocker. It is, quite simply, transcendent. Her voice was made for that "La La La" melody. It's her definitive version, even though it's not a duet with Leonard like on the album. "Famous Blue Raincoat", "Bird On A Wire", and the heartbreakingly stark "Ballad Of the Runaway Horse" are both presented in their original studio versions. Want the whole album? Go buy the 20th anniversary edition. I did. Support the artist, man....

I'm fascinated by the period of time around her 1992 album The Hunter. By her mid-40's, Jennifer's voice had matured into an expressive, warm instrument. Just listen to the simple, bouncing pop of "Somewhere, Somebody" (presented here in a live version with Max Carl) or the bucolic, hazy beauty of "Lights Of Louisianne". (God, if Neil Young woulda had Jennifer's number in '92, Harvest Moon would've been much better album.) From The Hunter I've also included the devastating ballad "Pretending To Care". Tori Amos fans, you'll dig it.

Nine years passed until her next album, the self-released The Well in 2001. It's also her last record to date. With no pressure to be or sell anything, she made a subtle, beautiful record. "You Don't Know Me" is a beautiful jazz song...turns out it's a genre she sounds great in. "The Panther" is a moody, indescribable tune. Great stuff going on in the background there. The last song included from the album is a version of Tom Wait's "Invitation To The Blues". It's a great song, and makes me wish she would cover more Waits someday.
But I don't know when that'll happen. At 68, Jennifer still plays ocassionally - places like McCabe's, or going on a small Canadian tour in 2011. And according to an update on her site, she has an album somewhere in the works. It's hard to find interview material, from any time period. All I could scare up is a 8 minute NPR sound clip from 2002 and a text interview from 2011. Anyway, here's my creation.....
A few things about this monster (2 Discs, 42 tracks)...first, grab the cover image from here. It might not be on the files. Also, in real life Jennifer could never have a comprehensive collection like this... her multiple label associations make that impossible. And her two most well known songs haven't been on an album of her own. And yes, this is a bit obsessive, but it is designed for good listening. There's actually stuff that isn't here, like some movie tracks that have dated really bad...anybody remember the songs from The Twilight Zone Movie or Blind Date? Thought not. The REAL kicker with this comp (and this is important) is that I've sequenced it in reverse chronological order, starting with songs from The Well. I was inspired this way by Roxy Music's Greatest Hits. Trust me, it'll make no more sense to you the other way. I just like it like this: she gets younger as you listen. Call it wish fulfillment, I guess. And it allowed me to close out with the power of "We're Not Gonna Take It", just like on Tommy.
And if anyone is mad that the original singles of the movie songs aren't here, you can go grab those MP3s inside of two minutes; you don't need me for that. I wanted you to hear her performing...


As an extra, I've provided one file of videos that help flesh out her history, as well as show some cool performances. Please check it out. Actually seeing her sing shows you one thing: she was never fake onstage. There's no artifice, there's just the singer and how they connect people with the song. And if she's singing with someone, she's completely attentive to what they're doing...that's why all the duets. And in these old clips she's captivating to watch - well, to me at least. Her simple beauty (which reminds me of a pretty small-town schoolteacher) melds with the pure lilt of her singing voice. It makes you wanna just hold her. Yeah, I do have a bad crush on a singer from way back... shut up...

The videos start with her time on the Smothers Brothers. She was a cast member doing songs and skits, but now and again she'd get a music showcase where she'd sing a song solo. One thing should be said - she sang devastatingly good live on television, which couldn't be said of everyone in the late 60's. The first clip is her singing "Help Me Make It Through The Night" on the Smothers Brothers, going by just the name "Jennifer"While I admit they overdo the golden gauze look, talk about raw talent! Next is her singing "Easy To Be Hard" (from Hair), which was on her second album. Even standing out amidst the audience, she sings with vulnerability and power at the same time. And check out that last "No" that ends the song; she's impressive

From her time touring with Leonard Cohen in '72, I've included a clip from a BBC film of them performing "Sisters Of Mercy" live. She's a spectral figure behind Cohenhidden in a black turtleneck....all blonde hair and glasses, cooing harmony over his shoulder. It's hypnotic

I love the clip of "Brand New Start" from the Smothers Brothers in '75. She's vulnerable, earnest, and - cue crush again - absolutely beautiful. I dig shy, pretty girls with glasses, OK... even with hot comb bangs. And though Tommy Smothers introductory joke is lame, it's sweet to see that the friendship with the Brothers was helpful, especially during those lean years after Jennifer failed. This is a great performance. ONE NOTE: if you watch this video on a single speaker system - like maybe your phone - it may sound like nothing's there. If you have stereo or headphones, it's fine. Same with the audio track in the compilation. It was unavoidable.
Big Scott has talked about Jennifer's SNL performance of "Right Time Of the Night", but I could only find it through iTunes. Can't transfer it over. Instead, I've included a rockier, kinda sexier version from The Midnight Special in '77 (I was a few months away from being born). She sings good, looks great, and seems like she's having fun with her first hit. I love the moment where she kinda draws inside herself and stumbles just a little during that "I'll be cool, you be kind" bridge before coming back out all smiles. The girl wasn't fake. And it was during the year of stuff like the Bee Gees and disco, so God bless her for being genuine... oh, and Goofy 70's Backup Singers Alert!!!!
The next clip is the Top Of the Pops "Time Of My Life" performance in 88. They're having fun with it. Don't be a hater. Then I have a TV performance of "First We Take Manhattan" from Famous Blue Raincoat. Yes, it's very 80's, but it's still cool...and yeah, that's Stevie Ray Vaughan you see in the video. Then there's a Smothers Brothers 20th anniversary appearance singing "Song Of Bernadette". She sings it beautifully, and there's a nice embrace from the Brothers at the end. Brings things full circle I think.

Then comes the TV performance of "Somewhere, Somebody" that was the source for the track on the comp. She and Max Carl have a great rapport, and that live bass sound and the bridge she sings around 1:25 are worth that little bit of VHS hiss. From the CBS This Morning show promoting The Hunter in 1992And from TNN around the same time there's a clip of her singing "Lights Of Lousianne". At 45, she still looked lovely singing...

Next are the two performances from the Belgian concert in '92. "Joan Of Arc" is amazing to watch: she stands there, completely at ease in front of an full orchestra and a big audience...dressed simply, with a mane of red hair and red gloves on her hands, slowly raising them as if in prayer as she sings the first "la la la"s.....

She sings nothing but that melody for the last two and a half minutes of the song, and believe me, you won't mind. This might be the best single performance of her career.

The performance of "Up Where We Belong" is great because they're backed by a full orchestra and not a tape for once. And watch their body language; she's looking attentively, following Joe, and as they sing the first chorus, Jennifer can tell she's not loud enough. Joe makes a tiny gesture as if to say "we're steaming ahead..." She then starts building in volume as the song goes, and by the end she and Cocker are ripping their hearts out on the choruses. He makes her laugh at one point; it's very sweet and genuine. Like I said, no artifice. And she keeps throwing him these looks like "Damn, we're doing it!", and Joe does this tiny shrug, as if to say "going good, kid..." It's a joy to watch, and she is just a powerhouse. They both were.
And the well (no pun intended) dries up from there. As for recent things, I've included a fan video of her singing "Song Of Bernadette" in 2009. It cuts out right before the end, sorry. On YouTube you can find a vid of her and Joe singing "Up Where..." on a German awards show sometime before he died last year. Joe looked rough, but she can still hit some of those notes.
That's it. If you made it this far, thank you. I had to get this all out. Check her out if you haven't. Jennifer is an amazing singer with a long and varied career that not many people know of. I find her unclassifiable. And if some of this is country, country music don't sound this good or pure nowadays. And above all that, she seems like a genuinely good soul. Here's to hoping there will be something new in the future....I'll listen.

And there is a comedy bonus for weathering that mountain of text.... People may not remember David Brenner. He was a big comic on TV in the 70's and early 80's. I remember seeing him on Carson a lot. I picked this because it's a unique album: a mixture of standup, sound effects, and monologues...it's like a comedy concept record about his youth in Philadelphia, and it's really funny. Comedy Minions, Go!!!!

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