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Album: Blood, Sweat & TearsReleased: 1969Charted:
This was one of the first songs written by Laura Nyro, who was 17 when she wrote it. The song was first recorded by Peter, Paul and Mary in 1966. Nyro included it on her first album in 1967, More Than A New Discovery. Blood, Sweat & Tears, a nine-man group with a prominent horn section, covered it in 1969, and their version was the hit.
Nyro never had much success recording her own songs, but wrote several hits for other artists, including "Eli's Coming" for Three Dog Night and "Sweet Blindness" for The 5th Dimension. She died of cancer in 1997.
This song is about death, but also about living, reflecting on our limited time on Earth and the futility in wasting that time worrying about what comes next. And when we die, another will be born to replace us.
The Laura Nyro connection to Blood, Sweat & Tears: she was dating their bass player Jimmy Fielder. In our interview with David Clayton-Thomas
, who was the group's lead singer, he explained: "Laura used to come to our rehearsals and hang out. Sometimes she'd bring a pizza to the rehearsal place - we were just all pals, and we knew Laura's songs. Even before she got her recording career launched, she was one of the inner circle of people we hung out with."
This song hit #2 US on November 29, 1969. That week, two other songs written by Laura Nyro were also in the Top 10: "Wedding Bell Blues
" by 5th Dimension (#3) and "Eli's Coming" by Three Dog Night (#10).
"And When I Die" was the third consecutive BS&T song to stall at #2 in the US. None of their songs ever hit the top spot, but they're in good company: Creedence Clearwater Revival had five #2 hits without a chart-topper.
Structurally, this is a very unusual song with no real chorus. The title is the first line in the song and also shows up at the end, but makes just these two appearances. By starting the song with the word "and," it implies picking up a conversation - probably a good one.
, who with his group The Arrows wrote the hit "I Love Rock And Roll
," was very close to Laura Nyro - his aunt married Laura's uncle. Merrill recalls: "I was in the room when Laura wrote that song and I told her to trash it. I told her it was 'morbid.' I was 15. Death was very distant and scary at the time. It was her first chart hit song, for Peter Paul & Mary. What did I know?"