Laura Nyro was a true original. In a musical landscape that often bestows success on those who hew to established trends, she resolutely marched to her own drummer. Nyro created truly remarkable songs whose unique sound drew from a variety of genres, including jazz, pop, rock, soul, and show tunes. Her fans include Todd Rundgren, Elton John, Rickie Lee Jones, Alice Cooper, and Elvis Costello. Her albums Eli and the Thirteenth Confession, New York Tendaberry, Christmas and the Beads of Sweat, and her collaboration with Labelle, Gonna Take A Miracle, are cited as bona fide classics by fans and critics alike. Casual listeners probably know her best from hearing the hit records that were generated when artists like Blood, Sweat and Tears, The Fifth Dimension, Three Dog Night and Barbra Streisand recorded her songs. Here are a group of tunes that illustrate Laura’s incredible talent and unique gifts, as both a writer and performer.
And When I Die – Blood, Sweat, and Tears had tremendous success with their cover of this tune, which was included on their self-titled 1968 album. The song made it all the way to number two on the charts. “And When I Die” was originally featured on Nyro’s debut disc, More Than A New Discovery. Peter, Paul, and Mary, whose version actually preceded the Blood, Sweat, and Tears hit, also recorded the song.
Eli’s Coming – This song was a highlight of Nyro’s extraordinary second album, Eli and the Thirteenth Confession. “Eli’s Coming” was recorded by Three Dog Night, and included on their disc, Suitable For Framing. Their version of the tune was a big hit, making it to number four on the charts. “Eli’s Coming” was also covered by The Friends of Distinction and Maynard Ferguson.
Stoney End – Barbra Streisand had a significant hit with this song, the title track of her 1971 album. Streisand also covered Nyro’s “Hands Off The Man,” and “Time And Love” for the record, which turned out to be her most successful album in several years. There were also versions of “Stoney End” recorded by Peggy Lipton (of Mod Squad fame), and Linda Ronstadt and The Stone Poneys.
Wedding Bell Blues – One of the biggest hits among the Fifth Dimension’s handful of Nyro covers, this song went all the way to number one. The group also recorded the Nyro compositions “Blowing Away,” “Stoned Soul Picnic,” “Save The Country” and “Sweet Blindness.” Morrissey covered “Wedding Bell Blues” for his 2019 album California Son, featuring backing vocals by Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong.
Related: “A ‘Losst’ Harry Nilsson Treasure”
Stoned Soul Picnic – While the Fifth Dimension landed the hit record with this tune, Nyro’s version is just as soulful, and the lovely multi-tracked vocals and gorgeous piano playing provide the song with a gentle vibe that makes a truly emotional connection with the listener. The song is another standout track from Eli and the Thirteenth Confession.
Mercy On Broadway – This striking, powerful song is from New York Tendaberry. Nyro’s third album is a heartfelt tribute to New York City. The record was co-produced by Nyro and Roy Halee, who also worked with Simon and Garfunkel. Nyro was instrumental in crafting its sound, using color metaphors to guide Halee and the studio musicians during the recording sessions. The themes of New York Tendaberry are darker than her previous work, and the arrangements are more stark and spare in nature.
When I Was a Freeport and You Were The Main Drag – This easygoing tune is included on Christmas and the Beads of Sweat, an album that features an all-star backing lineup, including Duane Allman, Alice Coltrane, The Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, and Felix Cavaliere and Dino Danelli from The Rascals. Christmas and the Beads of Sweat was one of Nyro’s most successful records during its original release. The album also includes her marvelous cover of the Goffin-King classic, “Up on the Roof.”
Gonna Take A Miracle – Nyro’s love for classic soul and R&B is fully in evidence on this 1971 album, recorded with Labelle, aka Patti Labelle, Nona Hendryx, and Sarah Dash. Nyro had become friends with Patti Labelle when the two artists bonded while Labelle toured with her. The disc features a collection of covers ranging from The Shirelles tune “I Met Him on a Sunday” to the Smokey Robinson and The Miracles classic, “You Really Got a Hold on Me.” The legendary Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff produced the record, a sublime and soulful masterpiece shows that Nyro was just as superb interpreting the work of other artists as she was in producing her own incredible music.
Photo Credit: Laura Nyro courtesy of Wikipedia/popdose.com