Friday, 26 August 2011

ASSOCIATION: Six-Man Band


SIX-MAN BAND:
THE NOT-FORGOTTEN
ASSOCIATION

Remembered largely for easy-on-the-ear
Pop anthems “Windy” and “Cherish”, Association had
their moments at the cutting edge of weird…

‘AS SWEET AS THE PUNCH…’

I only ever saw Association once. And that was on TV. It was during their solitary British trip, playing isolated run-down and poorly-attended gigs, plus that one-off ‘Top Of The Pops’ slot. It was 1968 by which time they’d already peaked, but something of the charismatic power that – a short fistful of months earlier had made them the hottest property out of America’s West Coast was still apparent. I’d attempted to follow their ascent, greedily interpreting and assimilating tantalisingly hazy newsprint halftones and two or three-line rumours of their Stateside progress, plus occasional radio snatches of their trailblazing singles, “Along Comes Mary”, “Pandora’s Golden Heebie Jeebies” or “Requiem For The Masses”. In the acknowledgement to his ‘High Priest’ book Timothy Leary pretentiously turns ‘our planet over to the young and their prophets’ – listing the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service – and Association in that role.

Such bands didn’t occur spontaneously, but in a series of waves throughout the mid-sixties, each ripple edging the corporate hit-factory a step further from the mass-production machine-mindset. The West Coast of San Francisco and Los Angeles was where this metamorphasis fermented most virulently. America’s ‘Cash-Box’ lists for the 18th June 1966, for example, was dominated by Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night”. But way below it, between the forty and fifty positions were two singles destined to spark off mythologies. There was “My Little Red Book”, a Burt Bacharach composition treated as a Byrds/Rolling Stones hybrid by Arthur Lee’s enigmatic Love. And there was a song listing ‘the psychodramas and the traumas’ of “Along Comes Mary”, by the Association. Love’s Elektra-label single, a trailer for their definitive ‘Da Capo’ (February 1967) and ‘Forever Changes’ (November 1967) albums, fell on further stoney ground. But “Along Comes Mary” made the top ten within six weeks.

Written by Tandyn Almer, but accelerated by producer Curt Boettcher, the 45rpm plays-in with distorted organ fed through fuzz-tone blended with Fender bass, while a second guitar tuned like a string-harpsichord complements the build. Jim Yester mouths an ambiguous lyric in a hurtling cascading roller-coaster of internal rhyming onomatopoeic-repetitions – ‘I spend my time in rhyme and verse and curse those faults in me’, into lines that might be praising the hallucinogenic and therapeutic qualities of a girl called Mary, or – as journalist Lillian Roxon tartly observes, ‘aha, said the knowledgeable, the only Mary that does that is marijuana. And sales immediately tripled’! The whole thing climbs into a frenzied handclap-driven climax that is, at the same time, intelligently constructed and executed. A glimpse of Rock things to come. July the 16th saw it nudging Britain’s ‘Record Retailer’ chart at no.39. The following week it fell ten places, then vanished. Most likely due to being ignored by the promotion media, despite favourable, but isolated reviews. London was still in the Mod grip of the Zoot Money, Geno Washington Big-Band Soul thing, despite groundwork done for the new American white music by the Lovin Spoonful and the Byrds.

Association had come together a few scant years prior to their chart breakthrough. With Jules ‘Gary’ Alexander and Terry Kirkman defining its nucleus, playing the LA Folk-centric scene around ‘The Troubadour’ alongside other aspirants, David Crosby, Frank Zappa, Doug Dillard and Cass Elliot. Soon after their November live debut in Pasadena, there was a failed single for the obscure Jubilee label, lifting the traditional “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You” from the 1962 ‘Joan Baez In Concert Part 1’ album (c/w “Can’t You Hear Me Call Your Name”, Jubilee 5505). Although revived a few years later to devastating effect by Led Zeppelin for their 1969 debut LP, in fairness it’s likely they by-passed the Association record in favour of homing in on the Anne Bredon original which Joan Baez had used. But then again, Robert Plant is an astute connoisseur of obscure Pop, so who knows? It might just have jolted his interest. It was followed by one previous release for Valiant. Since the Byrds and Turtles hit pay-dirt with “Mr Tambourine Man” and “It Ain’t Me Babe” respectively the Dylan-song route was – after all, routine. But although their take on the ‘Times They Are A-Changin’’ album-track “One Too Many Mornings” was a 1965 air-play hit around LA, it didn’t work its breakthrough magic outside the State, maybe its ‘restless hungry feeling that don’t mean no-one no good’ was a little too austere, despite their vocal sweetening (c/w “Forty Times”, Valiant 730). It was reintroduced into their repertoire in time for a 1970 Live double-album cut at the University of Utah, Salt Lake City, a project maybe intended to refute persistent gossip that Association hadn’t necessarily played on all of their hit-tracks! For a while the group was ‘out to lunch’, as the lyrics of ‘Mary’ relate, until she arrives in their life, as ‘sweet as the punch’. A hit, but ‘does she want to give me kicks and be my steady chick and give me pick of memories’? The dilemma is resolved, ‘when the morning of the warnings passed, the gassed and flaccid kids are flung across the stars… the songs are left unsung and hung upon the scars’. It’s a song with wide enough scope to be reinterpreted later by Manhattan Transfer, and – with scant consideration for tune, by Bloodhound Gang!

Following “Along Comes Mary” (c/w “Your Own Love”, London HLT 10054), their second hit reverts to folk-beat roots gently overlayed with the faultless pin-sharp vocal-dexterity soon to become their trademark. Well within the West Coast Mamas and Papas close-harmony tradition, maybe, but focusing its own characteristic freshness around a degree of concise technical perfection seldom equaled since. Written by Gary Alexander “Cherish” was released through Valiant and distributed through Warner Brothers in America, and the distinctive black-and-silver London label in Britain (c/w “Don’t Blame It On Me”, HLT 10074). Yet beneath its lush romance lurks a more lyric-heavy content than most as it explores a semantic quandary, the limitations of words to express meaning – ‘I’m beginning to think that man has never found, the words that could make you want me, that have the right amount of letters, just the right sound that could make you hear, make you see’, near-Wittgenstein as regards most Pop lyrics. It entered the ‘Cashbox’ list on the 24th September at no.43. Three weeks later it topped the chart after jumping through sixteen to four. It remained on the ten for five weeks including two spent at the top slot.

‘ALONG THE PATHS OF DARK AND LIGHT…’

A six-man band, the group then consisted of five-feet-three Gary Alexander – who the press hand-outs skewered with the epithet ‘elf-like’. As well as the alleged leader he wrote “Pandora” and played lead guitar. Terry Kirkman adds recorder, flugel horn and harmony vocals as well as scripting more of the hits. Russ Giguere was lead ‘vocalisator’ and contributed rhythm guitar. Ted Bluechel Junior, drummer and vocalist was a former zoology student and sex symbol of the band according to that same hand-out. Multi-instrumentalist guitarist Jim Yester also sang tenor harmonies. The sixth element was bassist – ‘flexible rhythm generator’, Brian Cole who contrived Association’s ‘Music Machine’ satire. The routine – a wacky attack on the over-commercialisation of the music industry, became an integral part of their act. Performed on the Smothers Brothers TV-show the hosts described it as ‘inventive and witty’. ‘We are musical machines’ they deliver in dead-pan, ‘a machine of our own construction’, against angular riffs and deliberately monotonous mechanical percussion.

Both singles were lifted from the debut album, ‘And Then – Along Comes The Association’ (Valiant, July 1966, reissued by Warner Bros in June 1967), produced in Hollywood by Curt Boettcher (pronounced ‘Betcher’), an enfant terrible fresh from working with Tommy Roe on ‘Sunshine Pop’ hits “Sweet Pea” and “Hooray For Hazel”. A Rock auteur he collaborated with Gary Usher on the ‘Sagittarius’ project, and was a founder driving force behind Our Production Company, a unit later responsible for some highly idiocyncratic psychedelic oddities. He’d been in at the conception of the band. At one time even considered for the line-up. Benefiting from his light witty interventions the album (issued in the UK as London HAT 8305) relies heavily on the headliner singles, plus future ‘B’-side “Standing Still” (flip of “Pandora’s Golden Heebie Jeebies”). But once beyond the familiar tracks there’s the generational manifesto “Enter The Young”, an anthem for the New Consciousness which – they claim, had ‘not only learned to think’ but ‘to care’ and ‘to dare’. Then the equally impressive tambourine-rattling “Changes”, with the neat ‘sometimes words don’t make it… so I’ll play’, with a little guitar figure filling in where inexpressible sentiment lies, adding ‘you got the power and the reason for the rhyme’. There’s modest use of innovatory electronic effects on Curt and Tandy’s “Message Of Our Time” giving the set depth and subtlety. For the rest, with understated jazz inflections, they are group originals. Boettcher remembered ‘some of the songs were recorded in Gary Paxton’s (engineer) living room. I recall it was a really hot day, and his wife had left a bucket of dirty diapers in the corner, so I was in a hurry to finish the tracks!’ (to ‘Zig-Zag’ no.48). Others were recorded in a garage, with the recording equipment in a bus parked in the driveway. Surely no punk-band could claim a more ethically humble album production technique!

Although faring well on the American lists a release bottleneck delayed its British issue until the follow-up set was already on the Cashbox charts. An important time-lag that determined it missed out on UK sales impetus. In compensation they spoke to interviewers from the straight press – sent to evaluate their hip/square credibility on Dylanesque send-up mode, of America disappearing beneath the sea like Atlantis. Delivered with an earnest seriousness that bewilders and confuses the uninitiated. For, although the three-piece suits they wear for the album sleeve’s reverse, the matching ties and highly-polished patent leather shoes, seem out of context with their music, the vibe lies like fizzing background radiation permeating all around them. Hinted by liner-notes from ‘Teen’-magazine’s Phyllis Burgess, and the arty double-exposure photo on the upside front of the album. The following year, however, forced a personal and musical rethink. With three chart singles to their credit they were already dangerously regarded as establishment. They even guest on the Andy Williams syndicated TV show! With the definition of hip capriciously redefining itself month by month, week by week, the next wave was erupting from the West Coast – Sky Saxon’s Seeds, hitching a ride on the short-lived Flower Power thing, was auguring great things, Buffalo Springfield, featuring both Steve Stills and Neil Young were in the charts with the foreboding “For What Its Worth”. “Strawberry Fields Forever” was revolutionising the whole concept of what had been known as Pop music – and what was never to be quite the same again. While Association straddle the transition period uncomfortably. It’s not necessarily that they were weird. ‘Cos there’s a definite exploitable niche for weird. It’s not that they were melodic Sunshine Pop. There’s an even greener market for that. It’s that they flip-flop from one to the other without ever properly reconciling the twain.

Oddly, for the second album ‘Renaissance’ (May 1967, Valiant, UK London HAT 8313), they dump Boettcher in favour of Jim’s brother Jerry Yester. Maybe some acrimony was involved? Boettcher later confided his opinion that the group ‘were never able to handle their own success, it really changed them as people’ (also to ‘Zig-Zag’ in 1975). But Yester’s credentials look good. He’d later replace Zalman Yanovsky in the Lovin Spoonful, going on to record the excellent ‘Farewell Albederan’ album with errant Folknik Judy Henske (1969, Straight Records STS 1052). And, working at Hollywood’s prestigious Western Recorders studio – frequented by Phil Spector and Brian Wilson, he got Association its third straight hit record of 1966 with Gary Alexander’s “Pandora’s Golden Heebie Jeebies” (London HLT 10098), earning them twenty-second position on the year’s charts point table. Said – wrongly, to name-check the Sunset Strip ‘Pandora’s Box’ Club, their most experimental ‘A’-side, like the Hollies “King Midas In Reverse”, delves into Greek mythology, to find the girl who opens the forbidden chest to unleash evil onto the world, ‘freeing locks, Pandora’s boxes, devils are expended and I’m finally free’. Echoing future trends by utilising strange almost out-of-tune harmonies, combined against what was assumed to be a sitar-driven back-drop (actually it’s a Japanese stringed instrument called a koto, played by Alexander himself), the ethereal lyrics – ‘I have walked along the paths of dark and light’ – take a sideways glance at pseudo-profundity, predating the explosion of acid-based imagery by a year. Telling how ‘when all the tears are finally cried and I’m finally clean inside, the gentle winds will come and they will dry my mind’, until with existential clarity, when he’s seen all that life has to offer, ‘now all that will be left for me to do is die’. Too downright weird for the kind of mass acceptance that carried their previous hits to the top it remains a totally charming and unique artifact of its time. Oblique and risky, brave or foolish. December 3rd saw it enter the US lists at thirty, it rose to 29, then 26 before falling to 32, 41, and vanishing. In Britain the Pirate radio stations became the bands most enthusiastic publicists. John Peel remembered seeing the Association sing “Pandora” at the famed ‘Whisky-A-Go-Go’ and was impressed. He played it later on his ‘Perfumed Garden’ radio show.

The album fared better on the American lists. More imaginative in conception than its predecessor, it’s indicative of the band’s dichotomy, going in two directions at once, into close-harmony work weaving in and around an amazing complexity, and into greater musical adventurism. Gary Alexander penned “Looking Glass” for the next single. Due to lack of reaction, by April 1967, it was flipped and Jim Yester’s softly romantic ‘B’-side “No Fair At All” (London HLT 10118) was promoted. It reverts to the beautifully flowing “Cherish” harmonies. But neither side achieved expected sales despite frequent airplays. Then Gary Alexander – always the most active advocate of their more imaginative path, quit the line-up. The spiritual bent indicated by his questing lyrics sent him on the Maharishi-trail to India. Although he’d later return, he was replaced by the amiable Larry Ramos, ‘stamped Made in Japan’ according to the Music Machine banter. An ex-New Christy Minstrel from Hawaii, he was to become an integral visual part of the act. His presence healing the divisions and infusing the group with a new lease of creative energy. His Hawaiian features allowed him to mis-introduce other band-members on stage, then declare ‘hey, all you white guys look alike to me’.

‘INSIGHT OUT…’

By mid-summer, Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody To Love” had happened, as had ‘Sergeant Pepper’, Timothy Leary and Haight-Ashbury. Yet Association were there at its epicentre, opening the legendary Monterey Festival alongside Simon & Garfunkel, Big Brother & the Holding Company and the first American forays for the Who and Jimi Hendrix. And Association re-emerged with the new line-up, and a bouncy million selling single, “Windy” c/w “Sometimes” (London HLT 10140). Written by fellow ‘Troubadour’-graduate Ruthann Friedman, it entered the chart at forty. Crisply commercial with luxurious harmonies, it was perfect feel-good Pop. Its lyric describing the complete flower-child, the girl with ‘a name that’s lighter than air’ who walks down the street ‘smiling at everybody she sees’. Although it’s difficult to see, in our more cynical age, how a girl named ‘Windy’ could get away without cheap fart-gags. It climbed by degrees through 18, 7, 3 then spent the entire month of July at number one. Although the song “Windy” became popular in the UK – as the kind of thing New Generation dance to on the ‘Cilla Black Show’ – and despite numerous cover versions, it was never a hit.

The next single enjoyed similar success, both produced by Bones Howe, previously noted for his work in the jazz field and for engineering classic pop-trash hits for Jan & Dean. “Never My Love” (London 10157) was written by Dick and Don Addrisi (later of the Addrisi Brothers Band, they’d already contributed “Don’t Blame It On Me” to the debut Association album), and it took the American number one in just six moves. Starting at 27 it went to 11, 6, 2, 2, then by October 14th 1967 it was top. For me, it’s one of the classic sixties singles, irresistibly lush. I’ll forgive Association every blandness they’re occasionally prone to, for just one spin of this delicious single. There’s a delightfully surprising drunken electric piano jazz coda in the fade, supplied by leading West Coast session-man Larry Knechtel. A later member of Bread he also supplied keyboard embroidery for “Windy”, for Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, the harpsichord on “MacArthurs Park” and was featured on the Beach Boys ‘Pet Sounds’ and Phil Spector productions. He points out (in ‘Zig-Zag’ no.55) that guitarist Mike Deasy, drummer Hal Blaine, bass-player Joe Osborne and himself supplied the backing tracks for the band’s two biggest hits – Association supplying vocals only. But this arrangement was hardly unusual, the same musicians also perform on the Mamas and Papas hits. Meanwhile, even the 4:07-minute ‘B’-side, “Requiem For The Masses” made American chart-waves. Developing out of the ‘Renaissance’ mood of eclecticism, Terry Kirkman drew on the Catholic Mass for its framework, just as the Yardbirds had used a Gregorian chant for “Still I’m Sad”. Opening with martial drums and Latin incantation, the metaphor of a dying bullfighter sketches sharp Vietnam comparisons, as with chilling classicism and flowing layers of airy ethereal voices they recite ‘black and white were the figures that recorded him, black and white was the newsprint he was mentioned in, black and white was the question that so bothered him, he never asked, he was taught not to ask’. So much so that, according to Kirkman himself, radio-play was killed off by a phone-call to WB from Nixon’s White House office.

The two hits re-establish Association. The US chart points table for 1967 racks them up at eighth position, beneath the Monkees at one, the Supremes at two, and Aretha Franklin at three. Their final project of the year, and their last for London records, was the album ‘Insight Out’ (January 1968, London HAT 8342). Naturally it leads off with “Requiem” along with the two hits, plus “We Love Us”, “When Love Comes To Me” and “Wasn’t It A Bit Like Now (Parallel 23)” with Kirkman’s subtitle referencing the circle of latitude passing through California. Their biggest-selling album, and one of the year’s highest grossing, it’s perhaps their most melodic and carefully crafted set, soaring with intricate harmony arrangements on cuts the Addrisi’s “Happiness Is” and “Sometime”. Sampling the work of other contemporary Folkie’s they do PF Sloan’s lovely “On A Quiet Night”, Tim Hardin’s “(You Got A) Reputation”, and Mike Deasy’s “Wantin’ Ain’t Getting”, glancing back – less effectively, to earlier sitar affectations. Around this time Valiant, the Four Star Television spin-off responsible for the Cascades “Rhythm Of The Rain” and Barry & the Tamberlanes “I Wonder What She’s Doing Tonight” – which had been bought out by Warner’s and run as a subsidiary, was folded. The Association however, went on. The first two albums were promptly reissued with new label number-designations.

“Everything That Touches You” c/w “We Love Us” (Warner Brothers Seven Arts WB 7163) continues the gentle sounds that had made them one of the most commercially appealing bands in America. Issued in February of the new year it stayed on the Cashbox lists for twelve weeks, reaching a peak on 9th March at number ten (the positions were 47, 31, 16, 14, 12, 10, 10, 11, 14, 22, 31, 34). It trailered ‘Birthday’ (June 1968, Warner Bros WS 1733), the sleeve-art reflecting their growth since the days of their first album. Sharp suits and short hair replaced by a sartorial extravagance heightened by graphic photographic tricks. Yet the charisma, the air of musical superiority and controlled authority remain. There’s a story that during recording, producer Bones Howe brought Jim Webb into the studio and pressured them to do a twenty-four-minute cantata Jim had written which included his “MacArthur Park”. After some wrangling, they declined, preferring to concentrate on their own material. It’s intriguing to conjecture what strange tangents their career might have taken if they’d had the hit version of the song, instead of Richard Harris. Things might have turned out very differently. Instead, there’s the inspirational “Come On In” with Kirkman and Giguere’s joint lead vocals, followed by the delicate if over-saccharine “Rose Petals, Incense And A Kitten”. “Like Always” has Ramos’ vocals laid over an intriguingly intricate backing-track, not only innovative, but highly distinctive. “Toymaker” and “Barefoot Gentleman” open side two. It’s difficult to think of another band, the Beach Boys excepted, who experiment as effectively with harmonies at this time. The set winds down competently with “Hear It Here”, and “Bus Stop”.

Their most determined assault on British shores came during a May tour to promote “Time For Living” c/w “Birthday Morning” (Warner Bros WB 7195) from the LP. The theme of taking off his watch, kicking off his shoes, and reconnecting with nature is right in there with Joni Mitchell’s hippie-mainstream ‘got to get ourselves back to the garden’. Their well-rehearsed visual presentation, maybe too damn polite, matched to cleanly executed sound for their only ‘Top of the Pops’ appearance, paling everything else on the show into ineptitude. Professionalism might have become a dirty word excuse for lack of musical discipline in certain areas of Rock, but Association show it can still fight its corner. They manage to extract what’s best from both, fusing them into a single joyous whole. They also guest on the ‘New Musical Express’ Poll Winners Concert, headlined by the Rolling Stones. “Time For Living” with vocals by Giguere and Ramon, enters the British charts on May 25th 1968 at 35. Their only UK hit it climbed through 26 to 25, then a reversal to 28 and back to 26. It peaked at 23, fell to 24 and then vanished. Back in the States it followed a similar pattern. Entered the lists at 34 on 1st June and climbed to a peak of 23 a fortnight later. September saw them back in the American Fifty with Terry Kirkman’s autobiographical “Six-Man Band” c/w “Like Always” (Warner Brothers Seven Arts 7229), which peaks at no.30. There’s a stronger more assertive guitar line, a traveling-band lyric about ‘I’m a California man, my instrument in hand, I’m electrified’, seriously bearded and long-haired in the promo-clip. But there would be little more to come.

‘GOODBYE COLUMBUS…’

For a while they release few, and uncommercial singles targeting neither the charts nor the heavy Rock crowd from which they’d become estranged. A comfortably low-key “Goodbye Columbus” (c/w “The Time It Is Today”, lifted from ‘Birthday’) emerged on WB 7267. Jim Yester wrote the ‘A’-side as title-song for the successful Philip Roth-derived sub-‘Graduate’ movie-comedy directed by Larry Peerce starring Ali McGraw with Richard Benjamin. The flip involves a mildly novel left-channel right-channel dialogue. They also contribute “It’s Gotta Be Real” and “So Kind To Me” to the otherwise instrumental soundtrack (‘Goodbye Columbus’ September 1969, WB W 1786). But any expectation of yielding the kick-back Simon & Garfunkel enjoyed from ‘The Graduate’, were not to be realised. Instead, “Windy” c/w “Never My Love” (Warner Bros 7119) was re-issued in May 1969 to promote their neat ‘Greatest Hits’ (January 1969, WB WIWS 1767) resumè. Charting their development, in sequence from “Along Comes Mary”, “Enter The Young” (an inferior alternate take) and “No Fair At All” trailblazing their formative period, through those singles I once caught occasional radio snatches of. Monochrome might add a certain enchantment to TV performance-clips of those hits now, but watching ‘YouTube’ it’s not always easy to detect the element of hipness there. Sometimes distance – as for me, greedily piecing their story together as it happens from tantalisingly hazy newsprint halftones and two or three-line rumours, adds mystique. Significantly “Pandora” – one of the tracks that still looks good, and their most experimental cut, is missed off the Hits history. It concentrates instead on the distinctive harmonies unifying the development of the concept called Association, through which they’d best-reached commercial heights. Looking backwards now. No longer forwards. Yet harmonies directly in line of descent from the West Coast folk-rock style best represented by the Mamas and Papas, but also characterised by lesser entities such as the Critters, Changing Times, We Five and Beau Brummels.

Sadly, the hits package casts the tired inadequacy of their John Boylan produced ‘Association’ (October 1969, WB 1800) into sharper relief, with only “Look At Me”, “Boy On The Mountain”, Giguere’s “Broccoli” and “Yes I Will” standing above the general level on uninspired mediocrity. Lightweight and aloof, drawing country-tinged elements from the mood of the times, a ballad, “Under The Branches” – is a stab at a kind of sub-“Heroes and Villains” cut-up, which some consider impressive. And Brian Cole got his first writer-credit, in collaboration with Gary ‘Jules’ Alexander for a poor “I Am Up For Europe”. Warner-Reprise promoted the set by including “Dubuque Blues” on ‘Schlagers’ – one of their ‘Loss-Leader’ budget-price double albums available only through the mail. Re-united with the errant Gary Alexander – making them a ‘seven-man band’, and linking back with Curt Boettcher, there was a further single in May 1970, called “Just About The Same” (c/w “Look At Me, Look At You”, WB 7372). It was a Boettcher composition he’d previously done as the final manifestation of his Millennium group, even dubbing their vocals onto the same backing-track. Despite which the title’s maybe a tad too descriptive of its musical content. The vein of originality that once powered them through an arc of hits seemed exhausted. They worked out their Warner’s contract with their seventh, and least visible album ‘Stop Your Motor’ (1971, WB WS-1927). No hits. A lowly no.158 on the ‘Billboard’ chart. Only Jimmy Webb’s song “PF Sloan” attracted favourable attention, despite the intrusion of a drawling talking break. It was produced by Ray Pohlman who’d been responsible for their ‘Association Live’ (1970, WB 2WS 1868), another exercise in summing-up what had gone before.

There was more. More or less. On August the 2nd 1972 Brian Cole, who’d never missed a gig in ten years, was found dead in his hotel room of a heroin OD (although his son Jordan plays keyboards in a later Association line-up). There was a brief revival of interest prompted by Swedish band Blue Suede’s revival of “Never My Love”, and Rod Peters’ heavily air-played resurrection of “Cherish”. Nina Simone did the same Terry Kirkman song, and David Cassidy – no less, headlined an album with “Cherish”. Then Association themselves issued their first single in a long while, via a new CBS contract negotiated by Clive Davis. Their close-harmony arrangement of John Sebastian’s “Darlin’ Be Home Soon” (c/w “Indian Wells Woman”, June 1972, CBS 8062) was a taster for the album ‘Waterbeds in Trinidad’ (August 1972, CBS 65009) which followed. Neither single nor album made any chart headway, but affirmed their presence and technical proficiency over their now-more commercially successful West-Coast contemporaries. Advertised as ‘the most beautiful Association album yet’, the faces on the sleeve look different. The hair is longer. According to the liner notes they’re now Terry (Kirkman), Larry (Ramos), Jules (Alexander), Brian (Cole), Ted (Bleuchel) and ‘Same’ Yester plus Richard (Thompson, replacing Russ Giguere) – with thanks for help ‘in some beautiful way’ to Carole King, John Sebastian, Gerry Goffin, and production chores by Lewis Merenstein. The sounds within the sleeve seem deliberately less disciplined too, with John Stewart’s “Little Road And A Stone To Roll” and Ron Davies’ particularly attractive “Silent Song Through The Land”. Goffin & King’s “Show Queen” comes illuminated by tight harmonies, while “Please Don’t Go (Round The Bend)” is uncharacteristically up-tempo, driven by sax and choppy vocal patterns. “Kicking The Gong Around” extends the pulse almost into the funk-zone. Trace-elements of the old charisma remain, especially in Kirkman’s tragically beautiful “Come The Fall”. Despite inevitable modifications, it’s a vibrant and alive album. Critical reaction was largely positive.

Elsewhere, other stars from the same constellation were still spinning. Curt Boettcher issued his only solo album – ‘There’s An Innocent Face’ (March 1973, Elektra K42124), track-listing evidence that he retained an affection for his time with Association, particularly on “I Love You More Each Day”. Produced with multi-instrumentalist Webb Burrel, the ideas hang together something like Harry Nilsson meets the Beach Boys on “She’ll Stay With You”. While “Love You Yes I Do” is an exercise in instant 1950’s nostalgia that breaks into “The Book Of Love” and “Why Do Fools Fall In Love”, a song-selection perhaps indicative of the deeper roots of Association harmonies? After a diverse career in some of music’s most intriguing configurations Curt died 14 June 1987, following a lung infection. While Association remain, still extremely competent technicians of pleasing harmony and stylish arrangement, even if the third ingredient – innovation, has long since departed. They continued with various line-ups pretty much to the present day, consigned to the nostalgia circuit.

Despite an impressive roster of American hits and some diverting albums they’d become known to British record buyers largely through inferior – and ‘MOR’, cover versions. “Never My Love” from Danny Williams. “Windy” by Andy Williams. Both strong Association originals hallmarked by clear precise vocals that somehow fell on blind British ears during their period of greatest creativity. And then were too readily forgotten. But the six-man band was important, not only for the hits, but as a catalyst in the development of West-Coast Rock. In 1966 it was not only acid-drooling Tim Leary who spoke of Association in the same breath as Doors, Buffalo Springfield and the Airplane.


ASSOCIATED ASSOCIATION TRIVIA:

Larry Knechtel plays on ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ a September 1968 LP by singer-songwriter Marc LeVine (Hogfat HLP-1, reissued on CD Dynamic DYLP36) with Ry Cooder, & on Stephen Bishop’s 1977 debut LP ‘Careless’ (ABC ABCD-954) with Jim Gordon, & on Art Garfunkel’s ‘Fate For Breakfast’ in 1979

Tandyn Almer co-writes “Sail On Sailor” for the Beach Boys

Jerry Yester was an ex-member of both Modern Folk Quartet and The New Christy Minstrels (of which Larry Ramos was also a former member). After his work with Association he recorded two duo albums with Judy Henske, the second being ‘Rosebud’ (Reprise RS 6426). Replacing Zal Yanovsky in Lovin’ Spoonful he played on their final LP ‘Everything’s Playing’

Curt Boettcher produced two albums by his own group, The Goldbriars, before working with Assocation – ‘The Goldbriars (Epic BN 26087) & ‘Straight Ahead’ (Epic BN 26114). After the Association he recorded instrumental albums with session players as Your Gang (Mercury SR 61094), and Friar Tuck & his Psychedelic Guitars (Mercury SR 61111). He was a member and co-producer of Sagittarius (‘Present Tense’ Columbia CS 9644) and Millennium (‘Begin’, Columbia CS 9663). He also worked with the Beach Boys on ‘L.A. (Light Album)’ (Caribou CRB 86081), and appears on Bruce Johnson’s July 1977 LP ‘Going Public’ (CBS)

John Boylan started out as a member of Appletree Theatre (with brother Terence) who recorded the LP ‘Playback’ (MGM 2353). After production-work for Association he produced albums for Linda Ronstadt, Boston, Little River Band and Roger McGuinn

After leaving Association Russ Giguere recorded a solo I-Ching themed LP ‘Hexagram II’ (1971, Warners WS 1910) which includes sidemen Gary ‘Jules’ Alexander (bass), Larry Knechtal (keyboards), Bernie Leadon (future Eagle on guitar), Bobby Womack, Chris Ethridge (of Flying Burrito Brothers), with Jerry Yester, Judy Henske and Merry Clayton providing backing vocal. It includes Judy Sill’s “Range Rider”, Randy Newman’s “Lover’s Prayer” and a John Boylan song – “Brother Speed”, which he’d originally done with Appletree Theatre

Subsequent Association albums include:

April 1983 – ‘New Memories’ (Hitbound Records 51-3022/ HB 1005) largely cover versions of mainstream hits “Dock Of The Bay”, “Oh Pretty Woman” and “It’s All In The Game”

1983 – ‘Vintage’ (CBS Special Products BT-19223)

1988 – ‘Golden Heebie Jeebies’ (Edsel ED 239) intelligent UK compilation of hip earlier tracks selected by Brian Hogg

1995 – ‘The Association ‘95: A Little Bit More’ (Track Records)

also single March 1973 “Names, Tags, Numbers & Labels” c/w Rainbows Bent” (Mums MUM 1300), a previously unissued track featuring Brian Cole

with thanks to Trevor Hodgett (‘Record Collector’ June 1989)

Earlier version published in:
‘MADCAP’ (UK – July 1974)

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Not sure how or why the six man band out from LA was never picked up on British radar, but then, Me 262 Swallows may have been missed likewise had they arrived earlier. Let's just say both were ahead of their time, though only one could be called threatening. ;)

Doubly odd too in that the Association's sound was a clear precursor to the kind of lush vocal arrangements that came to be a hallmark of Queen only a generation later.

Great write up all the same, if you look past the citation gaff in the fifth paragraph regarding the author of 'Cherish'. Doubly odd again in that you get it right at the end of the write-up.

Jb from SoCal, birthplace of the West Coast sound

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