Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Association

One of the premier what would most accurately called soft rock bands (as opposed to hard rock, no slight intended) was formed when one of the earliest folk-rock bands broke up and almost half of the band's members simply formed another band. That band, called The Men, (I'd like to think that a good bit of thought went into choosing that name) at 13 members strong had enough guys to easily make two, three or even four seperate bands as it was. Anyway, six members of The Men formed a band under the leadership of guitarist/vocalist Jules Gary Alexander and woodwind and brass player/vocalist Terry Kirkman. The group was rounded out by Brian Cole on bass guitar,woodwinds and vocals, Ted Bluechel on drums,guitar and vocals, guitarist/vocalist Russ Giguere and Bob Page on guitar,banjo and vocals. Before the band ever performed publicly however, Page was replaced by keyboardist/guitarist/vocalst Jim Yester. The name "The Association" was adopted at the suggestion of Kirkman's then fiancee' Judy.

After about five months of rehearsal they started playing the clubs in the Los Angeles area, and while it maybe easy to slap the label of "soft rock" on them, The Association did have an unique sound and style, and as in too many cases this caused them a bit of a problem getting signed to a record label. After several failed auditions, they were finally picked up by Valiant Records and after their first single, a cover of Bob Dylan's "One Too Many Mornings" pretty much tanked, they hit pay dirt with the following single going to #7 on the Billboard charts, 1966's "Along Comes Mary. This led to the release of the band's first album, And Then...Along Comes The Association which contained their first #1 hit single "Cherish".

While The Association are generally considered in terms such as "clean cut", "AM soft pop" or even "schmaltzy" or "mawkish", these terms tend to overlook qualities that a more careful listen might reveal. The songwriting is sophisticated, well-crafted and melodically strong. Their vocal arrangements at times are literally choir-like, yet catchy, at times reminiscent of the Beach Boys and at others calling to mind The Moody Blues. Multi-instrumentalists all, they are a pretty accomplished bunch. Say what you will, they have not approached this business of selling records the easy way.
But sell 'em they did...and lots of ' their second #1 single "Windy".

Late in 1966 Warner Brothers bought Valiant Records, and with it The Association's contract. As they were at that point established hit-makers, the transition for them was a smooth one. By 1967 Jules Alexander left the band and was replaced by Larry Ramos on guitar and vocals. On June 16th of that same year, they gained the distinction of being literally the first band to play a rock festival by being the opening act at what is credited as the first rock festival, The Monterey Pop Festival. They then rounded out a quite eventful year by barely missing a third #1 hit when "Never My Love" peaked at #2 on the Billboard charts.

Jules Alexander returned to the group in 1969, resulting in a seven-man band. Their next project would be writing and recording the soundtrack for the movie Goodbye Columbus. While their chart-topping days were behind them, they remained a popular concert draw. Warner Brothers declined to renew their contract and the band signed to Columbia Records but still failed to impact the charts. Tragedy struck the band when on August 2, 1972 Brian Cole was found dead at his Los Angeles home overdosed on heroin. He was 29 years old.
These days after many personnel changes The Association still does frequent package tours with other re-formed acts of the 60s era, firmly positioned in the history of All Things (Soft) Rockin'. Oh, and my favorite song by The Association? (of course I have one!) That's gotta be "Everthing That Touches You".

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