Bergen White: For Women Only

Bergen White Bergen White’s For Women Only [original LP SSS International 1970/CD-re-issue Rev-Ola 2004] is the kind of discovery I always hope to make but secretly fear isn’t actually out there.  It was one of several CDs I bought on an off-chance about ten years ago.  I am so glad I did as this one I fell for almost the moment I pressed play.

For Women Only is a baroque/soft masterpiece if ever there was one. It beguiled me from the start and haunts me still. Several songs are so lovely that I was pretty much knocked off my perch.  When you find yourself exclaiming out loud “This is fantastic!” you know you have stumbled across a rare find indeed.

Sheer elegance

The words elegant, eloquent and poetic come to mind when listening to ‘For Women Only’.  So do majestic and sublime.  All are apt but don’t really give a flavour of the music which is a blend of 60s pop and country with echoes of soul, surf, vocal harmony, rock’n’roll and US beat, all given a consummate chamber/baroque treatment and refracted through a soft-focus lens.  Add psychedelic trimmings here and there and that maybe gives some idea.

What stands out most clearly is the quality of the songs.  Bergen made the selections from top drawer songwriters such as Mann and Weil, Mickey Newbury and Townes Van Zandt and added a half dozen or so of his own compositions.  All are strong melodically and are treated to sympathetic arrangements crafted by Mr White himself and played by the renowned Nashville Area Code 615 session team.

That cover couple 

Reviewers tend to give the album cover a lot of attention, criticising it for being at odds with what is contained within (though I sense the cover has its own kitsch following too).  I don’t know whether Bergen had a hand in selecting the cover imageBergen White overview byline or indeed the album’s title.  The mature, canoodling diners might lead you to expect a kind of easy listening fest and, knowing nothing about Bergen White at this point, I was prepared for a deluge of syrupy strings, just in case.  But insofar as the songs are of a romantic leaning and from a mature perspective, I don’t think the cover, although far from ideal, is so misleading or surprising from a 1970 marketing point of view.  This exceptionally well-crafted music wasn’t aimed squarely at the Woodstock generation (Bergen was 30 at the time and already a music business veteran) even although its own gentle tuned-in, turned-on vibe was undoubtedly influenced by it.  This is perhaps more apparent listening today than it was back in 1970.

The image of Bergen on the CD case interior (and I assume on the reverse of the original album sleeve) is equally relevant but tends to get mentioned rather less.   Here he stands as a psychedelic figure semi-silhouetted in some unknown landscape, recalling, perhaps, Lee Hazlewood’s space cowboy.  The image is apt as the album combines traditional maleness (Don’t Keep Me Waiting) with much sensitivity and reflectiveness thus making Bergen a true hero of the new age.

Accomplished arranger

Bergen White cut his teeth as a member of Ronny and The Daytonas and went on to hone his skills as producer, conductor and arranger at Nashville.  This album was conceived as an outlet for his expertise as an arranger but Bergen also shows himself to be an accomplished composer and singer with his understated tenor vocals always in tune with the demands of the song rather than trying to impose his personality.  The arrangements themselves are wonderful, adding colour and interest, enhancing but never overwhelming the songs.  The attention played to careful placing of contrasting instrumental combinations and Bergen’s Brian Wilson sensibility when it comes to percussion is particularly notable.

The record didn’t perform commercially for any number of reasons.  Bergen wasn’t a well known name outside of the industry and possibly the album was never heard sufficiently by its target audience.  Come 1970, the future lay more in acoustic, stripped-down styles of confessional songwriting so the comparative lushness of For Women Only probably meant it sounded a little square on that score.  But what a gem for us to discover and enjoy almost a half century later.

The CD reissue features rare photographs, extensive liner notes by Steve Stanley and plenty of comment from Bergen White himself.  As well as the complete For Women Only album, there are six very worthy bonus tracks, two of which are mono versions of album tracks and five are from 1967 and sit alongside the album with ease.

If you like melodic, well-crafted songs in a baroque-pop vein delivered by a master craftsman of the genre, then this is the album for you – love or hate the cover.

I’ll talk about For Women Only track-by-gorgeous track over three posts coming soon.
 

1. She Is Today – (Mann-Weil) *****
2. It’s Your Time – (White) ***
3. Let Me Stay Awhile – (Newbury) *****
4. Look at Me – (Gates) ****
5. Lisa Was – (Mann) *****
6. Hurt So Bad – (Randazzo) ***
7. On and On – (White) ***
8. Gone Again – (Gates) ***
9. Second Lover’s Song – (Van Zandt) *****
10. The Bird Song – (White) *****
11. Now – (White) ****
12. It’s Over Now – (White) ****

Bonus Tracks

13. If It’s Not Asking Too Much – (White, 1967) ****
14. Don’t Keep Me Waiting – (White, 1967) ****
15. What Would You Do In My Place – (White, 1967) *****
16. House on Bonnie Brae – (Linde, 1967) ***
17. The Bird Song – (White, 1967 mono] *****
18. It’s Over Now – (White, 1970 mono) ****

 


For Women Only: tracks 1-4
For Women Only: tracks 5-9
For Women Only: tracks 10-18

 

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5 thoughts on “Bergen White: For Women Only

  1. Great appreciation and contextual markers for the LP and its individual tracks. I’m speaking with Bergen this week to gather info for a book project on jazz in Nashville, but you seem to have had access to published or recorded interviews with him in order to report how he feels about some of the tracks in retrospect. This is the first time I’ve listened to “For Women Only,” so your breakdown of instrumentation on most tracks helps a great deal, but I’m finding only random criticism on it, mostly on blogs like yours, but if you could tell me whether you found published interviews with Bergen, I’d be grateful (I know the album made Mojo’s and Uncut’s year-end best lists, but I’m not sure whether they or any other outlets profiled him.).

  2. OK, maybe you had access to the interview with Bergen provided on the hard-copy CD reissue (maybe only UK reissues, for that matter) that was not available via the iTunes version I just listened to?

    • Yes, Bill, you’re right, I had access to the interview which came with the CD re-issue and that was pretty much it so far as print was concerned. I’d imagine that the sleeve notes are the same for the US re-issue..?

      I’m not sure about Mojo or Uncut profiles but Robbie White’s Amazon review mentions discovering the album via a five star recommendation in Mojo, presumably the magazine’s review at time of the re-release.

      I could discover only one audio interview with Bergen which was conducted in June 2013 at the Nashville’s Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. The sound quality isn’t brilliant but the interview is over 75 minutes long. It’s since been blocked on Youtube in the UK on copyright grounds so I won’t link to it here but you could try a search under ‘Bergen White interview’.

      Terrific that you’re talking to Bergen. Look forward to hearing anything more you may find out about For Women Only. Good luck with your book.

  3. Thanks again, “Lightscribe.” The CMHOF interview is available on its site (I hope its open for you in the UK as well), and Bergen also recently completed a brief interview for a minor syndicated television network (RFD-TV) program. I conduct research at the Hall of Fame/Museum fairly often, but was disappointed to learn just yesterday that there are no clipping files for Bergen White. Not surprising, though, if he kept mostly in the background as an arranger. I’ll report back on my interview soon.

    • OK thanks Bill, will be interested to hear your findings. I’ve been away from the internet in darkest Devon hence it’s taken a week for me to post your comment, sorry for the delay.

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