We wanted to be adults, overnight. In 1970, liking James Taylor filled the bill. It wasn’t so much that the class of ’70 had outgrown ear-busting music. We just wanted to feel like we had.
Sweet Baby James appeared unobtrusively, along with the usual periodic shitload of Warner’s releases, and the local cool-dude record store-jerk said, “Thumbs up” to
a release that contained James Taylor, John Martyn, John Simon, et al. (Record-store boy being the one who, in
the beginning, had shamed us into forgetting that we liked the hard stuff for hardness’ sake.) Time to be cool, jazzy, mellow–and tasteful. Tasteful for sure, man.
I mean, really. James seemed to fit all the
requirements, so we all got Sweet Baby boy hisself, ran home and slapped him on our baby-Garrards. Sumbitch was quiet. Sang about cowboys, li’l fellers and just plain goin’ wacko-bananas. Played de blooz for you. And
behold, before it was pronounced-that one could have too much of it, a modicum of taste. A word that has since erroneously entered the popular vocabulary via many a tinhorn FM deejay for astounding breadth of misusage. Past said point, it became synonymous with dull. Somewhere along the line, so did James. Releasing ips like Mudslide Slim and One Man Dog, his rock airplay decreased and his MOR following increased by leaps and bounds. He became a media-age folk hero, and marrying Carly Simon didn’t hurt the image a hit. In many a housewife and secretary’s mind, he became the stuff of which their dreams were made.
Smartass critics began riding him mercilessly, and as his initial listenership make that transition, he lost his early small, “hipper” clientele. They, despite their claims to elite prescience, all apparently believed the pompous pronouncements that accompanied the Time magazine cover. Truth was, James hadn’t changed a whit. As far as conviction went, his music was and still remains rooted in unobtrusively traditional vein and not the kind at all that lends itself to the radical turnabout.
To reiterate: Mothers loved him. Little sisters (big-comb handles protruding from the back pockets of their straight-legged jeans, too young to remember the sullen lad who reclined across the portfolio cover of his debut on Apple) eagerly picked up on him. His prosperity knew no bounds.
With the release of Gorilla, the critics backed up a wee bit. “Mexico” was an undeniably fine song, and it sounded good on the car-radio driving home from work on a hot afternoon. It certainly appealed to everybody’s irresponsible side. Drive up to the split-level, plunk down a FOR SALE sign, grab the little woman even as she heats up the Stir n’ Server Whatever …. –
–”C’mon baby we’re goin’ to MEH-HEE-CKOO!!” Keep askin’ her if she can hear them maracas just rattlin’ and she sez–”But what about your job, what about the kids? What about my mother who’s coming tomorrow?
—”Screw ’em all baby, we’ll catch the next flight to Puerto Vallarta, live on palm syrup and margaritas, knotch-oes and free-holees! And when we run outta pay-sos, we’ll just put the little bastards out on the street, shinin’ turista’s shoes …”
Going native. A nice dream, even for the majority who just went home and unprotestingly ate their Slit n’ Serve and hit the same old office-grind the very next day. Gorilla’s title track referred to a certain “. . heart o’ darkness” and the critics said goddamn: A sly ref to Joe Conrad. James re-did, “How Sweet It Is,” and very every double-knitter in the world got up to dance. By now the intellectuals were puzzled, and JT was essentially no different ’75 than he had been in ’70.