In the first part of this article I listed for you some of the finest James Taylor songs that didn’t reach the Top 40. One of them (“Carolina In My Mind”) I didn’t even know existed until many years after release, when I stumbled upon it by accident.
Suffice it to say that there were so many such songs that the list just kept growing. Here are the rest of the jewels that you really should know about:
1. “Mexico”. Gorilla was J.T’s comeback album after the relatively weak “One Man Dog” and “Walking Man”. It led off with this cleverly crafted, upbeat song with one of the most infectious introductions I’ve ever heard. With David Crosby and Graham Nash providing harmony vocals Taylor spends three verses describing the land South of the border in vivid detail then provides the punch line in his final chorus… that he’s never gone there. Sample lyric: “Oh, Mexico. I’ve never really been so I don’t really know.”
2. “Lighthouse” At least “Mexico” did get some airplay when “Gorilla” was released. This one didn’t. But it should have. Crosby and Nash lend a hand on background vocals once again and the song required only acoustic guitar, bass, percussion and harmonium. How many artists could assume the voice of an inanimate object and make it work? If a lighthouse could talk this is what it would say. Sample lyric: “She’s come halfway round the world to see the light and to stay away from me.”
3. “B.S.U.R.” Nobody’s better than Taylor at producing a song with the feel of a lullaby yet making it sound so appealing. This is another shining example. The chorus is a sad/serious play on the letters of the alphabet. “B.S.U.R.(S.U.C.S.I.M.I.M)”. becomes “Be as you are, as you see, as I am I am.” Written while his marriage with Carly Simon was in the process of falling apart Taylor channeled his disappointments, miscommunications, and misconceptions into this child-like melody. And Simon herself sang the backup vocals. Gently haunting. Sample lyric: “We strain to catch a name and never see the mistakes we must have made.”
4. “Millworker” Odd though it may sound that Taylor sings a song from the perspective of a woman, this ballad speaks volumes. The speaker is a young woman whose husband drinks himself to death, leaving her with three children to take care of. As a result, she works in a mill and clearly sees how it’s going to consume her entire life. With just harmonium, piano, viola and cello to assist his acoustic guitar, songs don’t get much lonelier than this. Sample lyric: “Then it’s me and my machine for the rest of the morning, for the rest of the afternoon, and the rest of my life.”
While we may differ in what we feel are an artist’s or band’s best song it’s hard to argue that some of James Taylor’s songs were the most enduring of the rock era. True, sometimes you have to dig a bit for them. But it’s worth it.
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