(Awhile ago, I did an overview of the discography of Poco which can be found here -http://rgdinmalaysia.blogspot.com/2014/04/pocos-discography-appraisal.html. I received good feedback on that so I am going to do the same type of post about The Association)
What I always liked about The Association’s music was the perfect balance. On one hand it really was an association, a seemingly faceless group with beautiful airy vocals, occasionally one voice taking the lead out of a cloud of ethereal and majestic harmonies. On the other hand, the music was varied and direct enough that it didn’t float away and leave no further impression.
The varied arrangements of their records coupled with the great songwriting of both band members and outside songwriters made for some truly timeless classic albums. When they did make some music that was inferior in comparison, it was largely due to a breakdown in the latter rather than the former.
This is because every Association record sounds great – what with what I said about the vocals, also the use of strings and guitars and various studio touches. Effortlessly lush in every groove.
My reflection on the Association’s discography (Listed by preference)
For many years, INSIGHT OUT was my favorite Association album but that changed when I listened to their re-mastered discography with headphones. BIRTHDAY, their fourth record and the one immediately after INSIGHT, finds the Association grappling with psychedelia in a much more comfortable way than a lot of their peers and it has an absolutely gorgeous sound even now. Maybe this was because the sunshine pop movement was already halfway there? There is nothing slyly poppy here. These are big songs full of giant verse-chorus structures. Moments of vocal drama are wrung out of every rising chorus, every giant fade-out. Their best record contains one knockout track after another – Toymaker, Everything That Touches You, Rose Petals, Incense and a Kitten, Barefoot Gentleman, Hear in Here, and Time for Livin’ (which should have been a much bigger hit)....A masterpiece!
My favorite until moved to second behind BIRTHDAY. Bolder version of their first two records with better studio craft and more diverse arrangements and instrumentation from traditional radio fare such as Windy and Never My Love to the sitar driven Wantin’ Not Gettin’ to the Gregorian chant enhanced Requiem for the Masses. Not a bad song here really. Also a masterpiece.
The group’s self-titled fifth record changes their music up slightly with some small country touches such as a banjo and pedal steel guitar as well as more guitars acoustic and electric. The lyrics are more reflective of what’s going on and the overall tone is more world weary. However, this is still The Association and there are plenty of pretty vocal moments and orchestral magnificence. The songwriting is driving the music here and this is a superb bunch of songs – Dubuque Blues, Goodbye Forever, The Nest, Love Affair.
AND THEN...ALONG COMES THE ASSOCIATION, RENAISSANCE
What’s surprising about the first two Association releases in retrospect is how stripped down they are in comparison to their subsequent records. It’s the vocals that elevate the music here which is largely guitar, bass, drums, with the odd keyboard. RENAISSANCE may be ever so slightly stronger songwise (Looking Glass, Pandora’s Golden Heebie Jeebies, Memories of You) but their first one has the monster hits Cherish and Along Comes Mary and a youthful energy that is amazingly down to earth.
STOP YOUR MOTOR
Carrying the light country touches of THE ASSOCIATION onwards and making a connection to the faceless beauty of early 70’s AM radio, there are many things I like about this record but sentimentality and the smell of product unfortunately start to inhibit the feel of the music.
THE REST OF THEIR RECORDS (WATERBEDS IN TRINIDAD, GOODBYE COLUMBUS, VARIOUS POST-BAND RELEASES)
WATERBEDS IN TRINIDAD, the last of the original Association releases, shows a group fraying around the edges and consumed by studio overproduction. There are a few good songs here but overall lifeless and bland. In between, BIRTHDAY and THE ASSOCIATION, they did the soundtrack for the movie GOODBYE COLUMBUS featuring four songs of which only It’s Gotta’ Be Real is more than just average. The rest is amiable aural wallpaper – Association instrumentals. Over the years, various versions of The Association have cut records consisting of cover versions of sixties hits as well as re-recordings of their own songs. I’ve never heard any of these records but I imagine they are best avoided.
Probably the most intriguing musical tidbit about the Association is after WATERBEDS, the band recorded another record tentatively titled THE ASSOCIATION BITES BACK. It was never released although was rumored to have more of a R&B sound as a few leaked tracks to YouTube show.