Sweet Baby James

I’ve referenced it before on this blog, but when I was a wee little boy mi madre had this big wood paneled console stereo that had a turntable, an 8-track player, and a radio.  And I used to love to stand and watch the records spin for hours at a time.  But I also loved the 8-track player because it had these red lights that would indicate which track was playing, and there was always this big mechanical thunk every time it switched tracks.  Sometimes that big thunk even happened mid-song.  Well, most of mi madre’s albums were on vinyl, but JT was on 8-track.  And I remember hearing “Fire and Rain” at a very young age, and realizing it was a great song even then.

Fast forward several years to my high school days, and scamming BMG for as many free CDs as possible.  JT’s Greatest Hits package was one of those free CDs, and it made the trip with me down to Olde Columbus Towne when I started college.  The Artistic One and I were rooming together in Lincoln Tower, and despite the fact that we were trying to be tragically hipster and listening to lots of Nine Inch Nails mixed with heavy doses of The Doors and the Beastie Boys, we would frequently put JT on the stereo when we wanted to hear something soothing.  I think the Artistic One’s parents had exposed him to JT in his youth as well, and it was something that took us both back to simpler times when all hell was breaking loose around us in the dorm.

Fast forward a few more years, and in my first year of teaching in Newark, Ohio (pronounced Nerk by the locals) and there was a large section of 70s pop tunes in the choral music library.  So I found an SATB arrangement of “Fire and Rain” and I started to teach it to the 8th grade choir.  Well, it had taken awhile to win these kids over, but they had genuinely grown to like me.  But they hated this song at first.  Like truly hated it.  But then I tried to explain to them that it had meant something to me when I was younger and they gave it a shot.  And then some urban legend developed that this song reminded me of an ex-girlfriend who had died, which was totally untrue, but it motivated the kids so I never completely denied it, and the kids got real good at it and it wound up on our spring concert.  Hey, whatever works, right?

So yeah, I make fun of JT a bit for being about the only dude in the whole California folk-singer/songwriter movement of the early 70s.  And it does seem like he shoes up for guest vocals on a lot of his ex-girlfriends records from that era (and apparently Carole King wrote “You’ve Got a Friend” as a response to “Fire and Rain”).  But the truth is I dig JT, and especially this album of his, quite a bit.  He was discovered by the Beatles and was one of their first signings to the Apple music label, and if the Beatles dug it, it gots to be good, right?  I picked this album up at the Half Price Books on Lane Avenue for $4.99.  The case was broken, which is a pet peeve of mine, so I switched it out, and now it sits proudly on my CD shelf.  If only I could find an 8-track copy…

Other lists: “Fire and Rain” is ranked #227 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs.  JT is ranked #74 on the list of the 100 Greatest Singers and #84 on the list of the 100 Greatest Artists.

Ch-ch-changes: This album dropped one spot from its initial ranking of #103 (we are still feeling the aftershocks of the meteoric rise of Kid A).

My favorite track: “Fire and Rain”

Honorable mention: “Sweet Baby James”

Quote: “People live from day to day, but they do not count the time.  They don’t see their days slippin’ by…and neither do I.”