Sunday, November 25, 2012

Vinyl Rediscovery: James Taylor

Today I picked up a virtually pristine copy of James Taylor's self-titled first album for Apple Records; this was my first James Taylor album way back in the fall of 1969, prior to "Fire and Rain" from Taylor's second album Sweet Baby James, which made him a star. I bought this album simply because it was on Apple Records, and the Beatles owned Apple Records, and Paul McCartney played bass on one song... I had no idea if I would enjoy it, but the Beatles link was enough for me to invest $3.34 way back then, and my enjoyment of the album was enough for me to re-invest $7 today.

This is a more upbeat James Taylor than the one you'll hear on Sweet Baby James; songs like "Carolina in My Mind" (with McCartney on bass and George Harrison on  guitar or vocals or both, in a much more engaging arrangement than the re-recorded version Taylor did later for his Greatest Hits album), "Night Owl," "Sunshine Sunshine," and "Something in the Way She Moves" have a genuine optimism and joy to them. (And if that line "Something in the Way She Moves" sounds familiar, it's probably because George Harrison borrowed it for his mega-selling song "Something.") Even "Knocking 'Round the Zoo," which references his time in a mental institution, has an upbeat tone that juxtaposes with the lyric's manic quality.

But I've always thought the real genius of this album was Peter Asher's arrangements. Asher came up with hhe idea of composing links between each song—musical bits that carry listeners from one track to the next (some have said that Asher came up with this idea in conversation with Paul McCartney, but Taylor gave credit for it to Asher himself, and it seems more Asher-esque). Richard Hewson composed most of the links, using string quartets, harp, acoustic guitar, percussion--whatever Hewson felt would best carry the listener from one specific song to the next. I've never known another album to plan its musical flow in such a distinctive way, and it hooked me from the first time I heard it. And that's why, as far as I'm concerned, this is an album that really needs to be heard one whole side at a time in order; any other means of listening reduces the links to unusual intros/outros that don't really accomplish anything.

James Taylor was every bit as entertaining today as it was more than four decades ago, and well worth tracking down.

1 comment:

JaniceG said...

My boy! I like Sweet Baby James but I actually like Mud Slide Slim even more, and would probably put Gorilla in third place behind them.