|Side One:||Side Two:|
I’ve never understood this about a lot of compilations, particularly in the 1960s: if you’re going to list every single song on the record on the front, why would you list them in an order different from the order they are actually pressed in? I’d almost suspect it’s a matter of graphic design, but “Like Always” kind of goofs up the formatting at the bottom (and “Windy” being placed above “Cherish” would’ve completed the sort of “arrow” shape better). It’s not really even a quibble, just something I find bizarre.
Out of my father’s collection of doubled records (not to be confused with double LPs) from which I previously mentioned drawing I Robot, I also drew this compilation–that might draw a sigh of relief of confusion from those who know of my general opposition to greatest hits, best ofs, and similar packages. Being progressive rock, The Alan Parsons Project, for all that some of their songs achieved some fame, remain somewhat niche in music history. The Association, on the other hand, had a greatest hits compilation after only three years in existence, though in that time they released four albums and 12 singles, with only four of those being non-album A-sides. Of course, this is because all of those singles peaked in the top 100 for the band, including a B-side (“Requiem for the Masses”). Five were top 10, and two of them were #1s (“Cherish” and “Windy”), with one even squeaking into a #2 spot (“Never My Love”). As such, other than a few exceptions that will be incredibly obvious when I get to them, this is probably the most “mainstream” or familiar album I picked up out of that lot.
I’d be inclined to call it odd that I would hazard a guess that The Association are not familiar to a lot of my generation if the name is thrown at them, but if you look back at the pop charts from days gone by, it’s increasingly obvious that a lot of charting music has not stood the test of time, at least with respect to availability and familiarity to new generations. It becomes humourous, sometimes, when people from my generation try to reach back and compare the popular music of now to then and lament the state of modern music, failing to realize the number of artists they are totally unaware of who topped the charts–plenty far, far more obscure than The Association.
If memory serves, my introduction to the band was via a much later compilation my father passed me, though I also picked up, after snagging the stack of records that included Greatest Hits!, their first and third albums (And Then…Along Comes the Association and Insight Out), the latter at the behest of my father visiting my then-employer during a new year clearance sale. I actually sold that copy of Insight Out for an absurd amount of money as an expanded release was announced–though it was a mono one, and my copy was a stereo one (likely the reason its out of print status was able to remain a price-driver). Even with all of that, I didn’t devote a ton of time to the band, as they always struck me as rather slight and somewhat “folky.” That’s not a fair thing to list as cause to avoid or ignore a band, but it has often been cause for me all the same. Perhaps it’s the association (ahem) it draws with the divergence of taste between myself and my father, as well as an overall indicator of some of our philosophical differences: he grew up–in the sense of high school and college–with this music, and has always identified as a pacifist (while he enjoys Die Hard, he notes that the joy of it is “watching Bruce Willis be a smartass” rather than any action setpieces, a sentiment I’m hard-pressed to disagree with), while I’ve grown up in a culture, and with friends, that is more embracing of violence as entertainment, and has a much stronger seed for aggression in music, as I grew up after heavy metal and punk were long established and even hardcore (punk) and extreme metal (death metal, black metal, etc.) were established.
If I really wanted to stand on this narrative, I’d pretend I went in to listen to this album (that isn’t just a strange grammatical construction: I have a room where I keep my records and my stereo, so I literally did “go in” to listen to it) with trepidation, heavy sighs or other indicators that I was not looking forward to it. I didn’t: there’s an excitement in exploring the releases I haven’t taken time to listen to, which is part of what I get out of all of this. There’s usually a surprise and something more interesting to find here that I might never have realized otherwise. It’s also fair to say that there are a few songs I’d be guaranteed to look forward to and enjoy.
The compilation is not constructed in chronological order at all, nor alphabetical or any other obvious order. “The Time It Is Today” opens Side One with a not-unexpected sound for a band often most reasonably referred to as “sunshine pop” (which is basically what it sounds like) and “baroque pop” (which is basically classically inflected pop music, as you also might expect of it), but then Joe Osborn’s bassline comes in and surprises me: it’s distinct and upfront, acting as a bit of a hook with a lovely slide to it that doesn’t feel at all like the kind of folk-y, harmony-oriented band I usually think of them as. Hal Blaine’s drums focus on the rim to keep the bottom end pretty much clear except for Osborn. It’s a vaguely psychedelic track, that matches the rather great album art it was originally released under and that art’s psychedelic vibe. It is a track from 1968, so it makes some sense.
With my ears now perked, we move on to “Everything That Touches You”, which comes from the same album, which is more in line with the sound I think of the band most far: heavy harmonies for much of the vocal work (which is where the “band” is usually present on the albums, rather than the instruments, many of which are the work of session musicians) and some heavy-handed romanticism. This isn’t too surprising, as the song comes from the pen of Terry Kirkman, one of the group’s leaders over the years, who was also responsible for “Cherish”.
“Like Always” is yet another track from Birthday, and it reminds me strongly of some deep cuts from The Lovin’ Spoonful (another 60’s band, most known for tracks like “Nashville Cats”, “Summer in the City”, “Do You Believe in Magic”, and “Daydream”, which is not to be confused with the Monkees’ “Daydream Believer”), with a much looser gait, and vocals from Larry Ramos that are reminiscent of the Spoonful’s John Sebastian, descending through each line with only exception per verse. The lyrics (the song was written by Bob Alcivar, Tony Ortega, Larry Ramos) that have a cheerful down-on-his-luck sentiment that is also reminiscent of Sebastian’s songs.
“Never My Love” brings us back to the overbearing romanticism, middle school dance-feeling of “Everything That Touches You” and a number of Association singles from the 60s. It was written by Don and Dick Addrisi, who never had a hit for themselves as big as this one for the Association. The sentiment is simple–“You ask me if there’ll come a time/When I grow tired of you/Never my love/Never my love”, but the Addrisis, I have to say, manage this with greater aplomb than Kirkman (who does far better on his socially conscious tracks, I feel). The tone bounces appropriately: the expression is obviously to an existing lover, but carries a note of pain at doubt alongside it. It’s one of the few tracks with apparent guitar layers. It ends with a pretty great keyboard solo at the end.
The next track is the one my father was most emphatic to me about the quality of when I was pondering the purchase of Insight Out. It ties a bit back into his pacificism, I suppose, in that it’s a metaphorical song about lost soldiers in the war occurring at the time, as seen through the story of a fallen matador. It’s a rather breath-taking song: it begins with semi-martial drumrolls before multi-layered, church-choral vocals (in Latin, no less) come in quite beautifully, before Kirkman relays the story of the matador, imploring mothers to turn away from life at home to recognize the loss of their sons, with a chorus that first describes the red blood “flowing thin” from the dying matador, the white of his lifeless skin, and the blue of the sky that was “the last thing that was seen by him”. I imagine you can catch the obvious connection there. Balance is an important thing to me, and this song has it: there’s no mistaking the intent of the song, but it holds up as the allegorical matador just as well. The musical hints Kirkman (who wrote the song) worked in are also clever. The martial drum rolls are later met with forlorn horns that bring to mind the image of somber and funereal moments. The song is longer by a full 40 seconds than the next longest track on the compilation–indeed, it was the longest song they released in all those albums and singles to this point.
Now, it would take a lot to follow up that track, and the compiler did his or her job: “Along Comes Mary” is the next song, which is a real corker of an upbeat track, complete with handclaps. It was written by Tandyn Almer, a friend of the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson, and has lyrics that race to fit into each line until the title of the song comes in to start the chorus, helping to emphasize the sudden change the appearance of Mary brings to the life of the singer (in this case, James Yester). This marks the first appearance on this compilation of a flute as accent to the music, complete with trills.
Side Two opens with another of Kirkman’s more socially conscious tracks, “Enter the Young”, which first marked the opening of the debut album And Then…Along Comes the Association. The song is basically an endorsement of youth written by a man who was 26 at the time, seeming to then reflect a less self-aggrandizing attitude than one might think the sentiment come from, as that seems to imply a generation still rising as he sings. “Enter the young, yeah/Yeah, they’ve learned to think/Enter the young, yeah/More than you think they think/Not only learned to think, but to care/Not only learned to think, but to dare”.
“No Fair at All” is another of the romantically oriented songs, one written by “Along Comes Mary”‘s lead vocalist, James Yester. It sees the return of a prominent woodwind instrument (not a flute, but my ear is not refined enough at identifying them to be more specific) as solo emphasis for the song.
“Time for Livin'” is another Addrisi brothers single, which has a nice thumping bassline, and some nice bendy guitar bits that act as background accent for more triumphant sort of song, a notion emphasized by the prominent horns behind the chorus. The bassline is prominent again, being allowed to bridge the gap from chorus back to verse with just a little bit of solo playing. Ron Giguere (who wrote “The Time It Is Today”) and Larry Ramos share lead vocal duties on this one, and have less standard voices, which I tend to appreciate.
“We Love [Us]” is titled only “We Love” on the actual sleeve and labels for this compilation, but is titled “We Love Us” on Insight Out, from which it is derived. It’s a Ted Bluechel, Jr. song (making it another written by an actual member of The Association), and it’s yet another of the romantically oriented songs–it gets hard not to stack them against each other, as they are all so overblown in their sentiments (“Her laughing, her crying/Her caring, her sharing/Of my life means more to me/Than all the wealth and fame that fortune brings to me”) and generally more familiar arrangements keep them of a kind. Now, this is one that seems to be married to a harpsichord (!) as the melody-carrying instrument, which is a bit unusual–though I might be mistaken about what type of keys we’re talking about exactly.
“Cherish” is Terry Kirkman’s contribution to the “romantic songs” oeuvre for the band, with another vocal-racing chorus that one hopes is just slightly awkward only because of a drive to rhyme: “You don’t know how many times I’ve wished that I had told you/You don’t know how many times I’ve wished that I could hold you/You don’t know how many times I’ve wished that I could mold you/Into someone who could cherish me as much as I cherish you”. It’s a lyric that will make some people more uncomfortable than others, but feels most like an attempt to express the kind of feelings many of us experience–the whole song is really about finding a word that is more accurate than “want” or “need” or even “love” to describe the feelings you have for another person. It does really find its feet with the arrangement, which uses bells, chimes, and vocals to match those, as well as a wonderful set of harmonized vocal acrobatics for the ending of the lines “Cherish is the word I use to describe/All the feeling that I have hiding here for you inside”.
The next song brings us back from the rather syrupy end of the Association with Ruthan Friedman’s “Windy”, which actually has a weird second billing on the album cover for Insight Out (which no pedantic folks have turned to call Insight Out/Windy, oddly enough). We see the return of the keys I remain convinced (probably wrongly) are related to harpsichords, as well as more flute. The rhythm, down to the vocal lines, is toe-tapping and catchy, and has some great background harmonies, with the dips and rise of “Who’s..” beginning the repetitions at the end of the song, which begins to break off in multiple directions at the end.
“Six Man Band” ends the release with the single released closest to the album’s own release, having hit the charts in July of 1968, a few months after Birthday was released. It’s a bit of a shocker for the group, with a heavily distorted guitar playing a clear lead throughout the song, with a great lick sliding up and down the neck, and some finger picking to match. By far the most guitar-dominated track on the album, which falls out to close the song and the album. I wish I could tell you who’s responsible for it, but I don’t have that information close to hand (or even in easy reach, so far as I can tell).
There are some excellent tunes on here that anyone and everyone should check out, and a few everybody should know, but taking the whole thing in means you’d better have a high tolerance for sweet, naïve romanticism, or else you may require insulin by the end. The stuff doesn’t bother me when done properly (by which I mean generally lending musicality to the affair), so it doesn’t really get to me much here, but it could easily overload plenty of people I know.
Still, make sure to check out “Along Comes Mary” (which I still think should’ve been their biggest single, but only hit #7), “Windy”, and especially “Requiem for the Masses”.
Next Up: The Asylum Choir – Asylum Choir II