Margo Guryan – Take A Picture (1968)

“sunny days happy times”

margo

With the events of this most discouraging week, I’ve had to reflect on how much I underestimated the Hillary hate. Though I’d been warming to her considerably only in recent months, I was still baffled by the decades-long aversion to her, and in reading a Slate article I was surprised to find Margo Guryan among the detractors. Hardly a crackpot, she had her reasons and argued for them convincingly, but of course she’s now just as mortified by the electoral result (tweet: “We are fucked!”) as the rest of us reasonable people. The sensation for the first few days was the gutted and empty feeling that follows a break-up, so I need a lovefest right now. Fortunately Guryan is on record with that too—namely her soft pop masterpiece from 1968.

These songs are straightforward articulations of simplistic states of being, and the opener presents lovers looking at and holding each other, lazing about, “doing what other people do” on a “Sunday Mornin’.” Better known as a writer, as a singer she’s limited—similarly wispy but somehow more earthy than Claudine Longet, who recorded a few of her tunes. Fortunately Margo’s got sympathetic backing right from the start, with an almost gutsy electric piano, funky guitar lines, and coloring from violins that elevate most of the material above easy listening. Fuller strings and a sitar radiate “Sun,” and even a harp is at her disposal to sell the sentiment “Pretty love songs always make me cry.” (What? All of ‘em? “Always”? You’d think a craftsman like her would be a little more discriminating.) “Don’t Go Away” is a bit jazzy but itself not enough to convince the listener of the unlikely fact that Ornette Coleman was hip to her (Guryan wrote a couple songs for him and added lyrics to his classic “Lonely Woman”). The title song is an unironic cousin to the Kinks’ “People Take Pictures of Each Other” from the same year—she simply wants a snapshot of a sunny day to look at on a cloudy one: “Come and take a picture of love.”

She sings it straight, and somehow “What Can I Give You” survives a vaudeville treatment—complete with parlor piano and goofy trombone—and a party atmosphere of murmuring voices and clinking glasses (such pastiches are the most regrettable of 60s musical indulgences). “Think of Rain” is the first pop song Margo wrote after hearing “God Only Knows” and the lineage is apparent. Claudine recorded it the year before, but I’m not sure Margo reclaims the tune in any earthshaking way. The focus drifts a bit in the homestretch and with the indifferent arrangement of “Someone I Know” I had a lapse and believed I was playing a Claudine record, and it certainly doesn’t prepare for the album’s closer. Nearly twice as long as every other track, at 5+ minutes “Love” feels positively epic, but its the almost psychedelic dissonance that makes it the album’s most idiosyncratic. Until now it’s been a showcase of “Words and Music: Margo Guryan” (as the center labels call the LP, on this reissue anyway) and this is a different beast entirely. There are dozens of her songwriting demos out there, but I don’t think for “Love,” which is a little short on melody, and makes me suspect it was a poem (as reproduced on the back cover) that was adapted into a tune cooked up in the studio. There are spacey, cacophonous sounds as the instruments tune up, before trying on a few different grooves. It’s mostly instrumental, with Margo’s voice not heard until more than halfway through. It would be nice to think she’s was rocking the electric piano on this too, but more likely it is an anonymous studio musician, with another playing some searing guitar too.

It’s a stunning finish to an irresistibly silly set of songs from a world where all moods are dictated by sun and rain. Who knows, maybe the healing will begin with holding hands.

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