"I saw my album in the 39-cent bin in the late '60s, but the last copy I saw on EBay sold for $192.50! I still can't figure that one out."
Margo Guryan is both puzzled and delighted at her belated success. And why shouldn't she be? How could anyone who released one flop album 33 years ago expect this revival?
Guryan never planned to be a pop singer. Her background was in jazz piano and composition. While studying music at Boston University, her idols were names like Miles Davis and Bill Evans. She was so immersed in jazz that she barely even noticed the arrivals of Elvis Presley and the Beatles. Pop music was too crass and unsophisticated. But she abruptly changed her mind when a friend played her "God Only Knows," off the Beach Boys' masterpiece Pet Sounds.
"I freaked," she said in a call from her Los Angeles home. "I thought it was just gorgeous. I bought the record and played it a million times, then sat down and wrote 'Think of Rain.' That's really how I started writing that way. I just decided it was better than what was happening in jazz."
"Think of Rain" became a highlight of her 1968 album Take a Picture, originally released on Bell Records (later absorbed into Arista). Guryan was a reluctant performer, and only hoped to pitch her songs to other artists. Using aggressive double-tracking to boost her wispy voice, the 11 tunes are essentially a songwriter's showcase. Guryan stayed away from the piano, letting hired professionals dominate the instrumental work, while producer John Hill fleshed out the classy arrangements with strings, horns and woodwinds. The sound can seem like easy-listening mush by today's standards, but the demanding melodies -- full of tricky modulations and time changes -- aren't nearly so passive. "Sunday Morning" (a subsequent hit for both Spanky & Our Gang and Oliver) and "Sun" are standout tracks, though "Can You Tell," "Someone I Know" (incorporating a countermelody from Bach), "Take a Picture" and the ragtime-like "What Can I Give You" are almost as seductive. It's just too bad that Guryan's vocal style is so dated, and that her lyrical concerns (flowers, sunshine, holding hands, love) tend toward the saccharine.
After she nixed touring, Bell executives gave up and let the album sink. Though her songs were covered by artists including Mama Cass, Astrud Gilberto and Glen Campbell, she never released a second album. That is, until now. Thrilled with the success of the Take a Picture reissue, Franklin Castle has compiled a supplemental batch of demos, spanning a few non-LP compositions (notably "Something's Wrong With the Morning," "Most of My Life" and "I Don't Want to Spend Christmas Without You" ) plus some '70s rarities which, unfortunately, often seem like self-amused indulgences.
Now a music teacher, Guryan won't attempt a comeback. She turns down all concert offers, and just gratefully fields the compliments of a new generation.
"There are young people who seem to like the songs, and that's all I ever wanted to be: a songwriter. It's turning around for me. I guess I'm a late bloomer, you know? Real late!"
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