It is a consequence of the new that it makes the old look its age. But what to make of an album that isn’t particularly old, yet has already aged to such an extent that it sounds like its from another planet. Whatever moment in time and space produced Charlie Rich’s 1973 album Behind Closed Doors is long gone now. Song doctored, studio musicianed and A&Red to the extreme, this is an album whose creators appear to have never heard of rock and roll.
On the first pass through these fifteen freakishly smooth mid-tempo country ballads the modern listener will be concerned and disoriented. On the tenth he may find himself transported. Even the most heavily produced music today pays implicit tribute to the musical vocabulary of rock and roll. Charlie Rich does not; he’s strictly Rock in the adult contemporary sense. He existed in a brief cultural moment when early rock and roll was far enough in the past and punk rock was far enough in the future to be free to make music with absolutely no rough edges.
Many of the songs on Behind Closed Doors still exist on jukeboxes in out of the way bars, at old relative’s houses, and even on an episode of Seinfeld (George sings “The Most Beautiful Girl” when he’s broken up with Susan). It’s not that the songs themselves are old-fashioned—the truth is many of them would serve today’s hat bands as well as they served Charlie Rich’s lonesome cowboy shtick. The difference is in interpretation. Rich approached his material with massive professionalism and carefully doled out sincerity. Not even Vegas is that showbiz anymore.
As pleasure listening, Behind Closed Doors is a mixed bag. Rich’s singing can never be faulted and neither can the playing of the ace studio pros backing him up. At times, though, the material just gets too schmaltzy for anyone who’s not Elvis to plow through cleanly. “I’m Not Going Hungry”, the eleventh track reeks so strongly of cheese that it’s almost unbearable; the next song, “Nothing in the World (To Do With Me)” isn’t much better. Others like the title track and “If You Wouldn’t Be My Lady” are just fine.
But is it a good album? Hard to say. If smoothed out Nashville product makes you cringe then steer clear of this one. If you’ve always secretly enjoyed Rich singing “Behind Closed Doors” over the public address system at the Piggly Wiggly, you may want to check it out.
// Notes from the Road
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