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Columns > Mike Gruenberg - In My Life

Published: 2002/05/22
by Mike Gruenberg

The Association

Buying new music in the 60’s was a great experience. Once the British invasion was in full force, musical groups from all over the world were popping up at a frenetic pace. These new groups burst upon the scene in a variety of sizes and shapes. More often than not, the unique name of the group was matched by the unique name of the newly formed record company. The primary vehicle in obtaining this new music was to purchase a vinyl 45 and then if you liked the artist, you bought the LP. Early albums by the Beatles and the Stones for example, would have 12 to 14 songs and virtually all the music contained in those albums was excellent. No such thing as "filler" was present on those tracks. New artists not only had the daunting task to get their 45 records played on FM radio, but they also had to release an LP with more than just a few good tunes if they wanted to compete with the established artists.

Finding new groups on new labels was quite an experience. Progressive FM stations would play the new music. Names of groups like The Leaves, The Syndicate of Sound, Count 5 and ? & The Mysterians would be on labels like Mira, Bell, Double Shot and Cameo. More often that not, when a small label would somehow get lucky enough to release a hit record, it was a safe bet that within a short period of time, the company would be bought out by a larger more established music company. In 1966, The Buckinghams hit it big with "Kind of A Drag" on a small label in the Midwest, USA Records. A year later they wound up on Columbia Records. The group The Beau Brummels, joined Warner Brothers Records after having a number of hits on a small label called Autumn Records. The classic story of course was Elvis Presely who was originally signed to Sun Records in Memphis by Sam Phillips. Sam was more than a bit short of cash and his shortage of finances caused him to sell Elvis’s contract to RCA. The rest was history.
The groups had to contend with a market that was constantly changing. Musical trends were forever in flux. Small labels were aggressive in signing new acts, but often were short of cash for more recording and promotions causing them to go out of business. Large record companies seemingly were waiting for the small ones to fail so they could grab the disenfranchised artists at bargain rates and then mold those artists in a way that suited the company and not the artist.
In 1966, a group called the Association released a song called "Along Comes Mary" on Valiant Records. I vividly remember the group because I loved the record, but for the life of me, could not understand the lyrics. I had no idea what these guys were singing about. The 45 gave me no clue, so I decided to buy the LP. "Along Comes Mary" was included on the debut album by the group on Valiant # 5002 which indicated to me that this was the second album released by the label. While debating whether or not to buy the LP, I decided to read the liner notes. The liner notes were inane, written by the Entertainment Editor of Teen Magazine. Since the LP was sealed, there was no way of knowing if the lyrics were included within. The picture of the group was less than helpful in helping me make a positive decision to buy. The Association was comprised of six men. In the picture on the LP, all the members of the group were wearing three piece suits that made them look more like investment bankers than rock stars. Against my better judgment and the hope that the "Along Comes Mary" lyrics would be included, I bought the LP. This was not the best record buying decision I ever made since most of the album was not that good except for a song called "Cherish" which turned out to be there next big hit.
Valiant released a second Association record called Renaissance. It was listed as # 5004, which probably meant that this was the fourth LP released by the company. This time, thankfully no liner notes, but the same three piece suits, although the pictures on the back of the LP showed the boys in casual wear. Unfortunately, the photographer used by Valiant must have been trained in high school graduation photo sessions as opposed to taking candid shots of rock stars. There was one gem of a ballad on this album called "No Fair At All." Written by new member of the group, Jerry Yester whose brother was in the group, The Lovin’ Spoonful. This song took advantage of the six part harmonies that became the signature trademark of the band.
Valiant Records soon ceased to exist and The Association was quickly snatched up by Warner Brothers Records. They went on to have remarkable success on Warner Brothers with such hits as "Windy" "Never My Love" and "Everything That Touches You." Unfortunately, the romantic ballads that made them famous were the very thing that caused their demise. The public could not accept them as anything other than romantic ballad singers. Testament to that is the album they released in 1968 called "Birthday" on Warner Brothers that is an excellent rock album that sold very poorly. Produced by music industry veteran, Bones Howe this is an excellent album that should have gotten more attention. They continued to try to break the soft rock mold, but faded from sight by 1973.
Recently, Warner Brothers/Rhino has released "Just the Right Sound, The Association Anthology" which contains 51 songs from the group. Obviously, the hits are all there. You will also find a number of cuts from the "Birthday" album although there should be more from that album. If you can find the Birthday album, buy it. If not get the Anthology.
P.S.
Warner Brothers released a Greatest Hits album of the Association in 1969. The lyrics of "Along Comes Mary" was included on the back cover.

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