Margo Guryan was an immensely talented singer / songwriter / lyricist / pianist who was born on the 20th of September, 1937, during the great depression. Whoever was in the New York scene throughout the early 60s would’ve seen her career take off with the beautiful single “Sunday Morning” - which would later be performed famously by duet Bobbie Gentry and Glen Campbell - yet her initial, raw recordings actually took place in 1958, with her early work being described as “baroque pop” or “sunshine pop” due to her jazz and classical influences. Yet there’s something about her music which leaves a lingering essence of the early Greenwich Village scene.
She spent most of her early years in Far Rockaway, New York, a small village which was only a short 50 minute drive from the big city, with her grandmother and two sisters - the perfect location to match her dreamy, sunny sound. Guryan began to write poetry and study piano very early on, idolising jazz musicians such as Max Roach and Bill Evans, and most likely attempting to cite their work during the guided piano lessons that she was put through at age 6.
Guryan studied piano at Boston University - although talented, she was very shy, and even went as far as to switch to composition in her sophomore year, simply to avoid performing. Despite this strange reclusiveness, she was signed by Atlantic whilst still in college.
Initial recording efforts weren’t as successful as either the label or Margo herself would’ve hoped, her vocal range restricting her from performing the compositions that she’d written - a great quote from Guryan herself “I couldn’t damn sing!” really sums this period of her career up.
Towards the end of her time with Bell Records (the next record company that she’d sign to) Margo was creating some fantastic music, releasing “Take a Picture”, an album sprinkled with jazzy, poppy melodies and sequences, which was sure to be a hit - at least in the eyes of the label. However, the spurt of new work was short lived. Bell Records ceased all promotions of her new album simply because Guryan refused to tour, her reasoning being that the industry was far too male-dominated, and having been previously married to a jazz musician, she recognised the struggles of being in front of the public eye and being pushed and shoved around by a couple of old blokes who’d tell her how to act and what to wear.
Anybody of the time period would’ve almost definitely taken the offer to tour within seconds if they knew they were good enough to do so, yet Margo gave a firm no (most likely within seconds) and opened up the fight for women’s rights within the music industry a little more, probably unknowingly, too.
Despite having great talent and promise, Margo Guryan’s name is unknown in the realm of popular music - or underground music, for that matter - and her skills would prove more useful through her time spent in the songwriting business. A lot of the music she was writing wouldn’t take off under her name, but would go on to be utilised by various musicians such as Spanky and the Gang, Harry Belafonte, Cass Elliot and Julie London. Her composition “I Don’t Intend to Spend Christmas Without You” was also covered by British group Saint Etienne.
Now, the idea of songwriters in pop music has frequently bothered me, until recently. The fact that a lot of this famous folk haven’t been part of the entire process of creating music really put a horrible spin on how I viewed the pop world. It wasn’t til after I discovered Guryan that I realised the potential of songwriting and how one person’s composition could be interpreted completely differently by a variety of different musicians, seeing as most of her songs have been played by a multitude of acts, in various ways, and numerous times. That’s a beautiful thing, in some respects.
Of course there’s still a lot I have to say about it, but I’ve at least opened myself up to the possibility that if I write a song, it might be better sung or played by others, and if somebody writes a song for me, maybe I should give it a go. People like Guryan and early classical & jazz composers paved the way for music to become more co-operative, more constructive, and I’m only starting to appreciate that now.
Regardless of the abundance of songwriters during the late 50s and early 60s similar to Guryan, her name truly stands out to me because I’d absolutely never come across it, despite so many songs that I’m now aware of being influenced by Margo’s talent, and some that were even performed by her, such as “Sunday Morning” or “The Hum”. In fact, I’m sitting here right now, thinking to myself - some of Margo’s best work was the work she performed herself - but she never reached a level where she was best known for performance, because she didn’t enjoy it as much as songwriting.
She was shy, preferred to stay out of the spotlight, and she did - there was no act, no pretending. She was simply fucked off with the industry, and liked to keep things wholly simple, a perspective I can really get behind. In the future, I’d love to see more songwriters like Guryan celebrated in a similar way, and hope that more light is shed on those who are really responsible for some of the greatest songs of years gone.
Cheers for reading! If you want to listen to Margo's music, we've got a playlist just for you, right here! As always, enjoy the noise.