By Richie Unterberger

When The Association came out in August 1969, things had changed a lot in the year and a half or so since their last album (1968's Birthday), within both the group and the entire pop scene. The band's days as Top Forty mainstays had passed, and rock music was far more geared toward album sales than it had been just a couple of years before, when the Association's popularity had peaked with "Windy" and "Never My Love." The Association, the group's fourth album, reflected a maturing sound, and one which did manage to take the record up to #32 in the LP charts, even though it failed to yield a hit single.

     Two significant changes had taken place when the band convened for the album's sessions. One was the return of lead guitarist Jules Alexander, who had left the band in 1967 to go to India after appearing on the first Association albums under the name Gary Alexander. His replacement, Larry Ramos, stayed on, and as the Association's Jim Yester explains, "now we had two lead guitarists. It put another brain in the mix. And instead of six guys from different places, you got seven guys from different places. But it also had things vocally, because you can certainly get a lot further out with seven guys. You can be more selective about what you double, or you can double two different parts instead of just one of the parts being doubled. So it gets interesting in the arranging. Jules is a very strong personality, as is Larry, and at times, that caused problems. But on the creative end, it is certainly a plus."

    And the band had changed producers, though their previous one, Bones Howe, had helped guide the Association through some of their biggest hits with "Windy," "Never My Love," and "Everything That Touches You." Production credits for The Association would be shared between the group and John Boylan, who had been part of the late-'60s band the Appletree Theatre with his brother Terence. Eventually Boylan would become one of the most successful producers in the business, working on albums by Linda Ronstadt, Boston, the Little River Band, Pure Prairie League, and others. In the late 1960s, though, he was just starting to get his feet wet in production, his association with the Association beginning when he produced the songs the group placed on the soundtrack of Goodbye Columbus earlier in 1969. Boylan ended up writing one of the songs on The Association, "Yes I Will," to boot.

     "John was a friend from the Village, and a lot of us had known him personally before working with him," remembers Yester. "One of the things we really liked about John, John had the same kind of ear for what the backgrounds were doing that we did. I think it's because he came through that whole folk and folk-rock thing also. The mix of the tunes on that album is, I think, so much closer to how we heard it than Bones [Howe] and [previous Association producer] Curt [Boettcher].

    "I think Jerry [Yester, who produced the band's second album] probably mixed closer to what we heard also, as far as the voices were concerned. But Boylan really had it down. It was so nice to be able to hear the whole vocal arrangement. Whereas a lot of the stuff that Bones mixed, you kind of heard the edges of it; you couldn't hear the thing itself. All you heard was kind of, like, the overtones of it. I was very frustrated by that."

    Longtime Association listeners might have been surprised to hear a pronounced country-rock flavor on several of the cuts, such as "What Were the Words," which Yester wrote for the Dillards (whose fine 1970 country-rock album Copperfields was also produced by Boylan, as it happens). "I played it for Rodney [Dillard], and he said, 'Oh well, we can't do that. You have to record that!'" Yester laughs. "He wouldn't take it." That didn't keep Rodney and fellow Dillard Herb Pedersen from playing on the album, with Buddy Emmons handling the steel guitar on "What Were the Words."

    Though other tracks like Terry Kirkman's "Look At Me, Look At You" and Alexander's "Dubuque Blues" were very much in a country-rock mood, the group were dependably eclectic on the record as a whole, offering bittersweet romanticism on Alexander's "Love Affair," mild psychedelia on "The Nest," stomping R&B on "Are You Ready," weird heavy rock on "I Am Up for Europe," and just plain weirdness on "Broccoli." "When somebody had something crazy like that, that was part of us," says Yester of Russ Giguere's "Broccoli." "We decided to share it instead of pushing it off into a closet or something. That was very genuinely Russell. Russell is a militant vegetarian."

    It was indicative of a diversity that, as Yester acknowledges, could be a double-edged sword. "We all really loved diversity. A lot of the stuff that we decided not to do, I wish in a lot of respects we had done, because there was some stuff that was a lot further out. But one of our bywords was, don't spook the locals.

    "A lot of times we used to hear that we were too diverse. There was so much diversity that it was actually to our detriment. But that was the nature of the beast. You got six guys that are coming from six different places, and you try to agree on a direction. It gave us a lot of variation. But at times it kind of was detrimental because it didn't give a specific direction. We had been told that was gonna sneak up and bite us on the butt, and it probably did." Not until, however, the group got the chance to go into yet more directions on a subsequent live album and their final studio full-length for Warner Brothers, both also reissued on CD by Collectors' Choice. -- Richie Unterberger

contents copyright Richie Unterberger , 2000-2010
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