Tuesday, July 10, 2018

July: Mercy on Broadway/Laura Nyro

purchase [ New York Tendaberry]

As Darius notes, there are plenty of great July 4th songs to choose from, but that was never my personal intention in selecting the <July> theme. lyrics.com shows ~ 2000 songs with July in the lyrics (some repetition), so there's a lot to consider. Somewhere in that long list, among others that I would/could write about, I picked out "Mercy on Broadway". A song I wasn't familiar with, but a name that I was.

When I think Laura Nyro, I think "Wedding Bell Blues". On the second round around, I think "Eli's Coming" [Three Dog Night]

and "Stoned Soul Picnic" [The Fifth Dimension]

and "And When I Die" [Blood, Sweat & Tears].

For these, it's someone else's version of her powerful song-writing that comes to mind first. But rather than diminish Nyro's legacy, the fact that these greats chose to cover her work and hit the top of the charts with them only embellish her rightful place.

On the one hand, I want to lament our loss - Nyro died age 49 of ovarian cancer - the same age as her mother of the same. That IS sad. On the other hand, she left behind a style and a musical repertoire that is still strong decades later, a larger legacy than most can aspire to.

Come to "Mercy on Broadway". Yeah, it includes the per-requisite <July> in the lyrics - more than once in fact (unlike some of the other 2000 in the July lyrics list, where the word shows up once), and she uses month names in various other songs as well - in tune with the seasons?

Nyro was a New Yorker, so her reference to Broadway is apropos. Her references to the fare of the side-streets is equally real - she played the streets and subways of the city in the 1960s.
But it's the combination of her vocal shifts and, as Elton John put it, her "rhythmic and melodic changes" that place her apart. It's her cross over between R&B, jazz, blues and pop that made her songs so accessible to all the other bands. Like several other songs she wrote, it builds/morphs from jazzy blues to full out rocking by the end of the song.

For the record, the Christine Spero Group put out an entire album of Nero songs, but it doesn't include "Mercy".

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