Barry Gordon – The World is Mine/The Pop Recordings 1964-1971

There’s a long history of important songs being tucked away in weird reissues. The best Sex Pistols compilation is a Netherlands release that looks more like another bootleg full of live tracks. There was a long stretch when the only decent Archies collection was a German import with painfully inept and unauthorized artwork. Two brilliant solo recordings by the former lead singer of The Left Banke were dumped onto an official Stories overview.

And now we get one of the most ambitious albums of the ’70s hidden behind a nerdy black-and-white photo of Barry Gordon. Of course, any serious scholars will note that This World is Mine/The Pop Recordings doesn’t include Gordon’s biggest hit. He was 6 years old when the child actor topped the charts with “Nuttin’ for Christmas” back in 1955. This new compilation concentrates on Gordon’s later years, which began around the same time that the teen got a Tony nomination for “A Thousand Clowns” in 1963.

As explained in the Teensville label’s typically fine liner notes, United Artists signed Gordon to the film version of the play, as well – and decided to try turning the rising star into a proper idol. The idea wasn’t crazy. Gordon wasn’t any kind of teen dream, but he was already a great song stylist. The first 11 tracks here catch him being packaged as an appealing loser-in-love with a voice that sounds like Wayne Newton having a nervous breakdown.

The comp gets even better when Gordon moves over to Dunhill/ABC in 1967. The lovable kid had matured enough to deliver some psych-pop greatness, including a dizzying cover of David McWilliams’ “The Days of Pearly Spencer.” Gordon also stepped up as a solo songwriter with his own bizarre takes on teen trauma. “Take the Veil Off” and “You Can’t Love a Child Like a Woman” are worth collecting simply as high weirdness that’s awfully catchy.

At the start of the ‘70s, though, Gordon was set for a brief shining moment as an important recording artist. His film career had stalled in 1969 with the offbeat angst of Out of It. That didn’t stop Gordon from pursuing a cinematic vision as a singer/songwriter on Capitol Records. His time at United Artists had seen various singles tossed together for a debut LP, but Pieces of Time was carefully crafted of two suites per side.

Teensville respects that, too. The complete album is presented here as a pair of CD tracks. “Side A Suite” makes a strong first impression with gorgeous tunes worthy of Jimmy Webb and Glen Campbell. By the time “Deluge” rises up as the fourth song, however, Gordon’s veered into a symphonic meltdown of pure punk attitude in a year defined by Carole King’s Tapestry. (It’s no accident that the former geek resembles Phil Spector in his Capitol promo photo.)

This sets up the “Side B Suite” as a suave collection of tunes with a prog-rock vision. “Conversation” kicks things off as a touching overview of a doomed marriage born in a fern bar, and there’s an epic closing with the cosmic questions posed in “Wonders Why.” In between, there are three elegant compositions picking up a plot that Scott Walker had just lost across the pond.

Gordon’s formerly cracked tenor had also matured into an instrument worthy of a Broadway star. It seems insane that an insightful masterpiece like Pieces of Time only added up to a single Capitol Year for this kind of talent. Of course, a guy like Barry Gordon had plenty of career options to pursue after the album was ignored.

He rebounded from Pieces of Time by joining the cast of 1973’s The New Dick Van Dyke Show. From there, Gordon kept going as a familiar presence on television. Years of regular voice work later paid off with a decade-long stint as Donatello on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Gordon spent nearly that long as President of the Screen Actors Guild, and now looks to be settling into retirement as an old lefty political commentator. He’ll spend the rest of his life being recognized on the street as one of those “Hey-it’s-that-guy” types. It’s still way overdue for Gordon to finally get this other recognition – although a lost masterpiece stays a little buried in the process.

Barry Gordon
The World is Mine/The Pop Recordings 1964-1971