Category: you’ve got a friend

What's your opinion on James Taylor?

I LOVE JAMES TAYLOR!!! Here’s my tag for him. I mostly blog harder rock, so there’s not many posts, but you’ve reminded me that I need to do more. (Although that said, you’re right to assume that there’s not necessarily a relationship between what I enjoy most and what I blog most. Sometimes yes, sometimes no.)

There’s so so much great music in 1971 beyond classic rock, and James is a perfect example. He had a huge impact on me in the early 70s, and I’ve been a fan for coming up on 50 years by now.

It happens that there are some fantastic clips of James specifically in 1971 floating around. Here my three favorites:

1) You Can Close Your Eyes, from an episode of the BBC show In Concert. This is my favorite track on his 1971 album, Mud Slide Slim & The Blue Horizon. One of my favorite tracks of 1971, or ever, by anyone, tbh. This one comes and goes (I’ve redone this embed a couple of times already), and if it’s not here when you see this post, I promise it’s worth the effort to track it down.

2) Love Has Brought Me Around, also from 1971’s Mud Slide Slim, a lesser-known gem in James’ catalog, well overshadowed by his biggest 1971 track from Mud Slide Slim, “You’ve Got A Friend.” That song was written by Carole King, who’d have her own hit with it later in 1971. I mention this because Carole is playing piano here (she and James frequently played together live and in the studio in 1971 – she’s even described Tapestry and Mud Slide Slim as two parts of the same album recorded at the same time, with the same band), and she has a very nice solo here. 

While this particular embed has distorted audio, it’s worth the noise, and worth tracking down the whole album. I play this song a lot.

3) Sweet Baby James was a 1970 album of course, but was an even bigger hit in 1971: the #7 bestselling album of the year! One of the albums I’ve played most often in my life, too. 

The link here is to his performance on the Johnny Cash Show in February 1971 (a special episode called “Cash On Campus” that I’ve written about before). It was James’s American TV debut,  and he slayed. Even though it’s just James and a guitar, the audience explodes at the end of this. It’s really something special.

Note that Johnny had introduced it as the only lullaby he knew with the word “turnpike” in it, so when James gets to that line in the second verse, he turns and beams at John. Priceless!

So…flipping through my blog, you’d think that the biggest and most important artists of 1971 are people like Led Zeppelin. The Who, David Bowie, Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones — and you’d be right, but James Taylor sold more than any of them in 1971. 

And hey, even if he wasn’t selling more records than they did, he was, and remains, one of the artists who’s made the biggest impact on my life. These are a couple of highlights, but I think you’ll be greatly rewarded as you dig even deeper into his discography.


On this day in music history: July 31, 1971 – “You’ve Got A Friend” by James Taylor hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 1 week. Written by Carole King, it is the biggest hit for the Boston, MA born singer, songwriter and musician. After the major breakthrough success James Taylor has with his second studio album “Sweet Baby James” in 1970, he and producer Peter Asher (Peter & Gordon) return to the studio in January of 1971 to begin recording the follow up. While working on his third album, Taylor contributes background vocals and guitar to his friend Carole King’s album “Tapestry”, which she is working on at the same time. King records the song “You’ve Got A Friend” on her album first, and after hearing it, James asks if he can record it for his album and King says “yes”. Issued as the first single from Taylor’s third album “Mud Slide Slim And The Blue Horizon” in May of 1971, it quickly becomes an instant classic and a mainstay on top 40 pop radio. Entering the Hot 100 at #80 on June 5, 1971, it reaches the top of the chart eight weeks later. “You’ve Got A Friend” also wins Taylor his first Grammy Award for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male, as well as winning songwriter Carole King the Grammy Award for Song Of The Year in 1972. “You’ve Got A Friend” is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.

Released the same day as James Taylor’s version of the song (May 29, 1971), Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway’s single reached #29 on the Hot 100 chart, and #8 on the R&B chart.

Michael Jackson also recorded it for his 1971 solo debut album, as did Dusty Springfield, but neither of those was released as a single. Remarkably enough, Carole King never released it as a single either!!!!

Getting back to James Taylor, a tasty alt-take comes from his 1971 BBC special, which featured Carole King sitting in for half his set. Here’s where she joins James onstage, and while she doesn’t sing on this performance of “You’ve Got A Friend”, her piano adds a very nice touch indeed.