Friday, May 28, 2010

It's Gonna Take A Miracle

by Dick Mac

Every singer/ songwriter, that is every performer who writes songs, as opposed to those artists who fall under the new-fangled genre of singer/songwriter, seems to make a cover album. And it's often a revealing, amusing, and impressive project.

The Bluebelles were a girl-group of soul singers comprised of Patti Labelle, Sarah Dash, Nona Hendryx, and Cindy Birdsong. They're biggest hit was "I Sold My Heart To The Junkman"; and when Birdsong left in 1967 to replace Flo Ballard in The Supremes, The Bluebelles struggled to find their niche in the world of pop music.

In 1970, during her supporting tour for the "Christmas And The Beads Of Sweat" album, Laura Nyro performed soul standards "Spanish Harlem" and others. It was during that tour that she decided to do an album of soul covers.

Having met Patti Labelle during the tour, and hiring Labelle as part of her entourage, Nyro asked her Labelle to sing backing vocals for the project. Labelle contacted former Bluebelles Sarah Dash and Nona Hendryx, and the three formed the singing group that became Labelle.

The newly formed singing group was so integral to the creation of the record that Nyro actually gave them credit on the release, which was titled "Gonna Take A Miracle," Laura Nyro and Labelle. Sure, Labelle's name was smaller than Nyro, but having their name on the cover gave the group a credibility that most back-up singers cannot even imagine.

The band and the singers spent a week at Sigma Sound Studio, in Philadelphia, home of the Philly soul sound, and created one of the most wonderful soul records ever recorded.

Covering songs by Holland-Dozier-Holland, Smokey Robinson, Curtis Mayfield, Jerry Lieber, Phil Spector, and singing some of the biggest hits of the 1960s, Nyro and Labelle transformed these compositions into their own.

If you have never heard "Gonna Take A Miracle," I recommend you get it today and spend all of Memorial Day Weekend listening to it over and over again. It is brilliant and sublime.

Here is a recording of the cover song, which was originally sung by The Royalettes, in 1965:

Gonna Take a Miracle


Al Falafal AKA T.Faigle said...

Had the joy and privilege of seeing Laura Nyro in a concert at Vassar College, mid-1970s. She was awe-inspiring, sublime and brilliant. I was merely a Vassar 'parvenu,' having moved there from KY to be with my high-school crush turned lover during his senior year. I remember that Nyro was received warmly by the newly co-ed student body - still very dominated by women then with a sprinkling of gay men - but I also recall how they seem to denigrate the artist afterward (in a good-natured way, I think) for being a total "Diva." The one fault they found in Nyro's otherwise virtuoso performance was her failure to sufficiently engage us, her audience, who had taken the trouble to gather there to see her in the intimacy of the campus Chapel. The least she could have done would have been to acknowledge our presence! These women of privilege seemed to feel slighted. It WAS kind of odd that she was seated at the piano through the entire concert, facing away from the audience, though she did actually address the crowd. But only once -- to introduce her band. I imagined that maybe she had discovered a zit on her face or a cold sore on her lip just before going on. The real Vassar women seemed to resent her (based on some private knowledge or presumption of her haughty Radcliff or Bryn Mawr background?). The dismissive comments that stick with me to this day ran along the lines of referring to her as an "Obvious product of some East Coast elite Women's College! Why she actually deigned to cast a glance at her audience one time!" But to me the concert was just heavenly!

Rabdrake said...

Love the article. The image is a favorite. I am enquiring of anyone who has knowledge of Laura Nyro's covers of "Spanish Harlem" e.g. 1970, prior to the albums Spread Your Wings and Fly, May, 30, 1971 (SYWAF) & Gonna Take a Miracle, November 17, 1971 (GTAM). The cover in SYWAF was solo. According to Denknee, in GTAM her covers of "The Wind" "D├ęsiree" & "Spanish Harlem" were also solo. As her covers were gender transposing in SWYAF & GTAM, were any prior covers gender transposing, as well? Did she ever do a slavish cover (ala Ben E King) or third-party covers e.g. Aretha Franklin?