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.
Related: “Singing the Praises of Three Dog Night”
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
John, thanks for revealing to many Laura Nyro’s work. She had a certain creative genius that has been unheralded throughout the years. I’m happy you chose her legacy to enlighten others of a creative world that’s too often overlooked.
Mark, thanks for reading! I’m glad that you enjoyed the article. Laura was a unique and supremely talented artist, and her work deserves to be heard.
Nyro takes me to a time of deep emotions, love and enlightenment.
She was a giant in a time where there were quite a few artists in that rarified air.
She was one of the best ever.
Thank you for featuring The 5th Dimension’s various singles, all in the Top 40, of Laura Nyro’s songs. It was a good musical marriage, Laura referred to The 5th’s upbeat treatment of her tunes warmly, as akin to “a delicious Ice cream soda.” Both the married team of Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davis, Jr. plus LaMonte McLemore, original members of The 5th Dimension, were spotlighted in 2 interviews I conducted with them for CultureSonar this past spring/summer and talked about Laura’s music. Lastly, in addition to the wonderful songs you note, The 5th Dimension also covered by Laura, on their albums: “Time and Love,” and “He’s a Runner,” (both from the “Love’s Lines, Angles & Rhymes album), their fan fave tour-de-force, “Black Patch” (from “Individually and Collectively”), and “Eli’s Coming” and “Stoney End” (in concert and both featured on their “Live” album.)
–Robert-Allan Arno, Biographer, The Original 5th Dimension
All that music could fit on one side of a vinyl record.
I agree that a heartfelt thank you is in order for this article. I love her hard-to-find cd of a live show in NYC and really think she’s a relatively unknown composer to the casual music fan. Most people couldn’t identify her as the writer of many of these hits. Very well-written article. Thank you.
What I can’t understand is that while Fifth Dimension, Barbara Streisand, Three Dog Night, Blood Sweat and Tears, all had hits with her songs, Laura never had a hit. Strange….
I think she refused to conform to “pop” producers standards; & she didn’t seek stardom. She retired in 1971 I believe, at the top of her game. 5 years later she recorded again & performed when she wanted. In my opinion she was a master poet, songwriter, artist, musician, & socially conscious performer.
Good list, but The Confession was 50 years ahead of its time and a dynamic, powerful song. It should head the list.
I was sooo disappointed in the Bette Midler tribute and the songs they chose to represent Laura. I don’t know if she will ever receive her due. Just thank God we are blessed to know and receive her vibration of love through music.
Laura Nyro is amazing. I was one of her biggest fans. I did see her play live at the Santa Monica Civic. I was surprise how many of my friends were there. I didn’t even knew that they even knew Laura Nyro’s music.
When I got married the band played the Wedding Bell Blues a couple of times… Of course, my husband’s name was Bill.
Laura’s 1967-70 four album run from ‘More Than A New Discovery’ to ‘Christmas And The Beads Of Sweat’ is as good as anybody’s, including The Beatles. The fact she was the single composer of every song in that period (bar one) is just incredible.There were no fillers or weak links. She injected a genuine expressiveness to every note she sang, sometimes perhaps melodramatically, other times extremely soft and tenderly, but there was never any doubt she meant every word.That list is great, but it would be easy to compile dozens of lists of less high profile songs from her that are equally as good
Remembered a lot of these. Some, I was unaware she wrote. I don’t think she got quite the recognition due her. I recall her “Wedding Bell Blues” got a lot of airplay in the San Francisco Bay Area around Nov ‘66 and then she went off my radar. For a while she seemed a “one-hit-wonder”, with my early attempts to find out more unsuccessful. Glad to hear that wasn’t the end of her works.
LAURA NYRO AND CAROL KING DOMINATED THE CHARTS BACK IN THE DAY OF GOOD SONGS.