(This is a part of a sometime series on artists WC has known and doesn’t want forgotten. The first post in this series was on Steve Goodman. The second was on Sir Terry Pratchett. WC has also written about Bill Berry, Jo Ann Wold and Boudleaux and Felice Bryant. Here’s another wonderful artist WC doesn’t want to be forgotten.)
Laura Nyro never recorded a hit. Her amazing, astonishing songs, that defy classification, were huge hits for others, but Nyro herself never had a No. 1 hit, her wonderful albums never broke into the Top 10 on Billboard. And now she is nearly forgotten.
Other folks had huge hits with her tunes.
The Fifth Dimension had a string of hits from Laura Nyro’s songbook, including “Blowing Away“, “Wedding Bell Blues“, “Stoned Soul Picnic“, “Sweet Blindness“, and “Save the Country.”
Blood, Sweat & Tears and Peter, Paul and Mary had big hits with “And When I Die.”
Three Dog Night and Maynard Ferguson with “Eli’s Comin’.
Here’s Laura singing “Wedding Bell Blues,” her mezzo-soprano ranging across three octaves.
The song is from her first album, More Than a New Discovery, and it isn’t even the most astonishing piece of music on that album. That honor goes to “Eli’s Coming.”
Laura Nyro wrote that song when she was just 18 years old.
WC saw her live only once, at a coffee shop on 13th Street in Eugene, Oregon in 1970(?). Not exactly an ideal venue, but Nyro absolutely owned the small crowd from the first song. In a 90 minute set, on piano with a guitarist (some young kid named Jackson Browne; WC had never heard of him) accompanying her, she wowed the crowd, and closed her set with a stunning, downbeat cover of Carole King’s “Up on the Roof” that foreshadowed James Taylor’s later version. Sadly, that cover became her biggest “hit,” making it to #38 on the Billboard Top 100.
Artists as diverse as Todd Rundgren, Duane Allman, Jackson Brown, Cyndi Lauper, Rickie Lee Jones and Elton John acknowledge the influence of Nyro’s songwriting on their work.
WC’s favorite Nyro album is Eli and the 13th Confession, her second album. But it you want a sampler, try Stoned Soul Picnic: The Best of Laura Nyro released in 1997. In late 1996, Nyro, like her mother, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. After the diagnosis, Columbia Records, with Nyro’s approval and selection of the final songlist, prepared a two-CD retrospective of material from her years at the label. She just lived to see the release of the album in 1997. Laura Nyro died, just 49 years old, on April 8, 1997.
There’s a kind of minimalist website with more information. But the real message of this post is to urge you to listen to her amazing music.
One thought on “Remembering Laura Nyro (1947-1997)”
A million years ago I hauled a pile of gently-used vinyl to the front of a Portland record shop. The girl behind the counter flipped through the records and said, “hang on a sec.” She wandered into the stacks, grabbed a copy of, “Laura Nyro’s Smile”, and told me I had to buy it. I did and she was right. I’m not as fortunate as WC but I like to think that this article gives a glimpse of her: https://pleasekillme.com/laura-nyro/
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