Happy Birthday: James Taylor

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Wednesday, March 12, 2014
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Happy Birthday: James Taylor

66 years ago, a certain sweet baby named James entered the world, one who would go on to see fire, rain, sunny days that he thought would never end, and lonely times when he could not find a friend. On a related note, he also always thought that he’d see you again, but instead of dwelling on the negative, let’s just wish James Taylor a happy birthday, shall we?

Born in Boston Massachusetts in 1948, James Vernon Taylor started his career as a musician by learning to play the cello, but he switched to the guitar in 1960, writing his first song on the instrument at the age of 14. By the summer of 1963, Taylor was playing coffeehouses as part of a folk duo with Danny Kortchmar and went on to serve as a member of several bands over the course of the next few years, but the turning point of his career came when some solo demos that he’d given to Peter Asher ended up being heard by Paul McCartney, resulting in Taylor becoming the first non-British artist signed to the Beatles’ new label, Apple Records.

While Taylor’s self-titled album wasn’t a huge success, it helped raise his profile considerably, and although Apple’s implosion left him without a record deal, a six-night stint at the Troubadour and an appearance at the Newport Folk Festival in 1969 helped him pick up a new deal with Warner Brothers by year’s end. In short order, Taylor became a staple of FM radio, with 1970’s Sweet Baby James offering two instant classics with its title track and the top-5 single “Fire and Rain.” Other hits would soon follow, including originals like “Long Ago and Far Away” and “Don’t Let Me Lonely Tonight” as well as covers of “You’ve Got a Friend” and “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You).” Although Taylor left the Warner Brothers fold after the release of 1976’s In the Pocket, his greatest-hits album for the label remains the single highest-selling album of his career.

Taylor has continued to release studio albums over the years, earning further chart hits in the ‘70s (“Handy Man,” “Your Smiling Face,” “Up on the Roof”) and ‘80s (“Her Town Too,” “Everyday,” “Never Die Young”), and – at least on the Adult Contemporary Charts – even into the ‘90s (“Copperline,” “Little More Time with You”) and ‘00s (“On the 4th of July,” “It’s Growing”), but it’s arguable that his greatest late-career achievements have been his consistently strong concert appearances and, of course, his guest spot on The Simpsons, where he gets belligerent with Buzz Aldrin:

“Listen, Aldrin, I'm not as laid back as people think. Now here's the deal: I'm going to play, and you're going to float there and like it.”

Unfortunately, we can’t offer you the Simpsons episode in question (though we can tell you that it’s called “Deep Space Homer” and that it’s just one of many reasons why the show’s fifth season remains one of its greatest), but we can at least provide a playlist of the birthday boy’s best work for Warner Brothers for your listening enjoyment.