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An Apple a Day: James Taylor
by Bruce Spizer
James Taylor was brought to Apple by Peter Asher, who was head of Artist & Repertoire (A&R) for the company. Asher gained fame a few years earlier as half of Peter & Gordon and was good friends with Paul McCartney, who had previously dated his sister, Jane Asher, and who often stayed at the Asher house when in London. James Taylor grew up in America and moved to London in early 1968. Asher produced his debut album, "James Taylor," which was released on February 17, 1969.
Asher's vision for the album was to create a cohesive collection of textured songs. The album was recorded at London's Trident Studios from July through October, 1968. Taylor wrote all of the album's songs and played guitar and sang lead and backing vocals. Asher brought in several session musicians to provide keyboards, additional guitar, bass and strings. Richard Hewson arranged and conducted the strings. To add to the flow of the album, Asher inserted musical links between some of the songs.
Peter Asher and James Taylor
The album's opening track, "Don't Talk Now," is a blues-sounding song driven by harpsichord. It is followed with a brief link of the folk song "Greensleeves" played by Taylor on acoustic guitar. "Something's Wrong" highlights Taylor's folk-blues guitar playing with a backing of oboe, bassoons and strings. A brief link featuring strings leads into "Knocking 'Round The Zoo," a swinging number about Taylor's experiences in a mental institution. The backing track includes strings and screams arranged by Hewson. "Sunshine Sunshine" features Taylor's guitar and vocal augmented by a string quartet and harp. The next musical link is played on harp. "Taking It In" is an upbeat track dominated by harpsichord. Once again, the musical link features an instrument from the previous song, this time harpsichord.
The next track is one of the album's best, "Something In The Way She Moves," which is the only track on the original album that consists solely of Taylor's guitar and vocal. George Harrison copped the song's title in its entirety to form the opening line of his love song, "Something." The simplicity of "Something In The Way She Moves" is followed by another production number with strings, "Carolina In My Mind." The song is probably the most commercial on the album, an up-tempo track with a memorable melody and story line. It also features Paul McCartney on bass, George Harrison and Peter Asher joining Taylor on backing vocals and Asher on tambourine. The song was pulled from the album for single release. It initially did not receive any significant sales or air play, bubbling under the Billboard Hot 100 at 118.
"Brighten Your Night With Me" is an upbeat love song with subtle brass in the background. The song's mood is maintained by a brass interlude leading into the rocking "Night Owl," another selection augmented by brass. This is followed by a percussion link that flows into "Rainy Day Man." The song is a departure from the big production found on most of the album's other tracks. Taylor's voice is backed only by his guitar and bass, drums and backing vocals from Taylor and Asher.
"Circle Round The Sun" is a pretty love song with an orchestral backing track. Once again, an orchestral link follows to maintain the mood. The album's closing song, "The Blues Is Just A Bad Dream," features Taylor in a bluesy vocal backed by his blues-folk guitar and a subtle orchestral score that increases in volume and intensity as the song moves along.
The first two bonus selections, "Sunny Skies" and "Let Me Ride," were recorded after the album's release at Crystal Sound Studios in Los Angeles in the spring of 1969. Both recordings remained unissued until this remastered version of the album; however, Taylor re-recorded both for future albums. The other two, "Sunshine Sunshine" and "Carolina In My Mind," are vocal and guitar demos. The songs are of particular interest in that they reveal what the album would have sounded like had Peter Asher opted for a straight guitar and vocal folk album.
With the coming of Allen Klein, Peter Asher left Apple and became Taylor's manager. He secured Taylor's release from Apple and lined up a recording contract for the singer/songwriter/guitarist with Warner Brothers Records. His first album for Warner Brothers, "Sweet Baby James," charted at number three in the U.S. and went on to sell three million units. It is considered a classic in the singer/songwriter mode. "Fire And Rain" was pulled from the album and became a number three hit. The success of these records caused the Apple discs to chart with "Carolina In My Mind" hitting number 67 and the album peaking at 62.
If you are a fan of James Taylor, this remaster is a must. The guitar demos of "Sunshine Sunshine" and "Carolina In My Mind" are beautiful in their pure simple way and make one wonder what it would have been like to see Taylor perform as a solo artist without any backing other than his guitar. Although one could argue that the demos demonstrate that Asher should have gone for a pure vocal and guitar album, the finished product is a pleasant listening experience indicative of the times.
Additional information about the artists who recorded for Apple Records can be found in Bruce Spizer's book "The Beatles Solo on Apple Records." Bruce Spizer is the author of a series of critically acclaimed books on the Beatles American record releases. He also wrote "The Beatles Are Coming! The Birth of Beatlemania in America," which is the definitive book on the subject. He served as editor and publisher of "Price Guide for the Beatles American Records," which was written by Perry Cox and Frank Daniels. Bruce is currently working with Frank Daniels on a new book covering the Beatles U.K. record releases from the sixties titled "Beatles For Sale on Parlophone Records." He has served as a consultant for EMI/Capitol Records on Beatles projects. Information regarding his books can be found at his website www.beatle.net.
Published December 3, 2010
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