Lee Hazlewood gets his heart broken and records the ultimate break-up album, 1971
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Lee Hazlewood gets his heart broken and records the ultimate break-up album, 1971

Suzi and Lee (courtesy Suzi Jane Hokom)
It was 1971 and Lee Hazlewood had recently left Los Angeles and his label, LHI Records, far behind, having relocated to the Scandinavian nation of Sweden. He’d also split with his girlfriend of six years, singer Suzi Jane Hokum (that’s Lee and Suzi in the above photo). Prior to their parting, they recorded a number of duets, such as the Hazlewood-penned “Summer Wine,” which Lee would re-make with Nancy Sinatra. Here’s the original Lee and Suzi version:

Following their break-up, Lee wrote a collection of songs detailing the pain of losing a romantic partner. After a first attempt at getting the tracks down on tape in Sweden didn’t work out to his liking, L.H. flew back to L.A. to record in more familiar surroundings. Supported by a small group of musician friends, including Jerry Cole of the Wrecking Crew, the album was captured in a single day—May 11, 1971. 

The subsequent LP, Requiem for an Almost Lady, was released later in the year, though initially just in Sweden and Australia. Lee sets the scene before each of the stripped-down tracks, then proceeds to sing each of the songs in his distinctive dry-as-the-desert-but-still-sweet-sounding baritone, which aches like never before. The album is full of a very relatable form of heartache that’s sad, wistful, witty, vengeful, poetic, painful, and real. It speaks to the particular form of emptiness that comes when the one you love leaves. Pop music has had its share of break-up albums, but none are as spot-on as this.
Requiem for an Almost Lady cover
Lee wrote some notes about the record, which appeared on the back cover of the original LP. Here’s an excerpt:

This is a group of songs about one lady…her name is not important…she knows who she was…There was no pleasure (as there usually is) in writing this album…there was only the dull “thud” of realization that something you once took for granted is gone…

On November 3, Light in the Attic Records will reissue Requiem for an Almost Lady, along with two other Lee Hazlewood records, Forty, and the album L.H. did with Ann-Margaret, The Cowboy & The Lady; all three have bonus tracks. Various goodies are available to those that pre-order through LITA’s website. If you pick up the colored vinyl editions of each, the label will throw in a nearly hour-long cassette containing two previously unreleased Hazlewood sessions from 1969—how cool is that? If you instead decide to go the Amazon route, click on the above album titles.

Thanks to Light in the Attic, we’ve got the remastered premiere of “I’d Rather Be Your Enemy,” the song that closes Requiem for an Almost Lady. It’s delivered with the kind of wounded venom that will ring true to many, ending with a classic Hazlewood turn of phrase.

In 1999, nearly 30 years after Requiem was released, Lee once again wrote about the album, but his view of the material had changed. A selection of those thoughts:

In retrospect…These songs were not written about or for one lady or two or even three…They are a composite of all my memories, of ladies, since I became aware of memories and ladies…After breathing in and out for seven decades (as I have), you start to believe you’re wiser…You ain’t…You’re just more cautious…Here’s to the ladies…Here’s to the memories…And here’s to the songs…

Lee and Suzi (courtesy Mark Pickerel)
As a companion piece to Requiem for an Almost Lady, a short film with the same name was produced and aired on Swedish television. Directed by Torbjörn Axelman, who first collaborated with Lee on a similar project for Hazlewood’s Cowboy in Sweden LP. Both are forerunners of the video album. The Requiem movie includes most of the tracks from the record, plus a couple of added segments that were surely attempts to lighten the mood for the TV audience.