It’s no doubt over simplification, but for me, it all starts with Laura Nyro.
Without her, there’s no Kate Bush.
No Tori Amos.
To a lesser degree, I also think she may have made it possible for the Laurel Canyon scene to happen, even if she was from east coast, and Joni Mitchell trailed Nyro’s debut by only a year or so.
And yes, there were many great women musical artists before Nyro–everyone from Wanda Jackson to Nina Simone to Dusty Springfield to Joan Baez–but there was something about Nyro that signaled a major change, that opened up new avenues even if pompous asshole music critics like Robert Christgau dismissed her as ‘hypersensitive.’
(Christgau did say that ‘hypersenitive’ quality spoke to the oppression of women but also suggested it said a lot about their gifts, so he doesn’t even realize he’s part of the problem–dean of rock critics my ass.)
But if you step back and look at Nyro, in many ways what she was doing was miles beyond what any of her contemporaries were doing.
She took strands of R&B, Gospel, Tin Pan Alley, Pop, Rock, Classical, and more and wove them into a tapestry so rich that I cannot think of a single artist I’d consider as her equal.
And she was doing this with seismic shifts in mood and time signatures that, in some ways, are more bracing and daring than even prog rock could attempt.
Tom Cat Goodbye is more a performance than a song, and it sounds about a decade too early.
It is fierce, uncompromising and hard to get a handle on, at times feeling like a revival meeting and at others like an intimate, improvised exorcism, as if the tape was smuggled away in the middle of the night for embellishment and release without her knowing.
You can never really settle into it, and Nyro digs in with intense, wild exuberant delight, particularly when she vows to kill her lover man.
There is a reason her first album was originally called More Than a New Discovery, and by the time Tom Cat Goodbye surfaced on her astonishing and singular New York Tendaberry, she had more than delivered on that promise with albums that by and large demand much more of their audience than most other releases of their time.
Maybe they demanded a lot of her, too, because only a couple of years later, she was recording a rather straight-forward album of Philly soul before opting for a short lived retirement.
She’d return to music, but never quite to music like this, which is still waiting to be discovered.