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Dory Previn

A showbiz singer-songwriter rather than an out ’n’ out broody and cathartic folk star (many have described her as “the female LEONARD COHEN”), Dory’s autobiographical and confessional recordings have had their fair share of critics, although her unique creativity and sense of drama through song come across as both enduring and endearing.
Born Dorothy Veronica Langan, October 22, 1925, in Rahway, New Jersey, she progressed from being a child singer to a dancer in chorus-line work, which led to songwriting for TV programmes under the name of Dory Langdon. Always poignant and relevant in her songwriting career was her early relationship with her paranoid Irish-born father, who, after being chemically gassed as a soldier in WWI, with subsequent bouts of depression and violence, had abducted and imprisoned up his family for several months.
In 1958, having relocated to Hollywood via the release of her jazz LP, THE LEPRECHAUNS ARE UPON ME {*4}, she met and married session pianist/conductor, Andre Previn (her second hubby), soon becoming his lyricist for such film score work as: Pepe, Two For The Seesaw, The Faraway Part Of Town (an Oscar-nominee with Andre) and Valley Of The Dolls. The latter’s theme became a massive hit for DIONNE WARWICK in 1967, by which time the Previns had separated, finally divorcing a few years later when his new girlfriend/future wife Mia Farrow became pregnant with his child. Together with either Andre or Harold Arlen, Dory scribed for big-gun crooners like Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Sammy Davis Jr., Eddie Fisher, Doris Day, Jack Jones and BOBBY DARIN, while another movie, the Oscar-nominated The Sterile Cuckoo, provided her with a Top 20 hit (`Come Saturday Morning’) through The Sandpipers.
After a time recovering in a psychiatric hospital, Dory published a book of poems, which were initially put to music for her debut Mediarts (soon-to-be United Artists) album, ON MY WAY TO WHERE (1970) {*6}. Discharging her demons in one fell swoop, there was the vitriol-cum-lullaby lilt of `Beware Of Young Girls’ (not Mia’s finest moment by far), two father-baiting dirges, `I Ain’t His Child’ and `With My Daddy In The Attic’, plus the BOBBIE GENTRY-like `Esther’s First Communion’.
With still plenty of skeletons gushing from her proverbial cupboard, her second album proper, MYTHICAL KINGS AND IGUANAS (1971) {*6}, was ambiguous but at least contemplative of her future, choice cuts including `The Lady With The Braid’, `Mary C. Brown And The Hollywood Sign’, `Lemon Haired Ladies’ and the opening title track. Possibly too much misery to take in, coming as it did in the run-up to Christmas, REFLECTIONS IN A MUD PUDDLE (1971) {*4} was a dour, cinematic score-like set, and yet another registering her musical diary of her daddy by way of song-cycle `Taps, Tremors And Time Steps’.
Ill-conceived, based on one of her old songs and abandoned as a theatrical musical, MARY C. BROWN AND THE HOLLYWOOD SIGN (1972) {*7}, has been identified as her best work; sadly, on a personal level, it still comes up short with its wistful accompaniment overshadowing her darker-than-dark lyrics. Almost spiritual, but poignant and again reflective, `Left Hand Lost’ (school nuns forced her to be right-handed) uneasily but effectively sat with `Perfect Man’, `Don’t Put Him Down’ and the rollicking medley of `Jesus Was An Androgyne / Animal / Animus’ – one thinks you had to be there, no thanks!
Involving her live band, Robert Wachtel, Peter Jameson, Bill Lincoln, Tom Keene and Bryan Garofalo, 1973’s double IN CONCERT – LIVE AT CARNEGIE HALL {*5} was an attempt at showcasing folk-cabaret on her “usual suspect” recordings. All chatty and sincere, she mixed anxious sentiment with pathos, not exactly warm and inviting, although the audience sounding enthusiastic, an audience one must say that hadn’t exactly got coin out to buy her previous LPs – or this one! (Dory had never entered the Top 200). But at least there were two new songs, `Be Careful, Baby, Be Careful’ and `Moon Rock’, while there were also new PREVIN lyrics by way of the 1973 film theme tune to The Third Girl From The Left.
With Warner Brothers seeing if they could bring about some commercial changes, the eponymous DORY PREVIN (1974) {*7} was delivered. However, despite her slide into neo-country (examples `Lover Lover Be My Cover’, `Coldwater Canyon’, `Mama Mama Comfort Me’ and `Did Jesus Have A Baby Sister’) plus the odd filmic/JACQUES BREL-style flourish (`The Empress Of China’), the set wasn’t too bad. Her second LP for the label (and indeed her swansong), WE’RE CHILDREN OF COINCIDENCE AND HARPO MARX (1976) {*5}, saw her in cheery and cabaret mood via `The Comedian’, but she’d never won the fight between self and soul; `Wild Roses (Love Song To The Monster)’ and a feminine-angled re-write of `The Owl And The Pussycat’ prime examples.
After publishing her memoirs in 1976, Midnight Baby, she retired from recording in 1980 after her “Children Of Coincidence” revue failed to generate much interest; PREVIN subsequently wrote a couple of books, including a second volume, Bog-Trotter; 1986 saw her back under the spotlight when she wrote and performed in London stage work, The Flight Of The Gooney Bird. With her third hubby in tow, illustrator Joby Baker (they’d married in ‘84), Williamson Publishing finally brought out her long-awaited songbook towards the end of the 90s, while there were new recordings by way of the anti-Iraq war-infused PLANET BLUE (2003) {*5}, but only available as a mini-set download. Sadly, after suffering several strokes over several years or so, Dory passed away at her farm in Southfield, Massachusetts, on February 14, 2012.
© MC Strong GFD 2010 // rev-up MCS Sep2014

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