James Taylor's Self-Titled Debut Turns 50: A Track-by-Track Retrospective


James Taylor spent his late teenagers in psychiatric hospitals and rehab amenities -- however rang in his twenties on the toes of the Beatles. He’d been a troubled younger songwriter with dim prospects in the true world, however uncooked expertise with a guitar in his hand.

Back in early 1968, he caught the last word break: a try-out for the Fabs’ new label Apple Records. Sitting cross-legged in entrance of Paul McCartney and George Harrison, he wowed them together with his love ballad “Something within the Way She Moves.”

Needless to say, Taylor handed the audition: his self-titled debut album was launched 50 years in the past in the present day (Dec. 6).

Over a five-decade profession, Taylor has been famend for hits like “Fire and Rain” and his cowl of “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)” -- however had it tough early on. He was hospitalized for melancholy in his faculty years and developed a nasty heroin habit that threatened to devour him.

But time was on Taylor’s facet. Desperate to be heard, he seemed up Peter Asher, who had made waves as one half of the pop vocal duo Peter & Gordon. One night time, Asher obtained a cold-call from a “fairly nervous-sounding American with a really nice talking voice.”

He caught him on the proper time; Peter & Gordon had been not a going concern, and Asher had turn into Apple Records’ A&R man. He was impressed sufficient by Taylor’s demo to land him an audition with solely an hour’s discover. (“I wouldn’t have slept for per week if it had been per week forward,” he later recalled.)

Asher was floored by Taylor’s efficiency, and he known as up the staircase for McCartney to listen to him too. He and Harrison would be part of Asher in giving Taylor the seal of approval, and Apple handed him a contract.

Taylor had handful of heartfelt folks songs to his identify, most pulled straight from his life historical past; “Knocking ‘Round the Zoo” was a humorous rave-up about his time in a psychiatric hospital, and “Carolina in My Mind” was a homesick ode to the Tar Heel State.

Despite the power of the fabric, James Taylor’s manufacturing principally displays its period. McCartney and Asher introduced in Richard Hewson so as to add strings, horns and harpsichords; his rococo preparations threaten to subsume Taylor on his personal document.

It turned out you didn’t want frilly manufacturing to understand this singular expertise. James Taylor proved he may combine darkness and light-weight into the identical cocktail. “Like mud within the wind, you're gone without end / You're a change within the climate,” he sang within the autumnal “Something’s Wrong.”

Even on this youthful setting, he sounds wizened, as if he’d undergone sufficient brutal private change to information us by means of ours. Although he wouldn’t actually discover his chops till classics like 1970’s Sweet Baby James and 1971’s Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon, James Taylor launched the world to his singular voice.

In honor of James Taylor’s 50th anniversary, right here’s a track-by-track retrospective of the unique album.

“Don’t Talk Now”

As a highschool senior, Taylor was interred on the McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts. “Don’t Talk Now,” the primary tune anybody would hear from him, refers to his emergence from combating psychological sickness: “Where I’ve been, you don’t know / And what I’ve obtained, child, it don’t present.” If Taylor is mum on the small print, not expressing rather more than wanting somebody to close their entice (“Don’t discuss roads / Don’t discuss sand / Don’t discuss mud, don’t discuss no man”), then Asher’s fussy baroque association helps this harsh drugs go down.

“Something’s Wrong”

In a 1973 interview with Rolling Stone, Taylor described the motivation of an addict in his personal phrases. “What the junkie is on the lookout for,” he mentioned, “is one thing that would be the similar each time and that may utterly supersede all different goings-on.” “Something’s Wrong” is a moody folks tune about how melancholy and habit impacts . He convinces the tune’s topic to stroll out on his sad dwelling altogether: “Take some bacon, go and depart your watch chain / She received’t depend on nothing extra.” Coming from a singer who had a monkey on his again, “Something’s Wrong” comes off as all too actual.

“Knocking ‘Round the Zoo”

Just as James Taylor threatens to come back off as overly dour and one-dimensional, we get this razzing, comedic jam. Barring Suicidal Tendencies’ “Institutionalized,” “Knocking ‘Round the Zoo” could possibly be the last word jam about being locked away in an asylum. Taylor wrote “Knocking ‘Round the Zoo” about his personal experiences at McLean Hospital, but it surely could possibly be a misplaced scene from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. To boot, it even incorporates a Nurse Ratched-style battleaxe: “She’ll hit me with a needle / If she thinks I’m making an attempt to misbehave!”

“Sunshine Sunshine”

On this Victorian-sounding deep lower, Taylor explores the relative advantage of “sunshine,” “laughter” and “smiling faces” earlier than contemplating the alternative: “Things ain't what they was once / I say ache and rain / Illness within the household.” Hewson completely masses up this lesser observe with weeping violins and plucking harps. The association of “Sunshine Sunshine” could possibly be the audio equal of James Taylor’s cowl photograph, during which the singer poses uncomfortably in an ill-fitting go well with with a leaf on his lapel. Bells and whistles didn’t flatter him.

“Taking It In”

“Gravy, hen and rice / Isn’t it good? / Tell me the price of meals.” Who is aware of what Taylor, Asher or anybody else was pondering on “Taking It In,” a little bit of fluff that rounds out Side A. McCartney and Harrison had been recording the White Album in the identical studio as Taylor; maybe self-conscious about their proximity, he sings off-brand Beatle-isms. “What occurs when it rains for eight days in your week off? / It’s all a matter of opening up your eyes and searching round.”

“Something within the Way She Moves”

Taylor recorded one in every of his biggest songs, “Something within the Way She Moves,” within the midst of the Beatles -- however he would find yourself feeding their muse, too. Perhaps swayed by his solo rendition within the Apple workplaces, Asher and Hewson left effectively sufficient alone: the person and his guitar had been all you wanted for this stirring ballad. Famously, Harrison lifted the opening verse for a tune he was writing for his spouse, Pattie Boyd; his ensuing hit for the Beatles, “Something,” was one in every of his most elegant contributions to the band. From a single, shared verse, each males wrote their most evocative love songs.

“Carolina in My Mind”

In Timothy White’s 2001 biography Long Ago and Far Away, Taylor described his Chapel Hill, North Carolina, upbringing as “extra a matter of panorama and local weather than individuals.” With his father usually absent for army responsibility, he led a solitary childhood in rural environs. He distilled these recollections into “Carolina in My Mind,” a mellow Taylor traditional that’s turn into an unofficial state anthem. He’s not simply misplaced up to now -- the lyric in regards to the “holy host of others standing earlier than me” shouts out McCartney and Harrison. Perhaps the sign obtained by means of; they respectively performed and sang on this bittersweet tune.

“Brighten Your Night With My Day”

A fairly slight and business observe, however no less than it makes use of Asher’s manufacturing to facilitative fairly than distracting ends. On “Brighten Your Night With My Day,” a delicate brass half accentuates Taylor’s jazzy phrasings, at the same time as he sings about pure phenomena seemingly at random: “Daybreak, sundown, cold and hot.” There’s attraction on this vaguely bossa nova tune in case you’re on the lookout for it, however sequenced subsequent to the stone-classic “Something within the Way She Moves” and “Carolina in My Mind,” it floats away like mist.

“Night Owl”

The Night Owl was an actual membership in Greenwich Village frequented by the Turtles and Lovin’ Spoonful; Taylor’s first band, the Flying Machine, appeared there usually. The foolish, disposable “Night Owl” is his tribute to his favourite hang-out, the place a “catfish tends to groove on the water" and a “monkey form of flashes on fruits and bananas." Though the blaring R&B backing wasn’t Taylor’s sturdy go well with, “Night Owl” is a hoot.

“Rainy Day Man”

“I used to be addicted on a regular basis I used to be recording the album on Apple,” Taylor admitted in Mark Ribowsky’s 2016 biography Sweet Dreams and Flying Machines. “Peter didn’t know I used to be on junk. I suppose he simply thought I used to be actually sleepy or one thing.” That mentioned, it’s arduous to listen to “Rainy Day Man,” a tune from his Flying Machine days, as about something however a supplier. It’s about having a “gap a lot too huge to fix” that warrants giving the titular character a hoop. Even if “Rainy Day Man” is nearly a generic magic man, its lyrics about dependence ring true for Taylor’s scenario.

“Circle Round The Sun”

This tune wasn’t written by Taylor in any respect, however belongs to the general public area. It’s his studying of “I Know You Rider,” a conventional blues tune that lent itself to the Grateful Dead, the Byrds, Joan Baez and plenty of extra. While Taylor might have pulled it out of his again pocket as filler, “Circle Round the Sun” provides a flower-power sheen to this outdated blues quantity.

“The Blues Is Just a Bad Dream”

Any flashes of sunshine on James Taylor are short-lived, and “The Blues is Just a Bad Dream” ends Taylor’s debut on a darkish, forbidding word. It begins with him evaluating his psyche to a tree in his yard, with the “branches all twisted / Its leaves are afraid of sunshine.” He goes on over a skeletal 12-bar association, with eerie strings: “That nightmare had come to stick with me, child / My ideas simply don’t belong.”

Taylor’s habit would stay lurking within the background; he wouldn’t totally kick heroin till 1983.

The uncharacteristically sunny music on Taylor’s debut belies his lyrics. On James Taylor, an amazing American songwriter confronted down his demons on document. It would simply take a couple of studio professionals to brighten his night time.