Best James Taylor Albums, Ranked

1. Sweet Baby James (1970)

They say you can’t tell how good a singer/songwriter is until his second album. All the songs he has written over time are on the first album. The second album is the first time you see what he can do starting from scratch.

James Taylor’s Sweet Baby James is not just James Taylor’s greatest album, and it’s not just the best singer/songwriter album. It’s one of the best albums of all time. Period.

There is not a dud on this album. Not a one.

There is not a list of best singer/songwriter albums online that doesn’t include Sweet Baby James.

“Fire and Rain” is James’s most popular song, and odds are you’ve heard it before. James wrote the song after his childhood friend, Suzanne Schnerr, committed suicide, hence the line “Suzanne the plans they made put an end to you”. This song is one of the most emotional ever penned.

The album also includes a very thoughtful rendition of “Oh, Susannah”. The Susannah James sings about in this song is Suzanne Schnerr, the same girl from “Fire and Rain”. Although you already know the words to this song, James adds a whole new emotional layer. Worth the listen.

Whenever James plays “Sweet Baby James”, he introduces it as a “cowboy lullaby”. Which is exactly what it is. It’s poetry. James considers this song his best, and for good reason.

“Country Road” is another favorite. Along with “Sweet Baby James” and “Fire and Rain”, this song is played at almost every single JT concert.

“Country Road,” from James’ second album, captures the restless, anticipatory, vaguely hopeful feeling that plays a large part in James’ character, and appears in “Carolina on My Mind,” “Blossom,” and “Sweet Baby James,” The road leads away from his ensnaring family: “Mama don’t understand it/She wants to know where I’ve been/I’d have to be some kind of natural-born fool to want to pass that way again.” It also takes him away from shattered affairs, prep school, mental institutions — all manner of traps and bummers. At the end of the road lie freedom and ideal life in Carolina, and “a heavenly band full of angels.”

– Timothy Crouse, Rolling Stone

James was basically homeless when recording this album. Having been promised $20,000 dollars when the album was delivered, and only having to deliver one more song, he strung 3 song ideas into a “suite” to finish the album. The last song is titled “Suite for 20 G” for that reason. (Songfacts)

Hidden Gems: “Blossom”, “Anywhere like Heaven”, “Oh, Susannah”, “Sunny Skies”

Tip: Listen to this album straight through

Honorable Mentions

Mockingbird (Carly Simon and James Taylor)

James Taylor has been featured in many other artist’s songs (most recently in Charlie Puth’s “Change”), but this one stands alone as his best.

James Taylor Live

This is an incredible album, containing the best live versions of essentially every single one of his songs.

Listen to this one straight through for an authentic live experience.

Best Album for Beginners:

Greatest Hits

New to James Taylor? Look no further. This is James’s best selling album to date. It has sold 11 million copies.

It contains re-recorded versions of “Something in the Way She Moves” and “Carolina in my Mind”, both of which are far superior to his original versions.

Agree? Disagree? Let me know below.

2 thoughts on “Best James Taylor Albums, Ranked

  1. I worked James Taylor 5 times when he was front act at the Guthrie. He told Sue the promoter that if he ever made it BIG he would pass up a chance to do do a show in a large venue in the Twin Cities and do a double bill at the Guthrie to pay her back a little for her help when he was starting out. He was true to his word. He could have sold out arenas but he did a two show day at the small venue Guthrie. He’s as nice a person as he is a talent.

    Liked by 1 person

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