Bergen White - For Women Only

The late sixties was a time in which the arranger of pop records was greeted with the same celebrity status within the music industry as that of the pop star; songwriter/producers Jimmy Webb, Burt Bacharach, Antonio Carlos Jobim and Quincy Jones were just as famous for their treatment of songs as they were for writing the songs in the first place. Step up to the plate, Bergen White, whose debut solo album For Women Only came and went quickly in 1970, and did little to halt White’s pace-gathering rise towards being an A-list Nashville arranger. Here was a man who was handpicked to arrange Elvis by the king himself, and whose solo aspirations were being sidelined by his own skills in other areas. Looking back at Bergen White, simply by listening to For Women Only, it’s clear that we may have been deprived of a talented singer-songwriter. Instead, we were given a man whose arranger-credits include Garth Brooks, Dolly Parton and Faith Hill.

It’s possible that we finally appreciate For Women Only because of the renaissance of the baroque pop aesthetic. By now, we’ve heard all of the noises and been thrown towards every possible type of musical genre, to the point at which the listener is now having to go back and champion albums that placed more emphasis on conventional quality as opposed to experimental indulgence. There’s nothing new about For Women Only, and yet that’s why we so cherish it; the album strives and achieves a high level of quality within the genre. The songs are about love and desire, as opposed to sex, and are therefore very dramatic. They exude a mature, heartfelt resonance that seems lacking in the pop music of nowadays. This wasn’t an album written and recorded to make a quick buck, it was an album that acted as a vehicle to drive White’s own singing aspirations.

Containing songs recorded throughout an eighteen-month period in Tennessee, For Women Only is an album that serves to start late and carry on through the evening – as the fires are lit and the sun begins to set. It has an after-party feel to it; the chord-progressions aren’t primary enough to blaze the charts with, and the musical hooks are subtle. The overt-use of harpsichord throughout the album gives a warm, grandiose feel that bands with it an air of detachment, as if the superficial layers are sugary and yet the core is locked in melancholy. For Women Only not only features songs from the fine pen of White, but also from aspiring luminaries as David Gates (who later successfully topped the charts with Bread), Mickey Newbury and Townes Van Zandt amongst others. White also enlisted the help of talented guitarist Wayne Moss, who played on Dylan’s Blonde On Blonde and would later play in Area Code 615. In essence, For Women Only’s credentials were dazzling on paper, and yet lukewarm publicity from label SSS ensured that public reception towards the album would follow suit.

Still, hindsight is a beautiful tool and For Women Only is, if you don’t include the bonus cuts, twelve songs of pure Nashville adult-pop. From the sprightly orchestra-backed She Is Today through to the slow-burning intensity of Let Me Stay Awhile. Even The Bird Song, whose lyrics deal with the murdering of one’s girlfriend, seems to casually fit into the general ambiance of For Women Only. Gone Again is unmistakeable Bread before they hit their prime, whilst On And On treads along Nilsson’s territory with considerable aplomb, and It’s Over Now has a slight Vaudeville charm that gives the proceedings a final kick. The bonus tracks contained on this reissue feature some strong songs that could easily have featured on the original For Women Only line-up. If It’s Not Asking Too Much and Don’t Keep Me Waiting have sultry arrangements that lure the listener inwards, whereas the sparse recording of the Dennis Linde-penned House On Bonnie Brae is even more like Nilsson than On And On.

As a self-claimed ‘lost-classic’, For Women Only clearly delivers on its promise, and makes you question why it was never given the praise it deserved back in 1970. It’s title might betray the origins of its era, and yet its content only serves to leave us wanting more. This is an album that ranks alongside The Aerovons’ Resurrection and Linda Perhac’s Parallelograms as must-have albums, purely because we should count our blessings we have them released in the first place.

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out of 10
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