Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Emma Hath a Song: "Wedding Bell Blues"

In my high-school days, I was part of a student-run radio show that aired once a week. We were encouraged to develop our own recurring segments in the show, and mine was a segment mostly relating to the secret histories or stories behind songs. Something about my love of Shakespeare and my pretentious high-school personality made me name the segment "Emma Hath a Song" (which I realize is not necessarily grammatically correct for any stage in the English language, but bear with me). Once I exited high school and moved on to college, I decided I wanted to be a famous Youtube personality. One attempt to meet such an end was to turn my radio show into a Youtube show. Emma Hath a Song on Youtube lasted five episodes before I got slightly bored with it/realized I was never going to be a famous Youtube personality/got too busy with work and college. However, I would now like to bring Emma Hath a Song back for a third (and hopefully final) format.

A common tall tale about "Wedding Bell Blues" is that it was written by Marilyn McCoo and recorded as a means of proposing to Billy Davis, Jr. While this makes for a great story, the real story is equally fascinating (as well as being, you know, true).

Have you ever heard of singer/songwriter Laura Nyro? Nyro was one of the foremost songwriters of the late 60s and early 70s. At various times in her career, Nyro had three or four songs at a time in the Billboard Top 10. Her own recordings weren't usually commercially successful, but groups like Blood, Sweat & Tears, Three Dog Night, and The 5th Dimension saw a great deal of success with her songs. She has been cited as an influence by artists like Jenny Lewis, Elvis Costello, Elton John, and Alice Cooper.

Nyro wrote "Wedding Bell Blues" at 18, and recorded it for her 1967 album More Than a New Discovery. According to Alan Merrill, Nyro wrote the song about his mother's scandalous relationship with Bill Carter, a man married to Trink Wiman, the heiress to the John Deere fortune. Merrill's mother was never able to marry Bill because of his marriage [Source].

The 5th Dimension, who had already had success with Nyro's "Stoned Soul Picnic," were convinced by their producer to do a cover of the song for their 1969 album The Age of Aquarius. They decided it would be perfect for Marilyn McCoo to sing, since she and Billy Davis, Jr. had been engaged for quite some time without setting a wedding date. The 5th Dimension's cover of "Wedding Bell Blues" became a number one single. They played up the McCoo/Davis aspect of the song during live performances. McCoo and Davis did indeed marry in 1969.

Leslie Gore also recorded a cover of the song in 1969, but it failed to chart.

The phrase "Wedding Bell Blues" has since become an expression referring to those worried about being unmarried. It has been used as the title for several books and episodes of TV shows and a 1996 film.

Although Laura Nyro died of cancer in 1997, she was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year.

And to close this post off in the style of my radio shows (because I was never sure of how to end a segment): That's all that I hath for now!

1 comment:

  1. Much as I like the 5th Dimension, in my opinion Laura Nyro's own versions of her songs are much, much better. That holds true for the other Artists who covered her music as well - fine performers all, but none of them came close to matching her brilliance. Laura poured her Heart and Soul into every song she ever wrote and sang. She's been the best kept secret in the music industry for far too long, hopefully her RARHOF induction will help to change that. Thank you for acknowledging this truly great Artist!