Okay, so I lied. There’s always room for one more workout. And since I’ve made some significant progress on my modules for work this afternoon, I’m slipping a quickie functional strength/core session on my mat here in my basement office. And, I have just the perfect vinyl quickie accompaniment, the ‘Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon‘ album by James Taylor.
This has been in my collection for, like, ever, easily making a staple of my Desert Island list of favorite albums.
In fact, it may have been one of the first records I ever owned. I remember finding for 25¢ at a church Bazaar just down the road from me years ago. I stumbled in high as a kite looking for a baked snack of some sort, found it at some penny booth beside a Winnie the Pooh picture book and a chipped cookie jar and immediately liked the illustration on the back cover. So I was all “Cool! Yeah, I’ll buy that for a quarter” and I did, and I proceeded to listen to it about a zillion times on an old ghetto record player that I had bought, coincidentally enough, at another Bazaar for $2.00 a few months previous.
It seemed like random Bazaar’s, marijuana and impulse buying may just be the root cause of my current obsession with old records.
Who woulda thunk it?
Anyway, ‘Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon’ is Taylor’s 3rd studio album. Released in March 1971 as the follow-up to his commercial breakthrough and critical triumph, ‘Sweet Baby James’, it almost equaled the acclaim and surpassed the success of its predecessor at the time of its release. It contains Taylor’s biggest hit single in the US, a version of the Carole King’s ‘You’ve Got a Friend‘ (which also won Taylor a Grammy for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male and Song of the Year for King), which became his only #1 on the Billboard charts on July 31, 1971. However, other than that, not many of the other tracks on the album were ever included on his limitless “Greatest Hits” and “Best of..” compilations.
On this follow up album, Taylor brought his listeners up to date, wisely trying to step beyond the cultural, if not the personal, markers he had established. Despite affirming romance in songs like ‘Love Has Brought Me Around‘ and the moving ‘You Can Close Your Eyes‘ as well as companionship in ‘You’ve Got a Friend‘, the record still came as a defense against the world, not an embrace of it; Taylor was unable to forget the past or trust the present. The songs were full of references to the road and the highway, and he was uncomfortable with his new role as spokesman (‘Hey Mister, That’s Me Up On The Jukebox‘ ). There are a number of short, sweet, and reflective songs like ‘Long Ago And Far Away‘, ‘Isn’t It Nice to Be Home Again?‘, and ‘Places In My Past’ that show just how durable and prolific an artist he had become.
My favorite, however, is ‘Machine Gun Kelly‘ about, well, Machine Gun Kelly. Duh. I love this song, albeit I’m not sure why. It just has a certain je ne sais quoi about it that really strikes a cord with me. It was largely the reason why I ended up loving the album as opposed to simply digging the trippy-ass illustrations, and I’m quite sure I annoyed the shit out my landlord that summer playing it over and over and over and over…
It snaps, crackles and pops just about all the way through the album but, honestly, I couldn’t care less.
I’d have it no other way.
In essence, this album demonstrates that the confessional songwriter was now, necessarily, writing about what it was like to be a confessional songwriter: ‘Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon‘ served the valuable function of beginning to move James Taylor away from the genre he had defined, which ultimately would give him a more long-lasting appeal.
Today, it’s a nostalgic spin through a series of planks, push-ups, crunches and other core shit before we head off to see the Bluejays of Toronto, hopefully, whoop the Angels of Los Angeles.
See how very ‘sporty’ I am?