Sunday, November 15, 2009
The Twelve Tasks Of ToffeeBoy #11 – James Taylor
At last, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel – however, as our good friends Half Man Half Biscuit were good enough to warn us, said light could well be that of an oncoming train! Anyhoo, the pointless task which I set myself at the beginning of 2009 is now nearly complete, this being the penultimate one.
Back in January I drew up a list of possible contenders to share with the class which I then almost immediately lost and couldn’t quite bring myself to recreate. All I know for sure is that the current taskee was on that list. Over the very nearly two years since I first posted in these parts I’ve almost come to terms with the idea that my taste in music (which I had always thought of as mainstream) doesn’t quite fit into the RR mindset. I did quite well under Maddy’s tenure but with the other gurus (Dorian included) it’s all gone very quiet. I’m currently stalled on 5 A-Listers with only one of those appearing in 2009! So it doesn’t come as too much of a surprise to me when I note that one of my favourite artists has so far drawn a blank in RR-land – Martin Stephenson, The High Llamas, Dean Friedman, Microdisney, Gene and Crowded House for instance are all currently languishing in the null points section – but I have to say that I was shocked (shocked, d’ye hear?) to discover that the subject of this month’s task has failed to trouble the RR scorers.
According to the Mighty Marconium Koko Taylor’s made it once and R Dean of that ilk has two hits to his name – but their younger brother James? Nada. Nichts. Rien. Not a sniff. Now, I’m prepared to accept that the other artistes named above are (largely) best described as peripheral as far as the history of popular music is concerned but surely no one can deny that JT is a significant artist? This year sees the 40th anniversary of the release of his eponymously-titled debut album. Since then he’s released another 15 studio albums, ten of which have reached the US top ten, and ten of which have gone platinum (no I don’t really know what that means either). There have also been countless EPs, singles and ‘Best Of’ compilations – all of which add up to a considerable body of work.
The list of artists that James Taylor has collaborated with over the years reads like a who’s who of British & American popular music. Here’s a small sample of the names: Michael & Randy Brecker, Neil Young, Valerie Carter, David Crosby, Steve Gadd, Art Garfunkel, George Harrison, Don Henley, Carole King, Paul McCartney, Joni Mitchell, Graham Nash, Carly Simon, Joe Walsh and Stevie Wonder.
But none of this really matters; my point is that, as a song writer, if nothing else, JT is right up there with the very best of them. I love his plaintive voice, his lyrics are honest and often self-referential and to top it all he’s an exceptionally accomplished guitarist - but above all, it's about the melodies. I’m less fond of his rockier numbers – he really should stick to the more folk-tinged acoustic sound – but at his best, he is undoubtedly one of the best around. So why has he never made it to the A-List? F*cked if I know. Doesn’t make any sense at all to me …
The last few tasks have met with generally favourable comments – with this one I fear that I may once more have to face up to the dreaded accusations of … M.O.R! So anticipating such comments let me just say this: No. You’re wrong! Look beyond the (admittedly) relatively easy-on-the ear music and you will find depth and beauty. These are the songs of a troubled man and his hurts and his pain can, at times, clearly be felt – but they’re also the songs of a very funny and entertaining man. I’ve never seen him live but I’ve seen plenty of concert footage and believe me, it’s good stuff.
OK: confession time. Of the 15 albums released by James Taylor, I only have six – and five of them are from the 70s. Hmmm… Hardly representative then, I hear you say. Well … you’ll just have to take it as you find it. Of course if any of you have any other JT recordings that you’d like to share …
If you buy one James Taylor album it should probably be Sweet Baby James – personally I prefer In The Pocket but SBJ is arguably a more ‘important’ album. There are also some very good ‘Best Of’ collections to choose from.
Something In The Way She Moves
Carolina In My Mind
Fire And Rain
Riding On A Railroad
Mud Slide Slim
Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight
One Man Parade
I Was A Fool To Care
A Junkie’s Lament
Captain Jim’s Drunken Dream
On The Fourth Of July
Bonus track to get us all in the mood for the upcoming festivities:
Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas