"Billlllllllll, I love you so, I always will ... "
So began "Wedding Bell Blues," the song that everyone seems to recognize but nobody seems to know was written by Laura Nyro, the singer-songwriter who emerged from the streets of New York in the late 1960s and will be enshrined at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland Saturday night.
Most people are familiar with the version of the song by The 5th Dimension, which was a number one hit in 1969. Nyro had put out her own recording of it several years before -- it was her first single, and she was just 18 years old -- which had been a hit in a few U.S. regions (including L.A., where I was growing up and hopefully into the sort of womanhood Nyro was celebrating). Throughout her career, Nyro as a performer and album-maker would be adored only by a smallish cult of fans, while covers of her compositions would sell millions.
"Eli's Comin'" by Three Dog Night; "And When I Die" by Blood Sweat & Tears; "Stoney End" by Barbra Streisand; "Stoned Soul Picnic" by The 5th Dimension. You've probably heard some are all of those songs on the radio. Nyro wrote 'em.
But back to "Wedding Bell Blues," which some people think is called "Bill" because of that opening wail. It wasn't just a hit: It became a pre-Internet meme. Need a headline for an article about problems planning your wedding or hoping that the guy you're pining after proposes to you? Headline it "Wedding Bell Blues."
It's also been the title of at least three novels, one film and about two dozen TV series' episodes. And it's been performed -- straight or in parody -- on such shows as Ally McBeal, Glee and The Simpsons.
Nyro herself was briefly married -- to a man named David. She kept her legal married name, Bianchini, as a sort of hide-out, never using it professionally but giving it to her son Gil, whom she later had with another man after she'd split from David.
On Saturday night, Bette Midler will induct Laura into the very testosterone-filled Hall -- she's the only woman among the major inductees this year. Hopefully Midler will sing at least a few bars of Nyro's famed song of marital longing, which ended with the lyrics "C'mon and marry me, Bill, I got the wedding bell blues."
And hopefully those who never have heard Nyro sing the song herself will check out the original -- which can be found on her album The First Songs. From that matrimonial jumping-off point, there's the rest of Laura Nyro's still-resonant, still-remarkable body of work to be discovered.
Michele Kort is the author of the biography "Soul Picnic: The Music and Passion of Laura Nyro."
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