James Taylor – James Taylor
Debut albums by artists who go on to great acclaim are sometimes left left in the realm of the obscure, sometimes fairly, sometimes not. Often they are clearly works of their era, with production that screams the year of its release. Elton John’s 1969 debut is one such album. Another album featuring a late-60’s Baroque pop sound is James Taylor’s eponymous debut, released in the UK on this day fifty years ago (February 1969 in the US). Taylor was twenty years old at the time.
Taylor was championed by Peter Asher, who secured an audition for him with Paul McCartney – whose girlfriend at the time was Asher’s sister Jane – as the Beatles looked for serious contenders to sign to their fledgling Apple label. James Taylor would be the first release by a non-British musician on that label. It was recorded at London’s Trident Studios from July to August and produced by Asher, at the time Apple’s A&R man.
The two most well-known songs from the release are, of course, Carolina In My Mind and Something In the Way She Moves. The former was written about his homesickness for his North Carolina home, despite the “holy host of others,” i.e., the Beatles, standin’ around him. It was a difficult period for Taylor, who struggled with depression and addiction. A major door had opened for him, but he wasn’t able to take full advantage of it at the time.
The album was received well by critics, but Apple didn’t promote it well. And due to his hospitalization to treat his addiction, live performances weren’t in the cards. He would continue to suffer setbacks, with a motorcycle accident the following year which broke both of his hands and feet. That recuperation time allowed him to write songs which appeared on his standout next album, Sweet Baby James. Due to licensing issues with Apple, Taylor had to re-record Something in the Way She Moves and Carolina In My Mind for his 1976 Greatest Hits album. While I like the originals a lot, the re-done versions serve his 70’s canon well. They’re what I grew up with until discovering his studio releases down the line.
As for Something In the Way She Moves, which includes McCartney on bass and an uncredited George Harrison on backing vocals, it is the well-known seed of Harrison’s Something. Ironically, Taylor wanted to title the song I Feel Fine after the dominant chorus line, but it had already been used by the Fabs. Of Harrison’s nicking Taylor’s song for what would become one of the most famous and covered songs in pop history, Taylor said:
All music is borrowed from other music, so I completely let it pass. I raised an eyebrow here and there, but when people would make the presumption that I had stolen my song from his, I can’t sit still for that.
It turns out they shared more than that song in common, though this time I’m not referring to Pattie Boyd. Long, dark hair, acoustic guitars, and…BIG SWEATERS!
Obvious standouts to me are the original versions of Carolina In My Mind and Something In the Way She Moves, but there’s plenty more here making it a good listen. Something’s Wrong sounds like Taylor at his early-mid 1970’s best, but with a bit more strings. Knocking ‘Round the Zoo is a great, upbeat and ironic track about his stay in a Massachusetts psychiatric hospital. It was originally recorded with his band the Flying Machine.
It’s easy to lump artists into loose categories, but think about the music scene when this record came out. This album was different. It portended the new singer/songwriter movement just around the corner. Jon Landau wrote in Rolling Stone at the time, “This album is the coolest breath of fresh air I’ve inhaled in a good long while. It knocks me out.” Discovering and revisiting it for myself many years later, I’d have to concur.
- Don’t Talk Now
- Something’s Wrong
- Knocking ‘Round the Zoo
- Sunshine Sunshine
- Taking It In
- Something in the Way She Moves
- Carolina in My Mind
- Brighten Your Night With My Day
- Night Owl
- Rainy Day Man
- Circle Round the Sun
- Blues Is Just a Bad Dream