Today is the birthday of singer/songwriter James Taylor; he turns 63. Visiting a friend in Boston in the fall of 1968 I caught a live show with Taylor opening for Joni Mitchell in a basement dive with benches for seats. It was an incredible show for the price of the $3.00 ticket.
Taylor’s debut album on Apple hadn’t even been released yet, but both Taylor and Mitchell had developed followings based on the songs they had contributed to Tom Rush’s Circle Game album earlier that year. (According to Sheila Weller’s Girls Like Us, Mitchell’s affair with Taylor followed shortly after.)
Mitchell was the featured attraction of the show that night. She had only recently arrived on the scene, having turned up with two dozen finely crafted songs that instantly put her on the map and a restless spirit that has kept her an artist of continuing interest. In her first batch of songs was “Both Sides Now,” which Judy Collins had already turned into a massive hit by that time.
But Taylor blew me and the rest of the audience away. I took it for granted that he would go on to a successful career, yet its longevity is remarkable set against the struggles with drugs and depression that have marked it. His long career now includes five Grammys and induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
His politics are of the “shut up and sing” variety, but he has a gift for melody and for lyrics that are by turns witty and moving. Among his lesser-known gems is “(I’ve Got to) Stop Thinkin’ ’bout That,” written with his old friend Danny Kortchmar, performed live at New York’s Beacon Theater in the video below. “I hate to think about the way it ended, I hate remembering the things that I said/I dream a dream of love so splendid, I wake up hard in an empty bed….Oh, Lucy, God have mercy, I’ve got to stop thinkin’ ’bout that.”
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