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Thursday, September 04, 2014

"Emily's Illness" Nora Guthrie (Mercury, 1967)


It's needless to say a song with "illness" in the title probably doesn't get much pop radio airplay. And "Emily's Illness" certainly didn't. Certainly not in The Summer of Love, when musically you had West Coast acid-rock, Brit-pop and Motown ruling the charts. But this song was far ahead of it's time.

Nora Guthrie is the daughter of Woody Guthrie (and the sister of Arlo, singer of the perennial Thanksgiving Day classic "Alice's Restaurant Massacree".) She was 17 years old when she recorded this. There's an incredible back story to this song however.

And when you read the lyrics (written by her then boyfriend, Eric Eisner) you might even realize it could be the very first prototype "Goth" record. Granted, they didn't invent the genre, but this song probably opened the door to it.

Because there weren't any pop songs that lyrically dealt directly with the process of someone dying (of leukemia, I'm guessing) until "Emily's Illness". Death itself was still a pretty taboo topic in American pop music in 1967 and very few acts even indirectly mentioned it. To say nothing of the word "blood", which outside of "Young Blood" The Coasters and a mention in "Eve of Destruction" Barry McGuire, was hardly used is any non-religious pop song until 1967.

Nora Guthrie today is the curator of her father's musical legacy, overseeing various recording projects, re-releases and historical recordings, including a very early live Woody Guthrie album  called The Live Wire, which was recorded on magnetic wire.


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