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Margo Guryan

Although she is best known for her 1968 sunshine pop gem Take a Picture, Margo Guryan's career began a decade earlier as a jazz pianist, composer, and arranger. Inspired by hearing the Beach Boys' "God Only Knows," she tried her hand at writing pop songs and got lucky with the beguiling single "Sunday Morning," which became a hit for Spanky & Our Gang, Oliver, and several other acts. Her own version of the song anchored Take a Picture, an album that over subsequent decades became an influential and much-loved cult classic. In the years after its release, Guryan retreated back behind the scenes working as a songwriter, producer, and in later years a teacher. Despite the brief shelf life of her commercial career, her musical legacy really began to resonate in the '90s when her music was championed by a number of prominent indie pop bands. The resurgence continued into the 21st century with the release of 25 Demos, an archival compilation that was reissued in various forms over the next 15 years, during which time she also recorded a classical album. Born in a New York suburb, Guryan began her musical path as a child, taking up the study of piano in the first grade and continuing through high school and into Boston University. She studied classical music, though she was attracted to certain kinds of pop music, particularly jazz, which she had fallen in love with in high school. Never a fan of performing, Guryan switched from her piano curriculum, for which she would have had to complete a senior recital, to composition in her sophomore year at Boston. Her pop and jazz compositions began garnering immediate attention. Chris Connor became the first artist to record one of her songs, "Moon Ride," which she released on Atlantic in 1957. The summer after she graduated from college, Guryan spent three weeks at the Lenox School of Jazz in Massachusetts, where Ornette Coleman and Gary McFarland were fellow students and the teaching staff included Bill Evans, John Lewis, Milt Jackson, Jim Hall, Max Roach, and Gunther Schuller. Lewis and Schuller signed her to MJQ Music once the session was completed and gave her the assignment of turning Coleman's "Lonely Woman" into a vocal version. Until the mid-'60s, Guryan had focused largely on classical and jazz, but it was her friend Dave Frishburg who introduced her to a pop record that changed her life: the Beach Boys' "God Only Knows." She soon began listening to any pop and rock music she could get her hands on and altered her own songwriting tendencies accordingly. After working up a catalog of her own originals, jazz producer Creed Taylor sent Guryan to Columbia's publishing company, April-Blackwood, and manager David Rosner (her eventual husband) was sufficiently impressed enough to help her record an album. Take a Picture appeared on Bell Records in 1968, by which time Spanky & Our Gang had already recorded a hit version of one of the songs, "Sunday Morning." The album earned positive reviews, but wider attention was sacrificed to her performing aversion. As a songwriter, though, it was a thoroughly productive period for Guryan. Claudine Longet, Jackie DeShannon, and Astrud Gilberto all released versions of "Think of Rain" (while Dion and an impressed Harry Nilsson also recorded unreleased versions). "Sunday Morning" was also a hit for Oliver, and it was recorded by Julie London, Bobbie Gentry, and Glen Campbell, among others. Her songs were placed with London, Carmen McCrae, the Lennon Sisters, and Mama Cass Elliot. Guryan continued composing through the end of the '60s and into the '70s. She moved with her husband to Los Angeles and tried to stay current by writing a several topical songs -- she even tried her hand at disco for a single effort -- but her personal connection with the music had begun to wane, and she turned to producing other artists. Gradually she began to study and practice classical music again with Howard Richman, the teacher she had initially found for her stepson. She, in turn, became a teacher, and took up composing again in the '90s as a teaching aid for her students. By the end of the decade, interest in her 1968 album had come full-circle, garnering raves among pop aficionados, not only in the United States but also in Japan, England, and Europe. Meanwhile a new generation of artists began embracing her songs including Saint Etienne, Linus of Hollywood, and the Wondermints. An archival release called 25 Demos was released by Franklin/Oglio in 2001 with a slightly expanded U.K. version, Thoughts, appearing a bit later on the RPM label. Sessions for a possible new record commenced in the mid-2000s, though 2006's "16 Words" was the only track to see release. An instrumental recording of Guryan performing The Chopsticks Variations was issued in 2009, and over the next decade additional versions of her demo anthology were released including Burger Records' 27 Demos (2014) and Modern Harmonic's 29 Demos (2016). Margo Guryan died at her home in Los Angeles on November 8, 2021 at the age of 84.
© Stanton Swihart & Timothy Monger /TiVo

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