I thought we might nod to Valentine’s Day with my notes about “La-La Means I Love You” a day early this year. This isn’t Monday morning material. Written by William Hart and Thom Bell, produced by Thom Bell and Stan Watson, “La-La” is a classic of Philly soul, vintage 1968, and was a memorable hit for the Delfonics. What a beautiful pop song. I don’t think they make ’em like this anymore. Hart sang the shimmering falsetto lead on the hit single.
Laura Nyro responded deeply to the song. As she did with so many of the “teenage heartbeat songs” (as she called them) that she recorded over the years, she turned it into a personal statement. She did it over and over again with LaBelle on Gonna Take a Miracle (1971), produced by Gamble and Huff. Toward the end of her life she teamed up with Manhattan Transfer on “La-La” for the group’s Tonin’ album in 1994. Not bad.
After working up the song with Manhattan Transfer, Laura recorded a version that she produced on August 29, 1994. The credits note that she backed herself on electric piano with Jeff Pevar and John Tropea on guitar, Will Lee on bass, Chris Parker on drums, and Carol Steele on percussion. Laura died way too young of ovarian cancer in 1997. Her cover of the song appeared posthumously on Angel in the Dark in 2001 (the liner notes are posted online here). This must be close to how she wanted the song to be heard.
There are too many great love songs to pick an official Valentine’s Day song. The genius of the Great American Songbook is reflected in a multitude of such songs. Laura herself wrote a few. If I ruled the world, however, this might be it.
So why does “La-La” mean I love you? I take it that if you stutter, or if you’re a little nervous about the declaration of that important sentiment, that might be the way it would come out.
Laura entered the scene at the age of 19 with her own brilliant songbook. Below is “Stoney End” from her debut album in 1966. “Never mind the forecast ’cause the sky has lost control.”
I loved “Luckie” and everything else on Eli and the Thirteenth Confession in 1968.
Her love songs had a dark underside, as in the wild stream of consciousness in “Captain St. Lucifer.” “I’m at anchor in your glow now,” but I doubt that’s for the best. What a song. What a voice.
Laura also covered the Goffin/King classic “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” on Angel in the Dark. I think it must have inspired her writing on “Stoney End.” They are both morning-after songs. On Laura’s cover you can hear that “teenage heartbeat.”