Friday, July 20, 2007

Laura Nyro

Although Laura Nyro was before my time, I was hearing her ripples even before I knew what I was listening to.

Years down the track, when I heard the Fifth Dimension singing "Wedding Bell Blues", I instantly recognised it, knowing it well from radio airplay as a child, in 1970. I loved it then and I love it now. It's a very well-crafted pop song, a plaintive plea in a very upbeat melody, and upbeat phrasing.

Over the next few years, songs whose writing credits read "L. Nyro" (she pronounced it "Nero") filtered through again and again. Fifth Dimension again, with "Save The Country" and "Stone Soul Picnic", Blood Sweat and Tears doing a soulful "And When I Die", and Linda Ronstadt with an impressive "Stoney End".

But in most cases I know, it wasn't just the songs, but the arrangements, that were lifted holus bolus. Good enough to not to change. Much. The aforementioned "Wedding Bell Blues" was arranged as per Nyro, albeit slightly faster. Streisand's arrangement of "Stoney End", for all her voice could do, wasn't as smooth a journey as Nyro's or Ronstadt's.

The melodies were seductive, the lyrics had bite ("I was born of love, my poor father worked the mines, I was raised on the good book Jesus 'till I read between the lines"), and to top it all off, her singing was sublime - better, in most cases, than the more successful covers. Again, she was smooth, flowing through the melody with a faint jazz tinge and vocal hooks overlaying the melody hooks.

Her second major performance was at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, before she was 20. But she was a reluctant performer, and activity waned. Her star had peaked and faded before she was 25.

She was always far more influential than she was successful. Which is such a shame, with what she achieved in such a short time. Well worth seeking out.


Anonymous said...

I am in total agreement with you on Lauras Nyro. "Stoned Soul Picnic" and "Stoney End" are two of my favoutite songs. Bazza

S Simmonds said...

One thing that's striking about her is that her flame was so brief, and that it only impinged on the public consciousness indirectly.

Timeless. Good melody and thoughtful words always are.