James Taylor is yet another one of those artists I have only got around to investigating in the last couple of years and I have to say he is growing on me more and more with time.
The story surrounding the creation of this release makes fascinating reading and Taylor appears to have been something of a troubled soul. In a nutshell he basically had some form of mental breakdown during his final years of schooling and ended up at The McLean Hospital in Belmont where he was treated with Thorazine and deemed psychologically unsuitable for Vietnam.
After checking himself out of the institute he formed a band called The Flying Machine which performed many of the tracks that would eventually end up on this debut album including ‘Don’t Talk Now’, ‘Knocking Around The Zoo’ and ‘The Blues Is Just a Bad Dream’. Despite some success, they actually released ‘Brighten Your Night With My Day’ backed with ‘Night Owl’ as a single in 1966, Taylor fell in with a bad crowd and quickly became addicted to heroin. This provided the subject matter for ‘Rainy Day Man’ another track from this album which began life as a Flying Machine song. Taylor then descended into busking in Washington State Park where he would allegedly regularly pass out. He was then abandoned by his manager before eventually being rescued by his father and taken back to Carolina where he ended up having a throat operation to fix his damaged vocal chords.
Even after this Taylor’s life continued along the lines of a Hollywood script. After inheriting some money he relocated to London and had the good fortune to be introduced to Paul McCartney who took an instant liking to Taylor’s material. Following this meeting Taylor became the first non English act signed to the Apple label. Apparently during this period Taylor lived with several women in the Notting Hill/ Belgravia/Chelsea area and wrote the rest of the songs for this album before going into Trident Studios in July 1968 to lay it all down on tape.
The recording sessions were typical of the time and Taylor quickly fell back into his heroin habit. McCartney and George Harrison both guested on the album and music folklore suggests that ‘Something In the Way She Moves’ gave Harrison the starting point for his own similarly titled classic. The Beatles influence also resulted in the strange passages that link some of the songs including the Greensleeves intro to ‘Something’s Wrong’. It was also at the suggestion of McCartney and producer Peter Asher that Richard Hewson was brought in to add orchestrations to some of the songs.
Released in England in late 1968 and in America the following February despite some good reviews ‘James Taylor’ sold poorly and recieved very little promotion due mainly to Taylor’s drug addiction. Problems at Apple didn’t help and when producer Peter Asher left Taylor went with him so this was his only Apple release.
As I suggested earlier ‘James Taylor’ is an album that really grows on you in time. After the first few listens I was slightly underwhelmed but eventually the songs start to weedle their way into your soul and the album as a whole becomes a pleasurable listening experience. ‘Don’t Talk Now’, ‘Knocking Around the Zoo’, ‘Carolina On My Mind’ and ‘Night Owl’ being my personal favourites. The rest of the album is enjoyable late sixties folk and only ‘Sunshine Sunshine’ disappoints. The versions of ‘Carolina …’ and ‘Something …’ on Taylor’s 1976 Greatest Hits album are re-recordings and not these originals as Apple wouldn’t grant a licence for their inclusion so this album is well worth getting just for them.
© Martin Leedham. Originally published on RYM May 2010