‘Going Down The Stoney End . . .’

The Texas Gal and I were killing time between television shows the other night. She played a game on her laptop while I read a copy of Rolling Stone as the Seventies channel on the TV provided the soundtrack. There was a flourish of drums followed by a ringing piano introduction, and Barbra Streisand sang:

I was born from love and my poor mother worked the mines
I was raised on the good book Jesus
Till I read between the lines
Now I don’t believe I wanna see the morning

And as I listened to Streisand deliver “Stoney End,” one of Laura Nyro’s (perhaps) less cryptic songs, I wondered who played piano on the track, as the piano intro and the later piano fills are two of the things that make me like the record more than I like a lot of Streisand’s work. So when the song ended, I went to the stacks to check out the Stoney End album jacket, but it turns out I don’t have the vinyl of the 1971 album. All I have is a digital copy scavenged from somewhere, and the album credits I find online list several keyboard players, so I don’t know who to thank for that chiming intro on “Stoney End.”

At that point, this post could have gone several different ways. I could assess Streisand’s work in detail, but I gave a brief assessment of my reaction to her work in a 2010 post about a drive-in movie date gone wrong, and nothing has changed my view that Streisand’s career went off the rails – artistically, at least – in 1977 with the ego-trip film A Star Is Born. (The Texas Gal dates the artistic derailment a bit later, with the 1983 release of Yentl. We both agree that early in her career – the 1960s – Streisand was a great interpreter of songs from Broadway and the Great American Songbook.)

And I didn’t really want to turn my interest in Streisand’s “Stoney End” into a post on the late Laura Nyro’s music. You’ve heard folks say about Bob Dylan, “A great songwriter, but man, I cannot stand to listen to him sing,” right? I feel a little bit like that about Laura Nyro: I love her songs, as inscrutable as they may sometimes be, but on too many of her recordings, she sounds shrill to me, so even though I have a little of her work around, I rarely listen to it. Happily enough for today’s exercise, Nyro’s take on “Stoney End” – found on the 1967 album More Than A New Discovery – is one of her better performances, and I quite like it.

So, with both of those versions of “Stoney End” echoing in my ears, I wondered about other versions of the song. And in the past few days, I’ve found nine other covers of the Nyro song, almost all of them jammed between the years 1967 – when Nyro released her version – and 1972, when Bert Kaempfert released, on his album 6 Plus 6, the only easy listening version of the tune I’ve found. (Maynard Ferguson also released an instrumental version of the tune, his coming on his self-titled 1971 album, but being a typically bold and brassy Maynard Ferguson track, one can’t classify it as easy listening.)

From what I find online, the first to cover “Stoney End” were the Blossoms, an R&B backing group with a massive list of credits but perhaps best known for having Darlene Love as one of its members and for being the actual performers on a couple of Phil Spector productions that were credited to the Crystals. The Blossoms recorded “Stoney End” in 1967 for the Ode label. Sharp-eared listeners will note that Love did not take the lead vocal; one of the comments at YouTube notes that in her autobiography (My Name Is Love), Love wrote, “Some of the chorus parts were too high for me, so Jean [Thomas] took the lead.”

Actress and singer Peggy Lipton – whose musical career I examined in a post last summer – recorded the tune in 1968, also for the Ode label, and one doesn’t need to have very sharp ears at all to realize that producer Lou Adler laid Lipton’s vocals over pretty much the same backing track as he’d put together for the Blossoms a year earlier. Lipton’s single release of “Stoney End” was the first one to tickle the Billboard charts, bubbling under the Hot 100 at No. 121. (Streisand’s 1970 single release is the only other version of the song to chart; it went to No. 6 on the Hot 100 and to No. 2 on what was then called the Easy Listening chart.)

A few more covers came along as the 1960s waned and the 1970s dawned: Linda Ronstadt & The Stone Poneys recorded the song for their 1968 album Linda Ronstadt, The Stone Poneys & Friends, Vol. III, Diana Ross recorded the song during the sessions for her self-titled 1970 album, but the track didn’t see the light until 2002, when it showed up as a bonus track, and jazz singer Selena Jones laid down her take on the tune on her 1971 album, Platinum.

And a couple of singers in recent years have recorded the song for tribute albums: Beth Nielsen Chapman added her idiosyncratic take on “Stoney End” to the multi-artist album Time And Love – The Music Of Laura Nyro in 1997, and Broadway singer Judy Kuhn included “Stoney End” on her own tribute album, Serious Playground – The Songs of Laura Nyro, released in 2007.

Of the covers noted in those last two paragraphs, only one stands out to me: The 1968 version by Linda Ronstadt & The Stone Poneys. (And many thanks to reader and pal Yah Shure for providing the mp3 to make the video below.)

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4 Responses to “‘Going Down The Stoney End . . .’”

  1. jb says:

    From the brief period when Barbra was trying to be a rock singer. Her 1971 version of “Where You Lead” is pretty good, too. (I am not all that wild about Linda Ronstadt’s version, though. Sorry.)

    Facebook pointed me to this one by Sara Bareilles, performed at Laura Nyro’s R&R HOF induction. I like it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zynFqUu9oKw

  2. David Lenander says:

    I wasn’t so impressed with this until the end, and then I liked it a lot. But I really appreciate hearing it. I ordered the 3 Stone Poney albums at one point, and they were out of v. 3, but I never did obtain it, so it’s nice to hear something I hadn’t heard before. Can hardly believe that the 5th Dimension overlooked covering this song. One thing that really impresses me is how great Nyro’s arrangements were, and how much the 5th Dimension & other artists just followed those.

  3. Bob says:

    Nice article. I’ve been listening to a lot of Nyro’s back catalogue and suffering a sense of guilt that I don’t like her more (although I will always have a soft spot for Smile). So it was refreshing to read what you say about her voice.
    I was wondering if you’d noticed a similarity between Stoney End and Suicide is Painless, and if you think this is a coincidence. It’s not an era or a genre that I’m very familiar with and you seem to know both very well. Thanks.

  4. Thanks for this post and your Musical Memoir (a genre somewhere between poetry, memoir and song reviews that was invented by Bay Area writer Al Young who’s done 4 volumes of Musical Memoirs). Would’ve liked to have heard Texas Gal respond to your characterization and some volleys between your separate takes on Laura Nyro’s work. Streisand’s always seemed a bit too professional, although her label’s A&R people and the musicians the diva used on sessions were first rate. See Leon Russell (RIP\Z”L) and Catol Kaye reflecting in the documentary on THE WRECKING CREW with clips on U. Tube.

    You are not alone in finding Nyro’s voice problematic among friends of mine that never gave her material much of a listen, or only knew of it from other artists with radio voices covering her. Having grown up with Muddle East musical and Mediterranean modalities in my ears, perhaps I had an easier glide into Nyro’s intuitive vocal terrain. In some of her most iconic recordings and some of her most un-disc-overed (released on CD only in Japan extended album version of her LIVE band record from her Season of Lights 1975 tour) that “Mediterranean Wail” blends so sublimely into her stronger musical imprints fron classic R&B, girl groups and doo-wop street corner singing in the NYC of her yoot.

    After Nyro’s long hiatus from road work and recording, when she returned to both about a decade or so before she tragically contracted cancer (about same time it took her Mother) her vocal timbre had solidified and her vocal tone tempered as she wrote more conventional ballads on the subjects that captured her heart. You might appreciate the tribute album by stage actress and cabaret singer Judy Kuhn, a lovely bouquet of song interpretations from the range of Nyro’s songbook and paradoxically named after a later Nyro composition that Judy Kuhn does not choose to include and called “SERIOUS PLAYGROUND.”

    Keep on listening, writing and sharing
    Warmly,
    Mitch Ritter Paradigm Shifters
    Lay-Low Studios, Ore-Wa
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