Take A Picture is a very good album by American singer/songwriter and producer Margo Guryan, released on Bell Records in 1968.
The record company released a few singles from the album and sent them to radio stations and trade papers like Billboard, Record World and Cashbox, earning her some airplay on the radio and a few positive one-paragraph reviews - but due to her refusal to perform and promote it there was no tour to support the album, so there was little public response, and the album was consigned for decades to obscurity.
Gradually over time however the album managed to find itself much more of a following, most notably enjoying a remarkable renaissance in the late '90s. The original LP has become a much sought-after collector's item in recent years, said to be fetching around $200 each, while the recent re-releases have introduced it to a new audience and turned it into a cult favourite.
The entire album was greatly influenced by the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds in its dreamy, innocent childlike feel and its complex arrangements. Since her college days, Guryan had been strictly a jazz fanatic. She had stopped listening to pop music and so was unaware of the growing number of great songs and records that was coming out in the mid-'60s. One day a friend, the jazz pianist, composer and lyricist Dave Frishberg, called and said he had something she must hear. She went to his apartment, where he played her Brian Wilson's "God Only Knows". Guryan was stunned and thought it wonderful, and on her way home she bought a copy of Pet Sounds. She listened to "God Only Knows" over and over again, learning the words and singing along with the record. After a long time, she turned off the record player, sat down at her small electric piano and wrote "Think of Rain", it all seeming to happen in about twenty minutes. Brian Wilson had shown her how to think differently about structuring the harmonies she used. "Think of Rain" is still her favourite of all the songs she's written.
With her jazz and classical background and the Brian Wilson influence it's no surprise the songs on this album are much more than standard pop fare - there are sophisticated tempo and key signature shifts, along with touches of jazz, bossa nova and classical music. For example, on the track "Someone I Know" Guryan superimposed her own pop melody over Bach's "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" (she had originally intended it to work as counterpoint against the entire Bach piece but ended up recording the Chorale only from the bridge to the end). Another example is the strange intro to the song "Love", conceived by John Hill who produced and played guitar on the record. Guryan wanted a harder, edgier track on the album, so Hill conceived of going through a variety of time changes (7/4, 6/4, 5/4, etc.) until the songs kicks in when he reaches 4/4.
The music industry in the 60s was very male-dominated, and it was unusual for women in the pop music business to write and arrange their own songs. The difficulties Guryan had really became apparent to her when she began making the demos that led to Take A Picture. The musicians - all male - did not take kindly to receiving instructions from a woman. Often she would ask David Rosner, her publisher and one of her producers (and eventual husband), or the engineer to push the "talk button" and tell the musician in question to correct his pitch or rhythm. One day, Rosner said, "Tell him yourself." She was somewhat uncomfortable doing it, but after a while it became easier, and as the musicians realised she knew what she was doing, their resistance lessened. It was also Rosner who first suggested she arrange her own demos, the usual practice being to hand out lead sheets to the musicians and hope to come up with something. And it was Rosner who first decided to try doubling up her voice.
Back when Guryan was in college, she used to take her roommate along whenever she was to play her songs for someone. Her roommate had what Guryan considered a good voice and Guryan never thought she had a good voice herself, so she had taught her roommate all her songs. Guryan had a range break that made her singing inconsistent and caused problems when she tried recording. So when Rosner was doing demos of her songs for April/Blackwood (the publishing arm of the then-Columbia Records), he would use other singers with "good" voices - but the demos turned out badly because the singers with good voices did not have the sense of rhythm, timing and feel that Guryan originally intended. Fearing that the songs would never be recorded as she wanted, almost in tears, she pleaded with Rosner to let her try again. When they tried to record "Think of Rain", Rosner decided to try doubling up her voice - and it worked because it smoothed out all the inconsistencies. That song was also the first one Guryan ever arranged, again at Rosner's suggestion. After that, all her demos were arranged by her with her voice doubled (like the ones on "25 Demos").
But Guryan never wanted to be a recording artist - partly because of her stage-fright (she calls it "stage-dread"), which also stopped her from promoting this album - she wanted to be a songwriter. With her album she had hoped some of the great recording artists of the day would hear the songs and want to record them. In the end, most of the recordings she did get were via normal publishing channels, i.e. demos. Several of her songs from this album did end up being recorded by others, and Guryan started forging a name behind the scenes as a productive songwriter. By the time Take A Picture was released, "Sunday Morning" had already been a hit for Spanky & Our Gang. That same song was a hit a year later for Oliver, and was later recorded by Julie London, Bobbie Gentry and Glen Campbell, among others. Almost as popular with recording artists was "Think of Rain", which made it onto records by Claudine Longet, Jackie DeShannon, Bobby Sherman and Astrud Gilberto. Dion and Harry Nilsson also recorded unreleased versions of it.
In the late '90s, unknown to Guryan, her music was gradually becoming very popular in Japan, where many records by people who were overlooked or not taken seriously in the '60s (such as the Free Design, the Association and the Millennium) had been reissued. Sometime in early 1997, her husband David Rosner received a call out of the blue from a man named David L. Brown at Distortions, a collectors-type record label in the Far East, informing them that Guryan was a huge hit in Japan. Guryan of course found it hard to believe, given that the album's been, as far as she was aware, consigned to obscurity for thirty years. This man also told them that her album was on the wish list of every collector, particularly Japanese, who passed his way, and that he wanted to re-release Take A Picture.
Guryan did not own the rights to it, and it took David Rosner quite a while to secure the rights from Arista. Around the same time they received an unusual royalty statement from Japan - on the accounting were many of the songs from Take A Picture. They couldn't understand what was happening, so Rosner contacted his Japanese sub-publisher - through several conversations they found out that a pirated CD edition of Take A Picture had been released in Japan on Keystone Records. Guryan, delighted to have an actual CD of her album, faxed Keystone to inquire about whether she could order copies at a writer's or publisher's rate, as Japanese CDs were expensive. They seemed quite pleased to hear from her, and told her the album was sold out and they had only one copy left. They were happy to send that to her for no charge, a copy issued sometime in 1996.
She was also given a paperback book by someone called "Soft Rock...The Sound of Late 60's Pop Music". It had several pictures of the Take A Picture album, but she couldn't read what was written about it as it was in Japanese, so they had it translated. It began with: "You may not know who Margo Guryan is. There are very few people who does."
The remarkable story continued as Linus of Hollywood heard "Sunday Morning" and recorded it. They met and Linus of Hollywood's Franklin Castle label re-issued the album in the U.S.. At the same time, there was interest from two other labels, Trattoria in Japan and Siesta in Spain. The album was re-released around the same time, in 2000, in all three countries.
This is an album unashamed of its themes and sentiments of love, especially in its lyrics. Not that all the songs are happy or positive - "Thoughts" for example is a great concise song about playing games in a relationship, and the fall-out afterwards - but the general vibe is very '60s, idealistic, dreamy and romantic. A few words from the greatness that is the The All-Music Guide: "It is the soft pop of which gauzy dreams are made, full of the hazy changes and transitory variations of autumn, an album that you invariably want to wrap up in."
It's great when you've just got together with the one person you're madly in love with and all is beauty and kaleidoscopic colours with the world. It is not so good immediately post-breakup, as it may make you want to defenestrate the stereo. But if you're the romantic type, and you're in a daydreaming mood, this is a great soundtrack.
- Sunday Morning(Guryan) - 2:20
- Sun (Guryan) - 2:36
- Love Songs (Guryan) - 2:37
- Thoughts (Guryan) - 2:25
- Don't Go Away (Guryan) - 2:04
- Take a Picture (Guryan) - 3:08
- What Can I Give You (Guryan) - 2:31
- Think of Rain (Guryan) - 2:25
- Can You Tell (Guryan) - 2:34
- Someone I Know (Guryan) - 2:46
- Love (Guryan) - 5:26
Several different CD reissues include different bonus tracks - the version I own (from Siesta Records) has "The 8:17 Northbound Success Merry-Go-Round", "Come To Me Slowly" and "Timothy Gone". The All-Music Guide lists two other versions: one with "I Think A Lot About You", "It's Alright Now" and "Timothy Gone"; while the other version, the Japanese re-release, adds "The 8:17 Northbound Success Merry-Go-Round", "I Don't Intend To Spend Christmas Without You", "Spanky and Our Gang" and "California Shake".
- Take A Picture liner notes
- MOJO 1000: The Ultimate CD Buyer's Guide
- The All-Music Guide
- PopMatters review of Margo Guryan's CD 25 Demos (www.popmatters.com)
- Franklin Castle Recordings artist info on Margo Guryan (www.franklincastle.net)
- Fufkin.com interview with Margo Guryan by Robert Pally (http://www.fufkin.com/news/news_notes_10_00.htm)
- tangents.co.uk interview with Margo Guryan (http://www.tangents.co.uk/tangents/main/2003/august/guryan.html)
- Linus of Hollywood's response message re: Margo Guryan interview at Luxuriamusic.com (http://firstname.lastname@example.org/2001-month-02/msg00564.html)