Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by Siegmund, Aug 11, 2017.
Yes, CHUM-FM Toronto.
Joni Mitchell is notoriously grumpy when asked to talk about other musicians, and is generally not complimentary to most other musicians - especially when reporters try to compare her to other female artists.
BUT....even tough old bird Joni has expressed how much she liked/admired Laura Nyro and her music.
And two albums later she kills that lover man.
I know that she had stage fright early-on... all that she heard during her performance at the Monterrey Pop Festival were "boos" but the recording of her set doesn't support that.
Laura Nyro didn't have HIT records, but she had a large following when I was in high school (1968-72). As you say, she was definitely more than a "cult" artist.
I saw her in concert three times in Chicago; once at the Opera House and twice at the Auditorium Theater, which has a capacity of 3,900. All of those concerts were Sold Out. She performed solo, sitting at a grande piano. The audiences were rapt, worshipful... you could hear a pin drop.
After the album with LaBelle, she retreated. In the 80's she would play at The Bottom Line in NYC, a cabaret venue with a capacity of 400... a big step down from her concert hall days. At this point, she is definitely not a household name, but she is remembered by American music fans of my generation.
I'm sure it was for personal reasons, but she also made a lot of money at a young age and could afford to lay low. I believe that she signed with Columbia for a million bucks (back when that was a LOT of money). Later, she sold her publishing for a seven-figure sum, and this was after making a ton of money from all the hit versions of her songs. David Geffen was her manager/mentor and he thought that she was going to sign to Asylum Records, but she re-signed with Columbia. That really pissed him off. The bare-knuckles music biz stuff was probably a turn-off for her.
Todd Rundgren on Laura Nyro
I'm about 10 years younger than you and my wife is five years younger than you (and native NYers so I spent a lot of time at the Bottom Line), so we're not separated by whole generation or even half a generation, and here's how we grew up with Laura Nyro -- by her radio hits on other artists. We knew the Fifth Dimension and Blood Sweat and Tears and Three Dog Night and Barbra Streisand versions of the songs; and then I learned the songs from the Hal Leonard Great Songs of the Sixties sheet music anthology, which was ubiquitous on the pianos of white middle class families around these parts, all before we ever heard a Nyro album, which wasn't really until after she retired to Connecticut (though I did grow up thinking she wrote "It's Gonna Take a Miracle," never having hear the Royalettes record, but having heard Nyro's version on the radio).
Someone earlier in the thread compared Nyro's degree of fame to Warren Zevon's, but I'm not sure that's a great comparison either because he had a top-40 hit as at artist and an album in Excitable Boy that ultimately when platinum. I don't know that there's a Laura Nyro record that ever sold anything close to half-a-million copies never mind a million. It's hard to find a comparison. Her career at the top of the music business was such a temporal blip, and such a weird bifurcated one with half a dozen songs in the top ten on other artists within a couple of years of each other, but never charting a single of herself singing her own songs, and never taking an album higher than at #32 on the album chart, I don't know that there's any kind of analogy to be found.
She was there, and then she was gone. She was cherished by a certain audience, and unknown by most of the rest of the pop music audience, even though that same audience knew her songs.
Most of all, I think, she was a songwriter's songwriter. You hear songwriters like Jimmy Webb, who was the one who got her those opportunities with the Fifth Dimension, and Todd Rundgren and Elton John and others talk about the impact of Nyro's writing. Even though as a performer in popular music her career burned bright but short (largely it seems by her own design and ambivalence), I think the impact on the songwriters lingered through the '70s in a way the her own records didn't with listeners beyond whatever niche audience she had. And I think, based on the number of records she sold, it's fair to characterize her audience as a niche one, but you know, where the lines are between, niche, cult, popular, etc -- you know, pick 'em, we're just making up our own definitions.
I'd never heard of her (I'm 43 for context, if that matters) before Audio Fidelity put out a compilation of her back in 2010 and I picked it up.
I think the comparison to Leonard Cohen is apt, in the USA at least. I know that he was more of a recording star in Europe. His songs were recorded by Judy Collins before he had his own record contract. His first couple of albums were in the same record collections as Laura Nyro's, and his star faded in the 70's as well. It was only through longevity, the back story of a major managerial rip-off (and the hard touring that followed) that he reentered the spotlight.
Roberta's first record would be a really great reissue on vinyl!
it's also got a great cover of Eugene McDaniels "Compared to What" on it as well.
Laura's opinion of the music business is the backstory of the song "Money", which is ostensibly about a hooker. Lines like "I feel like a pawn in my own world, I found the system and I lost the pearl" and "A good pimp's gonna rob you blind" make it pretty clear that Laura's seeing herself as the "hooker" in the music business (with Geffen as the pimp).
Generally, I agree with your assessment, but I would add that, in the end, the song was about how Laura severely disliked the music and show "biz". So, of course, she withdrew. But occasionally she did record or perform for an audience that was in rapture.
Glad I didn't buy it yet! Thanks for the heads up!
I saw Laura four times in the years after her break with Geffen. Despite her stage fright, she obviously loved her audiences and gave a great performance no matter the size of the crowd.
And she only withdrew from the "biz" during the few years she was being a full-time mother. She then recorded Nested, Mother's Spiritual, and Walk The Dog And Light The Light for Columbia, and was working on a new album when she was diagnosed with cancer. She did her best to fulfill her Columbia contract.
I've seen her name since the late '60s, probably from reviews in the music magazines of the day. I think the coverage carried off and on enough that I didn't forget it. I've heard very few of her songs, although I know the hit covers.
I don't remember where or how I first heard Laura Nyro, but probably from FM radio. My schoolmates and I would sing Sweet Blindness. So... big fan since Eli and the Thirteenth Confession. New York Tendaberry (I sang the grooves off of that one.), Christmas and the Beads of Sweat, the one Nyro did with Labelle...she was a household name for me, and this makes me want to dig out my collection again and dust off my vocal cords.
A household name? No.
Fifth Dimension - Wedding Bell Blues US 1 (UK 15)
Fifth Dimension - Stoned Soul Picnic US 3
Fifth Dimension - Sweet Blindness US 13
Fifth Dimension - Blowin' Away US 21
Fifth Dimension - Save The Country US 27
Barbra Streisand - Stoney End US 6 (UK 27)
Barbra Streisand - Time and Love US 51
Barbra Streisand - Flim Flam Man US 82
Blood Sweat & Tears - And When I Die US 2
Three Dog Night - Eli's Coming US 10
Someone at Columbia must have liked her to keep her on contract for virtually her whole career - considering she won't have made them much money and she ducked out of the business for five years when she was at her most prominent.
Her albums were steady "catalog" sellers for decades, and most have remained in print for much of the past 50 years. That is a distinction that is not achieved by many well known artists. Even many top-seller albums go out of print.
Her albums are common. Maybe not as common as others, but in no way obscure.
Success is not measured by the Billboard Top 100. That is the mistake that many make.
I never knew she was "obscure" until now. When I was a kid my parents played her records all the time.
So did Bob Dylan, for eight years, and then again for most of another 5 years.
So did the Beatles, permanently.
But unlike the Beatles, Laura returned to make more albums and go out on tours...even opening a Bob Dylan tour.
Oh, and Bob Dylan ducked out for those eight years to raise his kids, just like Laura.
Not too well known by my guess. I heard her songs by the hit makers first. My brother gave me her albums to listen and the difference was stark. The hits were pop sounding but her original recordings were haunting sounding to me. One of the best ever IMO. Not for everyone I guess. Kind of complicated dynamics and chords.
The two cases are very different: Dylan was a major star and a household name around the world when he ducked out; as were the Beatles, of course.
In fairness, Laura could afford to duck out as it would seem her royalty situation was very healthy around that time, with money rolling in from all those Fifth covers.
But a record company was a record company, even back then: and if you didn't sell, there would be pressure. None of Laura's albums did much chart wise, yet she stayed with Columbia (who, presumably, were happy to have her), even resisting David Geffen's call to be one of the 'anchor' artists for Asylum (which was actually already well-served with female singer-songwriters, having Judee Sill and Joni Mitchell on board).
Laura looks very beautiful in that pic, btw.
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