FOR THE ASSOCIATION'S RENAISSANCE
released their second album in November 1966, Renaissance, they had just become
one of the hottest groups in America. "Along Comes Mary" had given them
their first Top Ten hit in the summer of 1966, followed just a couple
of months later by their #1 smash "Cherish." Both songs were on their
debut album And Then...Along Comes
the Association, which itself was a big success, peaking at #5
on the LP charts.
It would be a bit of
surprise, then, that Renaissance
was done without the producer who'd been at the helm for "Along Comes
Mary" and "Cherish." It contained no big hits, and furthermore, the
track selected as the lead single was perhaps the strangest song on the
record. Primarily for those reasons, Renaissance
was a commercial disappointment, reaching #34. Like all of the
Association's albums, however, it boasted far more diversity, albeit
enclosed in a commercial pop framework, than many listeners would have
suspected had they only been familiar with the group's AM hits. The
diversity was an almost inevitable by-product of a band in which the
lead vocal and songwriting chores were spread out almost evenly between
all half a dozen members (though bassist Brian Cole did not snag any
lead vocal or songwriting credits on this particular long-player).
"We consciously pursued that," says Jim Yester, who
would stay with the group longer (through 1976) than any of the band's
original members. "That was coming right from the start. When we
auditioned for just about every record company in town before we got a
record deal, one of the companies was Capitol, and they didn't sign us
as artists. But they wouldn't let us out of the building until we gave
their publisher an appointment to come back and talk to them. They
wound up signing us as writers, because they were so blown away by a
group with six guys who all wrote, and were writing good stuff.
"Everybody sang lead, everybody sang background, and
everybody wrote. We tried to be as fair as possible. Some albums, some
guys wrote a lot more than others. Jules [Alexander, still going by the
name of Gary Alexander at the time of Renaissance]
was very prolific; Terry [Kirkman] was also very prolific. But
everybody was writing decent stuff, so we tried to include everybody's
trip in every album. Also, we spread it around as far as who got
B-sides. Of course," he concedes, "material selection for us was a
brutal process. It didn't always go that way. And the further along,
the more brutal it became. We used to call material selections
Comes the Association had been produced by Curt Boettcher, but
for Renaissance, the group
would switch to Jim's brother Jerry Yester. Jerry shared the
Association's folk and folk-rock roots, having played folk with Jim
back in the early '60s before joining the Modern Folk Quartet, who made
the journey from folk-pop to folk-rock after a couple of albums on
Warner Brothers. Yester would later replace Zal Yanovsky in the Lovin'
Spoonful, as well as produce Tim Buckley's second and third albums, and
make a remarkable psychedelic album (1969's Farewell Aldebaran) with his
then-wife Judy Henske.
"When the relationship first started, we went in and
recorded five things with Curt for the first album," explains Jim
Yester of the decision to switch producers. "The relationship was
pretty good at that time. But the further we got into the album, the
more it became Curt trying to put Curt's thing on the group, rather
than trying to put the group's thing together on the record.
"We had kind of a falling out, and my brother really wishes we hadn't
picked him," he laughs. "'Cause he was, in his words, a green kid. But
I think it was a wonderful collaboration. Over the years, people keep
telling me that Renaissance
is one of their favorites. That and the album we did with John Boylan
[1969's The Association] were
more representative of what the group actually was than most of the
other albums." One reason it was more representative was that the
group, rather than session players, "did everything, as I recall,"
though that would change on the next few Association albums.
Although the group's folk-rock-rooted brand of
harmony pop was well in evidence in songs like "Memories of You," "All
Is Mine," and "Angeline," other tracks saw them branch out in different
directions. There was the almost bubblegumish pop of "Songs in the
Wind," the smooth jazz-influenced group vocal interaction of "You May
Think," and Yester's "No Fair At All," inspired by the 1940s-era song
"Return to Paradise." "No Fair At All" would be a mild hit single
(making #51), and its B-side, "Looking Glass" (whose romantic pop
approach echoed "Cherish"), would bubble briefly under the Hot Hundred.
Yet the album's sole Top Forty single (albeit peaking at just #35) was
the strangest item, Jules Alexander's eerie "Pandora's Golden Heebie
Jeebies," which was about as psychedelic as the Association ever got.
"Why that was picked as a single, I'm not really
sure, other than the fact that it was probably different from
everything else that was going on, which was the case with 'Along Comes
Mary'," speculates Yester. "I think that's why it ['Mary'] was successful. It was
kind of 180 degrees out of phase from what was going on at the time.
But 'Pandora's' was so unusual.
"I really wish we had released the demo," he
continues. "The demo was really
good. That was just Jules, myself, and my ex-wife. The demo was so
spooky, that's what pumped everybody on the song. It was a lot more
acoustic, whereas by the time we recorded it, it became a lot more
produced. The demo was a lot freer. But anyway, 'Pandora's' still was
very unique, totally different."
In the wake of Renaissance's
relatively disappointing sales, the Association would change producers
again and land a couple of their biggest, most commercial singles. Both
would appear on their next LP, 1967's Top Ten entry Insight Out, also reissued on CD by
Collectors' Choice. -- Richie Unterberger
unless otherwise specified.
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