#182: Sweet Baby James, James Taylor
A few months ago, if you put a gun to my head and made me talk about James Taylor, I would have said, “Uh, um, isn’t he like, easy listening?” and died.
But now, I’ve reached a new conclusion. “Easy listening” doesn’t exist. It is a meaningless term that is exclusively used to mock James Taylor.
James Taylor did not lead an “easy” life. He struggled with a heroin addiction for a long, long time. In fact, months before releasing this album in 1970, he checked himself in to a psychiatric ward to try and kick his heroin addiction. A few months ago, if you put a gun to my head and made me guess details about James Taylor’s life, “heroin addiction” would not have been one of them.
Here’s another detail I would never have guessed: James Taylor MET John Lennon’s killer the day before Lennon was killed. Taylor said, “He was just talking a mile a minute about something he was going to show John Lennon. … He was just someone who knew me who I didn’t know; someone who had an agenda that I knew I couldn’t deal with.”
Wow, that’s terrifying! And this is the guy who sang “You’ve Got a Friend”? How did Mr. Easy Listening get such a rough ride?
But look: if something is “easy” to listen to, doesn’t that just mean that it’s “pleasant?” And when did that become such a bad thing?
“Sweet Baby James” — He wrote this song as a cowboy lullaby to his nephew, who is also named James. Aw, shut up, that’s so sweet.
“Steamroller Blues” — He’s a cement mixer, baby! A churning urn of burning funk!
“Country Road” — This is an easy listening song about rehab.
“Oh, Susannah” — Oh I love when people do really improvisational covers of folk songs so much.
“Fire and Rain” — In some ways, James Taylor reminds me of Elliott Smith: they write very soft music about very dark subjects, like suicide and addiction. Also, I’ve heard part of this chorus before — in the Fugees’ “Family Business,” which appears on The Score, #134.
“Oh Baby, Don’t You Loose Your Lip on Me” — Not on poor old lovin’ man J.T.!
“Suite for 20 G” — Simon & Garfunkel harmonies plus funk breakdown equals “easy listening,” I guess.
LEAST FAVORITE SONGS:
“Sunny Skies” — Like I said, the idea of music being “easy” is bullshit…but if I had to label one song on this album “easy listening”…
“Blossom” — Arpeggiated piano and a floral song title? Yeah, I’ll skip it.
IS RS FULL OF IT?
No, and I need to learn to be less full of disdain. Judginess prevents you from hearing stuff you don’t want to hear, and it’s so hard to overcome. That’s why James Taylor is secretly the most hardcore punk rock star of all time.