Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Laura Nyro at the Monterey Pop Festival, 1967

No, she was *not* booed, despite the legend that she was "booed off the stage". At 19 years old, she got up there and sang her little heart out.

What brought this to mind was the June 14 edition of Rolling Stone Magazine. It has interviews with Amy Winehouse (another dark-haired Jewish girl who channels Motown and classic pop), and with surviving members of the Sex Pistols. If you want to know what's wrong with the music business, this is it. Scheming managers, exploitive labels that don't care that their "stars" are burning out and killing themselves as long as they get a little lucre in the bargain, and in the end, the "stars" are abandoned, impoverished, eking out a living as radio advertising salesmen and tabloid fodder, if they're not dead of the same demons and obsessions that led to them making music in the first place. It already happened to the Sex Pistols, the surviving members of which bitterly note that they couldn't get signed by a record label today no matter how good their songs. It'll happen to Amy Winehouse too, and her lightweight songs, unlike Linda Nyro's, will not stand the test of time. Some time in the future, I will open the pages of Rolling Stone, and somewhere near the back find out that Amy Winehouse sliced her wrists and killed herself along with her husband. And nobody at the record labels will even remember her name.

-- Badtux the Music Penguin


  1. a friend (who is also a clean and sober musician) and i were talking about just this subject a few days ago. with the consolidation of media, recording/publishing/radio/TV there is less and less of a chance for anyone not hitting the magic formulas that they teach at wharton school of business to get the stuff recorded. add in that the chinese and other pirates have pretty much hosed overseas sales and then bring in that even for domestic release your "new" collection will be out there on the net two weeks before release and you have an industry that going to kill itself (i'm speaking in terms of major labels and album sales) with the very measures it takes in trying to survive.

    yet, this is nothing new. the phonograph was supposed to kill live music, it didn't. cassette recorders (especially the dual deck dubber jobs) were supposed to kill album sales, cd burners were also supposed to end life as we know it, then the napster genie escaped from the bottle. yes, indeed, things in the business will change, maybe even drastically, again.

    i'm glad i am a jingle whore. because that stuff's sacred.

  2. and as far as the labels allowing musicians to burn out, it's simple numbers. you can be staggering through the halls of the studio, puking blood into trash cans behind the amps between songs (which i've done), and be so obviously addicted to just about everything and if you hit your marks and make your cues and sell your phrases to the crowd there will be some soul less bastard in a suit who will look at his latest figures and wonder "what if it's the booze/junk/dope/women that allows him to play like that and make us all so fucking rich?"

  3. Oh, there's lots of very good stuff that doesn't hit the formulas getting recorded, and even published by tiny little labels located in out-of-the-way places like Omaha Nebraska. Recording the stuff isn't the problem. Finding someone to punch the stuff onto CD is a problem, but not a tremendous one if it's good. It's distributing and promoting the stuff that's the problem. The major labels have a lock on most of the "traditional" ways of distributing and promoting music -- radio stations, music stores, etc. Even most of the major concert venues are controlled by allies of the major labels such as Clear Channel. I'm lucky to live in one of the few radio markets with a couple of stations that'll play non-major-label stuff (not consistently, but occasionally at least), and there's some good stuff out there. But most of the country will never hear it.

    For a time it seemed that the original had come up with an alternative, albeit a flawed one (the PoD CD's you could order through the service were of poor quality, and the scheme used to get the pearls to bubble up to the top of the dreck was succeptible to at least some degree of manipulation). But then the founder made a bonehead mistake that let the labels destroy his service, and nobody since has ever put together the magic again.

    As for the notion that things haven't changed, exactly. The Sex Pistols disintegrated 30 years ago. Amy Winehouse is disintegrating today. Same old, same old...

  4. I have no idea who Laura Nyro is, but I think that you are pretty much spot on with this post. It's all about others greeds.

  5. Laura Nyro probably wrote some of the hit songs that you listened to when you were a middle-aged codger rather than a crotchety old geezer, BBC. None of her own recordings of her songs ever got much radio play, but other people got good service out of them. I'd suggest starting with Eli and the Thirteenth Confession if you're wanting to hear her sing some of the best of her own songs.

    The most interesting thing to me is her sense of timing and pace... most songs just go "thumpa thumpa thumpa" along at a consistent pace, but Nyro had attended the New York School of Music and Arts, where theater is a required course, and that theatrical training is obvious in how she uses pace to build drama into a song. The second most interesting thing is the classic pop and jazz influence (think George Gershwin) combined with a classic R&B sound. Not everybody's cup of tea, but interesting from a technical point of view.

    Just another example of someone who peaked way too young, but in her case it did not destroy her. Once she'd made her nut (thanks to all the royalties from the people who'd covered her songs and gotten hits out of them), she looked around at the music biz, and said "y'know? This sucks!" and left. Of course, by that time the music biz had pretty much said the same about her too... three albums, mediocre sales, that's pretty much all a label will do even back in the late 60's early 70's no matter how good the songs.

    Another interesting thing: Her "real" last name was Nigro. She had to change it to get a recording contract, because it sounded too "black".

    - Badtux the Music Penguin

  6. Ah yes...the Monterey Festival...memories! I am a BIG fan of Laura's...still have the albums. I thought she was a music god. She told stories...much like Joni Mitchell. They don't sing or write fluff. Gone are the good old days. I thought she was older for some reason...she's 1 year older it seems. Thanks for that little walk down memory lane.

  7. As a long time LN fan and it being the 40th Monterey Pop anniversary, I was getting very pissed, but not surprised that she was not getting her rightful recognition. I went for a web search and came upon this site. THANK YOU.


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