“Still, in all, I’m happy….”

(The formatting for this post went a bit wonky when I cut-and-pasted the lyrics from another site. I hope this renders the way it’s supposed to.)

There are a few songs that I’ve known since the earliest time I was aware that there were things called “songs” in the first place. One of them has lyrics that go like this:

CHORUS: I have been a roverI have walked aloneHiked a hundred highwaysNever found a homeStill in all I’m happyThe reason is, you seeOnce in a while along the wayLove’s been good to me.

There was a girl in DenverBefore the summer stormOh, her eyes were tenderOh, her arms were warmAnd she could smile away the thunderKiss away the rainEven though she’s gone awayYou won’t hear me complain


There was a girl in PortlandBefore the winter chillWe used to go a-courtin’Along October hillAnd she could laugh away the dark cloudsCry away the snowIt seems like only yesterdayAs down the road I go


This song is called “Love’s Been Good To Me”, and it was written by poet and songwriter Rod McKuen, whose work was apparently very popular in the 20th century. I honestly don’t know much about his work at all other than this particular song, to be honest.

This song has not attained “classic” status, but it hasn’t vanished into obscurity, either. It’s been covered a bit, though not so much as some other stalwarts of the “Great American Songbook”. Maybe that’s because melodically it’s not a “big tune” kind of song that rewards vocal pyrotechnics; this isn’t the kind of ballad that the Whitney Houstons of the world would belt from the stage of an arena in front of 15,000 lighter-waving (or cell-phone waving, these days) fans. It’s a more wistful kind of song; the attraction here lies in the words themselves. A convincing performance of this song requires vocal acting, really: the singer has to actually sound like a person looking back at relationships from the vantage point of years (or even decades), with a mix of sadness that the love has ended but also the happiness that the love happened at all.

Here is the Kingston Trio:

That’s lovely, although it’s not the version I grew up hearing. This next version, by Tom Jones, is interesting. Of all the versions I’ve heard, Jones comes closest to making “Love’s Been Good To Me” into a vocal showpiece, which is probably to be expected; after all, it’s Tom Jones. He chooses a slower tempo, which is interesting in itself, and the guitar in the background is certainly busy. The song becomes more of a vocal showpiece by virtue of Jones taking it slow and pitching the song to favor his almost-operatic sound in his upper register. This is a beautiful rendition, but still not the one I knew as a kid.

Next is, so far, the only cover I’ve found thus far by a female singer: Nina Simone, who gender-flips the song for her own tastes. Her voice here does have the sound of someone with the experience of roaming the country, occasionally finding love along the way. She has a raspy quality, especially in the higher notes, that suits this song pretty well.

Then there’s this, maybe the most convincing version as far as the sound goes: you can’t hear this version and not think, “Yup, that’s the voice of someone with decades on the road behind them.” This is Johnny Cash, who covered “Love’s Been Good To Me” on one of his very last albums. (In fact, it was released posthumously.) At this point, Cash’s baritone remained, but it was thinner, reedier; you can hear the air in his voice, and you can hear him working to get into the higher register. In all the versions of this song I’ve heard, Cash’s might be the closest marriage of the meaning of the words with the voice singing it.

There are others that I won’t post here, more for space reasons than anything else…Orson Bean covered it (though it seems to have disappeared from YouTube for now), and of course Rod McKuen himself recorded it, quite effectively. If you search the song on YouTube you’ll find a lot of covers, some by well-known singers and more by singers who are not much known these days anymore. But the version I grew up learning and knowing?

Well, that’s by perhaps the single biggest singer of the entire twentieth century. I always figured that he was a younger man when he recorded it, but I’ve just looked it up, and the album A Man Alone, which is all songs by McKuen, came along when the singer in question was already in his 50s.

Here’s Mr. Sinatra.


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4 Responses to “Still, in all, I’m happy….”

  1. Roger says:

    I’m old enough to remember McKuen (1933 – 2015). While he recorded as early as 1959, and had his only charting single, Oliver Twist in 1962 (#76), he didn’t become ROD McKUEN until c 1968 with Listen to the Warm, his first album to chart (#178).

    So Sinatra (1915-1998) or his people wouldn’t have really known him until Frank was 52. BTW, none of McKuen’s album charts even broke into the Top 100, even two “greatest hits” collections, except Rod McKuen at Carnegie Hall, which got all the way to #96.

    Sinatra’s A Man Alone album got to #30 in 1969, not bad in a year competing with Simon & Garfunkel, the Beatles, and the Broadway musical Hair.

  2. Roger says:

    Also, Love’s Been Good To Me appears on McKuen’s Carnegie Hall album, which came out in 1969. Oh, and he was recording albums as far back as 1955, I discovered.

    Per Wikipedia: “In 1969, Frank Sinatra commissioned an entire album of poems and songs by McKuen; arranged by Don Costa, it was released under the title A Man Alone: The Words and Music of Rod McKuen. The album featured the song ‘Love’s Been Good to Me,’ which became one of McKuen’s best-known songs.”

    • ksedinger says:

      The “A Man Alone” album got quite a bit of play when I was a kid! Remember those record players with the tall spindle onto which you could stack four or five LPs and then one would play a whole side, and then the needle would lift and move out of the way and the next record from the stack would drop down and start playing? That was some fascinating mechanical engineering when I was but a “yute”, as Mr. Pesci might say.

      I should give that entire album a listen one of these days; it’s not a long album by any means, no more than 35 minutes or so, I think…and some of the songs, if I remember correctly, have spoken-word elements that I recall finding a bit spooky back then. Of course Sinatra was good at those; he was an actor too, and a damned good one. Fascinating man, Frank Sinatra!

  3. Roger says:

    Absolutely, I had the record player that would play several LPs (or 45s with the adapter) at a time.

    I’ve always been of two minds about talking in songs. I tend to lean against, but it works in some songs (Diana in the Supremes’ ‘Love Is Here and Now You’re Gone’ – “You stripped me of my dreams…” works.

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