“Everyone knows” the answer to the musical question of Who’s trippin’ down the streets of the city / Smilin’ at everybody she sees? But here’s another one: what’s the record label reaching out to capture a moment, bendin’ down to give us a rainbow? Everyone (at least everyone reading The Second Disc!) knows it’s Now Sounds. The Cherry Red-affiliated label has recently released the latest in its ongoing series of deluxe reissues of The Association’s catalogue, and it’s the most impressive effort yet. The Complete Warner Bros. and Valiant Singles Collection (Now Sounds CRNOW 35D) collects every one of the A- and B-sides released by the California band on those two labels between 1965 and 1971. After that golden six-year period, The Association never again scaled the heights of commercial success, but oh, what a rich legacy of music the group left behind!
The full range of The Association’s gift of harmony is on display over these 37 tracks, all of which are presented in their authentic single mixes (and all but two of which are in mono). Songs like “Never My Love” and “Windy,” of course, remain oldies radio staples and deservedly so. But the real surprise for many will come in the might-have-been tracks unfamiliar to all but longtime fans and collectors. Whether singing lush ballads, bright pop or jangly folk-rock, The Association brought a hallmark of quality to all of its recordings, and that quality is matched by the love lavished on the band under Now Sounds’ imprimatur. This set makes a most excellent companion to Rhino’s indispensable Just the Right Sound: The Association Anthology (2002). We'll meet you back after the jump!
In a straightforward, chronological style, The Complete Singles encapsulates the evolution of a band through seven Top 40 hits, changing musical directions and evolving personnel. The lone constant was The Association’s instantly identifiable vocal blend. The group’s first single for Valiant was practically requisite for the era – a Bob Dylan cover! But “Forty Times,” the B-side of “One Too Many Mornings,” was penned by The Association’s Jules “Gary” Alexander. Many groups are lucky to have one fine songwriter. Every member of The Association contributed strong compositions heard on this set: Alexander, Terry Kirkman, Jim Yester, Ted Bluechel, Russ Giguere, Brian Cole and Larry Ramos. They were also fine instrumentalists and made their name with a blazing live show, but (as was typical of the era), studio musicians frequently populated their recordings. When you have Los Angeles’ best on hand, though, that’s hardly a liability.
It was the group’s second single that caused radio programmers to take notice. If Jim Yester and Jules Alexander’s “Your Own Love” sounds like an A-side, with its handclaps, catchy melody and memorable riff, that’s because it was the A-side. But disk jockeys felt compelled to flip the 45 for a Tandyn Almer song. With its psychedelic barrage of words, offbeat flute solo and hint of innuendo, “Along Comes Mary” didn’t sound like much else on the charts. The Curt Boettcher production shot to No. 7 on the Billboard charts, setting the stage for an even bigger triumph: “Cherish.” The Terry Kirkman song went all the way to No. 1 in Boettcher’s lush production. Kirkman’s lyric was direct and universal, and it was set to a melody so ravishing and so emotional that it crossed generational barriers. The group’s vocal harmonies had never sounded fuller, and Boetccher’s production again encompassed sounds so unusual to be memorable such as the bell-like vocal flourishes. Perhaps unwittingly, the song also established a reputation for The Association as soft-pop merchants. And while that’s an apt description of one significant part of the group’s output, Complete Singles puts the various sides of The Association in perspective from early folk rock (“One Too Many Mornings”) and psychedelia (“Along Comes Mary,” “Pandora’s Golden Heebie Jeebies”) to later, edgier rock and even country.
Despite scoring big with “Mary” and “Cherish,” Boettcher was out the door, first replaced by Jim Yester’s brother Jerry, and then by Bones Howe (The Turtles, The 5th Dimension). The songs produced by Howe, including Ruthann Friedman’s “Windy” (No. 1, 1967 and the first Warner Bros. single), Dick and Don Addrisi’s “Never My Love” (No. 2, 1967) and Terry Kirkman’s “Everything That Touches You” (No. 10, 1968), are among the most enduring, sophisticated and stunning pop songs from any group in any decade. “Windy” still soars as mightily as the titular character with her wings to fly above the clouds, while Dick and Don Addrisi’s “Never My Love,” like “Cherish,” married a succinct and instantly-accessible lyrical sentiment to a melody so gorgeous it couldn’t be denied. (Not for nothing did BMI rank it the second most played song of the entire twentieth century, nestled between “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” and “Yesterday.”) As far as this writer is concerned, though, The Association’s finest moment was “Everything That Touches You.” The 1968 song was the group’s last to reach the Top 10 and again, a ballad. It followed the somewhat avant-garde “Requiem for the Masses,” also from Kirkman, based on the choral strains of a requiem mass. “Everything That Touches You” is almost impossibly open-hearted: “In my most secure moments, I still can’t believe/I’m spending those moments with you/And the ground I am walking, the air that I breathe, are shared at those moments with you!” Kirkman’s melody takes a couple of unexpected, dramatic turns before concluding, to triumphant brass, that “everything is love” in a cascading vocal arrangement that rivals the best of The Beach Boys. If The Association had to depart the pop charts, this was the way to go out!
The second disc, covering 1968-1971, naturally features the lesser known, more adventurous songs recorded in the tumultuous days that ended the 1960s and ushered in a new, uncertain decade. Bones Howe parted ways with the group following Birthday, almost a textbook example of the “sunshine pop” genre, and went on to even greater success with the 5th Dimension. The Association struggled to find its identity at this point, but never stopped producing great music. “Six-Man Band” was the group’s mostly successful attempt at a “heavy” record with a wailing electric guitar out front, and was produced by the group itself. John Boylan then stepped in, and proved adaptable, whether to the up-beat, jazzy “Goodbye, Columbus,” the languid “Under Branches” or the light country stylings that began to appear with tracks like “Dubuque Blues” and became even more explicit on Kirkman’s “Look at Me, Look at You” (with Doug Dillard guesting).
The lack of a well-defined direction in these later years even led to a brief reunion with Curt Boettcher, who lent a backing track intended for The Millennium, for the 1970 non-LP single “Just About the Same.” Featuring the soaring vocals that were a trademark of Boettcher’s work (and resemble Brian Wilson’s style, too!), “Just About the Same” is one resplendent discovery here. One of the most striking later singles is Jim Yester’s “Along the Way,” a grandiose ballad led by Larry Knechtel (“Bridge Over Troubled Water”) on piano and a full orchestra arranged and conducted by John Andrew Tartaglia. Though it wasn’t a hit, Jimmy Webb’s “P.F. Sloan” remains a perennial today. The recipient of a cover version released last month by the artist Rumer, “P.F. Sloan” is a poignant ode to the songwriter, whose “On a Quiet Night” had actually been recorded by The Association.
Of the lesser-known B-sides, Ted Bluechel’s “Standing Still” (1966) has a gentle, Eastern feel to it. Giguere’s “Sometime” (1967) looked inward for spirituality: “Is there heaven on Earth?/If there is what’s it worth?/Are we really living/Or are we a shadow/Of what life can be?/Is the answer inside of me?” Jules Alexander’s “Looking Glass” (which “Bubbled Under” to No. 113 on the flip of Jim Yester’s shimmering 1967 “No Fair at All”) is just one fine example of The Association melding a driving rock arrangement with those ethereal vocals. Bassist Brian Cole’s first single as a songwriter, the searching “I Am Up For Europe” (“…or any other place where I do not speak the language/Or recognize a face”) also brought a tougher sound, with searing guitar.
As is the norm with Now Sounds’ releases, the packaging from producer/designer Steve Stanley is impeccable. Housed in the label’s first digipak, the 22-page booklet features a number of beautiful, full-color photos and lengthy, track-by-track liner notes drawn from interviews with the group members. The booklet features front and rear art that wonderfully replicate what this collection might have looked like had it been released in the 1960s, and as always, the label’s attention to detail in every department is striking. Alan Brownstein has done a fine job remastering, with both the voices and the instrumentation crisp and detailed.
If you’ve already been collecting Now Sounds’ Association reissues, this will make a fine cap to that series. In addition to the unique mixes, some tracks (such as “No Fair at All” and “Looking Glass”) have different vocals in their single versions. But even if you only know “Cherish” and “Windy,” this is equally essential, as you’ll likely find The Complete Warner Bros. and Valiant Singles to have just the right sound indeed.
The Association’s The Complete Warner Bros. and Valiant Singles Collection is available, well, now from Now Sounds!
The Association, The Complete Warner Bros. and Valiant Singles Collection (Now Sounds CRNOW 35D, 2012)
- One Too Many Mornings (Valiant single V-730, 1965)
- Forty Times (Valiant single V-730, 1965)
- Along Comes Mary (Valiant single V-741, 1966)
- Your Own Love (Valiant single V-741, 1966)
- Cherish (Valiant single V-747, 1966)
- Don’t Blame It on Me (Valiant single V-747, 1966)
- Pandora’s Golden Heebie Jeebies (Valiant single V-755, 1966)
- Standing Still (Valiant single V-755, 1966)
- No Fair at All (Valiant single V-758, 1967)
- Looking Glass (Valiant single V-758, 1967)
- Windy (WB single 7041, 1967)
- Sometime (WB single 7041, 1967)
- Never My Love (WB single 7074, 1967)
- Requiem for the Masses (WB single 7074, 1967)
- Everything That Touches You (WB single 7163, 1968)
- We Love Us (WB single 7163, 1968)
- Time For Livin’ (WB single 7195, 1968)
- Birthday Morning (WB single 7195, 1968)
- Six Man Band (WB single 7329. 1968)
- Like Always (WB single 7329, 1968)
- Goodbye, Columbus (WB single 7267, 1969)
- The Time It Is Today (WB single 7267, 1969)
- Under Branches (WB single 7277, 1969)
- Hear in Here (WB single 7277, 1969)
- Yes, I Will (WB single 7305, 1969)
- I Am Up for Europe (WB single 7305, 1969)
- Dubuque Blues (WB single 7349, 1969)
- Are You Ready (WB single 7349, 1969)
- Just About the Same (WB single 7372, 1970)
- Look at Me, Look at You (WB single 7372, 1970)
- Along the Way (WB single 7429, 1970)
- Traveler’s Guide (Spanish Flyer) (WB single 7429, 1970)
- P.F. Sloan (WB single 7471, 1971)
- Bring Yourself Home (WB single 7515, 1971)
- It’s Gotta Be Real (WB single 7515, 1971)
- That’s Racin’ (WB single 7524, 1971)
- Makes Me Cry (Funny Kind of Song) (WB single 7524, 1971)