Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors
Charles Donovan

GET UPDATES FROM Charles Donovan
 

Harriet Schock's Hollywood Trilogy

Posted: 16/08/2013 07:35

As I exercise my way back to some form of good health, I switch between wheelchair and walking (my poor feet became bloated sacks of liquid and bone fragment when I landed on them from an unthinkable height - they can only bear me a few metres before they give up), grateful that I can do a tiny bit of the latter. In addition to the friends, therapists, relatives (I hear my lovely Godmother's voice correcting me, "it's relations, not relatives"), doctors and nurses, there are other healers - the composers in my life who are like rungs on a climbing wall, each of them helping me up a few feet. First Lori Lieberman, then Pamela Polland, and now...Harriet Schock.

There's a photograph of Harriet that captures her essence. It appears on the cover of her third album, You Don't Know What You're In For, from 1976, and was taken by Ethan Russell, noted for his dramatic shots of The Rolling Stones, The Who and The Beatles. Harriet appears to be gently staring down the photographer, fixing him with an exquisitely self-possessed gaze and a Mona Lisa smile. I am glad that it has been preserved because it helps me describe this complex and enigmatic songwriter. Her four most recent works are readily available, but the three albums that established her trademark witticisms, melodies and chord progressions are not. Many people enjoy 1970s production values - the string and horn arrangements that don't exist any longer in quite the same form, the vocals that aren't excessively treated, the prominence of the piano, the intimacy. Harriet comes from this golden age of singer/songwriters - an age that has never been surpassed. Cherry Red, Union Square and Beat Goes On are the powerhouses of the UK reissue industry, and I remain confident that someone there will hear what I hear. Talent and quality will out.

2013-08-15-Third_album_front.JPG
Harriet's third album, You Don't Know What You're In For (1976)
Photo: Ethan Russell

Until the 1980s, 20th Century Fox had its own record label, 20th Century Records. Among its extravagantly gifted stars-in-waiting was Harriet, along with Patti Dahlstrom and Rita Jean Bodine. Harriet had moved from Texas to Los Angeles in her early twenties and acquired a following playing the gay bar circuit, accompanying herself on the piano. "They were the only places I knew where a singer/songwriter could do original material, so I played them a lot". Word of her talent spread quickly and before long, 20th Century had snapped her up.

I first heard Harriet's music in 1998 after stumbling upon it at Music & Video Exchange, the second-hand outlet with the most surly and uncharismatic shop assistants in London. I knew I'd seen her name before, on albums by Syreeta, Smokey Robinson, Roberta Flack and Helen Reddy. I clutched all three records and rushed back to my flat near the Post Office Tower (like most native Londoners, I can't bring myself to call it 'BT Tower'). Minutes later, what emerged from my phonograph were nothing less than three-minute romantic masterpieces, filled with the kind of flourishes and subtle tricks that today can only be found in musical theatre; deft use of internal rhymes, gorgeously long melodic lines, sardonic humour. I noticed at least two Sondheim-esque traits running through the albums - Harriet never allowed the stress to fall lazily on the wrong syllable of a word, so her songs sounded uncontrived and intelligent, and she made only minimal use of melisma. Of course, melisma (when a series of notes is sung for one syllable of lyric) was practised masterfully by lots of 1970s soul artists, but is now so gaudily overused on TV talent shows that it has become embarrassing and passé.

If Carole King, Carly Simon, and Joni Mitchell (not to mention Buffy Saint Marie) formed the first wave of singer/songwriters, then Harriet led the second, which came a few years later and included Melissa Manchester, Wendy Waldman, Chi Coltrane and Karla Bonoff. Her first album was 1974's Hollywood Town, produced by Roger Gordon, and it thrust her straight into the spotlight.

2013-08-15-First_album_front.JPG
Hollywood Town (1974)
Photo: Mike Paladin

The album is a seamlessly cohesive statement in which the narrator goes through a number of social and romantic rites of passage and shares the experience with sometimes barbed, sometimes touching observations. It introduces Harriet's piano-playing style, which flows from the same influences of blues, classical and pop as Carole King. Supporting musicians are of the highest calibre - Leland Sklar, Larry Carlton, Russ Kunkel. These are the names you see stamped over the very finest offerings of the 1970s. 'Ain't No Way To Treat A Lady', which was to become Harriet's signature song, opens with a conversational line that neatly encapsulates her bracing and intelligent approach: "I guess it was yourself you were involved with/I would have sworn it was me". She manages to place a melodic and lyrical hook at the start of the song and it's not hard to imagine how this must have ensnared people hearing it on radio.

2013-08-15-harriettower.jpg
Harriet with her Tower Records billboard (1974)
Photo: Mike Paladin

Just as 'Ain't No Way...' was about to go stratospheric, events beyond Harriet's control conspired to hinder its progress. "I came very close to having a top forty hit. A music director of a major top forty station in L.A. was poised to start playing it but wanted it sped up. Russ Regan recalled the record, sped it up and reissued it. There was another station, in San Francisco, which promised to play the record if the L.A. station did. A few days before they were due to play me - which would have made it a hit because they were huge stations - the music director had a fight with the program director and quit. We lost the L.A. station which made the San Francisco station pull out. I didn't quite understand what a disaster this was when it happened. But decades later, when I heard them retell how close we were and how heartbroken the label was, the severity of it became even clearer."

Harriet had to adjust to success of a different kind; other artists and acts swiftly recorded their own versions of her songs. From Hollywood Town alone, her songs were covered by Manfred Mann, The Partridge Family and - most notably - Helen Reddy, who took 'Ain't No Way To Treat A Lady' well into the US Top Ten. "I was anonymous all the way to the bank," remarks Harriet drily.

2013-08-15-karenblackandHarrietgoingshopping3.jpg
Harriet with the late Karen Black, one of the huge number of performers who have sung her songs and which includes Helen Reddy, Smokey Robinson, Manfred Mann, Syreeta and Nancy Wilson.
Photo: Andrea Ross-Greene

Two more brilliant albums, She's Low Clouds and You Don't Know What You're In For, followed. The considerable acclaim with which they were met was not enough to prevent the inevitable. "Disco came in and though I was still performing, I didn't know how to fit into what was happening without abandoning who I was completely."

2013-08-15-Second_album_front.JPG
Second in the classic trilogy, She's Low Clouds (1974)

Harriet bid the seventies farewell, having bestowed the decade with a trilogy of albums whose sheer pulchritude still attracts listeners today. Harriet has been busy ever since - as a Motown songwriter, composer for TV and film, teacher, and, from the nineties, a recording artist once more (see the longer version of this piece to find out more). But from Japan to Sweden to America to Britain, there are legions and legions of us who consider the unavailability of her first three works to be nothing short of a crime.

The full version of this interview can be read on Charles Donovan's website.

 

Follow Charles Donovan on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@CharlieDonovan

FOLLOW UK ENTERTAINMENT
 
 
  • Comments
  • 28
  • Pending Comments
  • 0
  • View FAQ
Post Comment Preview Comment
To reply to a Comment: Click "Reply" at the bottom of the comment; after being approved your comment will appear directly underneath the comment you replied to.
View All
Favorites
Bloggers
Recency  | 
Popularity
photo
HUFFPOST BLOGGER
Joanna Perry-Folino
12:52 on 17/08/2013
I want to see these works reissued so that I can 1. aesthetically enjoy them 2. share them and spread the news around with many others 3. honor a brilliant woman artist

so when in the heck is this going to happen? Too long in the waiting. (Joanna)
photo
HUFFPOST BLOGGER
Charles Donovan
14:26 on 17/08/2013
I am with you. They had lovely cover designs and photography, plus lyric sheets inside.
CD
photo
HUFFPOST BLOGGER
Charles Donovan
09:31 on 17/08/2013
Thank you!
CD
09:12 on 17/08/2013
I admire and respect Harriet Schock as an artist, songwriter, pianist, and instructor of other songwriters. She's a lovely person who is always giving, and she's a true inspiration. I have her first album, Hollywood Town. I love to sing along to the beautiful and fun melodies and words. I'm so glad you've written and featured this article.
photo
HUFFPOST BLOGGER
Charles Donovan
10:03 on 17/08/2013
I share you love of that first album (and it's follow-ups).
CD
03:33 on 17/08/2013
I got to see Harriet Schock perform at a concert in New Jersey not that long ago. Pure magic.

What a wonderful article, Mr. Donovan!
photo
HUFFPOST BLOGGER
Charles Donovan
09:32 on 17/08/2013
She is a great live performer, I agree.
CD
00:56 on 17/08/2013
Harriet is one of the true greats. Coming from the same musical era, I've always been a great fan and admirer of hers as an artist and writer. Her songs are beautifully crafted melodically and lyrically.
photo
HUFFPOST BLOGGER
Charles Donovan
09:33 on 17/08/2013
Couldn't agree more!
CD
photo
HUFFPOST SUPER USER
Vicki Abelson
Creator & Host of Vicki Abelson's Women Who Write
00:00 on 17/08/2013
Thanks for shining your light on this amazing woman who's not only accomplished her own musical successes, she's also enabled and guided countless of other singer/songwriters to do so in kind. Bravo to you. Brava to her.
photo
HUFFPOST BLOGGER
Charles Donovan
09:33 on 17/08/2013
It is a pleasure to write about someone who is endlessly interesting!
Thanks,
CD
23:56 on 16/08/2013
How can you n o t love Harriet as a singer, songwriter, teacher and after all as a lovely sweetheart.
A hard to find combination in the trade. Thank you Harriet for what you are doing.
Norbert Heuser
photo
HUFFPOST BLOGGER
Charles Donovan
09:34 on 17/08/2013
Harriet is so committed to burnishing the talents of other people; it is a wonderful, generous quality.
Thanks!
CD
23:54 on 16/08/2013
Well how can you not love Harriet as a person, a singer, a songwriter, a teacher ??
She is all in one. A quality which is hard to find in that combination.
Norbert Heuser
23:41 on 16/08/2013
I am a big fan of Harriet's songs. She's is definitely one of the most prolific songwriters I have ever met, amazing educator and wonderful human being.

I sure hope they re-release these records. I'd like to add them to my collection!!!!

Charlyn Bernal
photo
HUFFPOST BLOGGER
Charles Donovan
09:35 on 17/08/2013
She is exactly as you describe!
Thanks,
CS
19:46 on 16/08/2013
I'm a big fan too. Get those albums out. I'll buy them!
photo
HUFFPOST BLOGGER
Charles Donovan
20:45 on 16/08/2013
It's certainly my fervent hope.
CD
19:04 on 16/08/2013
This is a very nice article. She is an amazing musician. She performs regularly at our Golden Age Theater in Hollywood and I always enjoy it when she does. Thank you for writing this and I am totally behind you with making her early albums available once again.
photo
HUFFPOST BLOGGER
Charles Donovan
20:30 on 16/08/2013
Thank you. It must be great to catch her in performance frequently!
CD
19:03 on 16/08/2013
While reading I felt like I was watching a movie. That's always the best feeling. Donovan, a great writer, Harriet Schock, a great singer/songwriter. Thank you for sharing this incredible artist's early life with us in a way that that was like being there at the time!
photo
HUFFPOST BLOGGER
Charles Donovan
20:32 on 16/08/2013
Thank you. Harriet's career is so interesting, and we got to explore much more of it in an extended version of the piece on my site.
CD
18:49 on 16/08/2013
Please, please re-release these projects! They must be heard!
photo
HUFFPOST BLOGGER
Charles Donovan
20:34 on 16/08/2013
Were it up to me, they'd never be able to go out of print. I hope that by starting with this discussion, we can at least generate some kind of energy that will eventually result in reissues.
CD
photo
Gary Stockdale
Emmy-nominated Singer/Songwriter/Composer
17:58 on 16/08/2013
One of my favorite songwriters ever.
photo
HUFFPOST BLOGGER
Charles Donovan
20:32 on 16/08/2013
And mine, too.
CD
17:52 on 16/08/2013
A beautiful article written by an eloquent writer about one of my favorite artists. Thank you Charles Donovan. I, too, would love to see those first three albums re-issued. Harriet's lyrics are brilliant and they ride on those fabulous melodies. I love those songs!
photo
HUFFPOST BLOGGER
Charles Donovan
20:33 on 16/08/2013
I agree. The songs endure because they are so good!
CDx