Margo Guryan Died in 2021. Her Music Keeps Getting Rediscovered.


After college she signed a publishing deal with John Lewis’s MJQ, a premier home for jazz writers, and worked as a secretary at Impulse!, the producer Creed Taylor’s new jazz label. Guryan’s songs got noticed; they were recorded by Harry Belafonte, Chris Connor, Anita O’Day and others.

Among the revelations on “Words and Music” are Guryan’s demos from this period, 1957 to 1966 — songs that are at once playful, emotionally potent and strikingly bold for the time. “Kiss & Tell” instructs a lover, with cool reason, how to leave his spouse. “Four Letter Words,” recorded at the height of U.S. involvement in Vietnam, sings a lexicon of “dirty words” that begins, “wars, kill, guns, hate, hurt, harm, dead.”

In 1966, Guryan was living in the West Village of Manhattan, where David Frishberg, a kindred songwriter, dropped by with a copy of the Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds.” Wowed by Brian Wilson’s “God Only Knows,” Guryan began writing in a new style for “Take a Picture.”

Befitting its cultural moment, that album is full of love songs draped in Sgt. Pepper-ish splendor: orchestral strings, psychedelic guitar, Dixieland brass, harp, harpsichord, flutes. Guryan’s openhearted charm, along with the songs’ melodic indestructibility, kept everything afloat. One high point is how she weaves the Bach chorale “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” into the swinging march of “Someone I Know,” a reverie of hooking up with a stranger.

Notwithstanding the album’s poor sales, its songs found other outlets in the late 1960s and early ’70s, the sneakily sexy “Sunday Morning” in particular. It was a minor hit for the group Spanky and Our Gang, and got traction via rewritten lyrics in France (Marie Laforêt’s “Et Si Je T’aime”) and Israel (Shula Chen’s “Bo Habaita”).

Guryan kept writing and making new demos, which sometimes veered topical. A song trilogy inspired by the Watergate hearings included “The Hum,” its title referring to the sound of the famous tape erasures, with thinly veiled lyrics like “The A.G. said he’d do anything/To help the President become the King.”



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