(originally appeared in Shindig! issue #64)
‘Think of Rain’ by Margo Guryan is one of those songs that, upon hearing it, you think “Why on earth wasn’t this a massive hit?” It’s charming, it’s catchy, it’s exquisitely produced and arranged, and Guryan’s dreamy vocals perfectly match its mood of whimsical romance. But even though it was covered several times in the mid-‘60s, ‘Think of Rain’ remained largely overlooked for many years. Thankfully, subsequent re-releases of Guryan’s work have resulted in this sunshine-pop gem getting the appreciation it deserves.
Guryan grew up in a musical household. Her parents, both pianists, played all kinds of music around the house, and she herself started piano lessons at an early age. Encouraged by her parents, she wrote songs as a child, and then went on to study piano and composition at university. In her teens, she was signed to Atlantic Records as a singer/songwriter – but, she tells Shindig!, “ the only session I did for them was a total disaster”. However, in ’58 her composition ‘Moon Ride’ was recorded by jazz singer Chris Connor, and that gave her the impetus to keep writing.
Guryan’s musical direction changed in ’66 when she became fascinated by the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds album. “It was a theory lesson. I learned that the bass note wasn’t necessarily part of a determined chord – it could actually determine the chord. By doing that, the direction of the song might change and offer options you’d never have thought of otherwise.” And ‘God Only Knows’ in particular provided her with a spark of inspiration. “I played that song over and over again, and then sat down at the piano and wrote ‘Think of Rain’”.
But it turned out to be a challenge to record ‘Think of Rain’ the way Guryan wanted it to sound. The song was initially demoed with other singers doing the lead vocal. Guryan recalls that “they had lovely voices, but screwed up the ‘time’. I often change time signatures within a song, and they would ‘straighten out’ my 3/4 measures to 4/4…utterly ruining the song.” David Rosner, her music publisher (and future husband), told her that the song needed an “arrangement”, so Guryan wrote one. “It was truly a learning experience. I wrote out everything. The musicians didn’t seem to mind…except for the drummer. I forget who he was…but when it was straight 4/4 he was fine. When it came to a break, I don’t think he very much liked what I had written. He…played…it…exactly. No feel at all. I never did THAT again!”
Guryan’s distinctive vocal sound on the record came about when she “pleaded with [Rosner] to let me try to sing on it. In the studio he said, ‘Let’s try doubling her voice’, and it turned out that I was good at it! I would sing on one track, put earphones on as they played it back, and match the first vocal almost exactly.”
The demo of the song quickly attracted attention from other artists and from music publishers. In ’67 ‘Think of Rain’ was recorded by Claudine Longet, Jackie deShannon, Bobby Sherman, and Lesley Miller. Guryan notes that Miller’s husband actually bought the demo track of ‘Think of Rain’, and so Miller’s single is the demo’s instrumental track with Miller’s vocals on top.
Another Guryan composition, ‘Sunday Morning’, was a hit in late ’67 for Spanky and Our Gang, and that success led to Bell Records signing Guryan as a recording artist. The resulting album, Take A Picture, was initially going to be produced by John Simon, who had recorded an unreleased version of ‘Think of Rain’ with The Cyrkle. Simon left to work with Janis Joplin – “who could blame him?” says Guryan – although his arrangement of ‘Don’t Go Away’ made it onto the final version of the album.
John Hill produced the rest of Take A Picture, although the album version of ‘Think of Rain’ is the demo track enhanced with a new string arrangement by Guryan. “When it came to recording it for the album, nothing matched the grace of the demo. [For the arrangement] I was getting away from the ‘jazz feel’ sort of music I had been writing. I was simply trying to write an arrangement which would allow the song to blend into the marvelous array of music being produced at that time.”
Take A Picture came out in ’68, with the title track (backed with ‘What Can I Give You’) released as a single. Bell also released a second single by Guryan, a non-album track called ‘Spanky & Our Gang’ – a shout-out to that band – backed with ‘Sunday Morning’. But none of these releases were hits, partly because Guryan was reluctant to go on tour; thus Bell paid little attention to promoting the album. Guryan also, modestly, attributes Take A Picture’s lack of commercial success to “there being “so many [other] wonderful artists and groups in the late ‘60s.”
‘Think of Rain’ was subsequently recorded by Astrud Gilberto, Dion, and the Split Level. Harry Nilsson also covered the song, although his version remained unreleased and Guryan never got to hear it. “He promised he would let me hear it, but we learned that although the song was listed on a tape box it was spliced out by Harry. Apparently he did that when he was unhappy with something he had recorded.” For a long time, Guryan’s favourite cover of the song was Jackie deShannon’s – “because the arrangement was so different from my demo arrangement” – but her more recent favourite is by New Zealand singer Malcolm McNeill (available on YouTube). “The arrangement is totally original, and quite different from mine. The piano accompaniment is quite beautiful and Malcolm’s vocal is flawless.”
Other tracks from Take A Picture were covered by Carmen MacRae and Julie London, and Guryan placed songs with several other artists, including Claudine Longet (‘I Don’t Intend to Spend Christmas Without You’), Cass Elliot (‘I Think A Lot About You’), and the Lennon Sisters (‘I Love’). Although Guryan continued to write songs into the ‘70s, she gradually stopped recording and instead developed a career as a piano teacher in Los Angeles.
In the early ‘90s Japanese record collectors discovered Take A Picture, and bootleg copies of the album sold thousands of copies there. In 2000 the album was officially re-released by independent labels in the US, Japan and Spain. Guryan’s demos for the Take A Picture tracks were subsequently released on 2001’s 25 Demos (which, with additional tracks, appeared as Thoughts the following year), on 2014’s 27 Demos, and on this year’s 29 Demos.
While Guryan has collaborated on some musical projects since Take A Picture was re-released, her only other solo album is 2009’s The Chopsticks Variations, a set of instrumentals inspired by her piano students. “They all loved the Mozart variations on ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’ (‘Ah, vous dirai-je, Maman’). But the Mozart variations became too difficult too quickly. I wondered what I could write that would amuse them – aha! Chopsticks! I was overwhelmed when Gunther Schuller, a Pulitzer Prize winning composer, gave me a favorable quote for the manuscript.”
Guryan has continued to teach piano, although “I’ve down-sized quite a bit over the last few years. In the past, I’ve found it fun to figure what kind of music a child, teenager or adult found compelling, and focus on that. At the same time as they were learning reading and counting, chord structure and fake-books could be incorporated. My last student, a very talented young lady, is off to college soon…leaving me officially retired!”
With thanks to Margo Guryan