James Taylor: James Taylor (SAPCOR 3) 1968
1968 was a bad year, for music as well as so many other things. The Beatles themselves had imploded into self-indulgence; Cream had split, and their brave experiment had spawned the horrors of Blind Faith and Blue Cheer; Pink Floyd were denying the existence of their burned-out genius progenitor, Syd, and churning out ‘Saucer Full of Secrets’, the first trickle of decades of gunge; Dylan had disappeared, like he does. I was consoling myself with Coltrane and the Beach Boys.
I was bogged down in Italy, bereft and desperate for fresh music, when two albums somehow made their way to me from the Beatles’ adventurous new Apple label, like scented breezes from an unknown place. One was Jackie Lomax’s ‘Is This What You Want?’ This was the other.
‘James Taylor’ was the best-sounding album yet to be produced outside America. (The Yanks were streets ahead of the Brits technically, as even George Martin admitted.) This was quite an achievement given that Peter Asher had hardly any production experience, and James was, let’s say, unreliable in every respect except songwriting and musicianship. Asher has called it ‘over-produced’, but that’s hindsight. At the time, it was just ‘produced’ – full use of the new eight-tracks, proper stereo balance, good deployment of equalisation … Those were refreshing techniques to someone like me who was spending half his free time crammed inside his headphones, analysing.
So that’s the first way it was influential on me: it was an early step on my route to becoming a career analyst. The other was making me realise that I was never going to be a great guitarist.
But influential in the broader spectrum? I think so, again in two ways. Most importantly, it presaged a direction that would dominate the early seventies. Previously, there’d been folk, there’d been rock, there’d been singers who wrote songs. This was, I’d say, the very first instance of the folk-rock singer-songwriter.
More trivially, the title of track 6 was reused by George Harrison as the first line of track 2 of ‘Abbey Road’ (as he later acknowledged); and the album contains the first ever recorded occurrence of the phrase ‘The Dark Side of the Moon.’
The album’s not on Spotify, but is available in iTunes. (It’s the one with him lounging on the cover wearing braces.) I recommend the very last bonus track, a solo demo of ‘Carolina In My Mind’, which will show you what I mean about being a great guitarist.