James Taylor is basically the poster boy for sensitive, acoustic songwriting in the 1970s, starring on a Time Magazine cover story about the singer-songwriter movement. He can be a divisive figure – there are plenty of detractors out there who find him toothless – but I think there’s plenty of craft and elegance in his writing. I do find him a talented guy who’s only really good at one thing – elegant, emotional, acoustic songs – and I lose interest when he goes too far away from his signature style. I’ve covered a handful of his early albums recently; here are five of his notable songs.
James Taylor started his recording career on The Beatles’ Apple label. His debut was unsuccessful – he was unable to promote it as he was spending time in rehab.
Taylor’s time in rehab inspired one of his best known songs, ‘Fire and Rain’. The song and its parent album, Sweet Baby James, launched Taylor’s career. The song also features Taylor’s long time friend Carole King on piano.
If there’s an overlooked song in Taylor’s catalogue, it’s perhaps the title track to 1971’s Mud Slide Slim. It’s charming and gently funky, yet it never seems to feature on Taylor’s various compilation albums.
In 1976, Taylor’s Greatest Hits featured two songs from Taylor’s debut with lush new arrangements. ‘Carolina In My Mind’ stands out as one of his best songs in its revised version.
James Taylor has remained a popular performer. ‘Copperline’ from 1991’s New Moon Shine is a good summation of Taylor’s strengths, with his elegant, nostalgic lyric and his acoustic finger-picking.
Do you think James Taylor is a talent, or lame? Did you know that Taylor Swift is named after him?