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Heighty Hi - the Best of Lee Michaels


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Performer Notes
  • Audio Remasterers: Dave Schultz; Bill Inglot.
  • Liner Note Author: Brett Milano.
  • In the late '60s and early '70s, an era of guitar heroes, Lee Michaels stood out as a monster keyboard man, gigging with a souped-up Hammond B-3 organ and an amp setup that would deafen the first five rows in most venues, and just a drummer (the mammoth Barry "Frosty" Smith) to keep him company. Michaels was also a man of many moods as a songwriter, willing to go from prog-anticipating psychedelia and longhaired blues to blue-eyed soul and straightforward hard rock at the snap of a finger. Michaels' cross-genre shape-shifting may be why the man didn't achieve lasting stardom, despite scoring a number six single with 1971's "Do You Know What I Mean" -- he was a tough man to pigeonhole, though he earned a loyal following through touring and underground FM radio play. Between 1968 and 1972, Michaels cut seven albums for A&M Records that represented his best and best-known work, and Heighty Hi: The Best of Lee Michaels collects 20 tunes from this period. The album leads off with Michaels' two best-known songs, the title cut (a playful boogie singalong with not-so-subtle references to marijuana that was an FM radio favorite) and the rock 'n' soul stomp of "Do You Know What I Mean," and if this set goes off in a number of different directions musically and thematically, the graceful and muscular report of Michaels' keyboards (he also played piano and harpsichord and often overdubbed several keyboard lines on a single track) is consistent throughout, and Michaels had a powerful, soulful voice that was a solid match for his many tales of women who'd done him wrong (though "The War" and "What Now America" remind us he was capable of heavier stuff). Michaels aimed big, but he wasn't bombastic or overbearing, and the best music here is subtly artful while showing off plenty of swing, some meaty rock & roll stomp, and Michaels' uncompromising creative vision. Heighty Hi: The Best of Lee Michaels is a fine sampler that covers the high points of his most fertile period; especially zealous fans might want to go with the seven-disc box set The Complete A&M Albums Collection, but for anyone else this will deliver an excellent (and portable) sampling of a gifted and often underappreciated artist. ~ Mark Deming
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