Tuesday, April 21, 2009

My Boy

Men have not often come in a manlier package than the rugged actor/singer Richard Harris. A rowdy, occasionally boozy sort with a wicked flair for dramatics, Harris could invest himself fully in almost anything.

He was a walking firebomb in the angry-young-man British feature This Sporting Life playing a tough rugby star, and a more subdued sort in the Italian drama The Red Desert.

Prized by myself amongst his many acting roles is Harris’ portrayal of Captain Nolan, the fisherman unwilling to fight back at a vengeance-thirsty killer whale in the Jaws-inspired debacle that is Orca. It was filmed in the small fishing community of Petty Harbour, featuring actors making no real effort to come-off as authentic outport Newfoundlanders. And the whale blows up sheds! It’s a riot.

The musical career of Harris is commonly scorned as the byproduct of a vanity project devoid of any true value, beyond his insanely strange and enjoyable epic hit “MacArthur Park.”

His music’s appeal tends to rely heavily on kitsch value, which isn’t really a bad thing when you’re talking about a professionally made product lifted by a unique vocal presence. Harris had the latter in spades with his quivering, ragging bellow of a voice.

The Richard Harris Love Album collected a number of his more romantic moments for the Dunhill label, which includes his “MacArthur Park” era material. “What a Lot of Flowers” was a single released in 1969, the year after “MacArthur Park” hit big. This tune never reached the near-chart-topping heights of his most well loved number, which is a shame, because it deserves more.

Written by Leslie Bricusse and produced by Johnny Harris (who also worked with Shirley Bassey, Petula Clark, and Tom Jones), “Flowers” is a top-notch, loungy pop song with an air of engaging ridiculousness.

The opening piano riff is a catchy starting point to warm up the listener for Harris’ swooping vocals, which get straight to the heart of the matter.

“What a lot of flowwwwwwweeeeeeerrrrrrrsssss. What a lot of sunnnnnnssshhhiiiinnnneeeee.”

Indeed Richard, there must be a lot of flowers, sunshine, and “music in the world today.” From there, he expresses his admiration for the many colours of the rainbow, and how they spread themselves through a cluster of flowers.

He gets excited about this, belting out the refrain of “VIOLETS! VIOLETS! VIOLETS!” several times before calming down again. It’s a particularly grand sort of flower, I reckon. The mellow conclusion is a nicely arranged coda, with reverberating woodwinds creating an almost spacey ambiance combined with Harris’ typically quivery voice.

A mixtape favourite of mine for a number of years now, “What a Lot of Flowers” is a song that’s hard to ignore while it plays. The forcefulness of Harris’ performance will grab you – maybe in a night-stalkerish way, hopefully though in a more suave-party-host fashion.

Richard Harris - "What a Lot of Flowers"

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