I first learned about Sixto Rodriquez a few years ago. I watched a documentary about him called Searching for Sugarman. Rodriguez released two albums in the United States, but neither of them did well. However, they made their way to South Africa in the early 1970s, and found an audience among the young white liberals in the country during the middle of the apartheid-era. Rodriguez found similar appeal in Australia and New Zealand, however, he was completely unaware of the South African audience. They similarly knew little about him, and rumors went around claiming he was dead.
That proved untrue. Rodriguez is alive and mostly well (he is losing his eye sight). He still tours, and thanks to the Oscar-winning film has found a new audience.
It is quite a thing to consider. Rodriguez made two albums — Cold Fact and Coming from Reality — almost 50 years ago and nothing else since then. Yet these two albums hold up very well.
It took some time for me to find them. I prefer to have physical copies of albums rather than digital downloads. Unfortunately, none of the local record stores had the CDs. I could have ordered them online, but it kept slipping my mind.
I stumbled onto the albums a few weeks ago while in a local used record store. I saw the cover of Cold Fact. It looked familiar, but I could not place it. I ignored about four times until I decided to pick up the sleeve and realized what it was. Sitting four sleeves behind it was Coming From Reality.
I do not believe in coincidence or providence, but nothing says “buy these CDs” quite like finding both of them staring you in the face.
As I listened to both albums, I found it hard to believe they did not catch on in the States. The sound is very early 70s, and it has the type of introspective voice that later became popular. Consider lyrics like this:
Judges with meter maid hearts
Order super market justice starts
Frozen children inner city
Walkers in the paper rain
Waiting for those knights that never came
The hi-jacked trying so hard to be pretty
I have yet to see any truly negative reviews of the albums, so it remains a mystery why they did not click with the American audience.
Of the two albums, Coming from Reality is my favorite. There are so many great songs. Consider the opening song Climb Up On My Music:
Another gem on the album is I Think of You. This is a song my uncle would have loved:
Then something happens on this album that is like perfection. Four songs pull you in and take over.
It begins with Silver Words, a melancholy song about love:
Next comes Sandrevan Lullaby – Lifestyles. This one is tricky. It starts of with a contemplative sound and suddenly dives into a biting discourse about Detroit life. The lyrics I quoted above are from this song:
Next is To Whom it May Concern. This is my favorite song to sing, and is tied as my favorite Rodriguez song. The lyrics alone make the song:
Don’t sit and hope
Don’t sit and pine
If you’ve been hurt
Make up your mind
I’m sure you’d find
Someone who would really love you
I don’t know why you sit around
I only know if love is gone
Don’t sit alone with your pride
When added with the music, it becomes a masterpiece. It is so good, so catchy, that you will be sure you have heard it before. Songs like this one make me wonder how Rodriguez failed to catch on with the US audience.
The quartet wraps up with It Started Out So Nice. It is almost the antithesis of I Think of You. Again, the lyrics are phenomenal:
It started out with butterflies
On a velvet afternoon
With flashing eyes and promises
Caught and held too soon
In a place called Ixea
With it’s pumpkin oval moon
It started out so nice
This is my other favorite Rodriguez song. A beautiful song to listen to, to play, and to sing.
I highly recommend buying Rodriguez’s albums, but if you have to pick one, Coming from Reality is the one to get. Sit back, take a walk, go on a drive, and lose yourself in his music.