Mary Margaret O'Hara's Miss America is one of those albums I discovered by pure accident. I think it was January 1989 and I was in the huge media store Saturn Hansa near the Theresienwiese where the Oktoberfest takes place in Munich. Lou Reed's New York album was advertised everywhere and I don't remember what I was looking for. The music they played immediately caught my attention. Or more precisely the woman singing on that record. I asked what it was and bought the vinyl (I didn't have a cd player and I don't think it was available on cd anyway) instantly. It was love at first sight. An experience I find very hard to describe.
The music was somewhere in between jazz, classical improvisation, country and God knows what. As I would have liked Joni Mitchell who had already turned into a boring mainstream pop-rock imitator to be. Mary Margaret O'Hara's voice was a girl's voice similar to Rickie Lee Jones's though less so. O'Hara's way of singing is (sorry I have to change the tense now) absolutely unique. It is all about the intonation, the melody of the phrasing, the strange breaks and drawls in the pronunciation of the syllables. She cuts and breaks them and gives them an individual sound like few other singers. If you really want a reference point the only one in terms of emotion I can offer is Billie Holiday. Though it is obvious that O'Hara is a trained singer she transports a sincerity and expressiveness few singers ever matched till then. Substract the exaggerated opera timbre of Jeff Buckley and you will get close to her.
Not only her voice is absolutely stunning but also the words she sings. It all starts with:
You take a walkI'll be your sideYou take my lifeI'll give you mineAnd you ... you give me somethingTo cry about
and it goes on
You're in my heartI'm in your handYou drop me offI miss you and ... you,You give me somethingTo cry about
That is so to the point that it hurts.
Not all songs are as depressive as the first one. There is the seemingly relaxed countryesque Dear Darling which goes
Why would you run?I beg stars aboveA thing of such beautyMust be called love
which is followed by the swinging almost groovy hopeful Anew Day. The next quite sombre song When You Know Why You're Happy really speaks to me (I am 1.95 meters = 6 feet 5 tall)
You move much better than you knowNot just some jerky to and fro
Musically my favourite song on the album is the first track on side 2, the upbeat My Friends Have. It goes on with the downbeat rather sad Help Me Lift You Up where she sings
I don't have to tell youThat you're all alone...I have a dreamIt's very clearYou're all aroundBut never nearHelp me lift you up
Keeping You in Mind is a relaxed serene ballad without illusions:
But if our love is all for notI'm still happy with what I've gotNot having you,But keeping you in mind
After a long free flowing song the album ends with the almost a cappella (bass & her voice) You Will Be Loved Again where O'Hara exhibits all her vocal capabilities:
Sometime you willFeel love so deepAnd you'll find someoneNot lost in sleep
Sorry that I wasn't able to give you any clue about this album. I guess you have to listen to it yourself.
The new cover has changed colours. The beige yellow has turned into black and the black scripting changed into blue. Obviously this was not for the better.
By the way Mary Margaret O'Hara has released her second album in 2002, the soundtrack Apartment Hunting.
Original post in my blog
― alex in mainhattan (alex63), Tuesday, 8 March 2005 19:45 (thirteen years ago) Permalink
― scott seward (scott seward), Tuesday, 8 March 2005 19:49 (thirteen years ago) Permalink
― alex in mainhattan (alex63), Tuesday, 8 March 2005 19:51 (thirteen years ago) Permalink
― rentboy (rentboy), Tuesday, 8 March 2005 19:53 (thirteen years ago) Permalink
me too. this is one of maybe three or four albums that i own multiple copies of just in case...of...something. xpost:as with many, i'd imagine, i discovered this through the cover on a this mortal coil album (forget which).
― john'n'chicago, Tuesday, 8 March 2005 19:55 (thirteen years ago) Permalink
― Tim Ellison (Tim Ellison), Tuesday, 8 March 2005 19:58 (thirteen years ago) Permalink
Catherine! Mary Margaret's big sis. Oh sure, now she does hollywood dumb stuff, but i'm just a big SCTV fan and i've always loved her. One of the funniest people on earth.
― scott seward (scott seward), Tuesday, 8 March 2005 19:59 (thirteen years ago) Permalink
i love everything on it but particularly the more rythmically inventive tracks "A year in song" and the lumbering stuttering jerking desperate intensity of "not be Alright" (the finest thing on the record).
i think i'll put it on right now!
― jed_ (jed), Tuesday, 8 March 2005 20:03 (thirteen years ago) Permalink
― scott seward (scott seward), Tuesday, 8 March 2005 20:06 (thirteen years ago) Permalink
Whatever happened to mary margaret o'hara ?Mary Margaret O'Hara's new album
you really do just have to hear her voice to believe it.
Though the musicians are all great, I'm not crazy about michael brook's production on this album, it's very much of its time. But in a way it just increases the tension: the music starts, slightly glossy 80's alt pop, you think you've got a grip on what's happening, then right before you tune out she starts in and you lose your mind. She's got the avant dynamic range of Joan LaBarbara / Berberian / Ono etc. but none of the pretension, when she launches into the mad delirious noises it's not a technique, it's just heartstopping.
Even though Apartment Hunting doesn't have as much of a center of gravity as Miss America, it really is just as good, and some of the high points are even higher, it's mostly the same band as on the first record recorded without the gloss, more relaxed and direct... pure strange beautiful.
I hope she doesn't keep us waiting too long for more.
― milton parker (Jon L), Tuesday, 8 March 2005 20:07 (thirteen years ago) Permalink
― jed_ (jed), Tuesday, 8 March 2005 20:09 (thirteen years ago) Permalink
― dan bunnybrain (dan bunnybrain), Tuesday, 8 March 2005 21:58 (thirteen years ago) Permalink
i have a crap ep of xmas sonngs by her though...
― mullygrubbr (bulbs), Tuesday, 8 March 2005 22:00 (thirteen years ago) Permalink
― alex in mainhattan (alex63), Wednesday, 9 March 2005 12:36 (thirteen years ago) Permalink
― cozen (Cozen), Wednesday, 9 March 2005 12:42 (thirteen years ago) Permalink
Is apartment hunting any good?
― Dr. C (Dr. C), Wednesday, 9 March 2005 13:57 (thirteen years ago) Permalink
did you relisten to miss america, dr. c? when i hear her sing it is as if i am in quicksand. i lose the grip to the earth and i love it. there is no way i cannot listen to her voice even if the music is played in the background.
― alex in mainhattan (alex63), Thursday, 10 March 2005 19:16 (thirteen years ago) Permalink
It's often the one I loan out first to sell friends on her.
― milton parker (Jon L), Thursday, 10 March 2005 19:33 (thirteen years ago) Permalink
― manzoor alam, Saturday, 27 August 2005 12:59 (thirteen years ago) Permalink
― The Popish Plot (dymaxia), Saturday, 27 August 2005 17:25 (thirteen years ago) Permalink
― don, Saturday, 27 August 2005 17:36 (thirteen years ago) Permalink
― Jennie Adams, Wednesday, 28 September 2005 11:51 (thirteen years ago) Permalink
― Eazy (Eazy), Wednesday, 22 February 2006 05:54 (twelve years ago) Permalink
One question-her previous group Go Deo Chorus had a demo tape floating around the major labels from late 70's-1983. Has anyone heard it or know if there's any word of it appearing in any format (i can't get slsk but can get access)?
― neil tacus (tacit), Sunday, 4 June 2006 01:32 (twelve years ago) Permalink
finally found this, got a nice vinyl copy for only $4 yesterday...
really interesting record, a bit different than i thought it would be....
but yeah dreamy and diffuse, her vocal style is really something.
this sort of seems like the missing link between kate bush and hejira-era joni mitchell, or something.
― M@tt He1ges0n, Thursday, 4 October 2007 15:52 (eleven years ago) Permalink
there was an interview with joe boyd recently in tapeop and he talked about this album, which I didn't realize he'd engineered/mixed for the most part; even though michael brook is credited for it, apparently he just barely touched tapes boyd did several years earlier.
― akm, Thursday, 4 October 2007 16:18 (eleven years ago) Permalink
yeah he's in the thank you list, but not credited as an engineer
― M@tt He1ges0n, Thursday, 4 October 2007 16:23 (eleven years ago) Permalink
Some MMO'H on YouTube:
― Eazy, Thursday, 4 October 2007 16:24 (eleven years ago) Permalink
I had never heard of her before reading this thread but I like this:
― n/a, Thursday, 4 October 2007 16:34 (eleven years ago) Permalink
Some dude on youtube has put a bunch of her songs to Lost montages for some reason: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3_2j1fjBiFU&mode=related&search=
― n/a, Thursday, 4 October 2007 16:38 (eleven years ago) Permalink
People are weird.
― n/a, Thursday, 4 October 2007 16:39 (eleven years ago) Permalink
that Joe Boyd interview in TapeOp (issue No. 60, July/Aug 2007) was great, tons of details about recording this album & working with O'Hara, and how when she started to stress the details he left the album to her and left Toronto to go do the third R.E.M. record. a follow-up letter in this month's TapeOp (I forget who from) provides further detail, evidently a few of the tracks were definitely re-recorded, and the way it was mixed definitely sounds more like a glossy digital Brook production, I wish Boyd could have stayed to finish though it sounds like Mary is a quite the taskmaster
2006 song for a Hal Willner comp: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oflj8G2eGz0&mode=related&search=
& she played ATP in London in 2007, there were three or four youtube clips that have been removed. one's still left but it doesn't give you the entire story
― Milton Parker, Thursday, 4 October 2007 16:44 (eleven years ago) Permalink
i like this, it looks like someone made a weird animation and put it to her music....her vocals on this really remind me of what i've heard of john jacob niles.
― M@tt He1ges0n, Thursday, 4 October 2007 16:52 (eleven years ago) Permalink
ooops duplicate sorry
last year when I discovered that new MMOH song (during my customary bi-monthly search to watch the 'Night Music' youtube clip linked upthread) I woke up the other MMOH thread to note it, and it sank right to the bottom while this stupid Norah Jones thread kept bouncing around the top. So I checked the Norah Jones thread and it was filled with about 20 people talking about how bland it was and how depressing it was that there weren't any good singers currently releasing music.
― Milton Parker, Thursday, 4 October 2007 17:20 (eleven years ago) Permalink
A mutual friend brought her to a show that I played in Toronto a few years ago and we went out for a bit afterwards, and that's probably my favorite brush-with-fame-through-playing-music moment.
― Eazy, Thursday, 4 October 2007 17:24 (eleven years ago) Permalink
Went out to a party, not went-out went-out.
It's just some jerk to it, j-jerk to it.
― jed_, Thursday, 22 November 2007 00:55 (eleven years ago) Permalink
from an article where several current writers talk about their favourite songwriters in the wake of the Dylan Nobel prizehttps://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/nov/05/bob-dylan-nobel-favourite-songwriter
Mary Margaret O’Hara by Lavinia Greenlaw
An impression of distillation and deep thought … Mary Margaret O’Hara Photograph: Antonio Olmos for the Observer
When I was 19 and newly in the grip of writing, I joined a band. Asked to produce lyrics, I intensified my poems. Perhaps I thought that they could be freeze-dried and then rehydrated with a tune. The results were ungainly. Good singer-songwriters must have an extra layer of judgment that enables them to see what most of us need to be shown. Mary Margaret O’Hara is best known for Miss America (1988), and has released just one album since.
O'Hara builds songs out of spare phrases that light each other as the parts of a poem should
She builds songs out of spare phrases that light each other as the parts of a poem should. She sings this way too, as if making a series of gestures which have taken their time to become clear. You get the impression of distillation and deep thought in the making of songs that resist their own weight: “You just want to push somebody / And a body won’t let you. Just want to move somebody / And a body won’t let you.” O’Hara resists stabilisation, something I understood when I saw her perform live. She has a decisive but off-kilter way of moving – a lurch, a flick of the hand, a foot stamp that are impossible to relate to what you’re hearing. It’s as if she has a sense of detail so latent that no one else can detect it. Her lyrics are published in brief lines full of quiet swerves: “So sorry if I can’t stop pretending / So sorry if I don’t let you go / Like this but not like this is ending / I think you know. / I think you know. / Help me lift you up.” They can be heartbreaking in their generosity.
• A Double Sorrow: Troilus and Criseyde by Lavinia Greenlaw is published by Faber.
― Stevolende, Sunday, 6 November 2016 15:10 (two years ago) Permalink
had never heard this record before but laura snapes' sunday review of it was excellent https://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/mary-margaret-ohara-miss-america/
so now "body's in trouble" is really doing me in
― princess of hell (BradNelson), Monday, 3 September 2018 17:07 (five months ago) Permalink
oh Brad I'm surprised you never heard it, it's really a one of a kind record and seems like something you would really love
― The Desus & Mero Chain (upper mississippi sh@kedown), Monday, 3 September 2018 18:07 (five months ago) Permalink
I'm similarly shocked! prob the best album Toronto ever produced
― wayne trotsky (Simon H.), Monday, 3 September 2018 19:42 (five months ago) Permalink
Other than The Trinity Session, that is.
― the word dog doesn't bark (anagram), Monday, 3 September 2018 20:13 (five months ago) Permalink
She's on the new Fucked Up record!
― with hidden noise, Sunday, 7 October 2018 13:13 (four months ago) Permalink
Barely. She's in there somewhere. But it's good anyway.
― everything, Wednesday, 10 October 2018 09:07 (four months ago) Permalink