Friday, 21 January 2011

Lily & Maria: search music


To me the very things most people criticise Lily Fiszman and Maria Neumann’s sole LP for  - earnestness / seriousness bordering on the precious / pretentious – are its strengths. It strikes me as a unique and powerful document of two intelligent and sensitive teenagers at a turbulent point in their lives, suffused with the liberal / experimental atmosphere of late 60s America. It may be overwrought, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing, especially when there’s so much passion in the grooves. I especially like the impossibly fragile, desolate ‘I Was’, which Maria told me was “about those heightened moments of experience when you feel most alive, but also sad because you’re aware it won’t last… In the lyrics I was referring to anyone who performs lowly tasks for others and experiences the satisfaction of making something beautiful, even if the result isn’t for them to enjoy.” I could also harp on about the catchy ‘Aftermath’, the delicate ‘Morning Glory Morning’, the sensual ‘Melt Me’ and thoughtful ‘Fourteen After One’, but ultimately I can only urge people who haven’t heard the record to do so. In the meantime, these are a few odds and ends relating to it. Firstly, two early publicity shots:





Maria wrote the bulk of the LP – here are a couple of slightly later pictures of her, in quintessential hippie goddess poses:





Here's the (slightly faded) press release issued by Columbia to promote the album, dated September 1968:



















And here's a copy of the album, signed by the duo for engineer Stanley Tonkel (the dedications read 'To Tanley Stonkel, to a real trooper (at the age of 18 no less), lots of love and iced tea, Lily' and 'To Tanley Stonkel, good things are supposed to come in small packages - somebody goofed! Love you, Maria').


And here's the label to side one:



Critical response was mixed; on October 5th Billboard called them ‘two young girls with an exceptional talent. Their debut album proves an exciting showcase for that talent, as they vocally create a variety of moods’, and on October 11th the Los Angeles Herald Examiner said ‘this may be a great album. After three or four listenings I am almost persuaded that it is. If it is not, it is pretension of a very high quality.’ Less enthusiastic were Stereo Review (who described it in January 1969 as ‘an unremarkable effort by two young ladies whose talents are almost buried under complex arrangements, pretentious songs and over-production’) and the American Record Guide (who wrote in February that ‘mediocrity and pretentiousness rarely relieved by somewhat pleasant musical performances define the recording debut of two very breathy thrushes with a decided predilection for lyrical mundanity and off-key harmonies’).

 On October 26th this small advert appeared on the front of Billboard:


A 45 was extracted from the LP, coupling ‘Everybody Knows’ and ‘Morning Glory Morning’, but it was just as little circulated (and seems not to have made it beyond the mono promo stage):

This ad appeared in one or two music publications in the autumn of 1968:


In January 1969 Esquire ran this snippet, belatedly commemorating the duo’s signing to Columbia:

By that spring, however, the girls were moving in different directions, both personally and artistically (though they remain friends to this day), and made no further recordings. Columbia must have lost a lot of money on them, but in my view it was worth every cent.

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