Nancy Priddy titled her 1968 Dot Records LP You’ve Come This Way Before but the actress-singer actually hadn’t followed many footsteps in creating her debut album. Modern Harmonic, which has just reissued it on a splendid new vinyl pressing, describes the lost gem as “Dreamy Psych Baroque Pop.” Throw in folk, jazz, psychedelia, and sunshine pop, and you have an idea of this ambitious, offbeat, and altogether trippy curio on which the underground met the mainstream.
Priddy’s own story is a fascinating one: Born in South Bend, Indiana, she graduated Northwestern University’s drama school, toured with veteran actor Hans Conried (also known as the voice of Captain Hook in Disney’s Peter Pan and Snidely Whiplash), sang backup for Leonard Cohen, dated Stephen Stills, and inspired his Buffalo Springfield song “Pretty Girl Why.” Arriving in New York from Chicago, Priddy became a member of The Bitter End Singers; while recording their first LP for Mercury Records, she met a young engineer named Phil Ramone. Four years later, Ramone – now serving as producer – would usher Nancy into his A&R Studios in New York City to record You’ve Come This Way Before. She was joined by seasoned veterans Manny Albam, John Simon, and Everett Gordon, all of whom arranged cuts on the LP and also co-wrote with the artist. Each brought their own style, hence the delightfully schizophrenic nature of You’ve Come This Way Before.
Ramone was already a master of sound, and his clean, commercial, quintessential late-sixties production smoothed the edges of the singer-songwriter’s unconventional melodic structures and oblique, impressionistic lyrics. With her winsome, youthful voice, Priddy could have recorded an enjoyable album of songs by Laura Nyro, Jimmy Webb, Tony Hatch, or Bacharach and David (the latter pair whom she once met at Ramone’s Christmas party, per the original LP liner notes reprinted here). But by only recording her own compositions, Priddy ensured that the album would be both original and deeply personal.
While much of the personnel credits have been lost to time, the label asserts that Bernard “Pretty” Purdie provided the sample-ready drums throughout You’ve Come This Way Before. Purdie’s drums both anchor and propel the songs beginning with the evocative, slinky title track. Priddy invites the listener to “Go on and close a door/For there are so many more/Remember as you start to soar/You’ve come this way before/And you’ll come again…” Nancy’s ode to reincarnation was inspired by her deep friendship with Stills; the same theme was explored in a more down-to-earth way on “And Who Will You Be Then?” (Both were co-written with Everett Gordon.) The latter song drew on her observation that the same role can be assumed over and over again in relationship after relationship. She drew on personal experiences for many of the lyrics, filtering her real-world ruminations through a poetic sensibility.
Everett Gordon also arranged and co-wrote the wide-eyed “Christina’s World,” so named for Andrew Wyeth’s 1948 painting which depicts a young woman lying in a field of grass in coastal Maine. The painting was named for Wyeth’s neighbor Anna Christina Olson, and Priddy would take inspiration from it to name her own daughter: future Married…with Children and Sweet Charity star Christina Applegate.
Jazz pro Manny Albam’s dramatic, baroque strings lent heft to the dark, Eastern-influenced “Ebony Glass,” but he pulled all of the stops out on the epic “Mystic Lady” with its jarring shifts from gleaming, layered pop to funk and gospel and back again. Bacharach-style horns fleck the pretty “We Could Have It All,” and there’s a touch of his influence, too, on the haunting “O Little Child” about a May-December romance. (Phil Ramone was no stranger to Bacharach, having engineered many of Dionne Warwick’s timeless hits for the composer-producer at A&R.)
For all of the dark and mystical themes that crop up in Priddy’s lyrics, innocence and lightness also grace the album. The frenetic, lithe vocal jazz of “My Friend Frank” is a playful tribute to the elevator operator in the A&R Studios building. A spacey keyboard enlivens the jaunty, funky “The Other Side of the River,” about a favorite spot for Priddy to write. She left the listener with “Epitaph,” inspired by Christopher Isherwood’s play I Am a Camera (which in turn was adapted into the musical Cabaret). This brief, piano-driven piece explored a passive life in which one watches but never participates.
Happily, Nancy Priddy has continued to live an active life. Musically, she went on to collaborate with Mort Garson and Harry Nilsson before concentrating on her acting career. Over the years, she’s been seen in such television staples as Bewitched, The Golden Girls, and even Married…with Children in addition to performing on stage and the big screen. A breast cancer survivor, she’s returned to music in the 1990s and 2000s.
Modern Harmonic’s reissue of You’ve Come This Way Before has been cut by Kevin Gray at Cohearant Audio and pressed at RTI on black vinyl. This edition preserves Phil Ramone’s supple sound, while the package replicates the beautiful gatefold of the original Dot release with numerous photos as well as Nancy’s period liner notes. This release from a true “mystic lady” – the album’s first appearance on vinyl in over 50 years – is sure to enchant fans of ’60s pop with a twist.
- You’ve Come This Way Before
- Ebony Glass
- Mystic Lady
- Christina’s World
- We Could Have It All
- My Friend Frank
- O Little Child
- And Who Will You Be Then?
- On the Other Side of the River