The Vinyl Records: Mary Margaret O’Hara, Miss America

Artist: Mary Margaret O’Hara
Album: Miss America
Label: Virgin Records Ltd.
Year: 1988
Cat.: VL 2559

A while back Judith sent me a link to a video on the internet. It was a live recording of “When you know when you’re happy.” That recording blew my mind. I didn’t know so-called popular music sounded like that back in the 1980s. And by a Canadian, yet! And by the sister of a famous Canadian comedian! Well, I had to know more.

The more I learned, the more I wanted to hear this album. The single solitary LP recorded by Mary Margaret O’Hara in Toronto back in 1984, ’85, ’86, ’87, and who knows maybe ’88 also. There is still a lot of mystery about the making of this album. You can look up the scant details elsewhere on the vast expanse of the internet.  I will just talk about how the music sounds to me.

Right off the bat, it becomes clear that this is not a typical 80s pop album. O’Hara’s voice is just so beautiful, so different, so versatile. Her singing is very deep, by which I mean that the notes she sings, and the words she sings them to seem to come from deep inside without any mediating filters – like an artesian well flowing fresh and clear and ready to drink.

The opening track (“To cry about”) features nothing but the spaced out voice of M2O’H, accompanied by three spaced out guitars (one of them is even called an “infinite guitar”). Other highlights from the first side include “Body’s in trouble” and the aforementioned “When you know…”

The B-side runs through a diversity of musical styles – mellow, rocky, some kinda country. Somehow, though, with O’Hara’s voice and her careful arrangements, the whole thing makes sense.

I learned later that Toronto’s avant garde pop music scene was a pretty happenin’ place – with Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno hanging out with The Spoons and Michael Brook (and his infinite guitar, which would find its way into the hands of The Edge on “With or without you”). I don’t know – it just seems to me like a pretty exciting time. It’s too bad that other album Mary Margaret O’Hara was supposed to record never was recorded… we can only imagine.