When songwriter Dory Previn died in 2012, The Los Angeles Times noted one of the contradictions inherent in her life and art: “Although she was an Oscar-nominated songwriter, Dory Previn was better known for ballads that spoke to wounded souls.” Truth to tell, even her early film music was often believably personal, intense, and filled with emotion. It’s no wonder that vocalists including Judy Garland, Dionne Warwick, Frank Sinatra, Rosemary Clooney, Bobby Darin, Barbra Streisand, Matt Monro, Nancy Wilson, Liza Minnelli and Tony Bennett have all recorded Dory Previn’s songs. (And can anybody explain how “You’re Gonna Hear from Me” from Inside Daisy Clover and “(Theme From) Valley of the Dolls” didn’t get Oscar nods? For the record, Ms. Previn received nominations for songs from Pepe, Two for the Seesaw and The Sterile Cuckoo.) Now, Cherry Red’s new Croydon Municipal label – founded by Bob Stanley of St. Etienne – has unearthed Previn’s first, largely forgotten solo recording, 1958’s The Leprechauns are Upon Me, and reissued it on CD under the name of one of its songs, My Heart is a Hunter. It's cause for celebration.
Born in Rahway, New Jersey in 1925 or 1929 (reports vary) as Dorothy Veronica Langan, the future Dory Previn made a connection with legendary lyricist and producer Arthur Freed. At MGM, Freed (Singin’ in the Rain, The Band Wagon) hooked up Dory – writing as Dory Langdon – with another young but already established talent, the composer Andre Previn. The pair became creatively and romantically linked, and married in 1959 – but not before they joined forces to record The Leprechauns are Upon Me for Verve Records. Previn, on piano, joined Kenny Burrell on guitar to accompany Dory for a set of thirteen original songs. Dory wrote all of the lyrics herself, while melodies were contributed by Andre as well as Gene DePaul (Li’l Abner, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers), David Raksin (Laura), Herm Saunders, Lyn Murray, J. Raymond Henderson and Dory herself.
After the jump, we'll take a deeper look at My Heart is a Hunter! Plus: order links and track listing!
“Please, can’t we be enemies? Why don’t we both say goodbye? And then make tracks, baby/Facts are facts, we don’t see eye to eye,” Langdon sings with pep on the opening cut “Can’t We Be Enemies,” her matter-of-factly acidic lyric set to a felicitous melody by Gene DePaul. It introduces a sophisticated, urbane collection of standards-in-waiting, all set to lightly swinging cocktail jazz arrangements from Messrs. Previn and Burrell with room for a number of solos from both men. Langdon’s clear voice has the impact of a less smoky Peggy Lee, and she imbues her own material with expected feeling. The tracks on Leprechauns/My Heart aren’t cut from the same cloth as much of her later material; they’re not as acerbic, as shocking, or as unexpected. But though written in a less personal vein, the songs here are hardly less luscious. The album plays a bit like the cast recording of a one-woman off-Broadway revue from the period, with a precociously gifted, surprisingly spunky star-songwriter at its center. She’s delightfully sassy on the defiant “No” (music by Lyn Murray) and the tart, delicious plea to “Forget Me” (music by Henderson): “You’ve got me hooked, by hook or by crook/I wish you’d never met me! You’re in every cranny and nook/Now, look, will you forget me?” This guy is, unfortunately, so memorable – he even haunts her dreams – that he gives her an upset stomach: “Please stand still while I take my pill...I’m ill!”
The melancholy “Lonely Girl in London” (also with a DePaul melody) and gentle “Warm Winter Day” (composed by Saunders) shouldn’t have eluded the songbooks of the great female vocalists of the day. The ballad “Sea Shell,” also a Langdon/Saunders co-write, is another beautiful lost item here, as are the two items co-written with Andre Previn, “My Heart is a Hunter” and “Just for Now.” The latter, particularly, has the resonance of the best film work from the Previn/Previn team, with a haunting melody that sounds familiar and comfortable despite its obscurity. Dory’s lyric is mature, ruefully imploring “Let me show you how to love me/Not forever...just for now.”
There’s a light Latin vibe thanks to the versatile Burrell’s guitar on “Many Sides.” Langdon’s intimate, hushed vocal is a highlight, while David Raksin’s beguiling melody takes unexpected turns to match the adroit lyric (Sample: “There are always many sides to a situation/And it’s hard when any man tries an explanation/But it’s harder yet for a man to get to know himself alone/For every man has many sides he has never even shown/Many sides that he himself has never known...”
Yet Langdon’s solo compositions are, unexpectedly, the most idiosyncratic. The former title track, “The Leprechauns Are Upon Me,” is an eccentric and ebullient expression of finding love...and a brief one, clocking in at just over one minute. Langdon’s bouncy melody as played by her future husband has a Tom Lehrer-esque feel. The blasé, insouciant “[Where is] Carefree Love?” (“Love’s become so melancholy, it’s so glum, so far from jolly/Ho-hum, where is carefree love?”) is another example of Dory’s straightforward, honest approach to writing about the foibles of romance, while her more outrageously humorous side comes through on the amusingly exasperated tale of a recalcitrant “Gooney Bird”: “When I bought you in the shop, they said, ‘Boy, this bird won’t stop!’ So I cheerfully departed...Stop? You never started!” One could imagine the young Barbra Streisand having sunk her teeth into this comic novelty. (The Gooney Bird clearly fascinated Previn; a later stage work was entitled The Flight of the Gooney Bird.)
Following the release of Leprechauns, the songwriting team of Previn and Previn really took off at MGM, forming the backbone of the early Dory Previn songbook. But by 1968, Andre was devoting more time to his career as an orchestra conductor, and Dory was writing with others including Fred Karlin, with whom she received her third and final Oscar nomination for The Sterile Cuckoo’s “Come Saturday Morning” (a hit for The Sandpipers). Following the breakup of her marriage, Previn plummeted into despair. Yet despite numerous challenges, she sought treatments including electroshock therapy or ECT, and came out on the other side. In the second act of Previn’s career, she reinvented herself as an unorthodox, introspective singer-songwriter with a series of starkly confessional, dark yet wryly humorous albums reflecting on her tumultuous personal life. Her 1970s compositions such as the wittily scathing “Beware of Young Girls” (or more specifically, of Mia Farrow, who broke up her marriage to Andre Previn) drew directly on her personal experience. Considering those experiences included a nervous breakdown and institutionalization, Previn had much on which to draw for her stunningly-crafted, indelibly quirky musical creations. “What I've tried to do," she told Time in 1971, "is bring the madness out in the open. Keep it under wraps, and it erupts into wars and violence."
My Heart is a Hunter is slightly less mad, but an important, must-own missing link in the Dory Previn catalogue. Croydon Municipal’s public domain-sourced CD release boasts an informative appreciation from Bob Stanley (though, oddly, no credit to Mr. Previn and Burrell), and for purists, the booklet can be flipped around to reveal the original cover artwork of the long-lost album. There are no remastering credits, though the audio (likely from vinyl) is clean and clear. It’s a mystery why, say, June Christy (who cut Dory’s “The Bad and the Beautiful”) or Peggy Lee didn’t tackle the songs on this album; perhaps the willfully kooky original title did the music no favors. But the time is right, now, for fans, collectors, and hopefully, young cabaret singers to rediscover Dory Langdon’s My Heart is a Hunter.
You can order My Heart is a Hunter below!
- Can’t We Be Enemies
- Lonely Girl in London
- Let Me Show You Off
- My Heart is a Hunter
- The Leprechauns are Upon Me
- Warm Winter Day
- Carefree Love
- Sea Shells
- Many Sides
- Gooney Bird
- Just for Now
- Forget Me