By Richie Unterberger

When the Association's Stop Your Motor album appeared in mid-1971, it marked not just their first full-length studio effort in two years, but the last of their records on or distributed by Warner Brothers. Original member Russ Giguere had departed, to be replaced by keyboardist Richard Thompson (no relation to the British folk-rock guitarist of the same name). It's the most obscure of the albums they had put out up to that point, reaching a mere #158 and failing to generate any hit singles. Its most famous cut attracted much of its attention decades later, when the man who inspired it had generated a large cult following in his own right.

<>    Most Association albums also meant getting a new producer on board, and for Stop Your Motor the production was co-credited to the group and Ray Pohlman (who had just produced their 1970 concert album Live). Pohlman had been a top Hollywood session player, mostly on guitar or bass, for years, playing on the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds and records by the Monkees, Tim Buckley, the Fifth Dimension, and many others (it was he who played bass on the 1964 single by the Beefeaters, the group featuring Roger McGuinn, Gene Clark, and David Crosby that would evolve into the Byrds). "Ray was a good friend socially as well as musically," says the Association's Jim Yester. "He also did a lot of work for [producer] Bones [Howe, who had produced the group's third and fourth albums]. In fact, Ray did most of the charts for those sessions."

    Handling vocal arrangements was another top L.A. session vet, Don Randi, who as a keyboardist had worked with many of the same artists as Pohlman, including the Monkees, Buckley, and the Beach Boys (including Pet Sounds), as well as Buffalo Springfield, Elvis Presley, Nancy Sinatra, Sonny & Cher, and others. Two different producers, John Tartaglia & Randy Steirling, worked on one of the album's highlights, Yester's "Along the Way," which was plucked off the LP for a single. Handling the piano on that cut was yet another Hollywood session legend, Larry Knechtel, hired according to Yester because of his work on another orchestrated ballad, Simon & Garfunkel's massive smash "Bridge Over Troubled Water."

    In keeping with past Association albums, most of the songwriting was divvied up more or less equally among the bandmembers, ensuring a stylistic diversity than some followers found disorienting. Some of the country-rock that had come to the fore on parts of 1969's The Association lingered on cuts like "Bring Yourself," "The First Sound," and "That's Racin'," while "Along the Way" and "Funny Kind of Song" were the kind of romantic ballads more associated with the Association's public image. The band also went to outside writers for a couple of tunes, covering "Seven Virgins" by Jimmie Spheeris, then starting his career as a singer-songwriter for Columbia. The other outside contribution, Jimmy Webb's "P.F. Sloan," would became the album's most well-remembered tune, even if it didn't chart when initially released as a single in 1971.

    Most known for writing Barry McGuire's #1 1965 folk-rock protest anthem "Eve of Destruction," P.F. Sloan had written (sometimes with Steve Barri) a slew of pop-rock and folk-rock hits in the mid-1960s for the Turtles, Johnny Rivers, Herman's Hermits, the Grass Roots, and the Searchers. The Association themselves had recorded one of his lesser-known efforts, "On a Quiet Night," on their 1967 Top Ten album Insight Out. He'd also recorded some underrated, overlooked singer-songwriter albums, but had virtually disappeared from the business after 1967, for reasons that are still murky. It was only 1971 when "P.F. Sloan" came out, and it was most unusual for a top songwriter to be writing about a peer as if he was a long-lost legend, especially as it was just three or four years since Sloan had vanished from the public eye. Sloan, too, wasn't nearly as well known to general rock fans as he is these days, his contributions coming for the most part from behind the scenes.

    Asked about his composition by SongTalk, Webb explained, "P.F. Sloan is the heroic figure of the songwriter who goes out and keeps writing no matter what. The guy was hot, and he was one of the first, of one of the few, songwriters who wanted to be a singer, and it was tough to do that. There was pressure on me to stay a songwriter. [To] just behave and be a songwriter. He was one of the first guys to go up against that, and I admire him."
    Webb's own version of the song came out on a Reprise single two months before the Association's was issued on a February 1971 45, an odd circumstance considering that Reprise was a sister label of Warners. It would be the Association's version that Sloan himself heard that year. "I first heard it at a hot dog stand on Sunset Boulevard," he remarked on an America On Line chat session in 1997. "The Association were singing it. It was 1971. I had borrowed some coins for coffee...I was away from music and living on someone's couch. I thought to myself, 'God is still alive, and remembers and loves me.'" To SongTalk, he elaborated, "The first time I ever heard the song on the air was a divine moment for me. I had had all my royalties suspended. I had absolutely no money. I had no place to live. I was at this hot dog stand on Vine Street, and trying to scrape up 50 cents for a hot dog, and out of the speakers from the hot dog place was that song. And I was thinking, 'Is this a divine play or what?'"

    Sloan, alas, was probably one of the few listeners to hear the song on the radio, as it failed to make the national charts, although Yester says it did chart high in a few places and made #1 on a Davenport, Iowa station. "I really liked the song," he adds. "I don't think Jimmy himself submitted it. Somebody just submitted it, probably his publishing company. Good song, and very different, with the thing [in the middle] with Brian [Cole] doing his Johnny Cash thing. Nice arrangement, a little different. But it might have been just a little too outside.

    "I wasn't surprised at all that it is getting recognition now, or was recognized more than some of the other stuff on the album. We were ahead of our time. And a lot of people didn't really know who he [Sloan] was." With Stop the Motor completing the Association's contractual obligation to Warner Brothers, the group moved to Columbia, leaving "P.F. Sloan"'s rediscovery to collectors of the 1990s and 2000s, after both Sloan and the Association themselves were rediscovered by an entire new generation of music fans. -- Richie Unterberger

contents copyright Richie Unterberger , 2000-2010
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