A Tribute To Laura Nyro, A Great 1960s Songwriter
A Tribute to Laura Nyro
Laura Nyro Was One of the Best Songwriters of the 1960s.
Laura Nyro was born on October 18th 1947 in the Bronx, New York. Her style is very much in the vein of the Brill Building team of Jerry Goffin, Neil Sedaka and Carole King. which all went on to greater achievements as songwriters (Goffin and King) and as artistes -Sedaka and King.
Laura Nyro did not achieve the fame and recognition of many of her contemporaries and she died in 1997, aged only 49.
This hub is my nod in the direction of her talents as a songwriter. I grew up listening to my parents records in the late-60s and I listened to a lot of Laura Nyro songs sung mainly by other people. I was a bit of a record anorak to be honest. Unlike a lot of my friends, I looked for the names in parenthesis after the song titles.
What could it all mean? Stoned Soul Picnic (L. Nyro). Who was L Nyro?
Her father was a jazz trumpeter and worked as a piano tuner. Music was in her genes and as a child she spent a lot of time listening to her mother's records. Her mother had eclectic tastes and this resulted in Laura being exposed not only to Billie Holliday but also to classical composers like Verdi and Debussy.
She taught herself to play the family's piano and wrote her first song at the age of 8. Imagine that? She had a gift and music was in her blood. Whilst attending Manhattan's High School of Music And Arts, she and her friends sang at parties to which they were invited and they also sang at subway stations with other vocal groups.
This type of 'free style' vocalising can be seen to good effect in the film, Rocky. Rocky is set in the 1970s,and features Sylvester Stallone's brother, Frank singing with his pals at the top fo the subway steps. Laura and her friends were doing the same thing in the early sixties.
This is a tradition that prevails today and there is a respect, even amongst modern day singers for this tradition - a way of publicly respecting the crowds and the sound of the streets.
I've included Jessie J's subway appearance - wonder if she knew that Laura stood here beofre her, they are both great songwriters.
The Lion Sleeps Tonight
1965 - Laura sells her first song
Laura's father has always denied giving her a helping hand because of his own connections. He says any talent she had was all her own and she didn't need any extra help.
She sold her first song to Peter, Paul and Mary in 1965. Here is a live recording of it at Sydney Opera House. The song has stood the test of time I think. Mary Travers was such an amazing, sensitive vocalist.
Laura performed at the Monterey Festival in 1967 but with limited success. She seems destined, even at this early age, to be a songwriter whose songs would be heard more being sung by other bands and singers, than by her. She released her first album, More Than A New Discovery in 1967 and followed this with her most well-known album Eli and The Thirteenth Confession in 1969.
The 5th Dimension
Stoned Soul Picnic
The 5th Dimension were a 5 piece vocal group who started as 2 or 3 separate bands, finally coming together as The Versatiles in 1966 before changing the name later that same year.
The 5th Dimension are probably most famous for two songs, Up, Up and Away and Aquarius; the latter was from the musical stage play, Hair - very much a song of its time.
The 5th Dimension were a band who really seemed to enjoy showcasing songwriting talent and they recorded songs by Burt Bacharac, Paul Williams and Jimmy Webb.
They also really liked Laura Nyro and their version of Stoned Soul Picnic is still one of my favourite songs from my childhood.
Laura recorded the song herself but it was The 5th Dimension who enjoyed success with it.
They also recorded three other songs by Laura Nyro, Sweet Blindness, Wedding Bell Blues and Save The Country.
Laura recorded her songs in a fairly raw state whereas the 5th Dimension's songs were usually fully orchestrated. Laura did have her own followers but 5th Dimension were using her songs in a different way and more people remember their version, rather than Laura's.
'Lu' by Laura Nyro, very like Feelin' Groovy by Paul Simon?
Another hit for the 5th Dimension, 'Sweet Blindness' was also one of her most popular live numbers though she played it with just honky tonk piano and a little more pace.
Elvis Costello and Elton John have both claimed that Nyro was a huge influence on them as songwriters.
Alice Cooper has also claimed that it's a tragedy that more people don't know about her.
For her own part, she dislked the limelight. When asked to appear on TV, she always appeared to be uneasy. When Clive Davis, boss at Columbia Records came to her home to see her just after he had signed her for her first album, she played piano for him by the light of the TV screen only; other than that they were in complete darkness.
She explained that this was the 'mood' she intended for the songs she played. She was an incredibly sensitive songwriter and performer but she was not at ease when trying to promote her own talents.
Luckily for us, other bands and artistes, like the 5th Dimension, Peter, Paul and Mary and Barbra Streisand were happy to 'sing' her praises for the rest of us.
Laura Nyro - Too long a neglected talent
Laura didn't ever properly retire in spite of her reticence to TV and fame.
She toured on and off right into the 1990s, even opening for Bob Dylan at his 4th of July concert in 1991.
She eventually oversaw the putting together of a retrospective album called Stoned Cold Picnic, The Best of Laura Nyro which was released in 1997.
She died of Ovarian cancer at the age of 49. Her mother had died at the same age of the same disease.
Thank you You Tube for keeping her talent alive through the archive footage posted by other fans around the world (not just of her but of all the bands and artistes who covered her songs).
I hope you have enjoyed my hub, I enjoyed putting it together. I hope you will go and seek out some more of Laura Nyro's amazing songs, they are timeless, magical and beautiful.
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