I first heard Laura Nyro when I was 19, and fell in love pretty much straight away. Her song ‘Stoned Soul Picnic’ was one of the many, many gems on a legendary 1968 sampler from CBS records called The Rock Machine: I Love You (a sequel to the also rocking but even more hilariously/awesomely titled The Rock Machine Turns You On).
I discovered this album in my dad’s record collection and played it constantly; all of its funkier moments ended up on every compilation tape I made for the next two years. Even now, just the opening chords of any song from The Rock Machine sends me back instantly to late nights in my bedroom after a long day arsing around college, listening to that crackly vinyl record while smoking a very weak spliff and writing in my diary about the stupid boy who was making my life a misery at the time. I loved the album so much that I made it my mission to find more by my favourite Rock Machiners – not all that easy in the pre-internet age (well, 1995 – pre-being able to find anything you want on the internet, anyway) and though I soon tracked down one of my othe favourites, Al Kooper, Stephen Stills and Mike Bloomfield’s slightly mad Super Sessions on vinyl, it took several months before I got my paws on Nyro’s debut album Eli and the 13th Confession, which had, luckily, just been released on CD. I’d been craving more Nyro for months. And I wasn’t disappointed.
It’s kind of hard to describe Laura Nyro’s complex music, but a mixture of gospel, soul, showtunes and crazy experimental weirdness will do. Which, I’ll admit, can make her a bit hard to take, especially if your tolerance for random shrieking is, like mine, limited. But her unpredictable song structures mean that at her most soulful, like Eli….‘s kickass ‘Woman’s Blues’, she’s unbeatable. Her album with Labelle, Gonna Take a Miracle, is particularly fantastic. And her influence, direct or otherwise, can be felt in countless slightly eccentric female songwriters from to Kate Bush to Joan as Policewoman. Alas, I can’t find ‘Woman’s Blues’ anywhere on line, but here’s the sweet, mellow song I fell in love with back in 1995. Oh, the nostalgia…
By the way, I just checked iTunes, and the subject of my other great Rock Machine alumni quest, The Electric Flag’s An American Music Band, which I once found in that cool little record and cult book shop on South William Street but, to my great sorrow, couldn’t afford because I was a poor student and never found again, is now available to download. I love you, internet!