16 April 2012

The Lemon Men - I've Seen You Cut Lemons


Label (finally issued on): Polydor
Year of Release: 1969


I don't normally upload studio acetates on "Left and to the Back", simply because they're fragile, very difficult to come by and usually very expensive. If the opportunity arises to buy the issued or demo vinyl version instead of a rather crackly acetate, I'll take the former option despite the desirability of the latter. I like to own records I feel I can DJ with and play at my own leisure rather than ones I have to keep safe from the scuffing of needles and general wear and tear.

That said, I've never seen a finally released copy of The Lemon Men's "I've Seen You Cut Lemons" in my life, and whilst they (apparently) do exist, this acetate turned up for sale so cheaply that it was worth a punt. Frequently labelled by bloggers as a "psychedelic record", it's not so much psychedelia as an unbelievably peculiar ballad. A rich voiced singer croons a gentle melody about mental illness, using the unexpected lines: "You say that I'm mad and should be committed/ And you are the one who should be called sane", "I've seen you cut lemons/ I've seen you burn children and leave them to die". Yes indeed. Perhaps to muddy the waters further, the song also contains the lines: "You ask me if I don't also cut lemons/ I do, but when I do I cry".

Context, as always, is everything. A Sean Connery directed play entitled "I've Seen You Cut Lemons" hit the London theatre stage around this time, and focussed on the relationship a writer had with his bi-polar sister. We'd need a script of the Ted Allan authored play in question to fully understand the significance of its title, and sadly I don't have one, but it would seem sensible to assume that this record was in some way a tie-in to the production, or at the very least a tribute to its efforts. Sadly, "I've Seen You Cut Lemons" was both a flop in London Theatre-land, closing after five nights, and perhaps inevitably a flop in the record charts as well. Surprisingly, it's story didn't end there, and the play formed the basis of the 1984 film "Love Streams" directed by John Cassavetes, which won the Golden Bear at that year's Berlin Film Festival.

As for the song itself, it's truly unorthodox, combining a brooding moodiness with peculiar Jimmy Webb styled lyrical lines and a relaxing lounge music backing - to use that lazy journalistic device of cross-referencing styles, it's rather like the theme tune to "Just Good Friends" colliding with the plot of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest". We will probably never hear its like again, and as for who the Lemon Men were... does anyone have any ideas? My guess would be that they were a studio band put together solely for this project, but I'd be happy to be corrected.

Oh, and as Bam Caruso always used to say on the back of those "Circus Days" compilation albums - you will be able to detect popping and crackling in this mp3, but it would be foolish to ignore this medium merely because of the fragility of earlier storage systems.

8 comments:

VanceMan said...

You know, it sort of fits in that odd '60s genre of soundtracks with pretty songs and odd meanings. I coudl easily hear this on a flip with "Come Saturday Morning" or "Theme from Beyond the Valley of the Dolls."

CiarĂ¡n Gaynor said...

Just to clarify, it is "I've seen you BURN children and leave them to die". Er, right? The alternative if just to brilliantly mad and bleak to be true. :-)

23 Daves said...

Yes, it's BURN, but due to the new fonts on this blog burn looks like another word entirely when italicised!

This record is going down unusually badly in the 23 Daves household at the moment. I've just been warned I'm never to play it again. For awhile, anyway. Incredulity has turned into irritation.

OwenKelly said...

Thank you. This is the most peculiar song I have heard in ages. I am not even sure I would say that it is about mental illness: that seems too precise. This is the stuff that the web was made for :)

I am going to link to this from my site.

Cheers
Owen

OwenKelly said...

Thank you. This is the most peculiar song I have heard in ages. I am not even sure I would say that it is about mental illness: that seems too precise. This is the stuff that the web was made for :)

I am going to link to this from my site.

Cheers
Owen

23 Daves said...

Thanks for the vote of confidence, Owen. I've tried repeating what you said back to my wife, but she changed the subject!

CHRIS ADAMS said...

WOW! This IS my friend GLEN MASON singing this, he's 81 years old now, he resides in London and I'm visiting every other month so I'll play it to him and find some background info out on this. As soon as I heard it, I knew it was him! Glen's son's godfather by the way is SEAN CONNERY. It's a small world! Glen has TWO CD's that have been released also, 1 double CD called All My Life and the other is Shadrack & Rare Tracks, both available from Amazon...

23 Daves said...

Brilliant Chris, and I'd be delighted if you could! I've been wondering about the background to this record ever since I chanced upon it - if you can find out some more information, that would be really interesting.