10. Walking Man (1975)
The only real hit to come out of this album is the title song. But, what a title song. “Walking Man” is one of Taylor’s greatest musical and lyrical achievements. The whole song is really a poetical reference to autumn, as Taylor has said it is a “song about the coming of winter and the fall of the year.” You could take other interpreted meanings from it, such as the emotional absence of James’s father during most of his life. But, whatever the meaning, “Walking Man” is one of James’s most calming songs.
This album does have some hidden gems stuck right in the middle of this album. “Hello Old Friend”, “Ain’t No Song” and “Let It All Fall Down” stick out as particularly memorable.
Overall this album is a mixed basket, with some great stuff and some duds, quite honestly.
Hidden Gem: “Let It All Fall Down”
9. Gorilla (1975)
This is a very fun album. This album starts with the hit song “Mexico”. In the very first verse, he sings “Lose your load, leave your mind behind Baby Jane”, perfectly setting the mood for the rest of the album. “Mexico” and “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)” are both on this album, and both will make you want to get up and dance. I dare you to not move to this music. I dare you.
James was just coming off of 5 years of “combining mellow folk-pop with brutally honest introspective lyrics”, and he was looking for a change (ultimateclassicrock.com). And this change is a very welcome one.
Notable songs on this album are “Wandering”, “I Was a Fool to Care”, “Angry Blues” and “Gorilla”. But you should honestly just give the whole album a listen.
Hidden Gem: “I Was a Fool to Care”
8. Flag (1979)
Flag is a classic rock album. It’s filled with songs that really drive, and it has a completely different feel than most of his other albums.
The songs that stay true to James’s classic style are the true hits of the album: “Millworker” and “Up On The Roof”.
“Millworker” is pure poetry. James tells the full life story of a farmers daughter in a 4-minute song. The chorus “it’s me and my machine / For the rest of the morning / (and) the rest of the afternoon / And the rest of my life” is a haunting reminder of the reality that is factory work. This song is a masterpiece.
“Up On The Roof” is one of Taylor’s most famous songs. It was originally written by his close friend Carole King for the Drifters, but James’s rendition is the best and most famous. This song will literally make you want to go sit on your roof. I am not kidding.
Also, do yourself a favor and give “Is That the Way You Look?” a listen. Thank me later.
Hidden Gem: “Brother Trucker” (but, to be honest, if he’s played it in a concert is it really hidden?)
7. New Moon Shine (1991)
A nostalgic album. An extremely emotional album. This is 1970 James Taylor with a much larger budget. It’s classic James.
The album is headlined by “Copperline”, the albums biggest hit. It is a reflection on his childhood home and his roots in North Carolina. This is an incredibly chill and emotional song, and it perfectly sets the mood for the album. The album title actually comes from an obscure lyric in this song “Sour mash and new moon shine / Down on Copperline”.
Another standout on this album is the song “The Frozen Man”. Frozen Man is absolutely my favorite James Taylor song. Which I realize is a bold statement. The song is inspired by a newspaper article Taylor read about the discovery of a man frozen solid for 100 years, perfectly preserved. He imagined what it would be like if that man were to wake up when unfrozen, and the result is “The Frozen Man”. The guitar riff is so intriguing, and the story told is incredible. One of James’s best, and by far his most underappreciated.
Other standouts include James’s slow and thoughtful cover of Sam Cooke’s “Everybody Loves To Cha Cha Cha”, “Down in the Hole” and “Slap Leather”.
“Shed a Little Light” is one of James’s favorites (he plays it at almost every concert) and for good reason. It’s got a great message and it’s super groovy. A perfect combo. Give it a minute.
Hidden Gem: “The Water is Wide” (absolutely beautiful)
6. That’s Why I’m Here (1985)
This is where it gets really difficult. An album like That’s Why I’m Here could easily be another artist’s hit album.
The history behind this album is important. Carly Simon divorced James Taylor in ‘83, and his life sunk to an all-time low. When his friend John Belushi died of an overdose, he decided it was time for a change. He overcame his heroin addiction and decided to focus on being a better father to his children. He was very seriously considering retiring and pursuing another line of work when he played a concert in Rio in ‘85. After the fact, James commented that this visit to Rio gave him new life because of the positive feedback and interest the people there gave him. This experience inspired his song “Only a Dream in Rio”.
That’s Why I’m Here is a statement about his new direction in life. It’s a celebration of life. It’s experimental. It’s light-hearted. It’s a perfectly packaged gift to the world.
Highlights include the title song “That’s Why I’m Here”, “Going Around One More Time”, “Limousine Driver”, “Only One” and “Song for You Far Away”, which is one of his most emotional songs ever.
This album also features Taylor’s Buddy Holly cover “Everyday”, which is, in my humble opinion, one of the greatest covers ever recorded. A beautifully calming spin on the original. The music video is also hilarious and absolutely perfect. I have included it below for your viewing pleasure.
Hidden Gems: “Limousine Driver” and “Going Around One More Time”