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Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Association - Birthday (1968 us, elegant sunny blue eyed soul, 2013 Japan remaster)

Nobody knew it when Birthday was issued as the Association's fourth album in March 1968, but the group had just passed their commercial peak. Never again would they enjoy such phenomenal popularity as they had in 1967, when "Windy" and "Never My Love" gave them two of the biggest hits of the late '60s, and their Insight Out album (also reissued on Collectors' Choice) became a Top Ten LP. Birthday was nonetheless hardly a slouch saleswise, reaching #23 and spawning the group's final Top Ten single, "Everything That Touches You," as well as the Top Forty hit "Time for Livin'."

The Association's Jim Yester agrees that Birthday was "probably the most pop" of the albums the band did in the 1960s, though he wasn't sure if that was intentional. He does recall it as being a time of uneasy transition for the band, though their trademark harmonious vocal blends were never more intact than on this album. "The relationship was getting very strange at that time between [producer] Bones [Howe] and ourselves," he acknowledges. "Bones contended that had we stuck to that kind of semi-folk genre [which had yielded songs like "Windy"], we would have lasted forever. He was trying to get us to do that, and the group was trying to pull in a more avant-garde direction. I think that was one of the things that pulled the relationship apart. And a lot of other relationships in the group were getting strange at the time."

Howe remained the producer on the sessions, however, which like Insight Out featured top Hollywood studio musicians like drummer Hal Blaine, bassist Joe Osborn, guitarist Mike Deasy, and keyboardist Larry Knechtel. "I'm still really proud of that affiliation with those guys," says Yester. "They're the sweetest guys, and they were so open to direction. Whoever's song it was would go into the studio when guys were running it down for the first time, and they would be asking for direction. It wasn't just like they said, 'Okay, here's how we're gonna do it.' It was like, 'What do you want with it?' It was absolutely a wonderful situation. And such incredible players. Just mind-blowing."

While Insight Out had seen the group turn to outside writers for about half of the material, Birthday returned the focus to the band's own compositions, with a few exceptions. The band's Terry Kirkman was responsible for "Everything That Touches You," the mid-tempo ballad that gave the Association their last big hit. "If we had our preference, we would always prefer the inside material," notes Yester. "But that was getting closer and closer to where material selections were hangings. The guys got real gun-shy about bringing their own material in, because it was like being brutalized by the process. And we were also, each of us, getting involved with people outside the group at that time."

A few of Birthday's tracks, indeed, were collaborations between members of the band and outside writers, Yester penning a couple of songs with childhood friend Skip Carmel. "Those songs that I collaborated on with Skip, most of those are right out of Man and His Symbols by Carl Jung. It's all about personal transformation and archetypes and all of that kind of stuff. When I played it for the group, [Larry] Ramos used to hate that kind of stuff. He'd say, 'What the hell does that mean?' But Bones really liked 'em, so we wound up doing 'em." Ramos himself collaborated with two outside writers on the album's "Like Always," one of the co-authors being Bob Alcivar, who served as the LP's vocal arranger.

Brothers Don and Dick Addrisi, who'd given the Association "Never My Love," supplied the band's final Top Forty single with "Time for Livin'." (It was also the group's sole chart single in England, where they toured around the time of its release, sharing the bill with the Rolling Stones and others at the 1968 New Musical Express Poll Winners' Concert.) Another outside contribution, "Come On In," came from folksinger Jo Mapes, whom Yester had known since his coffeehouse folk days. Yester's brother Jerry's group the Modern Folk Quartet "also did 'Come on In,' that's where we got it from. Although Jo wasn't real happy about the way each of us did it, 'cause she envisioned much more of a soft kind of folk delivery, and we both had kind of hard-edged, rock things."

The most intriguing outside number considered for the sessions, however, was the one that got away. "Bones came in with Jimmy Webb and presented this thing Bones commissioned him to write for us," says Yester. "It was a 24-minute cantata, of which 'MacArthur Park' was a part. The deal was, you take the whole 24 minutes or none of it. We wound up turning it down, and the relationship was never the same after that, because Bones would have had publishing on that." "MacArthur Park," of course, became one of the biggest hits of 1968, as sung by actor Richard Harris - "it was like, 'Okay, I'll show you, I'll give the song to somebody who's not a singer and have a hit with it.

"Jimmy was very bitter, and I can't blame him," Yester continues. "But the deal was his. It was like, it's 24 minutes, take it or leave it. We asked for 'MacArthur Park,' and there was one other song in there that was a great song, a part of this 24-minute cantata, that we really wanted. We were halfway through the album. It's like, okay, whose song is coming off the album? And some of the guys were saying, 'Oh, we can write better stuff than that.' It was great stuff, but there was no way that we could have taken the whole thing.

"Jimmy knew it would have been a monumental piece, a 24-minute piece that was all threaded together, of which these things were all part of. I'm sure it would have been mind-blowing. But we couldn't see it at that time. Had we done that, it would have been trend-setting, and we probably would have reinvented ourselves a la what the Bee Gees did with Saturday Night Fever." As it was, the Association had to content themselves with another hit album that continued to cement their image as a mainstream pop group, although they'd gain more creative control over their sound on their next LP, 1969's The Association. 
by Richie Unterberger  

1. Come On In (Jo Mapes) - 3:19
2. Rose Petals, Incense And A Kitten (Ric Mcclelland, Jim Yester) - 2:57
3. Like Always (Bob Alcivar, Tony Ortega, Larry Ramos) - 3:08
4. Everything That Touches You (Terry Kirkman) - 3:22
5. Toymaker (Jeff Comanor) - 3:30
6. Barefoot Gentleman (Skip Carmel, Yester) - 3:27
7. Time For Livin' (Don Addrisi, Dick Addrisi) - 2:48
8. Hear In Here (Ted Bluechel) - 3:17
9. The Time It Is Today (Russ Giguere) - 2:19
10.The Bus Song (Kirkman) - 3:34
11.Birthday Morning (Carmel, Yester) - 2:25

The Association
*Russ Giguere - Vocals, Guitar
*Brian Cole - Vocals, Bass
*Terry Kirkman - Vocals, Brass, Woodwinds
*Jim Yester - Vocals, Guitar, Keyboards
*Larry Ramos, Jr. - Vocals, Bass, Guitar
*Ted Bluechel Jr - Vocals, Drums
*Hal Blaine - Drums
*Joe Osborn - Bass
*Mike Deasy - Guitar
*Larry Knechtel - Keyboards

1969  The Association - The Association (2013 deluxe expanded edition)

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  1. Incredible! Thanks Marios for the great Association remasters. The "Birthday" album is an absolute classic. The bass guitar sound alone should be a benchmark for "THAT" sound. Perfect playing and beautiful music. It's my girlfriends birthday today and she thanks you as I've been playing it for her too!

  2. Thank you Spencer,
    All the best to you
    and Happy Birthday to your Girl.

  3. bought the Japanese release instead of Now Sounds...I would always prefer Steve Stanley's release, but that's just my opinion, of course.
    I have the Collector's Choice 2003 release and I'm not satisfied with it's sound, so I will gladly check this new Japanese release out.
    Thank ever so much you Mario for this and for all.

  4. Should read: Thank you ever so much Mario for this and for all.

  5. Fantastic upload. One of the best bands in the 60's. Marios you are one of the greatest! Thank you very much!

  6. Jules Alexander was not with the group when this album was recorded.

  7. The Association are one of those bands that still get frequent airplay on oldies radio stations and at the same time are highly regarded within Sunshine Pop collector and fan circles. The six (and sometimes seven) piece band out of L.A. hit the top of the charts twice, first in 1966 with the chiming ballad "Cherish" and the following year with the choral pop hit "Windy". They nearly hit the top spot a third time with the classic "Never My Love" which hit the #2 spot in 1967. But their deeper album cuts were often as good, and in many cases better than their hits.

    The album was mostly made up of original band composition's mainly by guitarist Jim Yester and vocalist/recorder-ist Terry Kirkman, although Russ Giguere, Larry Ramos and drummer Ted Bleuchel each contributed one song. Released in 1968, was the Association's finest album statement, sound that to me is most alluring. The band's harmonies are clearly the star of the show as Howe's production smartly keeps them front and center. The instrumental blends are nice and subtle, mostly loose drumming from Hal Blaine, some catchy bass lines from Joe Osborne and great echoey, spaced out electric guitar from studio legends Mike Deasy and Tommy Tedesco. Even the orchestral touches are far away from the foreground of the mix, almost barely audible in some places but adding a nice ambiance to the sound scapes.

    The album opener "Come On In" (one of the three tunes on the record that is not an original band composition) sets the scene perfectly. Cascading waves of vocal harmonies along side a driving bass line really makes this a highlight of the album. Other fantastic tunes are Kirkman's gorgeous "Everything that Touches You", probably the best example of the sheer complexity and versatility of the 6 part harmony sound that these guys were known for. "Toymaker" and "Rose Petals" are loungey slow burners each with a fantastic vocal from Yester and soothing, airy backing harmonies from the rest of the gang. Yester's "Barefoot Gentleman" is truly a haunting song, with a somber mood and philosophical lyrics that, according to the liner notes, evoked sobs from those who came into the studio to hear the band record the track. Although the album art suggests psychedelia, this album is Sunshine Pop at it's purest form and may be one of the best examples of the genre.

    Thx Marios!

  8. thanks marios! just a message for june. i've chatted to steve stanley and he's a great guy, but i prefer the stereo mix. steve loves his mono, as do i, but on this album it seems to bury joe osbourne's wonderful and distinctive bass sound. so for me this one wins!

  9. thanks Marios

    what's the password, please?

  10. Absolutely BEAUTIFUL album!!! I'm going out on a limb and saying I love it more than Pet Sounds and Odessey And Oracle combined! Yes. That's right! I said it! Let the torch bearing villagers come forth! Plus,the mono mix is definitive.

  11. The Association,by this album,was basing this one from Karl Jung's books,but in the process,halfway through,they'd lost Bones Howe..It started when Bones wanted them to do a Jimmy Webb tune,titled "MacArthur Park",then a 30-Minute piece,but the Group said "No,Bones,we're gonna do only our own written material!" Boom,just like that,end of the Relationship! Bones left to find another singer who'd couldn't sing,and found Actor Richard Harris,who'd turned the Hat Trick Bones needed! This Lp,however,yielded 2 Hit Singles "Everything That Touches You" and "Time For Livin",of which both the Top 10 that Year! Sadly,it was also their final Lp to do so.

  12. PsychoPirate, The Association - Birthday is up...