Blast from the Past: Elliott Smith “King’s Crossing”

From Elliott Smith’s last studio release From a Basement on the Hill, here’s “King’s Crossing” – my favorite song by Elliott.
From a Basement on the Hill production notes:

Following Smith’s death, Rob Schnapf, producer of Smith’s earlier albums Either/Or, XO and Figure 8, was hired to mix and produce the album, along with Smith’s former girlfriend Joanna Bolme. David McConnell, although present throughout much of the actual recording process, save Smith’s last year of working on the record, was not consulted during the mixing, nor was he asked for the extensive “three years’ worth” of notes he and Smith had made while the album was being recorded. The producer also noted that the track “Ostriches & Chirping,” a short instrumental made from sampling and looping the noises made by a toy bird, had nothing to do with Smith and was something that McConnell had recorded by himself. McConnell said: “…don’t ask me how this ended up on the record, I totally forgot I had put that on one of his reels.”

When asked what he believed the late Smith would think of the released version of the album, McConnell told Benjamin Nugent, “I don’t think he would have delivered [that] record. The record he would have delivered would have had more songs, would have had different mixes and [been] a little more in-your-face.” Schnapf also expressed that the final result that he and Bolme had produced was not the album that Smith would have made, simply because Elliott was not around to finish the album. Schnapf also said that they did not add anything to the songs, and only mixed whatever had been recorded: “I would never presume to add anything. We didn’t add anything.”

Jennifer Chiba, Elliott Smith’s live-in girlfriend at the time of his death, was also not consulted while the album was being finalized, although the singer had spent hundreds of hours talking to her about his directions for the record (Spin, December 2004).

From a Basement on the Hill track listing:

All songs written by Elliott Smith except as noted.

  1. “Coast to Coast” – 5:33
  2. “Let’s Get Lost” – 2:27
  3. “Pretty (Ugly Before)” – 4:45
  4. “Don’t Go Down” – 4:34
  5. “Strung Out Again” – 3:12
  6. “A Fond Farewell” – 3:58
  7. “King’s Crossing” – 4:57
  8. “Ostriches & Chirping” (David McConnell) – 0:33
  9. “Twilight” – 4:29
  10. “A Passing Feeling” – 3:22
  11. “The Last Hour” – 3:27
  12. “Shooting Star” – 6:01
  13. “Memory Lane” – 2:30
  14. “Little One” – 3:14
  15. “A Distorted Reality Is Now a Necessity to Be Free” – 4:32

Available on CD and LP. An Anti- release.

From a Basement on the Hill is written, performed, produced and recorded by Elliott Smith. Final production by Elliott’s family and friends.

Recorded at New Monkey, Satellite Park, Audobahn Recording, Sunset Sound, Cherokee Recording, Fort Apache, Two Beers & Everybody Sings, Chateau Brion, and Elliott’s homes in Portland, OR, and Los Angeles, CA.

Additional recording by Fritz Michaud, Jon Brion, Tom Biller, Matthew Ellard, Andrew Beckman, Chris Chandler, Ryan Castle, David McConnell, Dee Robb, Valente Torres, and Pete Magdaleno.

Mixed by Rob Schnapf, assisted by Joanna Bolme. Mastered by Ted Jensen at Sterling Sound, New York.

Design by Nick Pritchard for Cover photo by Renaud Monfourny. Booklet photos by Paul Heartfield (page four), Dominic DiSala (page nine), Ashley Welch (page ten). Cut-out type by Autumn deWilde, handwritten font by Elliott Smith.

From a Basement on the Hill was Elliott’s final record. He started working on the songs that would eventually be a part of the record while he was on the first leg of the Figure 8 tour. All songs were played live by Elliott at various times in his career. The album was rumored to be a double-record release, also it was rumored that Elliott would decide to release one record and then release another record six months later like The Beatles used to do.

Notes on some of the tracks From A Basement on the Hill, from Wikipedia:

  • “Coast to Coast” features poetry by Nelson Gary. Smith told Under the Radar in 2003, “I asked this friend of mine to make up something he could say as fast as he could in fifteen minutes about people healing themselves or being unable to heal themselves. While he’s saying this thing there is a main vocal that goes over that.”
  • “Pretty (Ugly Before)” previously appeared on a 2003 single on Suicide Squeeze Records, along with a different version of “A Distorted Reality Is Now a Necessity to Be Free”. According to McConnell, Smith did not intend to have “Pretty (Ugly Before)” on the album.
  • In “King’s Crossing”, after Smith sings “give me one good reason not to do it,” a woman’s voice (Jennifer Chiba) can be faintly heard saying, “because I love you.” It reflects the phrase being shouted at shows in which Smith performed the song.
  • “Twilight” was originally entitled “Somebody’s Baby”.
  • If the song “Little One” is played backwards, one can hear some acoustic guitar lines as they were originally recorded, unreversed.
  • Wayne Coyne (of The Flaming Lips) and Elliott came up with the title for the song “A Distorted Reality is Now a Necessity to Be Free”.
  • The composition of the track “Ostriches & Chirping” has been disputed. According to David McConnell, who worked with Smith in some of the earlier stages of the Basement album, this track was created by McConnell himself. A reel containing the track was found by Smith’s family, assumed to be a Smith composition, and was placed on the album.

“King’s Crossing” lyrics:

The King’s Crossing was the main attraction
Dominoes falling in a chain reaction
The scraping subject ruled by fear told me
“Whiskey works better than beer”
The judge is on vinyl, decisions are final
And nobody gets a reprieve
And every wave is tidal – if you hang around
You’re going to get wet
I can’t prepare for death any more than I already have
All you can do now is watch the shelves
The game looks easy that’s why it sells
Frustrated fireworks inside your head
Are going to stand and deliver talk instead
The method acting that pays my bills
Keeps the fat man feeding in beverly hills
I got a heavy metal mouth that hurls obscenity
And I get my check from the trash treasury
Because I took my own insides out
It don’t matter cos I have no sex life
All I want to do now is inject my ex wife
I’ve seen the movie and I know what happens
It’s Christmas time
And the needles on the tree
A skinny Santa helper is bringing something to me
His voice is overwhelming, but his speech is slurred
And I only understand every other word
“Open your parachute and grab your gun
Falling down like an omen, a setting sun
Read the part and we turn out fine
It’s a hell of a role if you can keep it alive”
But I don’t care if I fuck up
I’m going on a date with a rich white lady
Ain’t life great?
Give me one good reason not to do it.
So do it.
This is the place where time reverses
Dead men talk to all the pretty nurses
Instruments shine on a silver tray
Don’t let me get carried away
Don’t let me get carried away
Don’t let me be carried away

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