It was December 1969 and James Taylor had to have been feeling blue. It had been a rough couple of years for him, to say the least. Though he was signed to Warner Bros. Records, Taylor had been in a mental institution, lost his girlfriend to a plane crash and was a drug addict—heroin was his poision. That, and he watched as his debut record went nowhere. Dammit, it wasn't just a debut record. Released in 1968, the album James Taylor was the only non Beatles record to ever be released on Apple Records. That the album didn't do "jack shit" probably really haunted him. Taylor could sing, he could play guitar and he could write songs! He knew he was a talent. Paul McCartney knew it, too. Would he have to spend the rest of his life wondering "what if?"
Furthermore, James Taylor was broke—"essentially homeless," actually. Night after night, he slept on friend's couches while he recorded his follow up to James Taylor, an album later known as Sweet Baby James. He had actually finished the record. The problem was Warner Bros. Records didn't think so. Even for those days, the album was too short—under 28 minutes! He needed at least one more song.
James Taylor had an incentive to finish the album as soon as possible—a cash incentive, an advance amounting to $20,000. So the homeless Taylor combined a few unfinished songs into a complete song. The result was appropriately titled "Suite for 20 G." It's perhaps the most autobiographical song title ever penned. For the record, it's actually one of my favorite James Taylor songs and, to this day, remains totally overrated.
Simultaneously, the young people of the USA were also feeling blue. All that optimism of the 1960s was dead. The ideals of the "summer of love" couldn't penetrate through an unforgiving reality. The public fell in love with James Taylor andSweet Baby James, which became a HUGE hit. In 1971, it was nominated for a Grammy for "Album of The Year" . If 1971 wasn't one of the best years in music, he absolutely would have won the award. One more thing—the success of Sweet Baby James made his debut record a hit, as well. You could say 'the times were-a-changin' for James Taylor. He was still a heroin addict though—I guess you can't win 'em all.
Though "Fire And Rain" was the hit, "Suite for 20 G" is probably an even stronger example of Taylor's gift. He sang every harmony, which were nearly as good as Crosby Stills & Nash's. Perhaps the most moving section of the suite is the third section. When Taylor sings "You can say I want to be free/ I can say someday I will be," it's almost impossible not to picture the heros of the 60s: the late John F. Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, etc. Taylor gave listeners a hint of optimism, a possibility that the dreams of the decade were still alive. Whether he liked it or not, JT was becoming a voice of a generation.
"Suite For 20 G" by James Taylor (That's Carole King on piano, by the way!)
When it came to his career, Taylor never had to say "What if?" ever again. However, after listening to his later songs—songs which were arguably suited for elevators— fans were probably saying "what if?" quite often. Sadly, James Taylor never recorded an album as good as Sweet Baby James ever again. Fact is, Taylor never really became the voice of a generation he was projected to be. But you should still listen to this album. It's one of the best ever.
Sweet Baby James by James Taylor