You're a music fan of the usual critically acclaimed yet commercially undervalued 60s west coast stuff (The Byrds circa Notorious Byrd Brothers, post Pet Sounds Beach Boys, Forever Changes, Gene Clark, Head-era Monkees etc), you've discovered a few gems of your own that seem to have slipped under the radar altogether (Moby Grape? Clear Light? The United States Of America? The Dillards?), and you've got a taste for that sort of sound. Just The Right Sound, in fact.
Now, further imagine you know The Association only fleetingly, being perhaps too young, or the wrong side of the Atlantic to appreciate their success in their heyday. As far as you're concerned, they're another sub Beach Boys pop group who had a couple of chirpy pop hits and still trawl the oldies circuit with scant original members. LIke Gary Puckett, or the 1910 Fruitgum Co. That sort of thing.
Is this you? If it is, the scenario should be continued as follows: On the recommendation of someone in a record store, or a friend, (or an online review- hello!) you pick up this album out of curiosity; it's cheap, you get it on vinyl for a quid, you get it from iTunes. Whatever.
You slip it on expecting a few chirpy tunes in close harmony. And you hear a banjo and acoustic guitar, as warm and as close as a Burritos tune, but with polished harmonies that only seven voices can create. The opening track Look At Me, Look At You may be a Vietnam lament, but it's beautiful, powerful, surges in all the right places, stays quiet in others. Terry Kirkman's lead vocal is utterly sublime and heartbreaking. You wonder if you've got the wrong CD? This is GOOD.
It continues in this vein- despite the seven man configuration (all of whom get at least one song and one lead vocal each), there's plenty of unity under John Boylan's production. The sound at its best is somewhere between Untitled-era Byrds or The Dillards, but with more pop nous - Jim Yester's heartbreaking What Were The Words is beyond compare, while drummer/guitarist Ted Bluechel offers up The Nest, equally haunting and accesible at the same time. By the end of side one (or Are You Ready?), you realise this is not what you thought it would be.
The album loses steam at various points - Larry Ramos's Are You Ready is Davy Jones-lite rock, I Am Up for Europe is a tad too inconsequential, and Russ Giguere's vegetarian anthem Brocolli slides by on charm alone without too much substance (the opposite of brocolli itself, you could say). But considering the high quality and rather serious nature of the album, they serve as light relief in stark contrast to beautiful close harmony things like Under Branches or the epic Boy On The Mountain.
I'm listening to this album as I type, and I am just aghast that this isn't as popular as it should be, even among fans of obscure Americana. A rough comparison would be something like Sunflower or Carl & The Passions - So Tough by The Beach Boys; the commercial high point may have been long gone, but the music is unalterably superb.
Unlike Guy Incognito I bought this album in 1970, soon after its release. I replaced my first vinyl copy two years later because the original had completely worn out. I replaced my second vinyl copy two years later again, with a US import copy which included lyrics, band photos and a gatefold sleeve. I replaced my third vinyl copy with a very expensive (£30) Japanese import CD soon after I bought a CD player in the early 90s. I might just go and buy this version for the liner notes and rare photos (I have all the other bonus songs on other CDs).
If I could take only one album with me to a desert island it would be this one. If I could take only one song it would be 'What Were the Words'.
The Association might have been a great, mid-60s pop band but on this album they matured into a great band - period. Three years and three albums later they were all but finished. Their like will never come round again.
Liner notes indicate they played instruments in the studio (tho the bass and drums often sound like Joe Osborn and Hal Blaine). Regardless, the song writing is evocative, mature in theme (except perhaps for Broccoli = ), and the harmonies sublime. Two of my favorite ASSN songs are on this collection: Look at Me, Look at You, and Under Branches. Though my most fave album is Renaissance (because they did play on it, and it sounded more like their "live" playing than most of the slicker studio recordings), this album has consistent substance and eclectic sound for which they were best known, and alas, also most under-appreciated. Several of the songs made it onto their "live" album (1970), including Larry Ramos rocking ditty "Are You Ready," which makes up for somewhat simple lyrics with their driving playing - again a side of the band most people (and critics) did not appreciate. So if you've only heard their hits (and/or have their best selling Greatest Hits album), allow this one to introduce you to their writing, playing and singing at their peak. It shouldn't disappoint!
This is not an Association album with hit singles, but it is actually a proper album with great songs, great playing and of course the harmonies. For me it is probably better for it. If you discount the jokey 'Brocolli' there actually are no weak tracks and the extras attached are worthwhile too such as the 'Enter the Young' withdrawn single shows.
Guy Incognito's great review has got it spot on,but I just had to throw in my two pence worth(with inflation we'll make that a quid). Music is about personal taste,mine has always been West Coast vocal groups(although I do love Motown and soul)and the Association have always for me been second only to the Beach Boys in the harmony technique department,and this album is probably considered the high spot of their brilliant career. Starting with Terry Kirkman's "Look At Me,Look At You",with the usual superlative backing vocals,on to the only track you would have picked as hit single material "Yes I Will", I thought "so far so great" on my first hearing. What followed had me spellbound,Jules Alexander's "Love Affair" with Jim Yester's finest ever lead vocal is an absolute masterpiece, with one of the most intricate backing vocal arrangements you'll ever hear - stunning!The next two cuts,"The Nest" and "What Were The Words" really weren't far behind in terms of both song quality and performance. I tend to agree with Guy about "Are You Ready",it certainly wasn't bad(they didn't know what bad was.....)but I just felt they were a little out of their comfort zone,but what the heck,it really didn't matter. Side two continued with the delightful "Dubuque Blues" followed by another beauty in the shape of "Under Branches" with quality control certainly doing a great job."I Am Up For Europe" and the jokey "Broccoli" let the side down a little but by this point I was ready to forgive a little self indulgence. "Goodbye Forever" has always one of those songs that the chorus, for some unknown reason,comes into my head at various times,another great Jules Alexander composition. Terry Kirkman always had the knack of writing "big" numbers and the majestic closer "Boy On The Mountain" is no exception-a fitting end to an incredible album. By now,the one thing the Association had lost the ability, or perhaps the inclination,to do was produce a big hit single, and whereas it didn't particularly matter to us who loved the group hit of no hit,it ultimately would have to have an effect on the longevity of the group. Although there were still plenty of great moments to come! Now Sounds have done their usual fabulous job of including a load of bonus tracks including the two singles "Just About The Same" and "Six Man Band" and the overall presentation is once again faultless.If you are yet to be enthralled by the wonder that is the Association - it honestly doesn't get much better than this.Magnificent!